Bonnaroo '09 Sunday: Springsteen goes Phishing

It’s about 8 p.m. on Sunday night, and I am waiting to shoot Phish again, taking this opportunity to start my final Bonnaroo post (unless I get ambitious and do a wrap-up later). Your festival correspondent is very tired, and if given the choice would prefer not to stay up all night, what with real life resuming tomorrow. For the thousands of filthy, sunburned, exhausted people about to leave the Oz of these gates, I suspect the culture shock is not gonna be fun.

Thanks to Band of Horses, though, we’ve come down a bit. Like methadone to the Bonnaroo heroin, their set at sunset tonight was the perfect way to take the edge off, with unassuming yet highly motivated tunes ringing across the fading field. After the jump, not all that many pictures or words from a day that included Andrew Bird, Okkervil River, Merle Haggard, and more Phish. It does not include much of anything about “Hip-Hop Time” All-Stars Erykah Badu and Snoop Dogg, both of whom lollygagged in getting to the mainstage, throwing a wrench into my carefully calculated scheduling plans. And as we learned last year with Kanye, “Festival Time” and “Hip-Hop Time” are not good friends.

UPDATE, 11:30 PM: When you get to the end of this post, you will learn that Springsteen sat in with Phish on three songs this evening. I encourage you to read on!

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After falling asleep with my computer in my lap while editing photos at 6 a.m. this morning, I was in no position to get here much before Erykah Badu’s set at 3:30. Sadly, after we all killed some time laughing at funny audience members on the jumbotron — a zaftig woman with a hula skirt of beer cans; a man in a Guy Fawkes mask and long afro — I had to go shoot Andrew Bird, who I’ve been neglecting all summer. I am told that when Badu finally appeared, she was wearing a Public Enemy sweatshirt. Meanwhile, Andrew Bird and his monkey mascot were tearing it up on the second stage, though Bird opted for bare feet instead of his trademark funky socks to commemorate the blazing hot afternoon. No rain today, friends. Blue skies. Glorious. Flanked by his giant phonograph speakers, the looping whiz laid down a typically lush string murmur, then whipped through the hits: “Opposite Day,” with its deep violin bowing and mysterious undertones; “Fitz and the Dizzyspells”; the festival’s only whistle-along in “Nervous Tic Motion…” He introduced his band, one of whom was born on today’s date, and the crowd leapt into a spontaneous chorus of “Happy Birthday” –

– Oops, sorry. Had to go take pictures of Phish 2, Deja Phish. (Read my blog on Phish 1 here.) “Still here, huh?” Trey Anastasio asked upon taking the stage, and the crowd — coated with the tortillas that someone inexplicably decided to start flinging into the air a few moments before showtime, floury discs glowing eerily alongside glowsticks in the blue stage light — roared its response. Am now sitting in a lawn chair behind the stage as the Phish show unwinds, and have decided to call what I am doing “noodle blogging.” Ah, to be not sober. Anyway. So the Andrew Bird crowd sang “Happy Birthday,” and Bird was impressed. “Y’all are like one person. A really cool person.” He declared Bonnaroo to be his favorite festival, and I wandered over to Merle Haggard. The country legend was predictably solid, his generation-spanning band was huge, and because he covered it, I’d like to remind everyone out there in Music Mix land that if you’ve got the money, honey, I’ve got the time. What I don’t have, however, are any good shots of Okkervil River, whose sidestage was closed — much like MGMT’s had been — due to the presence of one Mr. Bruce Springsteen and his son. (Those two also reportedly wreaked havoc at Citizen Cope and Neko Case, inspiring at least one photographer to posit a Bruce = New Kanye theory.) I can’t imagine having the Boss there watching did much to help Will Sheff’s spastic anxiety, as he already seems somewhat overwrought. Can’t wait for that band to stop writing lyrics about the perils of life in the public eye — I was saying that very thing to a companion when they launched into “Westfall” and the line “With all these cameras focused on my face…” — and get back to making merriment, if they were ever really doing that in the first place. Because no matter what the song says, I am not waiting to hate anybody. I want to dance, and love.

