4 days of danger, excitement and tons of live shows

Robert Checkal

Girl Talk, Andrew Bird talk about this year’s Bonnaroo

In the heart of Tennessee lies a mecca for music fans all across the world. Ever since it started in 2002, Bonnaroo has been a summer staple in the hearts and minds of the thousands of attendees who flock to it every year. Taking place from June 11 to 14 in Manchester, Tenn., on a 700-acre farm, this year’s line-up includes the likes of Andrew Bird, Girl Talk and Aziz Ansari, all of whom spoke about expectations for one of the biggest summer festivals.

Bird said one of the reasons the event is successful is because it’s more of a destination than an event.

“It’s in the middle of nowhere, and therefore is a commitment for everybody,” Bird said.

Attendees’ commitment to the festival also adds a risk for Bird and other acts who get little time to set up before playing. This is especially risky in the midst of the complicated looping techniques Bird has become well-known for in his live shows.

“I think that’s the nature of our show is that it is dangerous, whether you can tell from 500 yards away how dangerous it is,” Bird said. “Live looping on a violin, and the timing has to be perfect. And everyone has to be able to hear each other perfectly. “

The comedy tent offers a little less danger than that of complex set-ups and looping techniques; this year, Ansari plans to bring his best material to serve up some laughs for the masses.

“Every year that I perform, I charter a small airplane that has one of those banners that says ‘Come to the comedy tent,'” Ansari said. “And I also like to drop Gatorade. I’ve had some really nice people get cooled off, and they are like ‘Oh, thanks for the electrolytes.'”

From electrolytes to electronic beats, Gregg Gillis – better known by his stage name “Girl Talk” – is also back for another round of “the ‘roo.”

“I like playing at festivals and at shows where you know it might be slightly non-traditional to play (on a laptop),” Gillis said.

On that single laptop platform comes a think-tank of live inspiration.

“During the course of an hour-long performance, I might go through three or 400 loops…” Gillis said. “What I do is I prepare – there are kind of arrangements thought out in my head. So I know song A will go well with song B, (which) will go well with song C and then how to transition out of that. It’s kind of all improvised, how I go in and out of things.”

Gillis said he prepares more material than he plays. He said he knows the main elements of a song but also drops in different beats and tries out different things.

As Bonnaroo 2009 draws nearer and the masses swarm small town Tennessee, a sense of excitement fills both artists and festival-goers alike. Four days of entertainment, crowds full of people interested in the same music genres and a shameless comedian dropping Gatorade from a promotional airplane are all key ingredients for this summer’s road-trip destination.

Contact all reporter Robert Checkal at [email protected].