05/17/2012 04:43 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Bonnaroo Flashbacks: Crowd-Surfing with Crystal Castles, Phoenix + M.I.A., Florence, David Byrne, Erykah Badu, Neon Indian, MGMT (VIDEOS)

Exactly three weeks from my favorite festival, herewith, a scrapbook of old clips and thoughts from Bonnaroos past. As always, ignore all typos. NUDITY ALERT: PAINTED NIPPLES


My microphone got kicked off my camera during the first of several stage dives, hence the dense audio... The fearless AG made it through these waves safely, but broke her ankle onstage in Tokyo a year later, which led to her gamely hitting subsequent gigs in crutches.

All of which makes the effort by a fan who reached up to hoist her aboard the good ship Bonnaroo for a quick crowd-surf on her fifth dive (of about a half-dozen) during this dynamite set, all the more poetic (and prescient), as said fan's arm was in a major cast. I adore the girl who is heard (during the end credits) after a particularly swirly group effort, testifying "So much B.O. SO MUCH B.O.!" Yes, in darkness our senses are heightened, making for a particularly memorable Tennessee night, which had her fellow concert-goer, right next to her, also emerging afresh from the human current-stir, hooting: "Oh My God! We are SO FUCKIN' LUCKY!" Perhaps this is the tale of fate they'll share with their progeny...


Taking the first of two victory-laps, here's MGMT at ROO '08 playing a Thursday night set from which they would graduate to play the What Stage a year later, in a scene which became a total festival hang-out, capping off a wild year between 'Roo appearences. But before MGM's big adventure in the music biz went really wild, here they are proving again that on festival time, Thursday is the new Friday. The mighty Battles were also part of this line-up and they are one of the bands I am most looking forward to seeing this year, along with the legendary Bad Brains, who I last filmed during the final days of CBGB.


DB is one of the few cats who could seriously challenge the late, great Ian Curtis to a spazzy dance-off. Byrne has also been known to argue with meat-headed security (not at Bonnaroo) about them stopping folks in the audience from shooting. Beautiful set, 'nice moves, here's two songs from Bonnaroo's fort ever artist in residence. "Life During Wartime" oddly reminds me of my post-collegiate self living on the Lower East Side in the late 80s, selling art on St. Mark's and not being able to walk home down Avenue A because of police clashes with squatters which culminated with a tank appearing in the Lower East side. I had met a really cool New Zealander chick from one of the squats, she hand-painted bras. I looked her up years later and she was doing okay, but things were never the same in my hometown again, as the gentrification that folks have bemoaned for generations really kicked in, irreversibly.


'Always clutch, the way Bonnaroo uniquely curates the classic with the contemporary in THAT TENT (that's its proper name): Phoenix, MGMT, Dirty Projectors, Santigold, MIA, Sigur Ros, along with stone cold legends, like the late great Solomon Burke (to whom Jagger did a tribute at the 2010 Grammys) Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, Kris Kristofferson have played my favorite stage at any festival anywhere... you could just spend the day @ THAT TENT and be straight.


Here's an '08 flashback including my thoughts at the time on a controversial New York Times story on MIA. As an editor at URB mag (which is not in print anymore), we had done several cover stories on MIA, who I'd first heard in a sweaty basement at a Fader magazine party in Miami where it was interesting to see the crowd's reaction to her; one could easily guess she was going to be a star, as it were.

"This is my last show evaah, and I'm glad I'm spending it with all my hippies... I'm leaving on a peaceful note, alright?" Must be MIA @ Bonnaroo, circa 2008...This particular show found her on the verge of deportation and about to announce a pregnancy, which makes a very nice visual metaphor out of the smiley beach ball she carried against her belly, as the lights flood through, but I digress...Hearing her sing the words "you got the people? you got the power!" reminded me of hearing Patti Smith just a few years earlier singing "People Have the Power" in this same tent (where I've had more favorite Bonnaroo moments than any other tent.) That Patti Smith show also saw the largest quotient of bared breasts I've ever seen at a festival...funny to see a frat dude look at a topless radical lesbian...anyway, I kinda could make the comparison (if that's what writers do to occupy space) twixt Smith and MIA...both were called out by some for comments they'd made, both were hated on by highly presumptuous folks espousing bogus arguments about musicianship, and hell, both had relationships with powerful/famous men. And both, no matter what went down in the press, had audiences who'd fully bonded with their music in very personal ways, as manifested here by the deafening extra-distorted roar of the crowd.

