Sunday morning at Bonnaroo is always a little bit like a hangover. Weary worn festival goers are exhausted by 3 days of sleeping on ground, partying, and getting rocked by Bruce Springsteen (until well past midnight). Those that stayed up for Nine Inch Nails and Ben Harper, both of whom played late night sets that stretched almost till morning, could at least take solace in the absence of a Kanye West like dawn performance. This Sunday featured overcast weather in the morning, which would eventually clear to reveal sunshine by mid-afternoon. It was perfect weather for a day outdoors enjoying music.
I began my day with cellist/songwriter Ben Sollee. Sollee is one-fourth of The Sparrow Quartet that features non-other than Bela-Fleck, Abigail Washburn, and Casey Driessen. His solo work is an intriguing mixture of classical, bluegrass, and most prominently soul music. Sollee also biked down to Bonnaroo on a mini-tour that weaved through his home state of Kentucky and on down to Manchester, Tennessee. He did so to raise awareness for Oxfam International’s work against poverty and to promote the Xtracycle, an extended frame bicycle that allowed Sollee to carry some sixty pounds of equipment (including his cello) with him on the 330 mile trip.
All this was cool and inspirational, but not nearly as cool and inspirational as the 45 minute set he conducted at the Sonic Stage on Sunday morning. Sollee was augmented by light percussion and a tastefully minimalist electric guitarist. The trio dispatched tunes from Sollee’s debut record Learning to Bend as well as several awesome covers including Tom Wait’s “Chocolate Jesus” and a closing rendition of Cat Steven’s “It’s A Wild World.” On the former, Sollee and company were joined by a body painted hippie who took hold of a spare mic stand and began doing his best Tom Waits impersonation. The surprise cameo was gracefully allowed by Sollee and the Bonnaroo security staff, until the hippie decided to examine Sollee’s cello bow. At that point he was forcibly removed from the stage (I spotted him later, no worse for the wear). Sollee finished the song by following the hippie’s lead by standing up and doing his own Wait’s impersonation. The sound of Sollee’s cello and soulful vocals attracted quite a crowd to the small stage by the end of his set. The last day of Bonnaroo 2009 was just getting started.
Next up for me was the Lovell Sisters. The three sisters were joined by a standup bass player and an additional guitarist, however it was the three sisters that fronted the show and held the audience’s rapt attention. I didn’t know much about the Lovell Sisters before heading to this show and was pleasantly surprised by them, which is one of the things that makes each Bonnaroo so special. The undiscovered bands, the unscripted moments, and the unplanned camping adventures are what makes Bonnaroo Bonnaroo. Rebecca (mandolin), Jessica (fiddle), and Megan Lovell (dobro) are the real deal. Though young and pretty, which might cause some to pause, these girls can play and have graced stages from Merlefest to Telluride. They even turned down a deal with one of big record labels in favor of recording their own original songs. However, it was an instrumental cover of “Choctaw Hayride” that was the highlight of their set as each Lovell showed instrumental prowess well beyond their years. This is definitely a band to keep an eye on. Their new record Time to Grow is due out July 7th.
Todd Snider followed the Lovell Sisters. Full disclosure: I’m a huge Todd Snider fan and had never seen him live. That being said the show was pretty awesome. Back up by Don Was on bass, Snider delivered a set heavy on his excellent new album The Excitement Plan. Several of the songs came across much funnier than the understated arrangements of the record would have suggested. Highlights included rousing renditions of Snider classics “The Ballad of the Kingsmen” and “Conservative Christian Straight White Republican All American Males”. Snider also exhibited his notorious comedic flourishes with a side splitting story about his evolution from a varsity football player in high school to quitting the team and becoming a “burnout”. Dropping acid evidently makes football practice a lot more fun. This lead to one of the standout songs from his new record “America’s Favorite Pastime,” a song about a pitcher who pitches a no-hitter tripping on acid. A more tender note was the reading of Robert Earl Keen’s “Corpus Christi Bay,” which Keen himself joined Snider on stage for, a favor Snider would return during Keen’s subsequent set.
This post was supposed to cover all of Sunday’s activities, but……look for part 3 of Bonnaroo 2009 sometime next week.
About the author: Specializes in Dead, Drunk, and Nakedness..... Former College Radio DJ and Current Craft Beer Nerd