June 17, 2012

Bonnaroo, Day 4: Ridin’ Dirty

Getting misty with Red Baraat, Here We Go Magic, and The Beach Boys

Thanks to the sweet, soothing, soul-rejuvenating rain, I don’t have to complain about the heat on day 4. In fact, other than flooded tents, drenched articles of clothing, and the general odor of thousands of dirty people slowly turning into thousands of muddy people, the rain was a welcome surprise (and since showers cost $7 at Bonnaroo, it was the closest thing I’d had since early Thursday morning). Sure, my air mattress didn’t hold air, and my rain tarp didn’t keep out rain, but it didn’t matter, because I was about to pack all that stuff up, throw it in my trunk, catch a few more shows, and get back on the road. My first Bonnaroo would soon come to an end, but not without a very memorable sendoff.

First up was Red Baraat, an eclectic world music act out of Brooklyn that, as best I could tell, combined Bollywood-style drumming with ska-inflected horns and maybe a little bit of Mariachi influence as well. In short, they were a badass collective of musicians taking turns firing off blistering solos while a sousaphone player replicated thumpin’ bass lines (when he wasn’t playing the fastest tuba solos you’ve ever heard or, on one song, doing a bit of rapping). Offering trombone, trumpet, soprano saxophone, and the far less common bass trumpet, this largely unknown act had a decent-sized crowd dancing unusually hard for a noon show. I was glad I’d made the trek out early to catch them.

Just to kill time, I wandered over and took in half of the Here We Go Magic set and was every bit as bored as I have been by their albums. A blurry, forgettable combination of electric psych-folk and shoegaze, these guys hide behind a lot of watery distortion and don’t do enough to make it work for them (or even sound all that interesting). Much like when I saw The War On Drugs (whom this band feels like a poppier version of) earlier this year at SXSW, I came away still wondering what the big deal was.

But that’s ok, because next up was my most-anticipated show of the entire festival – the original Beach Boys back over on the main stage – and though it wouldn’t live up to the majority of the performances I enjoyed on Tuesday, it was a truly delightful way to bid farewell to the magic of Bonnaroo. Brian Wilson sat at a white baby grand at one end of the stage, while Mike Love took the center mic and handled most of the crowd banter. Behind me, a man held up a homemade sign featuring the visage of 1985-era John Stamos and the query “Where’s Uncle Jesse?” (sadly, this did not inspire the Beach Boys to play their gorgeous ballad “Forever”). That said, though they are obviously getting up there in years, these guys are still more than spry, and they blew through upwards of thirty songs in an hour and a half – banging out hit after hit after hit, and peppering in a couple of (not half-bad) new tunes and an extended, Wilson-led jam of “Heroes and Villains.” They may have to farm out their highest high notes and the occasional guitar solo now, but the Beach Boys still have plenty left in the tank, whether it’s a little Deuce Coupe, a 409, or that confiscated T-Bird. Their endless summer harmonies will never go out of style.

And so, faced with the prospect of sitting around for another hour in the rain just to get bummed out by Bon Iver before I started driving back to Athens, I decided to quit while I was ahead. It was still coming down in fits and starts, and I was ready to get home and take a real shower. So doing my best to confine the wet dog/mildew/sunscreen smell to the trunk of my car, I rolled down my windows and set out for home, putting the greatest music festival I’ve ever attended in my rearview mirror and hoping it wouldn’t be my last. I knew I could only do things better the next time around – I’d bring more money, better equipment, other people to indoctrinate – if the lineup was right, I’d go back in a heartbeat. There’s something about this place that words can’t do justice to - a feeling of community and camaraderie; an appreciation for the present; a very elusive kind of freedom. Just know, you won’t be prepared for the heat.