Bonnaroo: Day 1 (Thursday)
People were still single-filing their RV’s, Volkswagen vans, and pickups onto the farm on Thursday afternoon when the festivities began. While acts like The Preatures and The Wild Feathers played early on in the day, most people were still attempting to assemble their tents and figure out what kind of starry night they’d be painting onto their faces. This was the day with the least amount of turn out, and neither the What or the Which stage (the two biggest stages) open. So people were going to come, or they weren’t. Some acts took a come hither approach, others took a look at me right now approach, and others didn’t seem to give a damn either way (which of course resulted in higher turnout).
The come-closely-my-child-tactic was utilized best by indie singer/songwriter stalwart Cass McCombs. He offset the biggest stage of the day with a thoroughly intimate, shy-guy performance. His ambiguous folk/Americana/blues/pop sound (the amount of slashes I just insisted upon are proof enough), came through with a sweet fuzziness. There was a glow around his sound, which both drew me in and kept me at a distance. His full and very capable band surrounded his mellow vocals with a sturdy jam-band effect, completing McComb’s synthesis of various American music traditions. The experience didn’t grab me fully, but turning my head to see my boyfriend’s eyes closing and mouth gliding into a dreamy smile was fair indication of McComb’s intelligent sad-boy appeal. While not my exact cup of tea, he went down with proficient and impressive ease. An appealing show from a modern day indie folk enigma for those who took interest.
Following in McComb’s easygoing footsteps, the atmospheric sounds of Real Estate drifted past me early evening. A healthy crowd already formed past the tent lines, I watched at a distance. Their easygoing west coast vibe via New Jersey suburbs was a delightful early evening treat. Melancholic enough to inspire daydreaming, but ethereal enough to gently uplift, Real Estate acted as a lovely sunset soundscape for the first day of the festival.
I then found myself caught up in the twilight storm that was Cloud Nothings. Following behind two friends trying to hide the foam dripping from their mouths, I was engulfed by a playfully rowdy crowd. Cloud Nothings came out with little introduction and tore through their opening song. Their tattered nerd-punk sound created a force field of fun ferocity through and around the stage. While their sound was incredibly tight, I wasn’t quite held at attention by their stage presence. They played their instruments well, but for someone who doesn’t listen to them frequently it wasn’t as fulfilling as it probably was for the two mouth-foamers rejoicing within the mosh pit.
As the sun officially took a break from all the crazy sights and sounds of Bonnaroo, the moon brought out a different energy. Bigger acts were starting to go up, and anticipation laced the air. A change of pace was hoped for as I headed to Pusha T. This was just the beginning of a long list of rappers I was gathering some foam for. Now it must be addressed at this time that proximity placement can play a large part in each set-going experience. If I could magically pitch a tent at the front of each stage with my name on it, I would. Sometimes being on the outskirts can be nice, but I will say especially for hip-hop/rap shows, being up front became an important goal. Unfortunately festival sound can be faulty for numerous reasons, from being outdoors, to the lack of sound check time between acts. That being said, my placement on the packed outskirts of Pusha T made my experience very different for ones inside the tent. Unfortunately the suspense will be forever held, because I could hear the basic skeleton of the beat and the reverb off of Pusha T’s mic. And that is pretty much it. I heard he was really good though, so.
If the Pusha T experience left a little too much to the imagination, Ty Segall made up for it. Easily the best act of Thursday, West Coast garage-rock darling Ty Segall took the stage with his band (including excellent drummer Emily Rose Epstein) and ruined my life in the best way possible for about two hours. Both wailing and laying down scuzz-lined guitar riffs and solos to turn the audience into a foam pit, Ty lit the match we were all waiting for. His onstage persona was like a cooler, crazier older brother of the Rocket Power siblings. Ty Segall had nothing to lose and thus won it all. Never having listened to his music thoroughly (that has since changed), I found myself entranced, dancing, and thirsty for more. His delivery was laden with a heavy dose of self-aware absurdist humor, at a few points making a shout out to his boy “Sean Paul.” Riding that incredible line between not giving a fuck and having the talent to back it up, Segall encapsulated fury and apathy all in one. Ty Segall has been one to watch, and only continues to be. His rise is imminent, he’s coming for you, and it’s going to be really really great once he gets you. Fly, Segall, fly.