Bonnaroo 2013 Day 3: All Hail Dwight Yoakam

Dwight Yoakam and others deliver great shows through the dust and the heat.

Dwight Yoakam onstage at Bonnaroo, June 15, 2013
photo by Chris Allen

Apparently there are two kinds of days at Bonnaroo: rainy, muddy ones or scorching-hot dry ones. Saturday, June 15, was the latter, with dust from the heavily trafficked dirt roads swirling through the air and filling the lungs of everyone who dared walk around.

Which was everyone, basically.

Early in the day, singer Chris Stapleton got to play the smaller Miller Lite stage for a crowd trying to hide from the brutal sunshine.

Chris Stapleton
photo by Chris Allen

“Anybody out there hot?” he asked the crowd. “Me too.”

With tunes like “Midnight Train to Memphis,” “The Right Ones,” “Sometimes I Cry” and his new single, “What Are You Listening To,” Chris sounded like some long-lost offspring of the Southern rock and soul gods, beamed in from a different time. It only took a couple songs for the audience to sit up and realize how special this guy is. His music was almost overpowered by the bigger stage nearby, however, where Beyoncé’s sister Solange was entertaining the crowd.

Chris had previously played Bonnaroo as a member of the bluegrass outfit The SteelDrivers and he described it as a place where people have a good time and are enthusiastic about the music. “If they like what you’re doing, they’re gonna sit there and hang out and enjoy it,” he said. “And if they don’t, they’re gonna move on to one of the other seven stages they have.”

The weekend prior, Chris had made the rounds at CMA Music Festival, with another ocean of folks curious about music. Asked about the main differences between the two, Chris laughed and said there were “a lot more illegal substances in the audience at Bonnaroo. A lot more women not wearing shirts. That was my experience last time,” he said with a big laugh. “It was a bit of a culture shock. There’s guys in unitards doing interpretive dance. There’s gonna be that kind of stuff.”

But ultimately, there was a link between the two seemingly disparate gatherings. “The audiences are there to truly enjoy and experience the event,” he mused. “Any great festival like those two are has that element to it, no matter what kind of background the fans are. The common thread is people come there to experience the festival and they come there to discover new things.”

Later in the afternoon, the press folks got to check out another panel led by Andy Langer and featuring Dwight Yoakam (whose blistering set we saw later in the day), comedian Reggie Watts and country singer Jonny Fritz (formerly Jonny Corndawg).

Dwight referred back to some of the earlier festival type gatherings and the Outlaw movement in country that helped make things like Bonnaroo possible. And attributed part of his success to more than just country radio. “I broke out of that rock club circuit with that first EP and that first LP, really,” he said. “There was college radio that played us first. It’s been an interesting journey through commercial success on country radio.”

Singer Jonny Fritz has been fashioning his own outsider brand of country for years, but still has yet to make the massive breakthrough like Dwight had. “To be able to play country music now, you really have to make up your own genre,” he noted.

Dwight agreed. “I just did what I grew up listening to through my own interpretation, my own DNA,” he said.

Comedian Reggie pointed out how much he loved variety show Hee Haw as a kid in Montana. “I thought it was crazy corny, but hysterical,” he said with a laugh. And Dwight made a Gailard Sartain reference, which only a couple of people got.

Ultimately, Dwight acknowledged how lucky he had been to have a career that is still thriving. “I think this is 27 years since Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. came out now,” he explained. “To be able to still come and do this is not something I take lightly. I mean it, I’m not trying to be trite. It feels good. It feels fortunate to be able to walk out and play for that many people.”

And he did just that as the sun was setting on That Tent (one of the many whimsically named structures here: Which Stage, What Stage, etc), after an impassioned set from strummy Americana types Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors.

Dwight was classic Dwight, in denim jacket and painted on blue jeans, hat pulled low to his eyes. His incredibly tight band donned the more spangled, rhinestoned jackets of their country forbears. And his set was immaculate, one hit after another. “Please Please Baby,” “Streets of Bakersfield,” “Little Sister,” “Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose,” as well as 3 Pears songs like “Take Hold of My Hand” and “Waterfall.”

The crowd went wild every time Dwight did his infamous boot scooting shuffle across the stage, and more of the onlookers piled in to check out what this country guy was doing. He also revived crowd favorite “Ain’t That Lonely Yet,” joking about the laser pointers in the sky. “I just had a flashback, and hell, I wasn’t even in Vietnam.”

Hits kept coming. “1000 Miles From Nowehere.” “Honky Tonk Man,” “Little Ways,” “Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc.” and a scorching run through “Fast As You.” He also got a really rare encore, singing his recent hit “Heart Like Mine” and the classic “Long White Cadillac.”

Back at the Which Stage, the mostly acoustic Lumineers (who had a huge hit with “Ho Hey”) were holding court for an audience in the thousands that seemed to know the words to every single song. They even broke the fourth wall to go out into the audience for a crowd singalong that seemed to fit the spirit of community that so permeates Bonnaroo.

Later, there was a surprise set from New Orleans outfit Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who were also included in the special SuperJam between My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, John Oates, the Meters’ Ziggy Modeliste and Sly & the Family Stone’s Larry Graham. This talented crew sang classic soul numbers like “Dance to the Music,” “Hey Pocky-a-Way” and a duet on Sam & Dave’s “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” between John and the Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard.

And though it was 2 a.m., there was still plenty more music, including a set from electronic favorite Boys Noize.

One day left, and CW could really use a shower.

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