MANCHESTER, Tenn. -- To come upon the Bonnaroo music festival is initially disconcerting. There are over 90,000 fans of all kinds of music, though they wear their hippie stripes proudly. And sure, Trey Anastasio's presence with the Dave Matthews show that was billed as "Dave Matthews and Friends" did a lot to soothe folks of all ages who had waited in some cases as long as six hours to get on site yesterday. But they all exuded a level of patience and humor that makes this event not only noteworthy but notable for its easy accessibility to great music.
Matthews and his pals were easily the day's biggest draw, and a stomping version of the Band's "Up on Cripple Creek" delighted fans, who in many cases had woken up to Mexicali rhythms provided by Los Lonely Boys.
With six stages of music, in addition to a comedy tent and assorted sideshow distractions, the biggest challenge in the 90-degree heat was what to see, and when.
Did you go and romp along to the bluesy rock of the Black Keys or check out the gorgeous country-tinged vocals of Neko Case? Does the fact that Wilco -- with a shaggy haired Jeff Tweedy leading what was often a four-guitar attack -- was able to draw nearly 6,000 fans mean the art-rock crowd has abandoned Patti Smith, who played at the same time? Such are the wonderful mysteries of Bonnaroo, where the fan is left to take it all in over 700 acres of music, art, and campsites.
The first day's highlights included a wonderful dusk set by Gillian Welch, whose gorgeous heartland melodies captivated a crowd of 3,500. Earlier Chris Robinson and his New Earth Mud had entertained an even bigger crowd despite playing at the same time as Bob Dylan who was on the main stage. Robinson's set was a wide-ranging while Dylan continued his "Never Ending Tour" with yet another show that found him playing keyboards. In the midst of it all, Ani DiFranco delivered a typically powerhouse performance.
With 28 artists playing the first day of this three-day jamboree (over 80 acts will play before the event wraps up) the tone was set for a remarkable weekend of music.