Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Keep On Rockin' In The Free World

For the second summer in a row, I recently spent several days reliving my youth and feeling rather aged. This time, the wound was strictly self-inflicted.

As you may have guessed from various references to song lyrics in some of my posts, I am a music aficionado. Not a musician in any sense, mind you, but a fan of music. As are my brother, Jeff and my son, Ethan. And, I suspect, most of you as well.

Jeff, Ethan, and I (and, technically, my nephew Lee, who neither Ethan nor I saw the entire time) spent last weekend baking in the sun, breathing dust-laden Southern Tennessee air, and having our senses assaulted (mostly pleasantly), with 80,000 other folks at Bonnaroo. For the uninitiated, Bonnaroo is a music festival held in Manchester, Tennessee, for the past ten years.

The "What" Stage at Bonnaroo with Colin Meloy of The Decemberists.
I went mostly to see musicians that are currently popular. The Decemberists topped my "must see" list as Ethan and I headed off on our seven hour car ride, with Arcade Fire, Matt & Kim, and Florence + The Machine close behind. But part of the magic of festivals is getting caught up in the excitement of "discovering" someone you hadn't heard, or heard of, before, or simply getting stuck in a crowd that makes your departure to another venue next-to-impossible, or nearly life-threatening.

So I only heard one song from Florence + The Machine, albeit the one I most wanted to hear, but that was okay. If the devil is in the details, then there are devils aplenty when there are at least five different venues hosting acts at the same time.

One of the acts I wasn't all that interested in catching was Buffalo Springfield. But my brother convincingly noted that "Neil Young can't live much longer" so he and I went to see Neil along with original band mates Richie Furay and Stephen Stills. The sound wasn't great, but we managed to scratch and claw our way through the crowd (helped by a few rolls of thunder which spooked some of the fair-weather fans) until we got good positions near the end of the set. Stills (still in great voice) sang the band's one hit ("For What It's Worth") and he and Young dueled on their guitars through several songs.

The seminal moment of the concert, and the entire festival for me as it turned out, came with the last song that Young introduced by saying "this is to show you what it would have been like had we done this" (in response to which Jeff said "he's a crazy old dude") then launched into the machine-gun-staccato guitar chords of "Rockin' In The Free World." When he got to the guitar solo bridge, the hair stood up on the back of my neck and I was convinced that: 1) Jeff had done me a huge favor by talking me into seeing them; 2) Neil would never die; and 3) like Neil, I was in the right place, still rockin' in the free world.

Here are some of my other observations from the weekend:

If Arcade Fire ever plays within 500 miles of where you live, run, drive, swim, do whatever it takes to immediately purchase tickets. Honestly the best concert I have ever seen, anywhere, anytime. Musicianship, showmanship, "big venue" sound and feel -- these guys were made to play on the big stage.

Matt & Kim are impossibly "cute," energetic, and (incongruously) foul-mouthed, which in some strange way adds to their charm. And they make music that defies you to not dance.

Dust is an unpleasant condiment, but is better than sand.

The Decemberists' Colin Meloy is our finest songwriter working his craft today. Period.

We have lost the War on Drugs (Jeff's wry, inarguable conclusion).

If Ben Sollee's day job doesn't pan out, he will apparently be available to play weddings and bar mitzvahs. The guy was seemingly at every show ready to play cello if asked (and maybe if not . . . ).

Showers are always optional.

Eminem is a better Detroit export than either Chrysler or Kid Rock.

Ninety percent of people who view little or no clothing as a viable fashion choice really shouldn't.

Iron and Wine are apparently trying to remake themselves into a "jam band" along the lines of The Grateful Dead or Phish. Don't bite.

John Waters is still kooky and still cool.

The Strokes rock.

You can too.


  1. What a cool thing! So glad you go to go! We want to go, too! I don't know if I agree about the showers, but I quite agree re: Colin Meloy.

  2. Yay for the new Arcade Fire fan! Nice one Kevin - it sounds like you had a great time.


  3. Thanks Paul! It was great. And Rebecca, I say we all rent an RV and go sometime -- that way you don't have to worry about the showers.