Did this past weekend really just happen?
It’s hard to tell. The whole thing feels like a life-changing four-day dream.
Just the fact that we were invited to be a part of Bonnaroo was a huge deal to us (and a major honor). Pulling onto the rural Tennessee grounds late Thursday was a glorious culture shock for all of us first timers. We were immediately hit with the fact that this is not just a music festival, this is a city. A temporary metropolis of tents and golf carts and stages with a staff of thousands and 80,000 fiercely devoted townspeople/fans.
The Bluegrass Situation and Ed Helms were given the privilege of programming an entire stage on Sunday morning with our favorite bluegrass, roots, and Americana artists. We wanted to ensure our selected acts not only represented the current musical landscape -- from the traditional to the progressive -- but also capture the breadth and depth of what The Bluegrass Situation covers (even more important since the Bonnaroo appearance synced with the launch of our brand new, redesigned site).
The resulting day was nothing short of remarkable. As in, ‘we’re still pinching ourselves that all these people were even in the same vicinity together’ remarkable.
After three days of fun and music and a growing anticipation for our own act (and one hell of a backstage kickoff party on Saturday night, with an all-star house band led by The Decemberists/Black Prairie’s Chris Funk), we awoke on Sunday morning and traipsed over to That Tent to see our brand new logo unfurled on a massive backdrop (!). Soon Ed took to the stage to introduce the lovely Aoife O’Donovan for the first set. The Crooked Still frontwoman took a star making turn, performing tracks from her recent solo album Fossils (speaking of which… have you heard it yet? Get on that. It’s amazing.). Aoife’s soft, lilting vocals were the perfect way to ease into the day…
Next up was Oklahoma native John Fullbright, who turned That Tent into an old-school revival. If there was any question as to why such a humble young man was nominated for a Grammy this year after the release of his first album (From the Ground Up), it was gone in a matter of 45 minutes.
Portland-based Black Prairie (an offshoot side project with members of the Decemberists) drew in a swelling crowd with their luscious mix of gypsy roots and bluegrass (get to know them a little better from our Soundcheck sessions we did with them a few months back…)
So keep in mind: WE’RE ONLY HALFWAY THROUGH THE DAY. It’s already been incredible lineup so far, but then Punch Brothers’ prolific banjo man Noam Pikelny went up there with some of his buddies (the likes of which included Bryan Sutton, Luke Bulla, Jesse Cobb, and Barry Bales) and showed everyone how it’s done with a mix of traditional tunes and Pikelny’s own brilliantly progressive compositions.
And then there’s Del and Sam. For our final act before the SUPERJAM, the reigning crown princes of the genre (let’s be honest, they’re sharing the throne for Bluegrass King at this point…) stopped by for a special duo performance. The packed and enthusiastic audience treated them like the rock stars they were, and soon the crowd stretched well past the confines of the structure.
Finally, we closed the day with a great Bonnaroo tradition: the SUPERJAM. How do we even describe it? Well, honestly we can’t even start. There’s just no way to capture the synergy and electricity that happens when a jam really comes together. But here are a few highlights:
• Seeing a sea of avid, excited fans stretching past the tent, back to the main path, and beyond
• Ed and The Lonesome Trio kicking things off with a trio of numbers, including “Born to Be With You”
• Noam Pikelny and Critter Eldridge joining in on “Mean Mother Blues”
• The Black Prairie crew jumping on stage for a sweetly harmonized version of How Mountain Girls Can Love (with Ed and Annalisa Tornfeldt on vocals)
• Chris Stapleton (formerly of The Steeldrivers) KILLING IT as the special guest on two numbers, “Walls of Time” and “More Pretty Girls Than One”
• Aoife’s heartbreakingly beautiful rendition of Emmylou Harris’ “Boulder to Birmingham”
• Del and Sam sharing vocals on classics like “Nine Pound Hammer”
• The crowd’s rabid reaction to surprise guest Dan Tyminski’s entrance, and their fervor as he started the opening chords for “Man of Constant Sorrow”
• Wrapping up with an epic finale of “Angel Band,” culminating with everyone onstage for the harmonized accapella chorus. Tears were shed.
So yes, readers, it was a pretty special kickoff for us. We are so grateful for those of you who were there to share it with us, and for those of you who perhaps discovered who we are because of it. But we’re mostly grateful to the entire Bonnaroo family for bringing us in to the fold. We can’t wait til next year (and we hope you’ll be there too!).
[OH. And this video is a snippet of the big surprise from Ed Helms’ Whiskey Sour Radio Hour on Saturday in Bonnaroo's comedy tent. As if things weren’t ridiculous enough already…]