Skipped the Snoop show and retired instead to Band of Horses, since, as of his scheduled start time, it was rumored Mr. Doggy Dogg was not even on the property. He must have shown up eventually, as I could feel his bass throbbing throughout quiet bearded Horse gems like “No One’s Gonna Love You”; louder, clangier songs like “Weed Party” and “Is There A Ghost” fared better. As shade finally swept across the field, the band was in fine if not extraordinary form — nothing compared to their 2008 ACL set — but like I said, they were the perfect way to come down. Threw in a Gram Parsons cover (“A Song For You”), and tried out a new song in the encore: “And if you’re ever left with any doubt / what you’ll live with and what you’ll do without / I’m only sorry that it took so long to figure out,” sang Ben Bridwell (he may have been dueting with Tyler Ramsey at the time). It was a peaceful moment, marred only by the dude walking through the crowd loudly hawking bootleg Bonnaroo t-shirts. I had a conversation with Kenny Chesney while I was out reporting a feature on him last weekend (that’s right, I just obnoxiously name-dropped Kenny Chesney) about how both of us wish, in different ways, that we could just go see a show like a regular person sometimes — hang out in the sun with our buddies and drink beer, just enjoy the music instead of working. For a moment during tonight’s Band of Horses set, I felt that elusive relaxation, and smiled.

Phish could feasibly play for the next twelve hours without me being able to identify a single song, so that’s where I’ll leave you, and this festival, Mixers: at the intersection of art and commerce, beauty and vulgarity, humanity and the –

– HOLD UP! We interrupt this needless reverie to tell you that at approximately 10:10 p.m., Bruce Springsteen joined Phish for three songs. I was noodle-blogging away backstage when I was wrangled out to the soundboard by interested parties who stuck a beer in my hand; three songs later, the jamming stopped and a pregnant pause appeared. “We are having such a good time up here, it’s impossible to describe with words,” said Trey into the silence, then told the story of his first rock concert as a kid, a concert that was so good it’s never been rivaled: Bruce. He introduced “my boyhood hero, and still my hero today,” and Springsteen emerged, then proceeded to basically hornswoggle Trey etc. into posing as his backing band on “Mustang Sally,” calling shots like “Come on, Mr. Keyboard Man!” and getting the whole crowd going on the ride Sally rides. (“Most expensive bar band ever,” said one of my companions.) Up next was “Bobby Jean,” capably performed but not overly thrilling save for Bruce and Trey’s echoing guitar solos, overlapping in the most pleasant of discord while the Phish guitarist grinned like a 12-year-old. As the crowd cheered, I started wondering what suddenly being cast into a Springsteen show does to you if you’re on drugs.

The last song of the collaboration (and the end of Phish’s first set) was “Glory Days,” a strange choice primarily because Bruce did it yesterday, and because it took a hot mess of a second for everyone on stage to find the same groove. Oh no, I thought. Don’t try to recapture a little of the glory-uh. But since Trey Anastasio can solo on anything, what seemed destined to be a train wreck actually crescendoed into something extraordinary: Bruce dropped back to rhythm and let the man who idolizes him take the lead on what could honestly be termed an incredibly Phishian take on an incredibly not Phishy song, everything modernized and shaken loose. And so unlike yesterday, when everything Springsteen did was better than everything everybody else did, I can now say with confidence that Trey Anastasio is a better lead guitarist than Bruce Springsteen, and I think Bruce would agree.

Okay! Since I’m back at the hotel now, I think I’m done. Your turn, Mixers: If you attended Bonnaroo ’09, share your memories below, or wait for that (alleged) wrap-up post that I am (maybe) going to write tomorrow, if I’m not somewhere having my cheap-rain-boot-tortured feet amputated. One more time for old times’ sake: SQUID BRAINS!

Photo Credit: Whitney Pastorek/EW.com

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Comments (25 total) Add your comment
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  • Suzy Greenberg

    This is such a poorly written and researched article I can’t believe it was even posted online. 1: A little research would explain the tortillas. 2: Even though you “couldn’t name a single Phish song,” you commentate on the bands performance as if you were firmiliar with their work. 3: Of course Trey is a better guitarist then Bruce. How in the world was this ever a question? While Bruce may be many things, a ground breaking instrumentalist he is not.
    Poor reporting.

