Bricen “Hey Man” Heymen just wanted to superjam.
That was the premise of Bonnaroo’s whacky webcast last night, a series of short sketch comedies thread together through Bricen’s quest to the fest – and performances by The Flaming Lips with Ben Folds. Heymen, played by Saturday Night Live’s Taran Killam, wasn’t skilled on an instrument or as a singer. “Hey Man”- dressed as if a member of The Lumineers – did nothing more musical than shout “hey” yet he yearned to rock the ‘Roo. Along the way towards his goal he was shrunken by a shrink ray, attempted to do the robot (dance) better than an actual robot, received advice from baseball hall of famer Wade Boggs and failed an audition with Wayne Coyne and Ben Folds for their superjam band. Yes, The Bonnaroo Lineup Announcement Megathon – or BLAM! – was just as cartoony as this description makes it out to be. Not just for these silly bits, but also the actor’s exaggerated expressions, the energetic cinematography, its use of bright colors in dark environments and the Lips’ looney tunes. If nothing else it was surely the most elaborate music festival line-up announcement… ever! Keep in mind this wasn’t just a webcast – there were BLAM! simulcast parties hosted by record shops all over the country.
Before BLAM! proper started there were two hours of bands playing covers from past Bonnaroo fests in the pre-show, My Morning Jacket and Phish taking on Velvet Underground classics for instance. It began at 7pm EST with Michael Winslow (aka Police Academy’s “Man of 10,000 Sound Effects”) dressed as Jimi Hendrix and imitating the Woodstock version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” with his voice filtered through a distorted amp. Other highlights included Tenacious D’s acoustic medley of tunes from The Who’s Tommy, Kings of Leon rocking the Pixies “Where is My Mind?” and fun. living up to their name with the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” As this rarely seen footage from ‘Roo’s vaults was unearthed “Bonnaroo Alerts” periodically flashed on the screen confirming artists booked for this year’s fest: Seasick Steve, Amos Lee, Umphrey’s McGee, Goat, Omar Souleyman, White Denim, etc.
Towards the end of the BLAM! pre-show an ad ran for Bonnaroo’s new “Funkiest Dancer” contest. Make a routine, submit it and you might be picked to work with a professional choreographer and perform on the main stage this June! More details are available at funkiestdancer.com.
Finally BLAM! began at 9pm, as did Bricen “Hey Man” Heymen’s strange odyssey. The half-hour program was equal parts sketch comedy and commercial announcement. At its start The Flaming Lips and Ben Folds performed “She Don’t Use Jelly” “somewhere in the world” – interspersed with bands appearing through a magic green crystal to announce they’re on Bonnaroo’s bill this year. For their second song Folds and the Lips vamped as Heymen out danced all obstructing his path towards the Bonnaroo roster. And for the sake of randomness (or possibly endorsement) Statler and Waldorf – those two grumpy old dudes from The Muppets – were there. Watch that clip below:
In actuality these performances weren’t from last night nor an anonymous “somewhere in the world.” The Lips and Ben came together in New York on February 4th to prep taping the BLAM! superjam. At the end of that week the performances were filmed at House of Vans on February 7th – and the Lips took to twitter to ask for help. A Bonnaroo facebook post followed that night asking for “Lyrics. Poems. Verses. Rhymes.”
The social media crowd-sourced song-writing experiment resulted in the Lips and Folds’ new song “Pancakes as Big as Your Head.” A ditty as silly as its title, it befits the absurd nature of the BLAM! broadcast (listen here). Next “Hey Man” stumbled into a bar and received advice from Wade Boggs. A flashback transported viewers to auditions two days before. In one of many ridiculous plot twists Wade is made to be not only a third baseman but also a bassman (as in a guy that plays bass guitar), and had already auditioned against Heymen – as did a goofy caricature of Julian Casablancas. Watch below:
After the audition bit BLAM! suddenly got serious with a touching version of Rockin’ the Suburbs‘ “Not The Same” – complete with an anthemic finale (listen here). Just as “Hey Man” began to come to terms with not making the Bonnaroo line-up co-star Hannibal Buress told him about the “one last chance wheel.” “That’s the first thing you should tell people,” Heymen snipes back. At last Bricen loses out again, this time to Elton John who appeared in one of those reoccurring magic green crystals to tell us he’s “looking forward to seeing you all down on The Farm…”
Does Bricen “Hey Man” Heymen get to perform after all? In the spirit of no spoilers you’ll just have to watch for yourself to find out. Suffice to say Folds and the Lips closed with Usher’s “Love in this Club.” After all every superjam needs a slow jam:
The Lips-Folds connection goes way back. Transmissions from the Satellite Heart was one of Ben’s favorite albums in the early ’90s and he recorded a lounge version of the Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly” for the B-side of his hit “Brick.” A few years later Ben raved to the press about Zaireeka (keep in mind this was years before there was any “trendy” reason to do so) and featured his “Jelly” arrangement in Ben Folds Five’s episode of Sessions at West 54th – a beloved PBS music show hosted by KCRW’s Chris Douridas, David Byrne and John Hiatt that ran for three seasons in the late ’90s. Five years later while Ben was touring Europe with The Divine Comedy he played BBC Radio 2’s Jonathan Ross Show. Hear an off-the-cuff version of “Race For The Prize” with Ross and Neil Hannon from the September 28, 2002 radio show at 4:07 in the below video, following the West 54th performance. Also below, watch Wayne Coyne and Kesha sit-in at the Ryman Auditorium Nashville stop of the Ben Folds Five’s 2012 reunion tour. Ben also collaborated with The Flaming Lips on the string arrangement of Kesha’s “Past Lives.”
