April 25, 2005

Various Artists "Bonnaroo Music Fest 2004"

Every year, tens of thousands of hippie progeny descend upon Manchester, Tennessee, for the annual Bonnaroo Festival. Sure, there's plenty of reasons to compare it to those festivals of yore, but that would be a bit of an insult to both the past and the present generation. Still, that whole "jam band" trend is built on nostalgia, and while this is neither the time nor place to launch into a rant about that particular musical genre, it's still something that's glaringly obvious when you consider the Bonnaroo experience. But ya wanna know something? When you look at the actual lineup of each year's festival, you'll realize something: the organizers have to be credited with being extremely diverse. Sure, you've got your Dead and Phish-insipred (and related) bands, but you'll also get a whole bunch of other styles, ranging from pop to electronica to world-beat to folk and beyond. Once you get past the jam-band image, you'll discover that Bonnaroo is actually a damn good festival, run by experts who know the value of mixing up musical styles for discriminating, intelligent music lovers.

After the festival's over, though, the organizers continue to give the gift of music: a solid two-CD set of highlights. Much like the festival itself, the CD collection is often well-organized, with a blend of well-known artists mixed in with younger, lesser known artists. Bonnaroo Music Festival 2004 is no exception. Heavy hitters include Bob Dylan, performing an excellent rendition of "Down Along The Cove," weirdos Ween and their song "Zoloft," Steve Winwood and "Dear Mr. Fantasy" and an excellent David Byrne offering, "Dialog Box." There are excellent offerings from younger bands, such as "Big Eater" by The Bad Plus, "One Big Holiday" by My Morning Jacket, Los Lonely Boys' "Crazy Dream" and Damien Rice's "Volcano." Guster's contribution, a cover of the Talking Heads' "(Nothing But) Flowers," is a can't miss track as well. Then again, even songs by Dave Matthews Band and Trey Anastasio are tolerable for a non-fan like me--which is truly a sign that Bonnaroo's doing something right.

The one criticism worth noting is that this set is a bit too jam-band heavy, shutting out other great artists who appeared on the bill, including Mike Doughty, Grandaddy, Calexico, Wilco, Fema Kuti and the Hackensaw Boys. Where are they? They're excellent artists who deserve representation, as the set would benefit from them rather than Moe, Umphrey's McGee and Kings of Leon. But, again, such is the case with the limited space and time alloted; someone's gonna be left out--and besides, the point is to tempt people to come to the festival. In that case--mission accomplished! Bonnaroo Music Fest 2004 is a fun collection of what's easily this country's best music festival that will make you want to go to this year's fest. (I know I do--anyone up for it?)

--Joseph Kyle

Festival Website: http://www.bonnaroo.com
Label Website: http://www.sanctuaryrecords.com

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