Friday at Bonnaroo 2012 is in the books and, after an impressive Thursday night dedicated to up and comers like Dirty Guv’nahs, Orgone, and Alabama Shakes, today begins the big name bands. Today’s agenda is all about dazzling musicianship, with sets by Newgrass legend Sam Bush, Americana sensations Avett Brothers, and guitar virtuosos Rodrigo y Gabriela and C.U.B.A.
The day began with a show at The Other Tent by mandolin legend Sam Bush. An influence on a number of other groups playing Bonnaroo 2012, the former Newgrass Revival founder dazzled the crowd with a set of songs that ranged from Newgrass Revival classics to newer solo efforts and everything in between.
As soon as Bush took the stage, you knew that all the years of critical accolades about his musicianship still don’t do justice to the reality as Bush and his band of Nashville area veterans put on a clinic in a set that was half instrumentals and half Bush-vocaled songs. While the crowd for Bush wasn’t as large as for some, the mostly older Bonnaroo audience hung on Bush’s every word and note as he played.
Next up was a trip to the What Stage, Bonnaroo’s biggest, for an absolutely packed set by hitmaking Americana group The Avett Brothers. The band’s popularity surge in the last year was obvious as the What Stage crowd looked almost like one for a headliner as it spilled well past the Access platform and stretched out toward the back wall.
The Avett Brothers appeared to be inspired by such a massive turnout for their set as the amped up the energy for an hour and a half of songs that pulled from their entire catalog of songs. The huge crowd was packed with obvious fans who sung along to not only The Avett Brothers radio hits but to every word of the album cuts as well.
The Avett Brothers have really grown as Bonnaroo has grown, going from playing a Cafe Stage set in their first appearance to tonight’s show which was the most crowded non-Radiohead show of the weekend so far. Expect to see The Avett Brothers in a Bonnaroo headlining position very soon if this trend continues.
The last show before headliner Radiohead was Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, who brought 11 piece orchestra C.U.B.A. with them for this tour in support of their new collaborative album Area 52. While offerings elsewhere by big names like Ludacris, Feist, and St. Vincent took some of the massive audience that had gathered for The Avett Brothers, those who remained were well rewarded with what was one of the strongest shows of the weekend so far.
Rodrigo y Gabriela are no strangers to Bonnaroo and their dazzling acoustic guitar work on both original songs and covers like Metallica’s “One” have alway been popular with Bonnaroo crowds. But the addition of 11 more musicians in the form of Cuban orchestra C.U.B.A. added another layer to Rodrigo y Gabriela’s sound. For 2/3 of the 1.5 hour set, Rodrigo y Gabriela’s acoustic guitars weaved in and out of C.U.B.A.’s swelling horns, thundering percussion, and electric guitar wail seamlessly. For the middle third of the set, Rodrigo y Gabriela played a more traditional set with just the two of them showing why they are lauded as some of the most talented guitarists in the world.
At the end of the show, they brought C.U.B.A. back out for a huge show closing jam that included the highlight of the show as they started a song from their new album, only to stop and kick into a medley of Metallica hits, then resume the album cut as if nothing happened. Rodrigo y Gabriela’s acoustic renderings of Metallica have always been a bit surreal, but fit well. Not surprisingly, the addition of Cuban horns to Metallica covers just ramped up the surreal aspect but still fit surprisingly well. If you ever wondered what “Creeping Death” would sound like with a horn section now you know. It sounds brilliant.