One of the amazing things about festival season is that so many things happen so quickly that it takes weeks for my thoughts to all catch up to the experiences. This year I’ve been stuck on the Bonnaroo Superjam and its Tom Petty theme. For the uninitiated, The Superjam is a Bonnaroo tradition that remains from the fest’s jam band roots. Each year on Friday night That Tent is given over to some theme or group of artists for experimentation and play. There are legendary stories from the Superjam over the years (Everfest has done a good job collecting some of them here). This year the Superjam was bittersweet for me as the theme was a tribute to Tom Petty—who played The Farm with The Heartbreakers in 2006 and again in 2013. The 2006 performance was the first headlining set I saw at Bonnaroo and remains one of the best shows I have seen in my life (it was 21 song set that included at least 5 songs accompanied by Stevie Nicks and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well”). Petty is a legend in Bonnaroo lore so it seemed only appropriate that the Superjam would be a tribute to his music. On paper this looks like a great idea and everyone involved did an amazing job with Petty’s music. The problem with turning a jam into a tribute is that for the most part people tried to be faithful to the songs rather than blowing them open and rearranging them. No matter how accomplished a group of musicians is—doing a straight cover of a Tom Petty song is always going call attention to the fact that Tom is in fact not there singing. In that regard the Superjam was a profoundly cathartic moment for me as a huge fan of Petty and his work. Petty’s absence was so striking that he was present in the ears of everyone there. When a star like Petty or Prince or Bowie dies the loss is never immediately real. Their voices are always there waiting to spring back to life on our favorite records—in our favorite songs. At those moments they are so alive and we are just fans waiting for the next thing that will never come which is the hardest part.

Earlier this week a video emerged of Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis at a mostly empty karaoke bar singing Petty’s “Don’t Do Me Like That”. Somehow this seems like a more poignant tribute than anything formally organized. We all sing these songs. We are all moved by them—even and perhaps especially when no one is watching.


Here is the audio from the 2006 Bonnaroo set:




To Do This Week

Tonight check out Kris Tokarski and Clint Baker at the Bombay Club. Tomorrow The Body is at Gasa Gasa with Lingua Ignota and the Free Friday show at Tipitinas is Gravity A with Video Age and Spencer Whatever. Saturday Deacon John plays at Tips and Cheap Trick hits the Saenger. Sunday The Blind Boys of Alabama are at the Orpheum with Seth Walker. Monday Mourn plays Gasa with Chastity. Wednesday you can catch the outstanding River Whyless at the House of Blues Parish with Adam Torres.


To Listen This Week