What was the best performance I caught at Bonnaroo 2008? Sigur Rós was absolutely incredible. They played for 2 hours, from 1 am until 3 am on Saturday night and other than some technical problems with one of the big speakers early on in the set they were just about perfect. When they played “Gobbledigook,” I counted 8 percussionists on stage, and it sounded fricking awesome. “Gobbledigook” is the first single from their new album Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (English translation: with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly), to be released next week, but which you can stream here, and you can download an mp3 of the single and watch the video for it here (note that it’s safe to follow that link and download the single, but the video itself is not save for work).
Which single song was the highlight of Bonnaroo? Mike and I, I think, are in agreement on this one. Alison Krauss and Robert Plant singing “Black Dog” was so good that I never for a moment regretted attending their set, even though it put us in the middle of a giant traffic disaster trying to get out of the park. The rest of their set was wonderful, too. They did way more Zeppelin tunes than I had expected and Robert Plant looked like he was having the absolute time of his life. (They also did “The Battle of Evermore” and “Black Country Woman,” can’t remember now whether there any others.)
Who had the most disastrous performance? I didn’t attend myself, but everyone was talking about the train wreck that was Kanye West. From the first press orientation, where it dripped from the organizer’s tone every time they mentioned his name that he was being a total dick to yesterday, where fans had painted “Friends don’t let friends listen to Kanye West” and “Kanye Sux” on the walls and other fans went to shows all day with impromptu banners declaring “Fuck Kanye,” he seems to have done an awful lot to insure that about 80,000 people in attendance and all of their friends will know not to buy a ticket to his shows in the future. He demanded that they move his scheduled performance time to 2:30 in the morning, so his “glow in the dark” show would be in full dark. There were two sets of rules for media coverage of the festival: covering everyone else and covering Kanye (for one thing, no photos of his show allowed). Then he demanded that every other performer in the festival stop playing before he would go on. Phil Lesh and lots of others agreed to appease him and cut their sets short so that he could go on in that slot. Then he still refused to go on and left his fans waiting for 2 hours, so all those artists who cut their sets short could have just gone ahead and played, and when he finally did go on, he played what by every account I heard was an extremely low-energy show, which included long stretches where instead of singing he just spoke his lines in a monotone voice. And he never said a word of apology or of thanks to his fans for waiting–not even a perfunctory “thanks for coming” at the end. He was the butt of every joke on the last day of the festival. When we were coming into the Centeroo stage area on Sunday morning, security asked if we had had a good night before and before we even answered said “If you were lucky enough not to go to Kanye’s set, then you probably did.” I heard numerous one-liners about nothing being bigger than Kanye’s ego.
What was the best moment in the media tent? Phil Lesh showed up as a surprise guest to be interviewed backstage and then without any sort of prompting on our part said something that really strongly supports the argument Mike and I had decided to make in one of our proposed articles.
Which act was the most fun to photograph? It’s between Cat Power and The Battles. I did not have a photo pass, just media access, so I was technically not allowed in the photo pit for shows, but that rule was really only enforced for the main stages. For almost all the acts I attended in the tents, I had no problem going into the photo pit right in front of the stage. Cat Power had so much personality and I think I got some great photos of her–she even paused to take on a silly pose when she was coming off stage and I was standing there to the side and pointed my camera at her. The Battles just fricking rocked and it was a huge rush to be standing in between them and all those screaming fans. I spent a bunch of time perched right in front of the keyboardist/guitarist shooting him while he just completely rocked out.
What was the best celebrity moment backstage? I got to meet Sam Beam from Iron and Wine just a few minutes before he went on to perform. He was so totally laid back and cool, too, that I couldn’t believe that he was going to be performing in moments. He made fun of me for having grown up in South Florida and
for living in Atlanta, and we talked about teaching and about beards and moustaches. My moustache wax had all been wiped off by that point in the day, and he suggested that I should get some wax and curl it, and when I said I normally do he said he really dug the stache.
Will I be hoping to return in 2009? Hell yeah. Once Mike and I finish our articles, I hope we can start to plan how we can do it again next year.