The first and shortest of the festival’s four day stint, Thursday really is a warm-up for the rest of the weekend. None of the three banner headliners performed on this day, but there was plenty to be excited about. Music lasted until 2am, and comedy shows and movies lasted even longer. Those walking through the gates of Bonnaroo for the first time use Thursday to get the lay of the land; “Where are the restrooms with the shortest lines?”, “Where do I find the WHICH and WHAT stages?”. Thursday is the day to hit the ground running, but not to get burned out.
The Dirty Guv’nahs (THIS TENT – 4pm)
Something comes over you when the anticipation officially ends with the ringing of bass and kick drum across the field. This year, this feeling was provided by The Dirty Guv’nahs, a pop-country rock band from “just down the road in Knoxville”. The Dirty Guv’nahs served as a welcome to Tennessee for outsiders, playing their organ heavy, southern inspired songs with safe, typical hooks and generic chorus-lyrics like “Don’t give up on me”. Beers in hand and good times ahead, people at THIS TENT danced and cheered, though it seems they would have gone nuts for an instrumental band of pan-flutes if it meant getting the party underway.
EMA (THE OTHER TENT- 4:15pm)
One would be hard pressed to find a starker contrast to The Dirty Guv’nahs then EMA, the front-woman for a screeching noise rock band. Comprised of drony guitars, sacrificing catchy choruses for Bjork-ian bursts of vocals; EMA wasn’t trying to please. After a song that tested the casual portion of the audience’s patience, EMA (Erika M. Anderson) asked the crowd “Can we play some loud noise-rock for you, with guitar feedback”. The audience within a few rows of the stage cheered, while she lost some of the crowd in the back. However, those that stayed past this were rewarded with the attack of the song “Butterfly Knife”, which she screams “C’mon look me in the eye / 20 kisses with a butterfly knife” with scathing intensity. One of the highlights of EMA is the backing band, especially the multi-instrumentalist violin-keys player, who added an unexpected texture to the sound. Fans of St. Vincent or Le Butcherettes that have yet to check out EMA are hereby advised to do so.
Mariachi El Bronx (THAT TENT- 5:30pm)
Thursday’s highlight was that of LA based Mariachi El Bronx, a punk band with a mariachi problem. And a mariachi problem is not a good one to have in the Tennessee heat, as full black and gold costumes were donned by every member of the band. Though it’s all the same members of the fantastic punk-hardcore group The Bronx, Mariachi El Bronx is a completely different band. Instead of electric guitars and heavy distortion, guitarist Joby J. Ford shows his chops on a flamenco guitar. Instead of scorching vocals, singer Matt Caughthran shows a different side of his talents with thoughtful melodies and inspired lyrics of love and revolution. The band opened the set with their hit song “48 Roses”. The singer laments balancing his conscious with his libido as he romances “four different lovers with 48 roses.” One of the most engaging front-men at the festival this weekend, Caughthran dedicated each song to a different person or faction. Most notably, he called out the VIP section comprised of comfortable, khaki wearing middle-agers before starting a song about “the duality of man”. Then, he mockingly dubbed the spacious areas Sandals Mexico and Sandals Jamaica, and the very-important-people who didn’t get the joke cheered loudly. “I wish we had the whole weekend to stay with you at Bonnaroo,” Caughthran said toward the end of the set. “So we’re going to cram a weekend’s worth into these songs. Here’s to the people like us, who will be passed out in the bushes by 8pm.”
White Denim (THE OTHER TENT – 8:45pm )
Every lucky person in THE OTHER TENT Thursday night between 8:45 and 9:45 was treated to some of the most blistering rock live music has to offer. The Austin based 4-piece White Denim took its audience on a psychedelic rollercoaster ride, complete with sharp turns and breathtaking peaks. This is a departure from their classic-sounding recordings. Singer/Guitarist James Petralli belted soulfully, sounding like a daring Freddy Mercury singing in front of a band of Mars Volta-esque musicians. The music was too loud and intense to notice any lyrics, though the words served as a textured layer added to the sound. Those in the crowd mentioned White Denim among their favorite sets of the weekend.
Phantogram (THE OTHER TENT – 10:15pm )
If Phantogram’s live performance mimicked the record, THE OTHER TENT stage may have been a bit big for the two-piece from Sarasota Springs, New York. However, the live version of the band takes on a new sound and puts on a show, relying heavily on moody lights and smoke. Compared to their predecessor on THE OTHER TENT stage, Phantogram allowed for plenty of space in their music with haunting vocals over thick, electric buzzing melodies. The audience sang along and swayed song after song, adding merit to the fact that Phantogram can work well on any size stage.
photo by Pop ‘Stache photographer Kris Wade
Alabama Shakes (THIS TENT – 11:30pm )
By the end of the main events in Thursday, the name on many festival goers’ dusty lips was that of Alabama Shakes. Alabama Shakes dove into their hit “Hold On” only three songs into the set, wasting no time whipping their audience into a frenzy. Brittany Howard’s unique, lightly charred voice stretched and soared, causing eruptions of cheers far back beyond the field of the THIS TENT stage. The band commanded one of the bigger audiences of the TENT STAGES all weekend, due to their time slot and their reputation for their impressive live performances.
photo by Pop ‘Stache photographer Kris Wade
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