For this first in a series of flashbacks, let's go back five years from today and up four years from The Roots' inaugural 2003 Bonnaroo gig, and we have Questlove at Bonnaroo '007 (the year, as has been noted, web video broke) sharing, between witticisms, in the honest, easy tones arrived at through a life in music, a chronicle of his band's unique relationship to this festival.
Like a comet, The Roots orbit Planet 'Roo in nearly five-year intervals, from the festival's second year ('03), through its middle ('07) and, if the cosmic doomsayers are correct about 2012, its end. With either scenario -- doomsday or just another day -- it makes for a compelling reason to live under the same sky as 80,000 other individuals, engaged in the unique rituals, absence thereof and also the re-introduction of sorts to an at-times more relativistic civil society, which festivals, by definition and by virtue of their numbers, engender. Suffice to say, the take-away lessons can be profound for festival-goer and muso.
To wit, Questlove, the future leader of America's nightly living-room jam-band, in '007:
More than anything, the fest changed us, more than us changing our audience; like the first time we played here, we didn't know what to expect, we just though, 'another gig.' But now, we know what the presence is, we're pretty much, you know prepared. Like this made us change, like, I think, in a good way, like expand our horizons. So, if anything, I think it's almost better for us. We're not just Hip-Hop now, like we're trying to amalgamate the entire spectrum of music, but make it make sense on our world.
He explained their songwriting process as born of a serious touring hustle, and, as a drummer would, in terms of creativity afforded by the math, the measurements: "We write our stuff out of jams because we do 250 to 300 shows a year; pretty much the only time we get to socialize in a creative way is soundcheck. Once I did Bonnaroo, then I studied it; this is what Bonnaroo was about, people wanna see extended jams -- it brings the most out of us, because before 2002, we were more or less concerned with keeping our quote un-quote Hip-Hop credibility; the Hip Hop credibility card, which was that we wanted to seem machine-like, and we sounded like samples. We didn't wanna be the Rudolf-the-Red-Nosed Reindeer of the Hip-Hop community, but now that's all, that's totally fallen apart. We're just trying to be better musicians."
When asked about his upcoming jam with John Paul Jones and Ben Harper, he set up his response with a loaded multiple choice: "Do you want the long answer, or the truth?" After the journo affirmed the latter, he spoke in the earnest tones of a fan: "The truth was, I wanted to ensure that I'd be here for The Police, and I told them I'd do anything and everything just to be here, including garbage pick-up. So, I'm putting in my 10 hours, just so I can see The Police".
Bonnaroo 2007: John Paul Jones, Ben Harper and Questlove deliver a jam for the ages.
You can find the line-up HERE:
File Under "Extra-credit life-advice"
Having seen the work-exchange teams in action behind the scenes, I can say that anyone joining one of this pop-up city's many important work details will have a once-in-a-lifetime experience (and a free festival experience, though a refundable deposit is required.) The "Toll Booths" option (in which you pull extra long shifts to have Friday night onward gloriously free) creates up a whole universe of additional butterfly effects. Volunteer info can be found HERE