  • Mr. Miner

    This is one of the most poorly written articles I’ve ever seen on Bonnaroo. Someone paid you to go down there and write?

  • CashCrowe

    I really hope EW didn’t actually pay you to go down and cover Bonnaroo. A quick read through of the cover story EW did on Phish a few years back would have been a fine primer before you went down to cover the festival headliner (who played TWO nights). I’m also going to take a wild guess that the author of this “article” can’t even name any of the other members of Phish save for Trey Anastasio.

  • Cliff

    I’ve enjoyed your writeups from the festival all weekend Whitney (all festival season really). Thanks for spending every weekend at music festivals so that we can read about them

  • EntertainmentBlogger

    Hello fellow music lovers.
    Hmmmm…wish I was there. Maybe someday. I had a conflict though with Eddie Vedder’s solo tour making a stop in my town. For a review of THAT concert visit the blog below. While there, take a look at the article on the COLDPLAY plagiarism debate — and vote on the poll! Thanks!
    http://movies-tv-entertainment.blogspot.com/

  • EntertainmentBlogger

    Hello fellow music lovers.
    Hmmmm…wish I was there. Maybe someday. I had a conflict though with Eddie Vedder’s solo tour making a stop in my town. For a review of THAT concert visit the blog below. While there, take a look at the article on the COLDPLAY plagiarism debate — and vote on the poll! Thanks!
    http://movies-tv-entertainment.blogspot.com/

  • jdog

    Agree with SuzyG – that was a terrible article. Horribly written.. but a guy “not sober”.
    Nice.

  • Mr. Completely

    This is the worst music review in the history of the Internet, which is really saying something. You should be fired, and EW should sue you to recover whatever they paid for you to attend. Intensely horrible writing and pathetically idiotic content add up to a review so bad The Onion would strain to parody it.

  • Kristopher

    I do concert photography and have for eight years. Someone elese takes my photos and writes a story.
    This piece is why photographers should let someone else write for them…this is the future of media?!?!

  • JG

    Really, everyone is very right when they say this is THE WORST music article ever. Phish HEADLINED the festival and you cannot name the members of the band or any of their songs? Pathetic. Bar band comment. Super pathetic. Hotel? damn…since when did EW let just anyone do music reviews. If you send someone to Bonnaroo, send someone who knows what they are doing/talking about.

  • Matt

    Here’s really good video of the Phish/Bruce collaboration:
    http://www.gotchamediablog.com/2009/06/phish-and-bruce-springsteen-jam-at.html

  • biskitwheels

    I’m a phish fan and with that said, I could care less if you don’t know who they are or like their music or think we’re all on drugs. But I’m also a concert photographer and I don’t know who you are. So why would you have a problem being a civilian at a concert? Are you that troubled by your fame? If you ever say noodle blogging again we’re going to have to have a talk.

  • epic burn

    my name says it all – this guy got torched and deserved every minute of it.

  • Amy

    I wish some commenters would realize that quasi-live-blogging a festival is not supposed to be the same thing as a thoroughly researched article. It seems to me these are meant to be personal reflections, not hardcore journalism.
    In any case, I can’t name a single Phish song either, though I sat through almost all of their set last night. Re: Band Of Horses– I and my companions kinda thought they were phoning it in, though we love the music. I mean, musically I think they were on point, but they seemed to just be fulfilling an obligation and not engaging the audience at all. I was more impressed by Okkervil earlier in the day.
    My set-of-the-weekend goes to Wilco, but that’s more personal preference than anything else. Bon Iver comes in a close second for me. Bruce and his Baptist pastor shtick just doesn’t do it for me.

  • jkontos

    EW, what were you thinking? Why did you send someone who obviously has little appreciation of jam band music to a jam band festival? It was like reading three blogs by a country fan at a Lil Wayne show. Do better next time.

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