“Let’s detoxify so we can retoxify…”
And so began Day 2, in a massive yoga class on the grass under the Tripolee Domes. It was a fairly advanced group, and very willing to exert a surprising amount of effort at 10:00am on the day following many road (and acid) trips. I haven’t gone into crow pose in years, and my travel-weary body and involuntary groans made me feel geriatric next to the spry hippies that so easily levitated themselves onto their hands.
Feeling physically and mentally ready for the day, there was only one place to go: shopping. The campgrounds and venue were riddled with art booths, clothing shops, smoke shops, glass art, food stands, incense makers, and various other hippie-wares. I got myself a fresh bandana, and then it was on to our next stop: the main stage.
Friday was a day spent at The Odeum, enjoying some of the biggest acts that Rothbury had to offer (so was pretty much every other day). The Wailers kicked it off for us, and what I thought would be a big thrill ended up generating about as much energy as a speech by John McCain (ZING!). Don’t get me wrong…it was fun to see Marley’s band up there, playing his songs and channeling his art, and they did so just as well as they ever have. “I Shot the Sheriff” sounded as timeless as it is, and the crowd reacted very favorably to the Wailer’s Marley-filled set. But the performance reeked of The Police at Bonnaroo 2007, full of call-and-response time wasters and other audience participation exercises that are targeted primarily toward either a) the front row or b) everyone over the age of 50.
We left after The Wailers’ set to go see Sam Beam (of Iron and Wine), who was playing on the smaller main stage at the Ranch Arena. He was stoned…very stoned. His complex play was a little sloppy, and he stumbled over his words a few times; but he took his mess-ups in stride, casually joking with the crowd about his altered mental state and putting on a jovial yet emotional solo acoustic set. I’m not sure why he was booked without the rest of Iron and Wine, but coming off of the sensational The Shepherd’s Dog, I’d like to see them do some full-band performances at future festivals. While Sam Beam is inarguably the driving force behind the band, and his songs were charmingly intimate during the solo set, they lacked all of the umph that makes them so memorable and riveting on the album and in most live shows.
Before Beam was able to finish his set, we ran back to The Odeum just in time to see Snoop Dogg, aka Snoop Doggie Dog, aka Snoopaloop, take the stage via a gleaming white motorcycle. He looked — and I would have expected nothing less — absolutely obscene in long black shorts, a white t-shirt, and roughly six tons of chains and rings (aka “bling”). His MC was screaming things like “Biotch” and “Can I get a Hell yea?” at the top of his lungs, and continued to do so on the last beat of every song during the performance. From “Gin and juice” to “Nuthin’ but a G Thang” to “Drop it Like It’s Hot,” the hits just kept on coming. Now, I could easily go on a rant about how they all sounded EXACTLY THE SAME (which they did) or about how ridiculous it is to have a grown man yell “BIOTCH” (which was amplified further by an echo effect) to end every song. But I’m not going to. What I am going to rant about is the fact that on at least eight separate occasions, Snoop Dogg and his MC referred to the Rothbury crowd as East Lansing – as in “Wussup, East Lansing?!” or “How ya’ll doin, East Lansing?” or “Yo, East Lansing, it’s 4:20…who wants to see Snoop light this huge blunt and smoke it in front of ya’ll?” (We all did, of course.) There was no evidence that Snoop and his posse had any clue where they were. The festival, called the Rothbury Festival, located in Rothbury, Michigan, is over 100 miles away from East Lansing, where Snoop ‘n Crew were scheduled to play later in the week. There’s no better way to lose the respect of a crowd than to hilariously and continually refer to them as a place that they’re not in. Luckily, everyone was just as high as Snoop, so no one seemed to mind.
The most glaring aspect of Snoop’s performance, aside from his complete lack of geographical sensibility, was the overabundance of white people at the Rothbury Festival. From on stage, Snoop must have been completely disoriented as to his whereabouts because of the glare from all the sunscreened, sweaty, hippie-dancing white people…so that should accurately explain his East Lansing confusion.
In a day of headliner after headliner, the next up was one that I looked forward to seeing for only one reason: so I could confirm my already staunchly held beliefs that they are the most overrated band since Nickelback. I am talking about none other than hard-rock-jammers 311. I have never understood what is at all enjoyable or redeeming about 311 and, aside from the mildly pleasant “Amber” (which fans tell me is like the ever-irritating “Crash” to their Dave Matthews Band), I’d honestly rather puncture my eardrums beyond repair than listen to a single note. And a single note is about all I needed. We stayed for two songs before retreating to the shade of the forest around the Ranch Arena to hear Jon Fishman (of Phish) play with Yonder Mountain String Band.
