Music Feature

For Your Consideration: Questlove's Bonnaroo Super Jam

by Ryan O'Connell
The Roots' drummer brings New York City to Bonnaroo and you should totally listen

Afternoons can be the longest part of the day. I don’t need scientists to prove this. I can just look in the mirror and stamp it as fact. To get through a long afternoon, sometimes you have to dig deep- dig past the podcasts, streaming albums and YouTube clips. We all can’t be George Costanza, with well-crafted sleeping quarters built into our desks. We can’t be that lucky. Or that bald.

For your consideration, I nominate Questlove’s Super Jam from Bonnaroo 2012 as a Top 5 Afternoon Time Killer.

Some background: this is something done every year, this Super Jam, in which the organizers of Bonnaroo pick one well-connected musician to assemble a musical version of the Avengers and rock out during one of the nights at the Tennessee festival. Past engineers of the Super Jam include Trey Anastasio of Phish, Stewart Copeland of the Police, John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin and Them Crooked Vultures (my favorite super group of all time) and Herbie Hancock. Last year’s Super Jam was orchestrated by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, Dr. John and the Meters.

I’m starting to get the impression that putting together a gig like the Bonnaroo Super Jam is something our dear friend Questlove was made for. He has to be one of the most well-connected, influential and extremely persuasive dudes out there. He’s an old school band leader, running the show- whether it’s show with the Roots or the music for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, from behind his drum kit. You ever notice how he has two mics? You probably haven’t. A dancing tuba player will do that. But next time you see Questlove playing check it out- one microphone for backing vocals and one microphone for stage directions. Most musicians communicate via head nods or evil looks depending on the mood. That’s too simple for Questlove. There’s no way you can communicate something like – Hey, let’s bring it back to the top, run through a verse and then jump into a Curtis Blow riff before ending up with the last verse of “Get Busy” by just giving your band mates a simple head nod. Not unless you’re psychic. Or have a very large and expressive head.

So when tasked with putting together this year’s Super Jam, Questlove went in two directions at once- both the road less traveled and the road frequently traveled. He was joined by fellow Roots’ James Poyser on keys, Kirk Douglas on guitar and Frank Knuckles on percussion. The rest of the band consisted of Pino Palladino on bass, Eric Leeds on saxophone, Jesse Johnson on guitar, Kendra Foster on vocals and none other than the reclusive D’Angelo on vocals, guitar and keys. During the introduction, Questlove told the crowd that the stage in front of them was no longer a stage, it was a time machine and they were no longer in Tennessee, they were at Electric Lady Studios in New York City. It wasn’t 2012 anymore. It was the sixties baby. Madmen weren’t going to be the ones having all of the climate changing, socially altering, drugs-induced fun.

Electric Lady Studios was originally built in 1968 by Jimi Hendrix. It was a joint built specifically for the guitar god- designed to both relax a brother and incite a dude’s creative juices. In the years that followed, everyone from Led Zeppelin to Bob Dylan, Radiohead to Al Green and Stevie Wonder to Frank Zappa recorded there.

“For those of you that have followed my career,” Questlove says during the intro, “the majority of my work has been done in that studio.”

Long story short, Electric Lady has some history to it and at this year’s Bonnaroo, Questlove was going to bring everyone into his wheelhouse and into the historical musical confines of the legendary Greenwich Village recording studio.

What followed was a set consisting of wildly soulful jams and a bounty of head-bobbing goodness. Questlove’s Musical Avengers played tunes by Led Zeppelin, the Ohio Players, Parliament Funkadelic, Sly & the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield and of course, Jimi Hendrix.

Is every song perfect? No. Is every song awesome? Yes sir. Is that what matters most? Most definitely.

The entire sets run for about an hour and a half, but it never seems to feel that long. It’s seamless and plays like a good run of tunes on a wonderful would-be satellite radio station- which always seems to be a goal of Questlove’s. The guy has many talents, but putting together a live show might be one of his best.

So for your consideration, I strongly suggest you check out this year’s Bonnaroo Super Jam. It’ll not only get you through your afternoon, but will do so with a bounce. What more can you ask for…besides a half day.

Check out the Questlove’s Bonnaroo Super Jam.

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