“The early bird gets the worm, huh?,” Jakob Dylan said as he got the second day of the inaugural Rothbury Festival started yesterday (July 4). And there was certainly plenty to be hooked on the event’s first full day of action, including Snoop Dogg, Widespread Panic, Of Montreal and the Drive-By Truckers.
Variety was yesterday’s theme, as Rothbury, which is mostly jam-packed with jam bands, offered its most eclectic lineup of the weekend. R&B, hip-hop, reggae and world music dotted a bill that was headlined by Widespread Panic and its two-set shot of improvisational nirvana.
The R&B sets, in fact, proved to be the ones that got away on Friday. Memphis soul singer Charles Walker and his band, the Dynamics, christened Rothbury’s main stage, the Odeum, with a hot set of Southern-fried funk before a tiny (especially given the size of the venue) but exuberant crowd, tossing snippets of the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” and the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” into the mix.
And over on the Sherwood Court stage a tragically small group of Rothburians turned out to hear Bettye LaVette deliver the festival’s first truly great performance. It was a homecoming for the 62-year-old, who was born Betty Haskins in nearby Muskegon, Mich., and told the crowd that “this is the first time many of the people here including my doctor, have seen me as a grown person.”
LaVette scored with her renditions of Lucinda Williams’ “Joy” and Willie Nelson’s “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces” — which she sang seated on the stage in “a senior citizen moment” — and also touched on her early ’60s career with the hit “My Man — He’s a Lovin’ Man” and the unsuccessful follow-up, “Let Me Down Easy.”
LaVette later joined Drive-By Truckers — who played on her album “The Scene of the Crime” — to recreate that project’s “Jealousy.” DBT frontman Patterson Hood declared himself “flabbergasted” after the performance, though bassist Shonna Tucker apologized to LaVette for the band being “so rusty.”
DBT had nothing to be sorry for in it set, however, a blistering Southern rock workout in the hot sunshine that took on political overtones when Hood wished President George W. Bush and his minions “happy Fourth of July — you’re fired” before “Puttin’ People on the Moon.”
Snoop Dogg, meanwhile, was patriotic, wishing Rothbury a “happy motherf*ckin’ Fourth of July” as he brought hip-hop to the festival on Friday afternoon. His well-practiced set of libidinous, party-minded rap drew the biggest crowd to that point of the festival, with fans bobbing and shouting back to cues on “Gin & Juice,” “G’s and Hustlas” — which Snoop played after seeing a sign asking for it in the crowd — and, of course, “What’s My Name?” The rapper did seem a bit confused about where he was, however, repeatedly referring to Rothbury as East Lansing, Mich. — nearly two hours east of the festival site.
Following the first public marriage proposal of the festival, the Wailers leaned heavily on their classics with Bob Marley, including “Jammin’,” “No Woman No Cry,” “I Shot the Sheriff” and “Three Little Birds.” Dylan and his Gold Mountain Rebels, featuring former Black Crowes and Dixie Chicks guitarist Audley Freed, played a low-key set well-suited to open the day, concentrating mostly on his new solo album, “Seeing Things” and tossing in Wallflowers favorites “Something Good This Way Comes” and “Three Marlenas.”
Modest Mouse finished the touring cycle for its latest album, “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank,” with an energetic performance that drew a large crowd to the Sherwood Court stage. But frontman Isaac Brock told the fans that he was in a weakened state, having tried to “tackle” bandmate Tom Peloso the previous night. “I just ricocheted off him,” Brock explained. “I can’t feel my arm, which isn’t good. I think I got a concussion.”
Widespread Panic — whose frontman, John Bell, performed a song at one of Rothbury’s environmental seminars earlier in the day — played for nearly three hours between its two sets, with guitarist Jimmy Herring delivering one standout solo after another and guest violinist Ann Marie Calhoun adding some textures to long jams on “Surprise Valley,” “Porch Song” and “Sewing Machine.” The group finished with the Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” shortly after midnight but didn’t have time for bows as the festival’s Fourth of July fireworks lit up the sky above the stage.
But anyone who skipped a bit of Widespread’s show to take in Of Montreal got one of Rothbury’s treats, an intense set of psychedelic, ethereal theatrics and powerful musical performances that has profile-raising possibilities. Frontman Kevin Barnes led the costumed, Athens, Ga., group through a Cirque du Rock spiced by additional performers — including three masked, maniacal little people — and enhanced video matter. Not unlike Flaming Lips, it was a trippy sound and vision experience that was wisest to simply enjoy rather than trying to figure out what it all meant.
Thievery Corporation, meanwhile, was the standout of Friday’s (or Saturday morning’s) many wee-hours offerings. The Washington, D.C., duo brought with it a 15-member collective of musicians, singers and one belly dancer to play its globe-spanning repertoire of styles — and previewing one new song, “Radio Retaliation” — that had the field in front of the Sherwood Court stage twirling for an hour and 45 minutes.
Organizers reported that more than 31,000 fans were attending Rothbury as of Friday evening, with more expected to arrive during the rest of the festival. Police reported a smattering of arrests, mostly for “alcohol-induced” disorderly conduct with a couple of drug busts as well. But Michigan State Police Lt. David Roseler said that “overall it’s going good from our perspective, nothing over the top.”