Bonnaroo’s Killer Lineup: Phish, Wilco, David Byrne, King Sunny Ade, Bruce Springsteen, Al Green, Gov’t Mule

Some of the country’s big ‘n’ eclectic rock/jam festivals, like Langerado in South Florida, are calling it quits this year. Or, at least, taking a break until 2010.

Bonnaroo, though, is standing strong, with a recently announced lineup that includes a huge gift to fans of a certain highly revered jamband.

Yep, Phish, reuniting in March to play three dates in Virginia, is headed to Bonnaroo, June 11-14 in Manchester, Tennessee.

Trey and Co., slated to play two shows – count ’em – at the music-and-camping fest, are at the top of the bill, along with a long list of acts boasting serious music muscle.

The lineup includes Wilco, David Byrne, Wilco, the Rev. Al Green, Elvis Costello (solo), and the seriously over-exposed Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. More: Gov’t Mule, Erykah Badu, TV on the Radio, Band of Horses, Ben Harper, Merle Haggard, moe, Bela Fleck & Toumani Diabate, Galactic, Booker T & the Drive-by Truckers, David Grisman, Lucinda Williams, Gomez, Femi Kuti, Alejandro Escovedo, Cherryholmes, the Steeldrivers, and – yes – Nigerian juju star King Sunny Ade. More TBA.

By any measure, it’s a killer bill.

The Boss at the (Super) Bowl: Over-Exposed?

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, although looking pretty long in the tooth, put on a reasonably impressive performance during the Super Bowl halftime show.bruce

Nice hearing solid versions  of oldies “10th Avenue Freeze Out,” “Born to Run” and “Glory Days,” along with the supposed-to-be inspirational title track from his new CD, Working on a Dream.

Credit goes to the NFL powers-that-be for choosing to showcase genuine American music royalty, rather than subjecting viewers to, say, 12 minutes of Kanye West or ‘Lil Wayne.

Still, it might be said that Mr. Integrity didn’t exactly stay true to his school of blue-collar rock. New York Times reviewer Jon Caramanica notes in a story published today that the Boss dropped verses from each of the four songs.

The Times, for the most part, liked the performance:

“Springsteen appeared in good cheer throughout, sliding across the stage on his knees (and into a camera) at the end of ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,’ and singing a collegial duet with the guitarist Steven Van Zandt on an ecstatic ‘Glory Days,’ ” Caramanica writes. ” ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’ was warm and bluesy, with Springsteen building up energy for ‘Born to Run,’ which concluded with a spectacular burst of fireworks. For the measured ‘Working on a Dream,’ Springsteen was backed, in triangle formation, by Van Zandt and Patti Scialfa (also Springsteen’s wife), all of them flanked by a gospel choir, the set’s most heavy-handed moment.”

He also altered several lyric lines to reflect the show’ s setting. Said Todd Martens, in his item posted on the L.A. Times music blog: “Give Springsteen credit. He was clearly enjoying the stage, although he misfired by changing the lyrics to “Glory Days,” swapping out the dead-beat baseball player references for lame nods to football. But this was a Springsteen clearly caught up in the advertising-driven spectacle of the Super Bowl, and completely unashamed about all of it.”

Stephen Metcalf, writing in Slate, is a little more harsh: “Springsteen has evolved, in the 35 years I’ve adored him, from an acquired taste that almost no one acquired to America’s favorite karaoke act.”

It wasn’t coincidental, as even Springsteen has admitted, that the performance in part was a pitch for lots of new “product” – including CDs and concert tickets – sure to generate hundreds of millions when all is said and done.

The new album was released on the Tuesday before the performance, and advance-sales tickets for the forthcoming E Street tour went on sale, convenently enough, this morning. Also just released, as Jonathan Cohen points out today in his Billboard piece, is a new greatest-hits disc, available only through Wal-Mart.

And the payoff stands to be strikingly immediate for Springsteen, Martens writes: “In the days following his halftime performance last year, Tom Petty saw a 352% increase in digital track sales. The four songs performed today — the set ended with “Glory Days” (you were expecting something else?) — are surely rocketing up the iTunes sales chart as this quick reaction blog is being typed.”

