Damian "Junior Gong" Marley and Nas brought "Distant Relatives" to Tennessee, Kings of Leon ruled the mainstage and the National put another exclamation point what is quickly becoming the band's best summer yet, but the first full day of Bonnaroo 2010 belonged to a gangly, flame-haired TV comic who was unemployed up until a few weeks ago, and has never once been a member of a jam band.
Not to take anything away from the dozens of musical acts sprinkled throughout a scorching-hot, sprawling farm in Tennessee, but Conan O'Brien's day-opening 1 p.m. set at the Comedy Tent was the ticket of the day, judging by the lines (long, and occasionally confused), the wait times (some fans dedicated nearly five hours in queue to get into the show) and degree of simulcasts (the show was broadcast at the Cinema Tent and on a giant outdoor screen, meaning that at midday, thousands of people gathered to watch Conan O'Brien on television).
O'Brien, naturally, dug into the occasion, announcing that "six months ago, I had the 'Tonight Show,' and now I'm playing a refugee camp." He went on to remark that the festival verifies that "we are clearly losing the war on drugs" and did a brief Jay Leno impersonation, with the caveat that due to legal reasons, "that's my impression of Ludacris." Afterwards, he spent the afternoon serving as MC of the What Stage, where he introduced Tenacious D as "the greatest band in the history of entertainment" and questioned his own credentials to introduce Damian Marley and Nas.
The rap/reggae duo, who released the "Distant Relatives" album this month, blazed through 90 minutes of new tracks, including the fiery opener "As We Enter," the carpe-diem number "Count Your Blessings" and the banging "Nah Mean." Elsewhere in the set, Nas barreled through his own "Made You Look," "Hate Me Now" and "Hip-Hop Is Dead"; Jr. Gong responded with "Road to Zion" and an absolutely destructive "Welcome to Jamrock" before closing with a rousing take on The Wailers' "Could You Be Loved." "Are there any Bob Marley fans in the house?" Jr. Gong asks. There were a few.
Tenacious D rose unveiled new material that poked fun at the generally accepted quality of its faux biopic "Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny" (and then accepted a deal replacing Kyle Gass with "the guy from 'Paul Blart: Mall Cop'"). Later, Jack Black made a brief cameo with Steve Martin, who wrote a song for an upcoming film the two are in (not the Tenacious D sequel).
Earlier, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue got it started with a Crescent City-flavored medley that included songs by Black Eyed Peas, Deep Purple, and the White Stripes along with some acrobatic breakdancing.
The National's Matt Berninger engaged in crowd-surfing - twice - before a speaker stack-rattling closing salvo that included "Fake Empire," "The Great White Hope" and "Terrible Love."
Michael Franti, who spent most of the afternoon kicking a soccer ball around the backstage area, kicked it onstage and into the crowd, proceeding to deliver a sun-splashed, endorphin-releasing and relentlessly upbeat late-evening set, featuring material from his new album "The Sound of Sunshine," due later in 2010.
Zooey Deschanel, the she half of She and Him, closed her band's baking, surprisingly full-sounding set with a solo cover of "I Put A Spell On You," which, if you ask most of the male members of the audience, did. Steve Martin received a hero's welcome for his set of sharp, smart bluegrass with all-stars the Steep Canyon Rangers. "I'll tell you one thing," Martin said, upon his arrival, "I wish I'd practiced."
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes' extremely sweaty, reputation-securing afternoon performance that found its enigmatic and shirtless lead singer vaulting himself into the crowd at least once.
Daryl Hall and Chromeo shared some cross-generational love, playing a late-night joint set at 12:30 a.m. ("It just hit me yesterday," said P-Thugg, on the group's first live collaboration outside of their "Live at
Daryl's House" genesis). They stayed faithful to the classics in a bracingly awesome set including H&O ringers like "Private Eyes" and "Kiss on my List."