270 Miles From Graceland: Bonnaroo 2003 Danny Clinch

Bonnaroo's growing success as a music festival is based on its ability to shake the stigma of the hippie Deadhead experience. Certainly the Garcia-less continuation of the Grateful Dead were central to this June 2003, three-day event, but with unexpected offerings like the Flaming Lips, Tortoise, the Roots, Antibalas and James Brown, one can understand how this festival has grown to four stages and 80,000 attendees. At one of the press conferences we discover that even Ben Harper wants to drop the "jam band" genre moniker and replace it with "Soul-ternative." 270 Miles From Graceland isn't really about the bands but is more an overview of the event. The film provides a real sense of the festival experience, short of including a chunk of hash. Even though this double DVD features 23 performances, each band segment is cut with footage of band preparations, audience jubilation and live footage from songs other than the one you are listening to. It works well as a contiguous film but those picking this up to catch an individual performance might be disappointed. Fans of any single band will find more band-specific material on the second disc of extras and would do better to track down a full recording of that band's set from the event. For those just delving into this scene, you couldn't find a better starting point. Many of the great groups idolised by jam-heads are here (the only conspicuous absence is Phish), including the Dead, Widespread Panic, Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, Mediski Martin and Wood, and the Allman Brothers Band. Although incredibly diverse, what these bands have in common is their approach to music and live performance, working to get inside their songs and using improvisation to take their music to new levels, challenging both the audience and band members alike. Another thing these bands have in common is their unbelievably stellar musicianship, which unintentionally shows up the technical shortcomings of some of the newcomers, especially in a live setting. Unfortunately bands like Widespread Panic or Robert Randolph make indie rockers like Polyphonic Spree and the Flaming Lips, although addictively joyous, sound absolutely amateurish. That explains why these bands didn't perform on the same stage, however, on DVD, they sit dangerously close. While the film itself fits on one DVD, a great second disc provides an insightful collection of press conference interviews, backstage rehearsals and a great portrait of those in attendance. Plus: performance schedules, artist info pages, and concert film trailer. (Sanctuary/EMI)