Road to Bonnaroo 2011, round one: Chancellor Warhol, Evan P. Donohue, Tyler Bryant and more 

The Spin

The Spin

Chance encounters of the 8th kind

If you've ever wanted to hit on (or punch) a Nashville Cream contributor, your odds were good Monday night, as the first installment of this year's Road to Bonnaroo series at Mercy Lounge was veritably crawling with "those snarky bloggers," as one observer described us. (Aw.) You might have had a hard time picking us out of the crowd, though, as the place filled up fast — folks were already clutching their ballots and eyeing the stage expectantly as the trivia crowd mulled the final question: "Dead or Canadian?"

One twist on the RTB format this year is that the order of bands gets determined by a drawing right before the show. Courtney Jaye drew the shortest straw and was tasked with trying to warm up the room with an earnest set of singer-songwriter-y mellifluence. There were some nice harmonies, for sure, but with the expectation of spectacle hanging over everything, it's just that much harder for a soft-spoken artist like Jaye to light up the stage.

At the back of the room, we got into a convo about records and such with a friend who offered to introduce us to Nathan Followill. If we had money and weren't copping our buzz courtesy of complimentary drink tickets, we'd wager he was there to see The Kicks, who were definitely not soft-spoken and definitely imagine themselves being played loudly on the radios of multitudinous bro-piloted SUVs. A Spin associate likened them to Nelson.

Heartbeater had the eerie visuals on lock, but unfortunately for their Troo Music Lounge aspirations they kind of shot themselves in the collective pedal board by opting for a set of slower, broodingly atmospheric songs. We have nothing against slower, broodingly atmospheric songs, but in a popularity contest like RTB, flash trumps feeling most of the time, and Heartbeater probably would have done better with a more up-tempo set.

We weren't sure if being the only hip-hop act on the bill was going to help Chancellor Warhol or hurt him, but the instant he and his band took the stage, it was clear the crowd was feeling it. Hands went up! We've seen the whole MC-with-a-live-band thing misfire before (and let's be honest, we've seen the whole "live band thing" misfire plenty, too), but Chance & Co. brought the noise with a tight, down-and-dirty set.

We've said before that we like Evan P. Donohue's style, and the swaying brass section he brought with him certainly didn't lose him any points with us — his sharp, poppy songs cut just right. For his finale, Donohue pulled off his guitar — nearly losing his glasses in the process — and dashed offstage, only to reappear atop the corner of the Mercy bar, holding a small amp and a microphone as he finished the song like a manic rock 'n' roll evangelist. Points for theatricality.

Not to be shallow or anything, but we weren't the only ones who felt bereft by the absence of Majestico's beard. We always kind of thought that the "majestic" in "Majestico" was a reference to the beard's opulent fullness and life-giving power. But apparently we were wrong, because in spite of the follicle deficit the band still managed to sound good and glammy.

In a nod to their intended destination, Kink Ador delivered the night's most overtly Bonnaroo moment, breaking down the middle of one song and going full-on drum circle, complete with congas and shit, whipping up a stage-wide hand-percussion jam worthy of much stronger substances than our malty libation.

The remaining awards, for "most knocking down of stuff," "most extremely cut-off Pink Floyd shirt" and "most high-pitched woos" all go to the night's final act, Tyler Bryant, who can play a lot of notes very fast on his guitar. If you've ever wondered what Mike's Pawn Shop would be like if they could shred like Jonny Lang, which you've never wondered, well, let's just say that Bryant played like he was opening for Cheap Trick at Budokan, not closing out an 8 off 8th, and that was good enough to land him third in the voting. Just ahead of him, Evan P. Donohue nabbed the silver, and Chance Warhol punched his ticket to Coffee County.

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