By Steve Sauer
Robert Plant's robust U.S. festival schedule in the coming months may now include Bonnaroo in June, if a post-encore comment delivered two nights ago is to be believed.
A complete artist roster from the Bonnaroo Music Festival 2011 is forthcoming, but some artists have chosen to spill the beans early, making their own Bonnaroo confirmations public. As of Tuesday's sudden onstage announcement by Plant, his Band of Joy can now rank among acts who've gone that route, including Bruce Hornsby and the Gregg Allman Blues Band.
"We'll see you in summer, Bonnaroo. Come on down," Robert Plant invited his Washington audience from the stage of D.A.R. Constitution Hall around five minutes to 11 p.m.
(Unfortunately, Bonnaroo can't be considered a "summer" festival since it ends over the second weekend of June. Unless the Zodiac did something to the seasons, too ...)
(Oh, and then Plant made a geographical blunder, misdirecting D.C.-area concertgoers "across the Mason-Dixon Line," which would send them to Pennsylvania or farther north, whereas Bonnaroo takes place down south in Tennessee. Oh well, he gets a pass given where he's from!)
Since Tuesday, no other official announcement has been made about a Band of Joy appearance at Bonnaroo, although diligent online media have begun spreading word of Plant's proclamation. There is precedent for Plant making it to Bonnaroo; he and Alison Krauss performed in 2008. (Their Raising Sand tour also hit the Austin City Limits Festival in September that year.)
The addition of Bonnaroo (June 9-12) would keep the already-busy Band of Joy occupied a genre-crossing array of U.S. festivals this summer. They've already been booked to play the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado (June 16-19) as well as earlier appearances at the Wanee Music Festival in Florida (April 14-15) and Jazz Fest in New Orleans (April 29).
The Band of Joy's current U.S. tour, underway since Jan. 18, is now between shows in the South, with North Charleston in South Carolina on Friday, Atlanta on Saturday, Charlotte on Monday, and two final shows in Nashville on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Tour dates then continue for at least half the band as Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin take to the seas. Both are booked to play sets aboard the annual Cayamo cruise, departing Feb. 13 from Miami. Aboard the Norwegian Pearl headed returning from the Bahamas one week later, they'll be playing alongside such musicians as former Fairport Convention guitarist Richard Thompson, whose song "House of Cards" has become a Band of Joy concert standard.
Our exclusive on-the-spot concert report from D.C. first appeared online Tuesday night.
Any changes in the set list tonight, Roy? "Only all the time," answers Robert Plant's sound man. He says they rehearse the afternoon of every gig.
Tuesday at 8:49pm
Between the set from the opening act and the headliner, onstage is none other than Darrell Scott, soundchecking his lap steel on headphones. Meanwhile, this is the second Howlin' Wolf song played over the P.A. during the break.
Tuesday at 9:04pm
Before the show, someone asked me if Robert still uses incense at his shows like he did with the Strange Sensation. I wasn't sure, but now I am. The answer is yes. A crew member was just lighting them.
Tuesday at 9:10pm
They're opening with their dirty funky raw country-fried version of "Black Dog" tonight.
Tuesday at 9:14pm
"Down to the Sea" is second in the set.
Tuesday at 9:18pm
After Robert's favorite line of the song ("When I get older..."), Buddy Miller let's loose on an amazing wah-wah guitar solo. This ain't no Hank Williams tune! "D.C., how 'bout that Buddy Miller on guitar?" says Robert before "Angel Dance."
Tuesday at 9:24pm
The acoustics here at Constitution Hall are excellent. I mean, I can hear every cymbal with such clarity! I don't remember it being this good when Robert was here with the Strange Sensation in 2001.
Tuesday at 9:27pm
"Good evening and welcome to another mystery evening, where you never know... And I never know..." Laughter. Then starts "Houses of the Holy."
Tuesday at 9:29pm
After two verses of "Houses of the Holy" they transpose the song, take it up a notch in volume, and Robert belts out the last verse at the top of his range. He is king.
Tuesday at 9:31pm
Just before "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down," Robert mentioned he caught a young man in the front row videotaping him with one hand and the other hand in his pocket. "Now that's what I call contemporary luxury," jokes Robert. Oh, and then security shows up. Hahaha.
Tuesday at 9:34pm
Patty Griffin gets a nice introduction and goes right into "Move Up" with Robert on backing vocals next to Darrell.
