Here's what we go through to bring you My Side of the Mountain, dear viewers. In the weeks leading up to Bonnaroo, I scheduled half a dozen videos with everyone from chamber-rock outfit Clare and the Reasons to Ethiopian pop group The Debo Band. Great, right? Well, three days before leaving, I got an email with details for the media covering the festival. There, at the bottom, is a brief line: unofficial performance videos prohibited on festival grounds. Shit. What?
So we can't shoot videos inside the festival. What about offsite? I'm sent scrambling to reschedule the shoots at hotels and cafés. I bring a bike, so I can get to the bands offsite. It seemed like the new plans would work, but then the bands starting canceling, one by one. Festivals are chaotic enough as it is. There was little hope of luring the musicians away.
But then, some hope! Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., one of my most anticipated shows of the four-day festival and undoubtedly the most exciting band I'd lined up for a session, was still willing to work it out. After a series of emails and phone calls, we secured a time and loaction. I would meet the duo Saturday morning at their tour bus, parked in a hotel lot just off the grounds.
By now, I'd seen the Detroit natives perform twice: once at the massive Other Tent (with thousands of fans singing along) and again during a stripped-down performance at the tiny Solar Stage the following day. The pair were especially charming at both shows, cracking jokes and engaging the audience, so I was excited to meet them in person.
On Saturday morning, I biked out to meet the band. The duo greeted me outside the bus, and I got the distinct impression that I wasn't the only one who had just woken up. After the usual niceties and a few jokes about drinking too much, we walked around the corner to a quiet, shady spot with a bench and got started. (The first performers of the day began in less than an hour and everyone was anxious to get back to the action.)
We started with a take of "Skeletons," a bouncy love song with doo-wop backing harmonies that's always been a personal favorite. It was good, but I could tell the pair had lost some of their connection with the track after performing it so often for more than two years. Then, without a clue as to what they would play next, the duo broke into a far-less-known cover it recently released on a limited edition Record Store Day EP. The song was written (and originally recorded) by Rodriguez, a Detroit-based songwriter who's become a cult favorite over the past decade.
From the airy classical guitar and delicate vocal harmonies to the chirping birds that cut through the music, it was the highlight of an already incredible weekend. Whatever enthusiasm or connection was lacking in "Skeletons" was more than made up for with "I Think of You." This single moment made up all the rest of the trouble. What other performance could have topped this song?
"We haven't played that one much," said Daniel Zott, the long-haired guitarist on the left, as we packed up and prepared to go our separate ways. "So you've got something kind of special there."
"You don't have to tell me," I thought.