Houston artist Tyagaraja recently won the Ford Fiesta Team Houston Battle of The Bands, the grand prize of which was a trip to perform at the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee. Meghan Hendley, keyboardist/vocalist for Tyagaraja, reports back to us with her tales of the festival. Read the rest of her journey here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
As the sun intensified and more bodies poured in, day two of my Bonnaroo experience started off with a summer afternoon set by University of North Texas alumna Norah Jones.
Starting off with "What Am I To You" from her second album, Feels Like Home, Norah's sultry vocal lines told the sunburned audience exactly what she was: A petite singer-songwriter who slowly draws you in to her wonderland filled-with-bell-like Rhodes tones, flawless vocals and subtle, bluesy guitar riffs. Her current hit "Chasing Pirates" and a Johnny Cash cover teased the ears of the audience with Jones' Southern charm.
Later that evening, we went back in time with perhaps one of the most ageless souls of music, Mr. Stevie Wonder. As we approached the main-stage field, our group felt our shoulders start to twitch and feet start to slide as "Higher Ground" funked up the crowd. Streams of "My Cherie Amour" and "Living For The City" turned into the largest sing-along at the festival. I'm not sure there is another artist out there who can just pull back from the mike, dive into the instrumental maze of the music and let the audience take over all the vocal riffs and slides.
He did occasionally school us with a vocal lesson when he had us sing progressively more difficult vocal riffs just to see if we could keep up. When Wonder did turn back to the microphone, his voice cut through, crystal clear, with such warm tones and soul. Many artists who have had a career such as his usually lose that shimmer of youth, yet he seems to only brighten that glow that so many individuals love and hold dear.
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Next, Jay-Z blazed through a slew of bass-bumping, body-shaking hits for 90 nonstop minutes for arguably one of the largest and most enthusiastic crowds of the entire festival. Fresh off his spring tour, the master of the verse brought his digital backdrop that flashed through shots of NYC and other city scenes. Keeping true to his latest album title's name, Jay-Z assaulted the crowd with blueprints of song after song spanning his entire career via a volcanic explosion of poetic words and hammering beats.
Jay-Z often saluted the 80,000 hand-pumping and waving soldiers that did anything their commander told them to do. When he said to "freeze, give me back my money please" or "get that dirt off your shoulder," you better bet your Manchester money you froze - and even brushed off the days of piled-up dirt on the shoulder of the total stranger next to you just to make sure.
The verbal acrobats, slashing guitars and hammering percussion shook the Bonnaroo farm field as hits such as "99 Problems," "Big Pimpin'" and "H.O.V.A." spun the crowd almost out of control. "Can I Get A..." caused me to drop it lower than I ever have in my lifetime. Each line of the rap was spoken with a spark of brutal authority and fire, every hook was delivered with snappy intensity and every sudden shift in the backing music was as smooth as the body lines on a brand new Cadillac.
Remixes were welcomed too, as "Ain't No Love" featured the crowd bobbing drumbeats of U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Hova's newer hits such as "Empire State of Mind" and "Death of Auto-Tune" were the reminders of why Jay-Z stands at the top of that famous NYC building as one of the best masters of the art form known as rap.