Jay Electronica

I was awakened Friday morning, not to the piercing sun nor the unforgiving Tennessee heat, but to flies the size of a baby’s fist. Ah yes, the life of a Bonnaroo’er. After a quick “shower” in my RV and a morning refreshment (lite beer, it’s essentially the same as water), I headed to the press tent for media orientation. Unfortunately, just as I have trouble choosing lines at the drive through section of the bank and every toll booth on this Earth, I chose to enter Centeroo in the security line of the most diligent line checker at the festival.

When I finally reached the press tent, I encountered a very welcomed feeling – air conditioning. It’s as if angels were singing from the heavens. I made it just in time for a very eclectic press conference. Included on the panel was the very young Sarah Jarosz, the striking beautiful Jesse Baylin, (wife of Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill and artist in her own right), Scott from Dr. Dog, and comedienne Margaret Cho. I suppose it was your typical Q&A about music festivals and the psychedelic “experiences” that ensue, carried by the very funny Cho who mentioned she “loves fucking musicians; not the adjective, the verb”.  But during the press conference, I came across a very inadvertently profound statement. Scott from Dr. Dog stated that when playing festivals his band is “still learning to do it” despite their festival experience. Clearly he was talking about his bands musical style playing to festival crowds, but the statement put me at ease in relation the the current situation I, myself was trying to navigate through here at Bonnaroo.

With that said, on the the music. First up for me was Jay Electronica, a New Orleans-based hip-hop emcee. I’d loved a few of his tracks, including his recent collaboration with Nas.  Though Jay’s based in the bayou, his sound is deeply rooted in East Coast hip-hop, most likely the sound he grew up with.

At one point he called 30 people or so up on stage, but sometimes this kind of excess crowd participation takes away from the performance, though I appreciate the energy. His frequent need to break into a cappella can be a nice way for an emcee to show how gifted or not gifted (gifted in his case) they are, but it can be repetitive. It’s clear that Jay Electronica is one of the most talented young emcees today, but he still needs to grow as a performer.

From there, I walked around from stage to stage just soaking in the sounds of the festival before taking in one of my all-time personal favorites on the main stage. Nas, an artist whose music was integral to my adolescence, and in my eyes, one of the top 2 or 3 emcees who’ve ever graced the mic, was performing with reggae star Damian Marley to promote their new collaboration project, Distant Relatives.

Damian Marley

Before I got to the main stage, I was sidetracked by The Gossip at This Tent.

I was immediately intrigued by the band’s front woman, Beth Ditto, who’s known for her powerful voice and flat out ability to rock. She seemed very at ease performing and talking to the crowd. Her southern accent and demeanor was an added bonus, and her references to growing up in Arkansas was a huge hit.

I was now ready to head to the What Stage to see Nas and Damian Marley. Though I’d seen Nas perform live countless times, it’s been few and far between since he’s become a political animal, which should make for quite the dynamic when performing with Marley. Although Nas hasn’t reached the success of rap poster man Jay-Z, his music has certainly held up and his newer material is more relevant, devoid of the pop anthems and forced collaborations.

The What Stage was packed despite the blazing sun. Conan O’Brien introduced them to help rev up the crowd. The duo performed two songs together from their new album before Nas broke into some of his older solo work. What a treat. His performance never fails to give me goose bumps. Marley then broke out into his solo material before the two finished up the set with some more politically-charged material. Though I’m not in love with this collaboration and I’m not quite sure what this project will do for the next phase of their respective careers, the set was a highlight nonetheless.

Due to the heat and the position I had on the grass, I determined that I would be staying at the What Stage for most of the night. I wrote earlier how I stressed about setting up my perfect schedule and that I have to control all details of my life. Well, I was able to throw that out the window and just chill, glad that I did. I’m sure I missed some great acts but I was loving my immediate environment and digging the vibe. I didn’t want to mess up my experience by stressing out, so now it was time for Tenacious D followed by Kings of Leon.

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t fully understand the concept behind Tenacious D. I’m not sure if they are trying to be funny or trying to be serious musicians; maybe a little of both, and maybe I shouldn’t try to label their concept. Though I was entertained by their set, it wasn’t exceptionally funny and the music wasn’t necessarily strong, since they seem caught between their two worlds. I did appreciate the constant use of F-bombs on the part of Jack Black, but wasn’t blown away.

As I mentioned before, the Kings of Leon set was one of the most talked about for various reasons, but from my view, the staunch critics had a leg to stand on.

It was brutally apparent to me that Kings of Leon were not ready for prime time despite any commercial success they have achieved. Though the set wasn’t bad, the band wasn’t able to gain much energy from the crowd, and at times, the fans were lifeless.  It was disappointing and a major letdown.   Maybe it’s the band demeanor in general, but whatever the case may be, I just don’t feel that these guys are up to their headliner status.

That-Tent

As I left the main stage area, needing something to make up for the Kings, I had to decide between the Black Keys, a band that I’d recently gotten into, or the Flaming Lips, an act that’s known for their cathartic performances. Since I found a good position to sit down, I chose the Black Keys, and it was easily the best decision I made thus far.

This band is absolutely amazing. I loved the way their instrumentals blared out into the crowd. I loved the sound, pure bluesy, gritty rock. I loved their approach to their craft as well.  You could tell they put a lot of thought into their shows, and there wasn’t anything about them I didn’t like. The crowd agreed, which made it one big party.  I’m sure the Flaming Lips were as good as touted, but I have no regrets about staying for the entire Black Keys gig. I had just experienced a musical low point just hours before, yet now, had experienced the apex. The Black Keys are absolute superstars.

I originally got into the Black Keys through their hip-hop connection, via their collaboration album Blackroc. From there, I invested more time in listening to some of their older work. On Friday night, I was able to hear some of their newer work as well, and loved it all.

And on that note, my Friday was over. I wanted to go to sleep dreaming of the sounds of the Keys and didn’t need any late night acts to possibly mess that up. Besides, I need my energy for Saturday.  That will be the day I’m introduced to the Dead Weather, enchanted by Stevie, and reunited with Hova.  But right now, it’s half-time.–Chris Dino/Jay Electronica (top) and Damien Marley/Nas, via: http://www.flickr.com/photos/allsongs/4691595076/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/allsongs/4692493742/