I was born in the wrong era. The '60s and '70s sound like a precious treasure box of music history, where legendary rockstars shredded their way to fame relying solely on their incredible raw talent, some drugs, and the opportunity to claim sounds that never been labeled before. As more bands and artists released singles and toured to packed houses during these decades get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it makes us really wonder - who will be the Hall of Famers of the 2010s? As years fly past and technology influences and reroutes the music world, many of us still cling to either the first hand memories or passed down stories of how a fence around a grass field at White Lake, NY, couldn’t hold back hippies from seeing the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix. That was magic. That was true rock n’ roll.
Now forty-seven years later, there are enthusiastic music seekers still searching and chasing the dream to experience what Woodstock had to offer. Luckily for us, there’s a yearly festival (more organized and reoccurring) that harkens back to the '60s and '70s we oh so cherish, Bonnaroo. In its 15th year, Bonnaroo has stayed true to their heart and continuously offered chart-hitting acts and buzzed about emerging artists across all eras and genres, with a humble, true-to-the-music way of curating the lineup and promoting the event. Yearly the festival roster isn’t just sprinkled with that latest radio hit acts to get ticket sales. There’s a beauty behind the carefully crafted bill that allows each festival goer (festival virgin millennials to Dead Head dads) to follow their personal music taste all day and night long.
During the heat stricken days at the festival, we realized that the defining characteristic of music from the 60s and 70s was not the year the band released their single or being the first at something, but its soul. So there we were, on the farms of Tennessee, surrounded by the largest musical buffet with a surplus of artists spanning country, pop, EDM, bluegrass, indie rock, heavy metal and everything in between, to find ourselves chasing the sound that harkens back to the days of Woodstock and following the common thread that tied these musicians together, the exuding and undeniable soul.
The London Souls
During the first of four days, New York based duo, the London Souls, took the That Tent stage to unleash a raw and pure exemplar of instrumentation. Without arrogance, this duo rocked a completely full sound with just simply a guitar and a drum set. With the cool, unpretentious, organic feel of Jimi Hendrix and the swiftness of Jimmy Page, guitarist Tash Neal sang from his heart through the guitar strings and drummer Chris St. Hilaire led the tempo with swiftness. Together they harmonized to perform a blues-rock powerful set where brotherhood and musical compatibility was spot on.
Already on the New York scene, it’s not a far stretch to picture the London Souls taking a similar path to Jimi’s start at Café Wha?. With songs like “Steady” that sound like the perfect opening track for a Dazed and Confused type cast to cruise a highway with a strong musical lead nodding to “Sweet Emotion,” the London Souls have a '60s/'70s flavor perfect for a summer soundtrack. Playing songs off their ‘Here Come the Girls’ album, the duo’s sound also lends itself to George Thorogood grooves and proved their dynamic playing even with their simple set up. The band led into track “Honey,” exuding the passion of rock n’ roll beginnings that perfectly defined their set singing, "All I need is your love to satisfy my soul."
As the sun was setting on Friday, saxophonist Kamasi Washington and his ten-piece band The Next Step overflowed the This Tent stage with two drummers, two upright bass players, keyboard players, three horns players, and a pianist. The ensemble grooved into soulful jazz track after soulful jazz track from Kamasi’s latest studio album The Epic. (Washington revealed to the crowd that while he was recording this album, there were eight other albums recorded that have not yet been released.) The fusion of jazz with a modernized spunk, the band added beautiful layers to Kamasi’s voice evoking emotion, reminding us of Stevie Wonder’s performances and the crisp horns of the Brecker Brothers. The band played recognizable tracks off the established album, with the surprise of a single Kamasi created with music collective The West Coast Get Down, "Abraham.” To spice up the set even further, Kamasi brought out a special guest, his dad, Ricky Washington who played the soprano saxophone in unison. The family affair embodied love and soul as the band had us setting sail on a harmonious sunset ride.
It was no surprise that Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Leon Bridges from Fort Worth packed The Other Tent, especially after he recently went to the White House to pay tribute to Ray Charles. Leon stepped on stage with a modest presence and a perfectly suited outfit radiating a '60s polish as he put his heart into the mic. Leon took us back to thoughts of a simple life with the realistic struggles and empowering love, singing tracks off his Coming Home album with background vocalist Brittni Jessie. The American gospel and soul singer/songwriter performed a transcendent set opening with “Coming Home” and continuing into “Better Man.” He pulls from Van Morrison and Neil Young, while expressing similar sounds to Sam Cooke and his favorite soul musician, Bobby Womack. As he swiftly moved his feet and sang smooth sailing vocals to “Brown Skin Girl” he melted the audience’s hearts, and just like that, Leon Bridges became the unofficial headliner of Friday night.
