Last weekend 90,000 people descended upon a small town in Tennessee, and for four rainy days turned it into one of the biggest cities in the state. This weekend about a third as many people will descend upon Clinton Lake Park, just outside of Lawrence, Kansas, and have a better time. Bonnaroo, the granddaddy of the modern outdoor music festival, your time has passed.
Wakarusa is the new black. Fewer people, less money, just as many bands and, for what it's worth, just as many, um, recreational activities. We hope. Not that you need drugs to have a good time at a heady music festival, and we're pretty sure the concert organizers don't advocate drug use. It might not matter: Between the pre-party gigs at various Lawrence venues and the Early Arrival Revival for those lucky enough to get there on Thursday, pickings might be slim by the time the actual weekend rolls around. But assuming all goes well, we want to be sure to appropriately match our sundries with our choices for live music. With more than 50 bands to choose from, potential mistakes loom like dark clouds before us -- wait, no, those clouds aren't real, man.
Alcohol: A good old-fashioned beer buzz is all you need for the rollicking Southern rock of a band like the North Mississippi Allstars. The same goes for Wilco in excess, and Son Volt, for which it is entirely appropriate to carry one's whiskey on one's person in a brown paper bag. And no, that's not a typo: Both Wilco and Son Volt are playing this festival. Hold your breath for an Uncle Tupelo reunion. That's right, keep holding it....
Pot: Being stoned is the only way to tolerate certain bands, but at a festival it's much more productive to save your headiest headies for bands that will actually be accentuated by the THC crystals coagulating in your bronchial nodes. Pack a bowl and relax for the textured Southern stomp of Gov't Mule, singer/songwriter Martin Sexton, the classic rock of Little Feat and, one of the festival's highlights, the roots-reggae of Matisyahu.
LSD: Careful. It's dark. There are hills and mud and ticks and chiggers and tents to trip over and, well, just go see Umphrey's Magee and enjoy the lights. Hold on to your buzz for the dance trance sounds of Sound Tribe Sector Nine and Particle. Ditto goes for Molly, if you can find her.
Mushrooms: The nicer, funnier, sweeter niece of our man Uncle Sid, some chocolate shrooms will be delightful accompaniment for the zydeco rock of Donna the Buffalo and will keep you moving for the fast-paced bluegrass of Railroad Earth and the punkgrass of Split Lip Rayfield. They may even make a set by the String Cheese Incident slightly more bearable, though it's a long shot.
Opiates: Since prescription drugs tend to turn even the most solid camper into a flopping mass of flesh, opiates are best for wavy music, the stuff that Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, Galactic and the Big Wu are made of.
Stimulants: Stay up late for a three-hour set from Ozomatli or contrast the slow-burn sound of Calexico, Neko Case and Mofro with something uppity. You'll be glad you did. -- Jess Minnen
Be ever vigilant against false texts! Among those who would sully the words of rock, the apocrypha of press releases are the most foul. Rarely can one expect anything but the bleating of sheep in a press release, but for the most particularly malodorous buffoonery of their PR, we must fatwa the Dead 60s.
Hold strong against the unclean stench, for we must read the words: "The whole point of the name is that it means that we're into the '60s but at the same time it's over, history. We're more interested in the future...." So sayeth the bassist.
But there is more! "Yeah, we're different, but you know what? That's exactly what people need to hear right now. Something to freshen them up, a new sound, a new feeling, and that's what we are."
So we should be grateful to this bassist who has come to save us from ourselves? Why, then, should his band sound like just another late-'70s Gang of Four ripoff, straight from the factory? Hear me now, undeserving whelp of a bassist: Alone, your music would pass by unnoticed, just another brick in the wall. But while preening and posturing is rock & roll gospel, this type of self-idolatry will not stand! May you meet your influences, and may they spurn you.
