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  Directed by
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  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.59:1
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: DTS 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
  • None
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Cast/crew biographies - incl. Set Lists
  • Photo gallery - featured artists
  • Outtakes
Live From Bonnaroo Music Festival 2002
Warner Vision/Warner Vision . R4 . COLOR . 180 mins . E . NTSC

  Feature
Contract

You can say what you like about humans, but one thing is certain - they love a good party (if not the event, then at least the concept). Two core elements of the better shindig are music and masses (three if you want to count the odd tipple), so it comes as no surprise that the music festival, although nothing new, has evolved into modern man’s Dionysian ideal. The success of all-day events like our very own Big Day Out or the US Lollapalooza travelling road show should be ample testimony to our love affair with the music festival. One thing that changes the dynamic of the whole celebration though, one thing that gives the green light to hedonism, is to make it a sleepover. Over three days, once we inevitably agree to dispense with the trivialities of grooming and decorum, that’s when we really hit our straps.

For those of you who don’t know of the Bonnaroo festival (the term is Creole slang meaning ‘really good time’), it occurred for the first time in the American spring of 2002 and attracted in excess of 70,000 music lovers to a large stretch of farmland in Coffee County, Tennessee. What the festival hoped to achieve was to fly in the face of corporate music whoring and provide a discerning music public with a line-up that ignored the ticket pull of aging stadium rockers and MTV-style label puppets alike. What the punters got instead was what they termed ‘the jam-band community’, a group of respected musicians that weren’t afraid to flaunt the constraints of time allotment and improvise onstage.

That’s not to say that the festival wasn’t without its stars. On the current popular front, the festival still played host to the heroic likes of Ben Harper, Norah Jones and Jurassic 5, but also gave ground to respected mainstays like Widespread Panic and the Blind Boys of Alabama. From country to gospel, bluegrass to jazz and from rock to rap, most genres got their day in the Tennessee sun, which makes for variety rarely seen on the modern circuit. Under those circumstances, there were bound to be surprises at every turn. In addition to the emotional musings of the delightful Ms Jones, punters were treated to the inspired calamity of Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade. In contrast to Ween, who never quite manage to look as cute as they sound, there was the sophisticated musicianship of Widespread Panic, complete with honkytonk piano and gospel choir. There is no doubt that the strength of the bill was in its diversity.

As important as the music is to the whole experience, the real charm of Live from Bonnaroo comes from the punters. As much time is spent filming the action among the crowd and behind the scenes as is spent on the performers. Depending on your reason for buying the disc in the first place, the decision to include so much supplementary footage could tip the scales either way. The feel of the festival is captured well and, for those that have experienced anything like it, should produce a few nostalgic nods of understanding. For those that find stomping around in the dust to the beat of a drum a little too primal and of no interest, the wait between performances may seem too long and one that may hinder subsequent viewings.

As a document of life in the 21st century, Live from Bonnaroo will serve to show future generations that as a people, the centuries have barely changed us at all. If we are herded together and given a beat, we will dance and make merry.

Long may it be so…

Track listing:

Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade – Thela Hun Ginjeet
Dirty Dozen Brass Band – Aint Nothin’ But a Party
Government Mule – Time to Confess
Drums and Tuba – Brain Liaters
Ween – Roses are Free
Col. Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains – Number Two
Ben Harper – Burn One Down
Widespread Panic – Blue Indian
Widespread Panic with Dottie Peoples – Tallboy
Blind Boys of Alabama – Amazing Grace
Robert Randolph and the Family Band – Good Times
Campbell Brothers – What’s his Name?
The Del McCoury Band - Cheek to Cheek With the Blues
Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer – B Song
The String Cheese Incident – Search
North Mississippi Allstars – Sugartown
Jack Johnson feat. DJ Logic – Rodeo Clowns
Norah Jones – Nightingale
Jurassic 5 – Countdown
Robert Randolph and the Family Band – Swing Low Sweet Chariot
Galactic – Shibuya
Phil Lesh and Friends – Tennessee Jed
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe – Check Out Your Mind
Galactic’s Parade with Lil’ Rascals Brass Band – Buck It Like a Horse
Trey Anastasio – Push on ‘Til the Day

  Video
  Audio
  Extras
Contract

In much better shape than one would expect from a documentary shot in a field of 70,000 people, Live From Bonnaroo enjoys a crisp transfer that manages to capture the atmosphere beautifully. Presented in a widescreen format, the footage consists mostly of two types. The onstage images are very clear, especially those shot at night and with the benefit of stage lighting (making for a nice change to some older releases). The colours are nice and bright where appropriate and the definition so tight in spots that it almost appears three-dimensional. Footage shot around the grounds with a handheld is, as you would expect, less impressive and at times appears a little washed out in places as well as suffering from a lack of definition. It’s perfectly understandable and as clear as you could expect under the circumstances. Not too shabby for an NTSC release.

The beauty of modern performance films is that they can now offer us a decent workout for our sound systems. Bonnaroo comes with three audio options: Dolby Digital stereo, 5.1 and DTS 5.1. There seems to be little difference between the two surround options with the DTS option featuring slightly more resonance. Rather than buy into the same old debate about which is preferable, suffice to say that both are very good indeed. Even its little stereo buddy steps up to the plate and sounds better than most live recordings on the market. Overall, a great transfer that enhances the Bonnaroo experience.

The extras are fairly meagre but, hey, better than no extras at all:

Artist Photo Gallery – Each artist has a still screen featuring a montage of somewhat poorly defined photographs taken during performances as well as backstage.

Set Lists and Bios – A static screen for each artist contains a brief bio as well as performance times and set lists from the big weekend. A nice little keepsake if you happened to be there…

Video Trailer – A lengthy trailer pretty much encapsulating the spirit and content of the documentary as a whole.

Outtakes – Entertaining and charming testimonies and assorted prattlings from the fine, fine men and women of Bonnaroo.

Given the success of the 2002 festival, Bonnaroo looks certain to continue on for years to come, making this release a piece of history in the making. Given the price of the two-disc set (around $54) though, it is probably not a purchase to be made lightly. If you were actually fortunate enough to be there, it would be indispensable in helping to fill in all of those gaps where you were passed out behind the drinks tent. For others, Live from Bonnaroo makes for an interesting snapshot and a nice little clip under the ear for the studio execs that still think they know what’s best for us. To most though, this charming documentary should help to capture or recapture the festival experience and the joy of stripping down and dancing around in a paddock.


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  •   And I quote...
    "Crank the music, block the toilets and pass the… er… crackers and dip – it’s festival time!"
    - Peter O'Connor
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-725
    • TV:
          Sony WEGA 80cm
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DA50ES
    • Speakers:
          Accusound ASC160
    • Centre Speaker:
          Accusound ASC160
    • Surrounds:
          Accusound ASC160
    • Subwoofer:
          Accusound SW150
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