Sorry Dr. Dog, I jumped the gun. It appears that Bonnaroo’s crowning performance in fact goes to Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. The Chicagoan, sans band, entered a small Bonnaroo studio Sunday (June 17) morning to strum out a few tunes for live radio audiences, and thankfully, I was there in the flesh amongst some six or seven other lucky listeners. Sporting a green T-shirt and blue jeans, Tweedy rolled in, said hello in his gravely voice and sound checked with an off the cuff rendition of “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” Then, when all the dials were in correct form, Tweedy ran through the tune once more, filling the small, dark studio with acoustic plucks, his creaking voice, and endearing lyrics. Next, following a brief silence, he choose the title track from Wilco’s latest, Sky Blue Sky, accentuating its hammer on twangs while sauntering through the tune’s leisurely, country intonations and high, strained vocals. The intimacy of the set, which unfortunately ended there, was a dream come true despite the lack of material played. There was no question in my mind, Tweedy took the crown.
After joyously reciting my experience at least 50 times over, I slammed a few bottles of water (nearly 105 degrees!) and headed over to the This Tent for a set from prospector- cum-hipster Elvis Perkins. Perkins’ lengthy, somber acoustic ditties mesmerized the crowd, inducing a state of calm, collective tranquility. “While You Were Sleeping” from Perkins’ solo debut Ash Wednesday, logged as the crowd’s favorite, rousing hoots and hollers aplenty.
With Bonnaroo slowly dwindling, I find myself a bit sad. So, to remedy my misery, I treat myself to backstage perch during Wilco’s headlining set. The band, taking the main stage amidst a ravenous, packed audience, dove into a string of tunes from Sky Blue Sky, including “You Are My Face,” “Side With the Seeds,” and “Impossible Germany,” all which end with communal guitar freak outs lead by six-string extraordinaire Nels Cline. Tweedy, evidently in a great mood — “I can tell you one thing, we’re having a really great time. And that doesn’t happen all the time, either, so that’s saying something!” — mimicked a dancing crowd member, praised another sporting crutches as “die hard,” and asked the audience to sing along on “Jesus Etc.,” a request most gladly abided by. In addition to ushering the band’s Sky Blue Sky tunes into new light, Wilco’s set also illuminated a taut musical infrastructure as the band shredded through a jammy, searing rendition of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” and equally entertaining take on Summerteeth‘s “Shot in the Arm.”
The sun was now beginning to set on the steaming, Tennessee landscape while a few clouds moved in to provide a colorful canvas. Walking from the What Stage over to the Which Stage to check out the White Stripes, I could hear the duo begin to play and Jack White’s swampy, slide guitar provided the perfect soundtrack for a southern Sunday evening. Upon arrival to the Which Stage, I was thoroughly impressed with the remaining crowds. People amassed in numbers exceeding the Flaming Lips’ set from the night before. Jack, dressed in red head to toe, and Meg, sporting a white and black polka dot shirt, dug deep into their Icky Thump catalogue, belting “You Don’t Know What Love is (You Just Do As You’re Told),” and “I’m Slowly Turning Into You,” as well as offering a handful of seasoned favorites such as “Hotel Yorba,” “Blue Orchid,” and “Seven Nation Army.” Jack’s axe screeched through the thick Tennessee air while he flailed on stage, bounding to Meg’s slamming, simplistic beats. In closure, Jack, now a Tennessee resident, snatched the mic and said, “God bless you Bonnaroo and God bless you Tennessee.”
Now that, at least for my musical interests, all was said and done, I strolled the festival grounds with a few pals and rode the ferris wheel as Bonnaroo’s logistics team buzzed across the fields in preparation for deconstruction. Atop the glowing, eye-pleasing vintage ride, my buddies and I, all grinning ear to ear, snapped last photos, shouted to exiting festivalgoers, and basked in a moment of glossy summer romanticism. We all agreed to meet up again next year, and then went our separate ways, carrying our tired, muscle strained, and sun-drenched faces all still locked in a full smile. WILLIAM GOODMAN