It is written. -- Ayatollah of Rock
Heat Is On
A short collection of the most famous musical meltdowns
Star: George Jones
Specifics: 1979, the Exit-In, Nashville
Meltdown: For much of 1979, George Jones wallowed in severe whiskey and cocaine addiction. Eventually, his whole personality cracked into two distinct beings. One was George Jones, washed-up singer. The other was Donald, or sometimes Deedoodle Duck, who spoke in quack-talk. Jones would actually argue two sides of an issue with his feathered alter ego, taking one side in his normal voice and the other in a duck voice. During this time Jones would often forget his own lyrics, but Donald/Deedoodle wouldn't, so it was perhaps inevitable that Donald/Deedoodle would be making a concert appearance sooner or later. The duck's debut came at Nashville showcase venue the Exit-In before an audience of industry insiders, at what was supposed to have been a comeback show. As recalled by Jones' then-manager Shug Baggott in the Jones bio Ragged but Right, Jones "came onstage and announced that George Jones was washed up, a has-been, but that on that night a new star was born who was going all the way to the top. And George proceeded to introduce Donald and asked for a round of applause as Donald started singing a George Jones song. As George stood onstage, face drawn, with his pants falling down because he had lost so much weight and looking ridiculous singing like a duck, you could see tears in people's eyes."
Aftermath: According to Baggott, Donald continued the quacky-tonkin' (only geese "honky"-tonk) until he was carted off the stage in a straitjacket. This was far from the last meltdown for the Possum, but it just goes to show you: It may walk like a duck and it may talk like a duck, but it might not be a duck after all -- it just might be George Jones.
Star: Jim Morrison/the Doors
Specifics: March 1, 1969, the Dinner Key Auditorium, Miami
Meltdown: Drunk beyond even his own impressive norms, Doors frontman Jim Morrison staggered onstage and berated the people of his native state for being too dumb to leave Florida and move to California. He moved on to encouraging the audience to strip naked. And then he started asking questions. "You didn't come here for music, did you? You came for something more, didn't you? You didn't come to rock & roll, you came for something else, didn't you?" A long pause followed, as the audience wondered what he was on about. Morrison had the answer. "You want to see my cock, don't you? That's what you came for, isn't it?" And then Morrison unleashed his love scud, or maybe he didn't. To this day, no one is sure.
Aftermath: Everybody went home. Nothing happened until the papers picked up the story the next day. The media pressured City Hall and the police to do something about Morrison's corruption of Florida's youth, and eventually even President Nixon and the FBI got involved. Finally, four days after the show, six warrants were filed for Morrison's arrest, ranging from misdemeanors such as public drunkenness to a felony charge of lewd and lascivious behavior. As word spread of Morrison's conduct, promoter after promoter canceled. Doors songs were dropped off radio playlists from coast to coast. Though his trial resulted in only two misdemeanor convictions, the Miami incident effectively ended Morrison's career.
Star: Grace Slick/Jefferson Starship
Specifics: June 1978, Lorelei Festival and Hamburg, West Germany
Meltdown: Jefferson Starship's European tour was not going well. At the Lorelei Festival, their first show in Germany, thousands of fans rioted when it was announced that Grace Slick was too sick to perform. The next night the band probably wished Slick was still ailing. As a child of the post-World War II era, Slick later admitted that she always had it in for Germans, and she told them so in no uncertain terms at this Hamburg show. She took the stage in a Nazi uniform and goose-stepped around the stage taunting the Germans about losing the war, pausing occasionally to insert a finger or two up the nostrils of puzzled German men, whom she called a bunch of Nazis. "I'm in Germany and I'm gonna get back at them for Dachau or some dumb drunken decision," Slick said years later. "That's what that night was about: dumb, drunken decisions. So they started walking out, but they kept coming back, like, 'Maybe she'll do something really hideous and we will have missed it.' A freak show."
Aftermath: Slick quit the band immediately after the show. The band staggered on without her through the rest of the tour. "I think she created punk rock that night," recalled Jefferson Starship drummer John Barbata. If only that had been her swan song. Sadly for Slick, this gig proved to be just a midpoint on her transformation from hippie ice princess to corporate rock schlockateer. In 1981 she would rejoin the band, which dropped the "Jefferson" from its moniker and unleashed some of the worst rock of all time in the mid-'80s. From "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love" to "We Built this City"? That fairly defines the concept of creative descent. -- John Nova Lomax