I suppose all this is win-win, in the short term, for Springsteen.

But, as a fair weather fan — yes, I was entirely blown away by the E Street band’s 1985 performance at the Orange Bowl in Miami — I have to wonder a couple of things:

1)How’s all this working out for his artistic credibility?

and, related questions:

2)Isn’t Springsteen moving into the land of the over-exposed? Is he risking a backlash?

I mean, Bruce has been all over the media recently because of:

  • A good deal of critical slobbering, as well as prominent placement and cover stories, tied in with the release last week of his new album. Brian Hiatt, in his Rolling Stone review, praised the CD’s “romantic sweep and swaggering musical ambition.”
  • His countless pro-Obama efforts in the fall, culminating with his headlining of the pre-inauguration concert (with a gospel choir, natch, a device that’s way over-used), aired live Jan. 18 on HBO. His assumption, a risky one, was that all of his fans shared his political views. I’m guessing that some sort of concert DVD is in the works.
  • His Golden Globe, which he picked up on Jan. 12, for a song, “The Wrestler,” contributed to the Darren Aronofsky film of the same name.

When is a lot of Bruce, too much?

I’d say … about now.

Jazz Makes Only a Cameo Appearance at Major Obama Inauguration Concert

Jazz is one of Barack Obama’s favorite things, according to some of the statements he’s made, in interviews with Rolling Stone and elsewhere (see my previous post).

So what happened? Was he merely giving lip service?

It looks like jazz will make only a cameo appearance at “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration” at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18. Herbie Hancock is the sole jazz artist on a list of pop/rock artists that includes some of the usual pop/rock suspects — Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce. Not that I’m not overjoyed to see Stevie get this kind of attention.

“The 90-minute show, which will begin at 2 p.m. and which will be shown that evening in a special free broadcast on HBO, will consist mainly of performers covering songs that have historical resonance or connect to the theme of the concert …,” according to a Washington Post report. Here’s the Billboard story on the event.

Meanwhile, I’ve not heard word of any major jazz artists appearing at the 10 official Inaugural Balls.

A CNN-sponsored Inauguration-related event at the Kennedy Center, however, will feature trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and banjo man Bela Fleck. That program, presented by Jazz at Lincoln Center, will be broadcast live on Jan. 19 at 7 p.m.

For those expecting that Obama would give a boost to jazz … this is  disappointing.

Letter to Obama: Let Great Jazz Into Your Inauguration Festivities

jazz-for-obamaDear President-Elect Obama:

The word on the street is that you like jazz, you really like jazz.

You became hip to the music, African-Americans’ great gift to the world’s arts culture, back in junior high school, when you still wanted to be called “Barry.”

In fact, once when you visited a record store with a friend from your Honolulu prep school, you stayed close to the jazz bins. “Barry was into things that other kids our age weren’t into. He went through the entire jazz section while we were there,” said your old pal Dean Ando, according to one newspaper feature.”That affects me to this day — he’s the one who introduced me to jazz.”

Did you dig real jazz, with genuine musical content, by creative players with an understanding of the tradition but with eyes on the future? Or were you keen on some variety of jazz lite? Who knows? But I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Your iPod playlist, which may or may not have been assembled by your staff to appeal to the Baby Boomers whose support you needed during the general election (hence Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, etc.), even includes tracks by jazz geniuses Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker.

Miles and Coltrane, too, lead the artists named under the category of “favorite music” on your Facebook page.

Yes, those are pretty obvious jazz picks, and they’re all dead. Still, listing those artists is far more impressive than, you know, listing Kenny G. or the Rippingtons or some other such wallpaper-jazz nonsense.

I’ve not heard whether you ever visited the Green Mill, Chicago’s jazz mecca, while you were based in the Windy City.

Still, there are other signs that you may well support jazz during your White House residency.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” you had this to say: “Thinking about the diversity of our culture and inviting jazz musicians, and classical musicians, and poetry readings in the White House so that once again we appreciate this incredible tapestry that’s America, you know, that, I think, is going to be incredibly important, particularly because we’re going through hard times.”

