With day one in the books, Friday at Bonnaroo really kicks the festival into high gear, and begs important questions. How late can you sleep in your tent before roasting? To shower or not to shower? How much anticipation do you have for the headliner and shining star of the festival, Radiohead?
But before Radiohead would take the WHAT STAGE at 10pm, there were plenty of other acts to soak in along with the 90+ degree heat. The music starts several hours earlier and lasts several hours later on Friday, so for someone looking to add several notches to the belt, it means a much longer day, on your feet and in the sun.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. (SONIC STAGE – 12:00PM)
The closer the weekend gets, the more stages open up. Friday means the WHICH, WHAT, and SONIC stages open, among other attractions and stages. This year, the ribbon of the SONIC STAGE was cut by Dale Earnhardt JR. JR., fresh off their mid-Thursday performance at THE OTHER TENT. Performers at SONIC STAGE treat the stage differently, transforming their songs to accommodate the smaller crowd and vibe. This band set the precedent. The stripped down versions of their songs allowed for their falsetto harmonies to really shine, especially in the song “Morning Thought”. The delicate lyrics of “I would like to protect you / I would like to release you / I would like to pretend but we don’t know how” seemed especially vulnerable. The short and sleepy set was a great opening to the day, not asking too much of the audience; and in return, the audience was grateful for the minimalist sound coming at them from the stage.
photo by Pop ‘Stache photographer Kris Wade
The Soul Rebels (WHAT STAGE – 1:00PM)
The opening up the WHAT STAGE is a different story; more of a celebration considering the caliber of acts that would perform all weekend. Up to the challenge, The Soul Rebels bounded on stage just before 1:00 pm Friday afternoon. One of the loudest acts of the entire festival, the 8-piece New Orleans band did challenge their considerably sparse audience to interact and move around. Microphones amplified the already blaring sound of an incredible brass section. The Soul Rebels are New Orleans favorites, but their sound was welcome in Manchester. Fans of Rodrigo y Gabriela or Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings would have appreciated the band, which was fitting considering both acts would grace the WHAT STAGE later that day.
photo by Pop ‘Stache photographer Kris Wade
At this point, I was already feeling the effects of the mid-day sun, and I hoped to find another band that would surprise and inspire me like White Denim did the night before. Sets by tUnE-yArDs and Two Door Cinema Club just didn’t grab me. These bands played THIS TENT back-to-back in the early afternoon, but just a few songs in to each set I felt myself yawning. Without knowing their songs, I didn’t get their appeal.
Without much for me to look forward to until later that evening, I decided to try the comedy tent. This is no easy task. The official rules instruct those looking to catch a popular show to line-up 2 hours before tickets are available. After 2 hours of standing in the shadeless fairgrounds, you are handed a laminate, with instructions to come back and wait in line again for another 30 minutes before the show. Total waiting time is at least 2 ½ hours, and the show lasts 75 minutes. All-in-all, to catch the show of a hot comedian like Aziz Ansari, one must sacrifice 3 hours and 15 minutes, roughly three band’s sets. Luckily, the self-proclaimed “Comedy Bad-Boy” was worth every minute.
Aziz Ansari (The Bonnaroo Comedy Theater – 6pm)
For starters, the Comedy Theater is the place to be when outside temperatures are in the 90’s for hours. Talent aside, this was a good decision. From the outside, it looks like just another tent. Inside, it is darker, attractively lit, and about 30 degrees cooler. Once every guest was seated, the show began. Not with the opener. Aziz, though not to be seen, gave instructions for etiquette in the comedy tent as they were an extension of his set, a generous move considering people were now in the right mode for opener Rory Scovel. Rory did a great job, and probably could have continued for a full set without ruffling any feathers. His biggest laughs were at the crowd’s expense, when he mentioned the amount of drugs everyone laughing had probably consumed. But after only 15 minutes, he introduced Aziz Ansari and the place went off. Aziz walked on stage with the style and swagger he has become known for due to success of characters like Tom Haverford on Parks & Recreation. He then went into one of his tightest sets ever, full of brand new material; an impressive feat considering recent album / special only dropped a few months ago. Highlights include how babies don’t impress him, how he got on Seal’s bad side, how guys typically drop the ball with proposals, and his meeting with Barack Obama. It was his second full set of the day, though he showed no signs of wear. Though still an up-and-comer in the comedy world, the crowd’s willingness to wait for hours and the reactions to his set solidifies that Aziz is only moving up.
Rodrigo y Gabriela (WHAT STAGE – 7:30pm )
One of the most impressive displays of musicianship this weekend came from the two-piece, Rodrigo y Gabriela. Both are guitar dynamos, known for their takes on popular rock and metal songs by artists like Metallica and Led Zeppelin. The Mexican musicians came up through humble beginnings, performing in European bars to small crowds before gaining notoriety. Such notoriety placed them on Bonnaroo’s biggest stage before the weekend’s most anticipated set. Though they have mostly performed as a two-piece, for this 90 minute set, Rodrigo y Gabriela were backed by the immensely talented and fun to watch C.U.B.A. This is a 13-piece Cuban orchestra that added power, texture, and dynamics to the main attractions virtuosity, which kept the extended set interesting. Gabriela Quintero bounded across the stage for the entirety of the set with endless energy. The rhythm guitarist in the duo, her hands fluttered on the strings like a wild hummingbird. This provided lead guitarist Rodrigo Sanchez with the perfect backing for his laser-like leads; precise on the acoustic and searing when he switched to electric. They stuck to mostly original compositions, staying instrumental throughout. The only vocals came from their gracious words to the crowd, thanking them for the opportunity to play in front of such an enthusiastic audience.
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