Tuesday at 9:38pm
"Patty Griffin, the Texas tornado!" Audience cheers. Robert gets cut off trying to say something else before the band kicks in nice and loud with an electric version of "Cindy, I'll Marry You Someday." Robert cut out all of the "Cindy"s from the chorus. This is very much unlike the album version. Now Buddy is taking a nice long guitar solo in the key of C, with the rest of the song in G.
Tuesday at 9:43pm
Welcome to Lemon Squeezings, the only site on the Web that tells you the key the songs are being played in while they're still being played!
Tuesday at 9:45pm
"Twelve Gates to the City/Wade in the Water" now. Not sure it is going over well here in the nation's capital. It'll do better in Nashville though. Now Robert adds a verse from "In My Time of Dying." The crowd doesn't recognize it, not even the Zeppelin fan next to me.
Tuesday at 9:49pm
Darrell Scott gets his intro, and he sings "A Satisfied Mind," again with the help of Robert in the background. But unlike Patty, Darrell takes center stage for his song.
Tuesday at 9:53pm
The crowd really liked Darrell's song, and Buddy kept the crowd cheering loudly as he played the intro to "Tangerine." Darrell is getting a good spotlight on him for the extended solo in the middle here.
Tuesday at 9:56pm
Oh me, oh my. I wouldn't even know this unreleased Townes Van Zandt song if it weren't for Robert Plant including "Harm's Swift Way" on his album, and now I'm singing every word along with him!
Tuesday at 10:00pm
OK, I'm really happy to announce that unlike the 2010 Band of Joy shows I heard, Patty Griffin is singing her harmony part in "House of Cards" in tune! And the whole vocal ensemble really fills this very fine house of great renown.
Tuesday at 10:06pm
Robert Plant is blowing some nice harp on Buddy Miller's "Somewhere Trouble Don't Go." Crowd really digs it.
Tuesday at 10:10pm
Now they're doing "Monkey," and my complaint in Little Rock last year, as I informed the sound man, was that Buddy Miller's guitar may have been too loud for that song. It's just right tonight, everybody.
Tuesday at 10:18pm
The arrangement of "You Can't Buy My Love" has improved. The tempo is a tad slower, it starts with drums instead of the distorted bass, and the guitars are playing a previously unheard riff behind the vocal lines. There's less swing here and more of a straight-ahead shuffle. Marco Giovino places the accent on beat two.
Tuesday at 10:22pm
Patty Griffin leads them through some vocal riffing: "You're gonna lose a good thing." And a wonderful crescendo from Buddy Miller and Marco finishes the song. Now Robert calls out Marco and Byron House before starting "Ramble On." The crowd is ready to rock.
Tuesday at 10:25pm
"Ramble On" was played very well and received the warmest crowd reaction of the night. Now "Tall Cool One" is cooking. It really translates well to a Johnny Cash-inspired interpretation.
Tuesday at 10:32pm
"Not a dry eye in the house," remarks Robert after "Tall Cool One" and before "Gallows Pole." For the musicians out there, this is in A minor and it's being driven by banjo and bass drum.
Tuesday at 10:37pm
Here's something I notice Marco having to do: change the beat he's playing the bass drum on behind Robert, to accommodate the mighty rearranger coming in at times you wouldn't guess rhythmically. But that's what Nashville's best know how to do! And, hell, you can hear it happening on some of the best John Lee Hooker tracks too.
Tuesday at 10:39pm
That was the last song of the set before the musicians gathered for a bow. Marco almost didn't get there in time for the group bow!
Tuesday at 10:46pm
Sustained cheers and applause filled the place the whole time the band was backstage. Now they're back and playing a very mellow "In the Mood."
Tuesday at 10:47pm
"Rock and Roll" now. Robert hits some high notes during the second verse: "Baby, where I come from." Buddy then goes atonal for a moment at the beginning of his solo. He loves that whammy bar! Darrell smokes on the lap steel, and Marco does a Bonzo fill behind him.
Tuesday at 10:51pm
Robert says, "Don't leave me on my own," during the closing "lonely, lonely, lonely..." and Patty and Darrell provide some backup... Once they get the hang of it, that is.
Tuesday at 10:53pm
The crowd is clapping along very nicely on "We Bid You Good Night." Note: the claps come on the beats between the words "good night."
Tuesday at 10:55pm
And we're done!
Tuesday at 11:00pm