NATHANIEL RATELIFF & THE NIGHT SWEATS
Saturday rolled in with expectations set high for a night cherry-topped with Pearl Jam and the fact that this was the last night (for most) to go your hardest. Fitting enough, the fun and talented American folk revival singer/songwriter, Nathaniel Rateliff, and band, the Night Sweats kicked off the night, uplifting us with a gritty and authentic set. Nathaniel led the band in over a hour of a soul/gospel/folk rock/blues rock cocktail with songs like “Wasting Time” and “Shake." The band went into “Look it Here,” celebrating the horn section and reminding us of Sam Cooke’s recognizable horn build ups and memorable lyrics. With a Van Morrison style of songwriting/singing and a folk rock heart like Leonard Cohen, Nathaniel built up the crowd with captivating energy and charismatic dance moves all night and for beloved track “I Need Never Get Old.” It only made sense when later in the night, the Night Sweats horn section joined Kamasi in a Tennessee tribute SUPERJAM session, not coincidently titled “Heart, Soul & Spirit,” a perfect way to label all of the above.
Now on the last day in the brutal sun, all we needed and craved was a cure for our aching feet battling our music loving heart, and that cure was Charles Bradley. Paraphrasing the epitome of soul himself, Charles took us to church on Sunday morning lifting our spirits with a soothing yet powerful voice as he raised his hands slowly in front of him and up into the air as we all rised together. As Charles Bradley started his set singing “Nobody But You”, it echoed how we felt in the crowd, that Bradley is a stand out act with nobody currently like him. Embodying James Brown since a young age and even after years of struggle, homelessness, and performing small bars, becoming his impersonator in local Brooklyn clubs under the name "Black Velvet,” Daptone Records brought this funk/R&B/soul revival singer into our lives to be our much needed, modern day "Godfather of Soul.” Bradley’s pure love shined even brighter than the Tennessee sun touching all of our hearts in a genuine way as he continued into catchy and moving songs “Crazy For Your Love,” “You Put The Flame On It,” and “You Think I Don't Know (But I Know).”
DEAD & CO
Every final set of Bonnaroo is always bittersweet. and the most suitable act somehow closes out the memorable weekend year after year. However, this 15th year finale might actually be the most perfect pair for the slot as the Dead & Co revitalized the 1965 California eccentric psychedelia, improvisational, country, space rock band The Grateful Dead, taking us on a trippy three and a half hour incredibly soul moving marathon. Former Grateful Dead members held the heart of the band with Bob Weir leading us on vocals and guitar, Mickey Hart exploring his extensive percussion set up, and Bill Kreutzmann maintaining the beat for the extended songs. The Dead family joined forces with Allman Brothers’ bassist Oteil Burbridge and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti of Fare Thee Well and RatDog. Skeptics turned into fans for the brilliant new member of the band, John Mayer, who added a beautiful vocal tone to songs like “Casey Jones” and enhancing, soothing harmonies with Bob Weir.
The musical journey commenced with the legendary “Truckin’” igniting a field of an estimated 80,000 people (aka the soul survivors who lasted four long days) into a dancing frenzy. As songs flowed into melodies back into recognizable licks, Dead & Co took us on a tactical yet fluid rollercoaster with the lead guitar pulling at our bodies as we explored the space around us swaying in unison. The band went into “Tennessee Jed” as fans screamed out “Tennessee” as they felt as though the song was written just for them. In a delightful surprise, the band invited former Grateful Dead member Donna Jean Godchaux to join them on the mic as the audience jumped in delight as she sang "Bertha". Everyone got groovy to “Shakedown Street” as John Mayer proved to be a impeccable fit for this once in a lifetime Bonnaroo experience and continued to be revved up to “Fire On The Mountain.”
With only a short break giving the audience the rest they needed even more so than the band, Dead & Co encored with an extended version of “Touch of Grey” who’s potent lyrics sounded delightfully uplifting as the screen swirled in kaleidoscope fashion, mixing reality with our euphoric Bonnaroo-induced dream state. As the band bowed and Bob Weir made a powerful political speech, it hit us all that it was time... “Truckin', I'm a goin' home.”
Maybe I wasn’t born in the wrong era after all.
All Photos by Brittany NO FOMO
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