Bluegrass is a strange animal. There’s something very eerily Confederate about a banjo and washboard, though there’s also something pleasant and provincial. At a festival, it is decidedly the most versatile music, as it is both danceable and kick-backable. It was so kick-backable, in fact, that we fell asleep in the grass after a while and soon decided to move our slumberous party back to the tent for a nap and some home-grilled veggies (it was an added incentive that the in-venue meals were a baseball-stadium-minimum of $7).
We ate and slept for a bit longer than we’d planned, and got back in time to catch the end of Widespread Panic’s first set (the perfect appetite whetter), the middle of Of Montreal’s overlapping set (indie-rockers to whom I didn’t pay enough attention due to my anticipation of the next set), and the entirety of Widespread Panic’s second glorious performance of the night.
I’d never seen WP before they closed out Bonnaroo last year, and I was so exhausted by then that it was all I could do to stay awake long enough to make it to their show, let alone actually pay attention. This time it was different. It was night 2, it was July 4, it was set 2, and we were fresh off a nap. If you’ve never listened to Widespread Panic, that’s OK, but if you’ve never seen them perform you’re really missing out. As proof of the incredible show, I offer the following anecdote:
I don’t dance. Ever. I’ll bob my head and tap my feet, but I’ll never get the arms involved, and I’ll never EVER turn or spin or cause myself to move in such a way as to risk losing my balance. But from 10:30pm – midnight on July 4, 2008 I could not stop dancing (yes, hippie-dancing, but still!). And I wasn’t shy about it either. It started out innocently enough: I looked to my left, saw a beautiful lady, and started to dance with her. We laughed, and my urge to gyrate briefly subsided. Then, as I reached down to pick up the glowstick that had just hit me in the back of the head and position it snugly between my fingers, I began to stir once again. This time it wasn’t with a girl, but with the music. I’ve never had that urge, and over the course of the next two days I would try to recreate it often, and fail each time. But for 90 minutes on the anniversary of the day our country was born, I learned that sometimes you just need to let go of your inhibitions, grab a couple of glowsticks, and do what feels good. No drug can compare to the euphoria that I felt just swaying and turning and flailing to the music.
That being said, Widespread Panic gets my award for Best Band of the Festival. Everyone expected it, as they’re true veterans of the festival circuit, but the performance exceeded my hopes even having already experienced them. Something special happened out on the field of The Odeum that night, and the collective joy and excitement of the thousands in attendance was celebrated in the only way possible: at the exact moment that Widespread panic hit their final note, the sky over the main stage exploded with midnight fireworks. There’s nothing Americans love more than getting together to listen to music, eat a lot, litter, do drugs, and blow shit up high in the sky. And baby, we had it all!
After the fireworks, Rob Garza (drum machine) and Eric Hilton (processing and effects), the leaders of Thievery Corporation, took to the Sherwood Court stage in front of what appeared to be the largest crowd that any band had yet seen. The atmosphere was electric, and we were rammed right into the middle of it all. I made a point of noting how many different genres of world music Thievery evoked during their massive set, and when I looked at my notepad after the show, I’d written the following: India, Brazil, Middle East, Reggae, Rap, Latin, Hip-Hop and Japan/China. But their genres more generally encompass jazz, dub, and a mix of classical sounds from the styles and nations mentioned above. In describing the borderless global bliss of a Thievery Corporation show, I defer to my own expertise on the subject. This time around, they were playing to a crowd at least ten-times the size of the 9:30 club, and they came into Rothbury as a dark horse for “Best Performance.” The buzz the next day said it all. Thievery put on THE surprise performance of the festival, pleasing clubbers and jammers and Sherwood Forest dwellers alike. The bass was soul-piercingly loud in a way that made my heart beat along with it, and the glowsticks, which were flying high by the thousands, let me know that my fellow Rothburians felt the same way. Most impressive was TC’s lineup on stage, which consisted of (in addition to Garza and Hilton) two percussionists (one on bongos and accessories, and one on congas), a sitarist/guitarist pulling double duty, a bassist, and alternating singers: one for Middle Eastern pieces, one for Hindi pieces, one for Brazilian and other Latin pieces, and two groups of three rappers and Rastas for — you guessed it! — rap and reggae. Oh and there was a belly dancer for good measure.
We were transfixed from start to finish, and when the show was over at 2:00am, though the dance parties would rage on into the morning, there was nothing for us to do but go to bed, in the hopes that Day 3 would provide us with even a fraction of the awe-inspiring music that did Day 2.