Last Monday night, we decided to make the journey down to Cannery Row to see the first round of the annual, BMI-hosted Road to Bonnaroo. The show acts much like the typical Monday Mercy 8 off 8th series in that many acts play short, cut-down sets in order to showcase their talents and impress industry executives; however, playing RtB holds a higher reward for having your voice (or in this case, tunes) heard. Both the crowd and three industry judges pick a winner at the end of the night—a winner that goes on to play Bonnaroo Music and Arts festival at Great Stage Park in Manchester, TN. Ten bands went head to head on two different stages last Monday, but only one would emerge victorious. While we weren’t able to catch all ten of the sets, we definitely got our fill of great performances and good times. In the end, Sol Cat took home the cake, with DeRobert and the Half-Truths and Tesla Rossa coming in second and third place, respectively.
The first thing we noticed was how crowded the venue was. The crowd, which according to BMI was the largest in RtB history, was densely overflowing into even the far corners of the room. We meandered our way through a packed Mercy to the backstage area and were immediately greeted by a huge crowd of friends, musicians, and booze. Between the brotherly camaraderie among the musicians and fans and the dancing frog-people (yes, there were dancing frog people), the show felt more like some sort of whacky family reunion than a BMI showcase. Nonetheless, we headed outside to catch our first show of the night: DeRobert and the Half-Truths.
DeRobert and his band have become long time local favorites over the last couple of years, and they didn’t hold anything back on Monday. The GED soul, funk-revival band featured an impressively in-the-pocket rhythm section as well as a horn trio. Dynamic and ever-charismatic frontman DeRobert Adams looked polished and controlled while he seemed to channel the late voice of James Brown from the heavens. DeRobert and his band definitely brought the funk, and they had the whole crowd eating out of their hands by the end of the first song straight through to the last. Seriously, we don’t think our feet stopped moving.
Walking back through the crowd and through a jammed, narrow hallway, we made it over to the High Watt to catch self-described psychedelic, garage-rockers The Wans. While admittedly this particular trio isn’t necessarily my favorite, they did seem tighter and more energetic than usual—a nice thing to note considering the amount of pressure and importance placed on this particular performance. Anyway, if you’re interested in The Wans, be sure to check out their recently dropped debut LP under the name “He Said, She Said.”
Back at Mercy, a thick blanket of smoke had covered the room and psychedelic, dance-groovers Sol Cat had taken the stage. Between writing new material and a rigorous tour schedule, the Cats were competent and confident as they blazed through 2013 hit “Dirty Glasses.” With a tripped-out, high-energy light show (which apparently was thrown together last minute) and the low visibility from the fog machines, mega-babe Brett Hammann’s smoky vocals soared over Johny Fisher and Jaan Cohen’s twinkling guitars and Jeremy Clark’s cutting synth lines. They closed their set out with this year’s single “Body Like That,” a sexy, dancey, party-banger that was bound to get everyone moving and garner some votes. Their set also featured a brand new song sandwiched in between past and present hits that seemed to be a real crowd-pleaser. We look forward to hearing more from Sol Cat in the upcoming months. At the end of the night, the Cats won both the judge and crowd vote and were first to be thrown into the winners’ circle for this year’s RtB series.
Transitioning our way to the High Watt, beachy, jam-rock band Koa was laying down some sax solos and solid instrumentation. Having never seen this band before, I must say I was impressed by the musicianship of these college-aged youngsters. However, they seemed to be more of a bar band than a Bonnaroo band. If you’re looking for some nice vibes for being out on the lake and drinking some beers, check out Koa.
Finally, we saw our last show of the night over at the Mercy Lounge. Local punk-rockers Sexx took the stage with bathing suits and beach balls galore, despite the near-arctic forecast. While the production of the show was pretty grand, the songs weren’t able to shine through. It seems Sexx has some maturing to do before they get offered to play the farm, but until then they will have plenty of time to hone their craft and fabricate new material.
As the night wrapped up, we again went backstage to say our goodbyes (and drink more bourbon) as well as congratulate all of the musicians on their sets. Overall, the night was full of ferocious energy and inspiring talent. Congratulations to Sol Cat and to all the other bands who made the night one worth remembering.
Written By Preston Evans