At the start of this month The Lips worked up Ben Folds’ version of “She Don’t Use Jelly” and Rockin’ the Suburbs‘ “Not The Same” before coming to New York to play with him. After their first rehearsal together on February 4th Ben vamped on Billy Preston’s “Outta Space” and shared a video – one of the several tweets that teased the Lips-Folds collaboration. On the night of the taping Jonathan Rado from Foxygen also showed up to jam (though he’s barely visible in the webcast edit). Watch the Lips and Ben rehearse followed by a snippet with Rado in the below video:
With all the craziness of BLAM! let’s not forget its purpose:
…to announce the 2014 Bonnaroo line-up!
There were delights, but hardly any surprises (at least not for those following along with Roo Clues and lineup rumors for the past month). Headliners Jack White and Elton John were both expected to be on the bill, and both are likely to play memorable sets. This will not only be Elton’s first time at ‘Roo, but his debut at any American music festival! Jack on the other hand has played Bonnaroo with the White Stripes in 2007, The Raconteurs in 2008 and The Dead Weather in 2010, but never as a solo artist. Superfly co-founder Rick Farman explained the choice of Jack as a headliner to jambands.com today. “He is one of the special relationships we’ve had like Kings of Leon, Mumford & Sons and My Morning Jacket. Jack White started off at a little bigger level when he first played the festival, but I think he has embraced it in a similar fashion—you associate him with being a Bonnaroo artist. Jack has played so many different times and in so many different configurations, it’s pretty special. His performance with The White Stripes was definitely in my top five Bonnaroo sets ever.”
Among the 130-something other acts trekking to Bonnaroo’s 13 stages this year are The Flaming Lips, Neutral Milk Hotel, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Grouplove, Dr.Dog, Broken Bells, Ty Segall, White Denim, Vampire Weekend, Goat, Andrew Bird & the Hands of Glory, Washed Out, Cake, Warpaint, Phosphorescent, Drive-By Truckers, The Avett Brothers, Phoenix, Arctic Monkeys, Damon Albarn, Poliça, ZZ Ward, First Aid Kit, Okkervil River, Cloud Nothings, Real Estate, Cass McCombs, Fitz and The Tantrums, Janelle Monáe, Lauryn Hill, Amos Lee, CHVRCHES, Cage The Elephant, The Head and the Heart, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Umphrey’s McGee, Slightly Stoopid, Yonder Mountain String Band, John Butler Trio,The Wood Brothers and The Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar, with special guests Billy Martin, Marc Ribot, DJ Logic and Shazad Ismaily.
There’s three superjams in 2014: one’s a mystery, another will be lead by Skrillex and the third is the second annual “The Bluegrass Situation Superjam hosted by Ed Helms.” Yep, one superjam for bluegrass and another lead by the most famous DJ to come of age in this decade. That’s Bonnaroo’s in a nutshell: diversity. The festival’s roots in the jam scene are honored this year by Umphrey’s McGee’s 8th year on The Farm as well as Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Wood Brothers, Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, The John Butler Trio, Break Science and Big Sam’s Funky Nation and others. It’s also a strong year for Bonnaroo on the hip-hop front with Frank Ocean, Wiz Khalifa, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Ice Cube, Janelle Monae, Die Antwoord, Chance the Rapper, A$AP Ferg, Pusha T, A Tribe Called Red and Danny Brown. The rapper who will be getting most of the attention however will no doubt be this year’s third headliner, Kanye West. In the most infamous performance disaster in the festival’s history, Kanye last took the Bonnaroo stage in 2008 – six hours after his original 8:45 set time, and two hours after his rescheduled time. Afterwards West struck out at the festival organizers on his blog, writing:
“WE WERE OBVIOUSLY DEALING WITH FUCKING IDIOTS WHO DIDN’T REALLY HAVE THE CAPACITY TO REALLY PUT ON THIS SHOW PROPERLY. THEY TRIED 2 GIVE ME A TIME SLOT WHERE IT WAS STILL LIGHT OUTSIDE … I HAVE A FUCKING LIGHT SHOW DUMB ASS, IT’S NOT CALLED GLOW IN THE DARK FOR NO REASON SQUID BRAINS!”
Four acts that will receive more unanimously welcoming returns are Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, The Flaming Lips and The Avett Brothers. Vampire Weekend has only played Bonnaroo once before, way back in 2008, the Thursday night before most attendees arrived (though drummer Chris Tomson – aka the member known in jamband circles for repeatedly donning a Phish T – was in the audience of the inaugural Bonnaroo in 2002). Phoenix on the other hand played a career changing set in 2009 and distinguished themselves as one of the few bands to play Bonnaroo consecutive years when they returned in 2010 as global stars. Their latter set – one of the most packed in Which Stage history – closed the weekend for many fans (it was an oft repeated complaint at the time that Phoenix should have been 2010’s official Sunday headliner, not Dave Matthews Band). Likewise The Flaming Lips have cited their 2003 appearance as a career-changer. They returned to play a late Friday night set in 2007 as a fixture on the festival circuit. They returned again in 2010 for two Friday night sets, the second covering Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety with Stardeath and White Dwarfs. It’s The Avett Brothers however that have grown the most as Bonnaroo performers – making their way from a café space in 2006 to The Other Tent in 2008, the Which Stage in 2010 and the What Stage in 2012.
Tickets go on sale Saturday, February 22nd at noon at bonnaroo.com.
Click here to read more recent festival news, including Bonnaroo’s plans to broadcast this year’s festival as “an exclusive, interactive television event that will be streaming in high-definition.”