Axis Operations/Superfly Productions/Forty Four Pictures/Third Wave Productions
Over four days, there were nearly 200 musical performances. Add in heat, humidity and lack of sleep to the equation, and even without the high possibility that there was consumption of adult beverages and/or mind-altering substances, a straight edge experience at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival could still end up being little more than a sentimental blur several months later in the calendar year. Live at Bonnaroo 2009 offers not only reminders of what you enjoyed during that time last June among all that acreage in Manchester, Tennessee but opens up a whole new world for what was probably missed when the inevitable schedule conflicts arose due to events happening at the same time on the site’s 10 stages.
The nearly two hours of performances here remain solid and provide a strong representation of the diversity of the Bonnaroo roster — jamband, traditional bluegrass, world music, alt-rock, hip-hop, heavy metal and more. As usual, the footage becomes a feast of creative filming angles plus timely edits, while the musicians hold up their end of the bargain. Standing out among the 16 acts featured here are the modern Motown sounds from Raphael Saadiq and Santigold, Del McCoury Band, Elvis Costello with Jenny Lewis & Her Sound, and the Decemberists. Amadou & Marium and Zac Brown Band go beyond their respective genres to display a noticeable jamband quotient, while Phish’s “Down with Disease” presents a nod to Bonnaroo’s origins by using the hooks of the song as a launching pad for instrumental exploration without losing their way home and the number’s eventual conclusion. As for Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, “Outlaw Pete” squeezes every last drop of drama from the number but it fails to accurately document that particular set and his bonding with a crowd unfamiliar to his passionate onstage style as much as “The Promised Land,” “Glory Day,” or “Rosalita” did along with his numerous walks down the stage ramps into the middle of the crowd.
Still, the presentation here exceeds previous Bonnaroo documents. Clever camera work is interspersed with photo montages and footage shot of festival goers, campsites and all around Centeroo. It’s as if the makers attempted to touch, albeit briefly, on as much happening on the grounds as possible. Due to the exclusion of a number of 2009 Bonnaroo artists — no MGMT, Nine Inch Nails, Wilco, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grizzly Bear, Public Enemy, Of Montreal, Merle Haggard among others — one can’t help but wish for the return of the two-disc versions ala 2003 and 2004. At the very least with so much shot during the event, you would think that there would be some system in place to order/download additional performances or a second disc. Whether intentional or not, much more irritating was the DVD’s age discrimination. Over 95% of the crowd shots featured those of college-age with older adults heard but not seen during a couple of interview segments. Like the clips on photographer Danny Clinch, the filmmakers also featured a couple of young female attendees. But, that tactic failed to represent the fest properly. A walk from one stage to another and you easily encounter a variety of demographics that would make a marketing person’s head explode. The diversity that Bonnaroo has been working towards in its lineup would have been served well by getting the reactions of metalheads to the rest of ‘roo or families who make the trek rather than catering to widespread preconceptions.
While it’s an admirable visual and sonic buffet of riches, there’s still the hope that the next Bonnaroo DVD moves forward in its approach in the same manner as those who produce it each year.