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My First ‘Roo: Artists Reflect on Their Past Bonnaroo Experiences (The National and Black Prairie)

by Mike Greenhaus on June 17, 2013

The National
Bonnaroo Classes: ’07, ’10

“I think it was a little less claustrophobic sounding as far as the overall feeling of the record,” bassist Scott Devendorf says about The National’s new album High Violet. “We did a bunch of the basic tracking upstate in New York and then, we did a lot of the nitty production at a studio in Brooklyn. That allowed us a little more freedom of movement. And I think it added a little bit of air too. Also, our general feeling was to go with the type of songs that are more open-ended, open-feeling.” Those more open-ended and open-feeling songs will also help The National make the jump to Bonnaroo’s massive What Stage. Echoing their career in general, The National’s rise through Bonnaroo’s ranks has been slow but steady. In 2007, The National made their Bonnaroo debut during a Thursday night showcase spot in That. They graduated to the Which Stage in 2010 and will make their What Stage debut at 6:30pm today. Scott Devendorf reflects on his journeys through Bonnaroo’s tent city.

What were your expectations of Bonnaroo before your first trip to the festival?

I expected it to be eclectic – a festival that sort of has jamband roots but has expanded a bit to include other types of music as well. I kind of like the jamband aspect and, knowing a little bit of the festival’s history and the bands that have played there over the years, it sort of had a Grateful Dead/Phish vibe in my mind. We’re not either of those types of bands, but we love those bands so we were expected to be there. I like that it’s in Tennessee, I like that it’s sort of in the middle of the summer and freewheeling. This one has a nice feeling to me.

What do you remember most about your own performance?

Well one, it was extremely hot. I remember I had purchased some black jeans the day before, which was a huge mistake because I sweated through them and dyed my legs blue for about three days. So that was not my highlight, it was just a noteworthy incident. But I do remember Matt [Berninger] was extremely active at our show last time we played, and he was running and jumping and getting out in the crowd in the 100 degree heat and it was a wonderful thing. The crowd was amazing so I can’t be more thankful

Describe your craziest Bonnaroo experience?

I went around with my friend Andre, and we went and saw five or six bands in different places and it was great. We picked smaller tent things, it was amazing, and we saw The Black Keys and that was awesome. It was easy to get around but if you’re trying to describe This Tent or That Tent it is like "Who’s on First?

What was your quintessential Bonnaroo moment from years past?

After we played we went and saw a bunch of other shows the last time we were there. It was awesome. It was a fantastic festival. Very hot – it’s like a hundred degrees. It seems like its feast or famine – it’s like pouring rain or its burning rain. I guess I’ll go with burning hot between those two things. It was fantastic.

What band would you most like to collaborate with at Bonnaroo this year?

I couldn’t be more overjoyed that we’re playing right before Tom Petty, and I am a longtime fan of him, his work and his songs. I love him as a man and as a musician, and Mike Campbell and the whole band. So I wish we could collaborate with them.

Speaking of the Grateful Dead, they played “Friend of the Devil” one night [during a recent run at New York’s Beacon Theatre]. My friend sent me a YouTube video. I think that’s my number one excited to see person there—band, thing, event.
Black Prairie’s Chris Funk

Bonnaroo Classes: ’07, ’09, ’11

The Decemberists played Bonnaroo in 2007 and quickly established themselves as festival regulars. Mavis Staples and Bobby Bare Jr. sat in with the brainy Portland, OR band, establishing a long history of special Bonnaroo sets. They returned in 2009 and graduated to the What Stage in 2011. This year The Decemberists’ Chris Funk, Nate Query, Jenny Conlee and John Moen return with their bluegrass-influenced roots project Black Prairie. They will perform in That Tent at 2:45pm today as part of Ed Helms’ Bluegrass Situation jam.

What were your expectations of Bonnaroo before your first trip to the festival?

They were very low as frankly I’m not a huge festival person and afraid of the heat.

What do you remember most about your own performance?

Having Mavis Staples up on stage to sing with us on a stage covered in red vinyl due to the White Stripes playing after us.

Describe your craziest Bonnaroo experience?

Shara Worden (My Brighest Diamond), myself and Colin Meloy “borrowed” a golf cart. Shara accidently drove us into the crowd and we were suddenly surrounded by Black Ops golf carts from the Bonnaroo staff. Don’t do it people, it was ugly.

How does Bonnaroo compare to other festivals you have played?

The line up is very diverse, literally every kind of music you can think of from metal to rap to bluegrass, on and on. Pretty great. I feel like this is common now, but a few years ago you’d never see a DJ at what was deemed a jamband festival.

What was your quintessential Bonnaroo moment from years past?

Watching Ron Jeremy fall asleep side stage while Arcade Fire played next to our promoter from Australia. It wasn’t the music, as the show was killing.

What band would you most like to collaborate with at Bonnaroo this year?

Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Ed Helms.


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