published Friday, June 1st, 2012

Festivals are special for musicians, too

Most of us who are music fans have stories and memories from attending festivals such as Riverbend and Bonnaroo. It's part of the fun and the reason we return.

Last week, the folks at Bonnaroo put together a conference call featuring Jack Antonoff of Fun, Leslie Feist and Alice Cooper. They do this every year, and it's always interesting to me to hear people such as Dave Matthews, David Byrne and Richie Furay talk about the acts they hope to catch at Bonnaroo. We sometimes forget musicians are music fans as well.

Byrne, for example, said during his interview that he planned to take along a bicycle so he could get from stage to stage.

Last week, I asked Leslie Feist if she planned to play the role of fan at Bonnaroo in addition to being a performer.

"Yes ... when I was just in New Orleans the other day, I went down to the grounds because we had just played with Bon Iver a couple days before in Phoenix.

"There is a different way you watch when you're on the same bill. And you have to sort of be on deck to deal with your own ... you have to be ready to do your own thing, too. So you're not really watching with the same kind of just let yourself hang out and watch, you know."

She said she found herself wandering around in the sun, buying crawfish and a lemonade, and eventually wandered into the gospel music tent.

"Basically, what ended up blowing my mind that day was all the things I didn't expect to see that aren't in my, you know, in the kind of very narrow layer of cultural sediment that I seem to live in."

She also mentioned how magical it was for her to watch The Police performance in 2007 at Bonnaroo.

For Antonoff, Bonnaroo was a rite of passage for a couple of reasons, he said. He got to play there in 2005 with Steel Train, and it just so happened to be the first festival he'd ever attended.

"Well, I mean, I have a very special relationship with Bonnaroo because the people who booked that festival and that festival in general took a really big chance on me when I was first starting in music. And I played a great slot with my first band in 2005.

"It was the first taste that I had of just like that sort of live-music dream, you know, of getting up onstage, being pretty much an unknown band, and oh my God, there's 10,000 people there, and they're all going nuts and we're all creating one thing that's bigger than the band and audience."

His favorite moment came two days later, however, as he found himself sitting by the fountain in Centeroo with his sister and parents, who he said appeared to be reliving the '60s and the concerts they attended.

"To have that, you know, those almost like two generations that both existed in great moments in music history sitting in the middle of Bonnaroo having that feeling together is probably something I'll never forget," he said.

Antonoff and Feist said touring can create a sense of isolation and loneliness, and hanging out at Bonnaroo reminds them of how powerful and unifying music can be.

"When you go to the festivals and especially at Bonnaroo, it's like you have this moment where you're like, 'Whoa, I was all wrong. I was being too cynical.'"

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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