Thinking of Patti Smith during the people/power chorus also got me thinking of how MIA's day-glow green-orange was a kind of tribal remix of The Pistols' sherb 'n lime, and how she is in that tradition of British art college hustlers fostering an at-times contradictory sense of rebellion while getting funky and utilizing a pop culture context to out the contradictions on our planet which are always worth pointing out, be they within religion or corporate geopolitics...

And by way of revisiting a subject that was visited much tho perhaps not examined completely: if the New York Times waited a year to discuss what they clearly see as contradictions within MIA's identity and public speech and aesthetic, why would they, when getting their subject live and direct, choose to employ a base, "fly-on-the-wall" journalism which is best described in the eminently worthy compilation of literary journalism The Art Of Fact, as potentially "heavy-handed and it can be deadly dull, as countless practitioners have demonstrated." -- why not instead ask directly about whether the artist feels any inherent conflicts between their own circumstances and the circumstances of others about which they speak publicly? I mean even if it had only occurred to the writer during the interview to ask the question, she should have asked it, and in doing so, created a forum, rather than a caricature of both writer and subject. Otherwise what's the point?

By way of two hypotheticals:

So Mr. Machiavelli, your book is a bracing examination of the attainment, conservation, and preservation of power; it's almost, well, apolitical to coin a phrase -- but how do you reckon its nearly clinical analysis, with your gushing, almost sycophantic dedication to Mr. de' Medici?


So, Mr. Basquait, how do you feel you've remained true to the spirit of the streets and of your New York experience, while finding yourself in increasingly in circles ever more removed from those origins?

Anyway, I would've loved to read an interesting conversation with MIA. Maybe next time. For now here's video from two Bonnaroos ago. In the first clip she announces a retirement from the live show, and an imminent deportation; the second clip is really the first, when she takes the stage...both clips are shot in a single winding take with deafening audio and edit-free save for a slo-mo and the opening announcement which is from actually from later in the clip...


As the band build momentum with "Love Like A Sunset, Part 1" which they perform herein with a rolling Feelies-ish tone that makes for a nice variation on the album version, the lead singer, who looks kinda like Monty Python's Eric, lays Idle, throbbing under the red light, glowing like an ember in the Tennessee night -- the stage is actually thumping wildly because of the hard stomping of musicians keeping time amidst the chaos that is life onstage.

Ultimately he rises like a, uh, Phoenix and "Love Like A Sunset, Part 2" feels more like a midnight sunrise, marking the dawn of a beautiful new day right in the middle of the night...When they hit their stride on "1901", all those chiming guitars needed were some sleigh bells and it woulda been Christmas under that Tennessee moon, albeit with a rail-thin Santa Claus, wading into the crowd with a reprise of the "falling, falling" chorus, capping off a brilliant set which proved once again that anything is possible on this stage -- make it That Stage, where I've filmed some of my very favorite shows at Bonnaroo over the years...there are just some places where magic happens and That Stage at Bonnaroo is a place I'm sure I'll leave a few ghosts.

Talking to folks in the crowd, I was surprised at how many persons who love the new Phoenix album hadn't heard the first, which remains for this fan a stone cold classic -- their repeat to form on this third LP has made for one of the nicer musical moments of 2009...I gotta give it up to them for staying on the case.


Erykah Badu taking one of the biggest festival stages on the planet, filmed by DG Loral.

This is the only show in this posting that I did not shoot, and it is one of my all-time favorite Bonnaroo clips. From the second she came out onstage, Badu owned the crowd in a way that few performers do at any festivo, and with a genuine, live musicianship -- that voice -- that puts you in the moment, in a state of grace. I'll always brag about he fact that I'm the guy who told her, at about 3 a.m. many moons ago during an interview at Jimi Hendrix's old studio, that she should play Bonnaroo...and she did, and this was a legendary show on WHAT STAGE (that's its proper name) -- we're talking about the biggest stage 'Roo has -- and by definition one of the biggest festival stages in the world.

You can watch my prior Bonnaroo Flashback with Led Zeppelin's Joh Paul Jones, Ben Harper and The Roots' ?uestlove HERE

More information on Bonnaroo 2012 which takes place from June 7 to June 10, can be found HERE


I'll end this with a favorite from last year... I'd filmed Flo several times before -- and since -- this, her Bonnaroo debut, which was also the first date of her breakthrough U.S. tour, and it remains the most vital set I've ever seen by her and her crew.