At Bonnaroo this year, at the last day of the fest, one of the hottest collaborations was public knowledge. The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach joined NOLA legend Dr. John in a slot on the schedule appropriately called Superjam. And it was better than super. It’s what every festival should aspire to organize.
My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan helped back the big band, which was aided by a pair of serious songbirds, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a seasoned rock ensemble and an enormous back catalog of Dr. John tracks, blues and jazz standards and classic New Orleans sass.
It was a jam in the true sense that there was a general setlist and plenty of time for adjustment between songs, where Auerbach’s high guitar volume level and John’s sunglasses-cool presence were the only common denominators track-to-track. Smiles abounded, there was no required banter. The two stunned with a dual-take on “St. James Infirmary” and the good doctor took us back to the ’60s with “I Walk on Guilded Splinters.” A thousand hearts broke to the bluesy umph of “There’s a Break In the Road” and the rompy scoundrel “Black John the Conqueror.”
It wasn’t the fullest tent I’d seen all fest, but consider that Dr. John had already put some time into a set the night previous, with the Meters, and Allen Toussaint, and performing the fest’s namesake “Desitively Bonnaroo.” But the siren call of two badasses playing the hits caused an emotional sign-off from the masses, in dancing and chest-puffed feel-good.
And these artists would be crazy if thy didn’t jump in the studio, stat, to lay this effort of mutual appreciation and good-will down.
Obviously you can’t force collaborations like these often. Think of the legwork it’d take for a David Byrne and Win Butler throwdown. Or DJ Shadow with Public Enemy. Or a Grace Potter with Robert Plant. Or But this is the heartbeat of festivals like Bonnaroo, an appreciators galley of dance, rock and jam musics. For future programmers: we need more of this, a distinct moment and “happening” in time. Comradery comes with the paycheck/ticket price.