Bonnaroo Music Festival 2004 Various Artists
by Mike D'Ariano



Track listing
Disc 1
Down Along The Cove - Bob Dylan
Trouble -
Dave Matthews
Self Defense -
The Dead
Dear Mr. Fantasy -
Steve Winwood
Blind Man In The Dark - Gov't Mule
Caleb Meyer -
Gillian Welch
Crazy Dream -
Los Lonely Boys
One Big Holiday -
My Morning Jacket
Breaks -
The Black Keys
Trani -
Kings Of Leon
Nemo -
Umphrey's McGee
Big Eater -
The Bad Plus

Disc 2
Curfew's Call -
Trey Anastasio
Dialog Box -
David Byrne
Volcano -
Damien Rice
Frizzle Fry -
Zoloft -
Evolve -
Ani DiFranco
Desert Dawn -
The String Cheese Incident
Bring It On -
Best Bit -
Beth Orton
Nothin But Flowers - Guster
Not Coming Down -
Ska Me Crazy -
Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra

Label: Sanctuary Records
Release Date: April 5, 2005



I have never gone to the Bonnaroo Music Festival. The massive show, which routinely features roughly a dozen of my favorite acts and another two dozen acts that I'm at least interested in, has been held annually since 2002 in Manchester Tennessee. Give or take, 100,000 people attend the four day long extravaganza every year. Again, I have never been among them.

The main reason is that I live in New York City, and Tennessee is a pretty long commute. I had every intention of going to the Bonnaroo NE (which I assume stands for North East although they never actually said so) which was supposed to happen somewhere on Long Island late in the summer of 2003. The show was cancelled because the proposed venue didn't have the right permit to admit 100,000 smelly, mud covered, drug addicts on to the grounds . . . I'm not sure exactly which form you need to fill out for that.

Most of the acts that were scheduled to play that weekend grabbed up local gigs all over the tri-state area. I created my own festival out of the wreckage, and saw Thursday/Sonic Youth/The Stooges that Friday, Bob Dylan/Tom Petty that Saturday, and three sets of The Dead that Sunday. It was nice because I got to see what I wanted to see the most out of Bonnaroo, and I didn't have to sleep in a tent next to some guy selling homemade veggie burritos and balloons full of nitrous.

Location aside, there is another reason that I have never made my way to Bonnaroo . . . it's just too much. At the 2004 Bonnaroo Festival, there were seven stages worth of entertainment going at the same time (including the Comedy tent), plus a tent where you could meet the acts and a handful of other activities. The following are some of the actual choices a 2004 attendee would have to make:

7 PM Friday June 11th - Bob Dylan, or The String Cheese Incident, or Chris Robinson and New Earth Mud, or Gillian Welch, or Yo La Tengo.

12 AM Saturday June 12th - Praxis, or Vida Blue, or Umphrey's McGee, or The X-ecutioners.

12 AM Sunday June 13th - Primus, or Ween, or Robert Randolph and the Family Band, or The Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, or, Cut Chemist


So in those cases, I'd take Dylan, Praxis and Primus, and in turn I'd miss 12 of the 80 acts I had paid to see, and that's not including the comedy I'd miss by Jim Norton, Rich Vos, and the the Upright Citizen's Brigade who were also all on in those time slots. That's just three examples! This went on all weekend. You choose. Taj Mahal or Cracker? Medeski Martin and Wood or David Bryne or Bill Laswell? Ani DiFranco, or Nellie McKay, or Patti Smith . . . I'm not even a lesbian and I'd be pissed off. There were only three bands out of 80 that got the festival to themselves. At 8 PM each night, there was only one show in town. Dave Mathews, The Dead, and Trey Anastasio were the owners of those coveted time slots.

A little quick math on the schedule shows that if you didn't jump from set to set catching a song here and a song there, you'd only be able to see roughly 14% of the bands you saw in the ads for the show, and none of the comedy or other stuff going on. So, basically you'd have to miss String Cheese Incident, Robert Randolph, Ween, Vida Blue, Yo La Tengo and sixty or so other acts, but you would have no choice but to watch Dave Mathews. Who runs this thing? Satan?

It doesn't have to be that way. I know the promoters would like you to think it does, but it's just not true. The Gathering of the Vibes Festival, as one example, features about half as many acts as Bonnaroo does, but you get to see every single one of them if you want to; no one is on at the same time. Would you rather see 15 bands at a show advertising 80, or all 40 bands at a show advertising 40? Seems like you'd have to be stoned out of your skull to prefer Bonnaroo . . . hmmmm.

Anyway, none of what I've said so far really pertains to the CD I'm reviewing here, which I gotta say, is fantastic. The double disc set features 24 different acts from the festival doing a song apiece. Now I just spent a few hundred words bitching about not getting to see all 80 bands at the festival, and now I'm praising a CD that leaves out 56 of them. The difference is that I didn't pay for a CD with 80 bands on it only to find after the fact that I could only hear 24 of them. That, plus the fact I didn't have to drive a thousand miles to nowhere to hear the CD.

Who's MIA? Praxis, Vida Blue, Robert Randolph, Taj Mahal, Cracker, North Mississippi Allstars, Patti Smith, Los Lobos, Galactic, Medeski Martin and Wood, Soulive, Burning Spear, Addison Groove Project, The Radiators, Yonder Mountain String Band, Wilco, Leftover Salmon, and a whole bunch of others. There's easily enough missing to issue a second set of music from the festival without repeating any acts.

Who's present and accounted for? Well, the CD covers most of the really big names. Trey, The Dead, Dave Mathews, Bob Dylan, Primus, David Byrne, Ani DiFranco, Gov't Mule, Moe, and String Cheese Incident all made the cut. Lesser known and up and coming acts like My Morning Jacket, The Black Keys, Gomez, Los Lonely Boys, and Kings of Leon are also included.

The sound quality and song selection on the CDs are excellent. There isn't really anything here that I find myself skipping over. The mix is eclectic, but not so much so that it becomes awkward. The booklet that comes in the package is full of cool photos, and notes on many of the great moments of the festival. Many of the great moments mentioned are not included on the CDs, which is moderately annoying. Again, who's running this thing?

Both of the previous Bonnaroo festivals were followed by a 2-CD set similar to this latest installment. A third disc of music was released from the original Bonnaroo but that was not repeated for the 2003 festival, and it seems unlikely that it will be now. Many were even wondering if the 2-disc set would be released from the 2004 festival since many of the artists complete performances were available for download this time around just days after the festival ended.

In the end, it seems to me like this set is a better value for your money than actually going to the show. At least here you can check out not only the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, but Ween and Primus, who were both on at the same time, as well . . . you still miss out on Robert Randolph and Cut Chemist, but 3 out of 5 still trumps reality.

Check out our DVD review of Live from Bonnaroo 2004


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