Posted by: Nick | June 18, 2009

REVIEW: Ben Sollee @ Bonnaroo 2009

We were running on empty going into Sunday, the fourth day of Bonnaroo.  Four days of hot sun, warm rain, mud and outdoor living.  All that was gone out of our minds, at least for the time Ben Sollee was on stage.  It was slightly overcast, with a little breeze to cool us off.  Ben’s tunes,  his contagious smile, and a painted hippie (I will explain), completely re-energized us and laid the foundation for a great final day to an awesome festival.

After biking to Bonnaroo from Lexington (with his Cello rolling behind him), it didn’t seem that Ben lost any energy.  He actually played two sets at the fest, but we only caught Sundays on the Sonic Stage.  I had seen Ben before, but never with a full band.  Louisville’s own guitar virtuoso Craig Wagner and the ever-talented Jon Moore (also in Louisville’s Chemic) completed the trio.  Ben played everything from songs on his new album, Learning to Bend,  to a covers of Tom Waits’ “Chocolate Jesus.”  There were a few requests for “Dear Kanye,” inspired by Kanye’s Bonnaroo 2008 fiasco, but Ben suggested that everyone leave Kanye back in last year.

One of the more peculiar parts of the set was during his cover of “Chocolate Jesus.”  As soon as Ben announced the song he planned to sing, a shirtless, shoeless, painted, dirty dude started jumping with excitement.  No foul there, but his next move was to lay on the ground and slide under the fence in front of the stage.  He then proceeded to hop on stage and take a hold of a mic and assume the position of “frontman” for Dirty D and the Ben Sollee Three.   To tell you the truth, he wasn’t singing that bad until he turned metal and started screaming the lyrics.  He paused at one point, took a swig of water, then spit it out on the front row of the crowd.  Ben and Co. were amused by the whole thing and played it perfectly. Ben even stood up and did an impression of the guy after he was wisked away by Bonnaroo security (after a solid two minutes on stage).

The Sonic Stage was definitely not the biggest stage at the fest, but it also was not the smallest.  A crowd of a hundred or so for the first song grew five fold as walkers-by and late risers caught a bit of Ben’s sound and were drawn in.  That is a mark of true talent and Ben has it.  By the end people were dancing, cheering and singing along.  I don’t doubt they left as energized and ready for the rest of the fest as I was.

More pics below the break…

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