by ryan s. (pics by charles poladian)

I’m happy to report that we’ve made it back to Brooklyn after another year of sweating through four fantastic days of music and human interaction in Manchester, TN for Bonnaroo 2010.  Showers and mattresses never feel as good as when you finally get back from the crazy trek. This year’s line-up paled in comparison to Roos past, but the experience remained supreme thanks to some powerful sets, camp ground story times, shady hammocks and a nonstop bouquet of stimulation.

Artist: The Flaming Lips
Song: Yeah Yeah Yeah Song
Artist: Here We Go Magic
Song: Surprise

During a press panel on Friday afternoon, Wayne Coyne stated “If people think me stepping on their head in a giant space bubble is magic then it fucking is.”  As fate would have it, The Flaming Lips show on Friday night proved to be extremely magical (and by far the festival standout), even rivaling the NIN show on the same stage a year before.

The Lips plowed through an hour set of their original songs, including “See The Leaves,” The Yeah Yeah Song, “THE W.A.N.D.” and a heart-shattering rendition  of “Do You Realize” – among others. With a crowd of thousands stacked in front of Which Stage, father Coyne guided us all through the concert experience via his microphone camera and thoughtful words. I have a new appreciation for the Lips and a feeling of stupidity for not fully appreciating their greatness prior. After the Lips classics and a short break, the band performed their rendition of Darkside of the Moon, their second live performance ever of the classic Pink Floyd album. You can check out the Lips’ Roo set here.

In addition to the Flaming Lips show, there were a number of concerts that exceeded expectations. Going back to Thursday, a well-deserved shout out goes to Here We Go Magic, who I believe played one of their best sets in some time. I may be biased as I was in the highest of moods and the sun was just beginning to subside as Here We Go began its hour long set at 6PM, but the tracks off their self-titled album sounded amazing. The backup vocals provided beautiful ambient complements and the jam sessions were elongated and layered in dramatic fashion, most notably in the outros to “Only Pieces” and “Surprise.” It was a perfect musical introduction to this years’ fest. You can listen to Here We Go Magic’s Bonnaroo set here. Other Thursday night shows included Mike Snow, Local Natives, The Dodos, Neon Indian and The xx.

Friday also featured a number of impressive performances outside of Wayne Coyne’s theatrics. While already known for putting on impressive live shows, The National failed to disappoint at Roo. Playing what seemed to be a never ending set, the band made it through 19 songs, highlighted by “Fake Empire,” “Secret Meeting,” “England” and “Terrible Love.”

Matt Berninger miraculously made his way through both ends of the crowd, dragging the mic chord along with him and getting drenched in the process. A lucky fan even got a glass of wine courtesy of Matt. The featured horn section sounded phenomenal and the show was definitely one of the highlights of early evening Friday. Fortunately you can listen to the incredible set (thanks to NPR) here.

Other Friday highlights included Conan O’Brien performing his Legally Prohibited tour. Nas and Damian Marley had fans of all genres chanting for freedom. Tenacious D got introduced by Conan and was expectedly ridiculous, complete with cameos by the devil. Legendary Steve Martin played with the Steep Canyon Rangers and showed off his banjo skills that won him the Grammy in 2009 for best blue grass album.

The Flaming Lips, The Black Keys, Bassnectar and Chromeo with Daryl Hall all played simultaneously at midnight which made for a psychotic evening. And then LCD Soundsystem closed out the night with some vigorously dark and techno infused jams which were mind-bendingly psychedelic and beautiful all at once. You’ll get a glimpse of the LCD madness when we post our video recap later in the week.

Saturday was a battle as sleep deprivation and heat seemed to seep into our brains. Thankfully we located some incredible shaded hammocks in the media area which probably saved more than a few lives. Later, comedians Aziz Ansari and Jeffery Ross provided some much-needed relief in the air-conditioned comedy theater. Ross quipped “Bonnaroo is like Woodstock without all the baggage of having legends.” and “There are a lot of great choices to make at Bonnaroo, like do I watch Dave Mathews Band or take an ambien?” After the jokes, it was still somewhat of a slow day for music with Norah Jones, Weezer, and The Dead Weather taking us into nightfall. Before the evening shows, our campground neighbors invited us to a wonderful story time session where they read aloud The Giving Tree, One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, and Where The Wild Things Are.  A perfect reminder of what Roo was all about, and definitely my favorite part of the day.

As night kicked in, Stevie Wonder put on a badass show of throwback jams, followed by a decent showing by Jay-Z who seemed to favor his more recent albums in Manchester. “Public Service Announcement” was a personal set highlight. Thievery Corporation and the Dan Deacon Ensemble rounded out Saturday evening.

Sunday saw our festival experience come to a close. I must admit that I was tired and bitchy by the time I trounced through another pile of mud on Sunday morning, but a few beers later I remembered to value my final moments. The lineup was pretty weak during the day, so we caught pieces of Medeski, Martin, and Wood plus a little bit of Regina Spektor, who sadly just isn’t very cool anymore. In order to beat the rush we left before Phoenix and DMB, but the positive damage had been done. For 3 1/2 days I didn’t check a bank account or emails and said hi to every stranger I walked by. It’s a wonderful social experiment when 70,000 people can camp out and co-exist for a weekend, inspired by the common goal of experiencing an eclectic mix of music. I’m fortunate and thankful to have attended and completed another Bonnaroo adventure in Tennessee. Stay tuned for a video recap of our escapades coming soon.

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