While, as far as I can tell, you’ve not recently given props to any important living jazz artists — not even trumpeter Wynton Marsalis or pianist Herbie Hancock? — many major figures in the jazz community have gone out of their way to support you.

Did you hear about the “Jazz for Obama” concert in New York on Oct. 1? Did you attend?

A long list of front-rank jazz artists, black and white, opted to wear their politics on their shirtsleeves for a night in the name of helping you win the election. The performers: Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Joe Lovano, Roy Haynes, Brad Mehldau, Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride, Stanley Jordan, Kurt Elling, Hank Jones, Charlie Hunter/Doug Wamble, Bilal/Robert Glasper, Stefon Harris, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Roberta Gambarini.

Thanks to a column by Ottawa Citizen music writer Peter Hum, I was reminded of the following examples of major jazz musicians’ overt support of you:

  • Hancock lent his name and musical cred to the “Yes We Can” video supporting your candidacy
  • Pianist Vijay Iyer and trumpeter Dave Douglas, at last year’s Chicago Jazz Festival, dedicated new works to you.
  • Trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and many other prominent jazzers have displayed your face and message on t-shirts they’ve worn on stage.
  • Hundreds, if not thousands, of jazz musicians, have used their Facebook and MySpace pages to demonstrate support for you.

Yes, all these jazzers were for you, and presumably still are. But are you really for jazz?

I’m asking, because of some rather disappointing news.

So far, the only notable musical artists reportedly invited to play your 10 official inaugural balls are, you know, big-name folks.

Stevie Wonder, Barbra Streisand and Bruce “Super Bowl Half-Time Show” Springsteen are said to have been asked to appear at official inauguration events on Jan. 20, and the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus are expected to headline an official kids-oriented show on Jan. 19.

Some of these are inspired choices; others, not so much.

Yes, your associates have coordinated a Jan. 20 event called ” ‘A Time For Hope’ 2009 Presidential Inaugural Jazz Gala.”

But the musicians selected for the event, despite being described as “global jazz artists,” are not well-known players. What’s up with that?

Since you self-identify as African-American, and since jazz is rooted in black culture, may I suggest that you use your great power to include MAJOR jazz musicians — black, white and Hispanic — in your inauguration festivities?

After you move into the White House, you ought to regularly invite jazzers over to your place, too.

Any of the above-mentioned artists, including Marsalis and Hancock, and pianist Hank Jones (part of that “Jazz for Obama” concert), a brilliant elder statesman of jazz, would make great choices.

So would veteran saxophonist Sonny Rollins, arguably the greatest living jazz performer, and now enjoying critical plaudits for his recent concerts and latest CDs, including last year’s Road Shows, Vol. 1. Or how about other great, still-thriving saxophonists, like Wayne Shorter, James Moody, or Phil Woods, to name just a few other older players of that instrument?

Why not Terence Blanchard? In addition to his superb work as a trumpeter and bandleader, he is a gifted composer of film scores, and he serves as artistic director of the college program at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, now based in his hometown, New Orleans. Hancock is the institute’s chairman.

This is a very short list of jazz artists who would make great assets to your forthcoming festivities. Choosing any of these musicians to play your inauguration concerts  would demonstrate that your support for jazz is more than just lip service.

For more good ideas, you can turn to the two polls — readers and critics — annually published in Down Beat magazine, or the awards annually bestowed by the Jazz Journalists Association (JJA).

So, President-Elect Obama, or, if I may, Barry: There’s still time to invite world-class jazz musicians to play your inauguration concerts.

Need help programming great jazz, or booking some of these artists? If you can’t rely on your own team, you know, give me a call.

Better yet, contact some of the great jazz musicians I’ve mentioned. Or make a connection with the editors of Down Beat or Jazz Times or Jazziz. Or consult the jazz writer Stanley Crouch, who made some similar points in a Dec. 21 column.

Yes, you can. Yes, you can make this happen – you’re the next leader of the free world.

What’s stopping you?