Ben Folds rocks the farmland

According to musician Ben Folds, playing outdoors negatively affects the audience’s appreciation of his music.

Slated to play at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, held in Manchester, Tenn., June 12 to 15, Folds said in a conference call from Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 23, that “a lot of music just doesn’t sound as good outside … The wind blows, and, all of the sudden, music starts sounding different. You know, I’m a little bit of a geek about sound. I’m not thrilled about outdoor sound, but I think that Bonnaroo transcends that.”

Folds-whose new album is due out in September-debuted at Bonnaroo two years ago, and he said he was surprised at the festival’s scale.

“I kind of live in a cave. I mean, I spend a lot of time in the dark room making prints, and then I go out on the road,” he said. “[I] went to do a thing called Bonnaroo. For all I knew, it was like a coffee house; I had no idea. And then we walked out on stage and there’s, like, 60,000 people … I was sort of a born-again festival-player after that.”

The annual camping festival is held on a 700-acre farm in rural Tennessee, and the multi-stage setup allows for the audience to experience an assortment of bands and comedians.

“I heard Kanye West is playing right after us, and that’s good luck; I’d love to see that,” Folds said.

More than 100 musical acts are lined up, including The Raconteurs, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Cat Power and The Avett Brothers. Chris Rock, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo, Mike Birbiglia and Jim Norton, among others, will be performing stand-up comedy.

Norton said that most of his routine will be new, though he has not altered his act to appease the music-loving audience.

“I’d feel really stupid if I offended a bunch of people who are barefoot and on acid,” he said. “They’re hanging back, they’re f***ed up and they’re just having fun at a concert. Those people are hard to offend … I don’t change what I do anywhere.

“Political correctness.?It’s a life.? It’s just typical of what Americans are doing now, which is just dishonestly, like, eggshell walking around each other.? Nobody just says what they want anymore, especially in humor.? I mean, college is, like, supposed to be the last people that are worried about stepping on emotional toes.”

Norton isn’t a Bonnaroo virgin: He attended the festival in 2003, during which he wet his bed while having a dream about swimming.

“I [also] went to Woodstock in, I think, 1994,” said Norton. “That was a really un-fun vibe … dirty and aggressive.”

Folds has a similar view of the famous festival and concert, which was first held in New York in August 1969, and suggests that Bonnaroo boasts a more controlled environment.

“[Bonaroo] is a much more intelligent picture of young humanity than, say, what we saw at the last Woodstock,” Folds said. “And one of them is being advertised as one big f***ing frat party with a bunch of ignorant, middle-class kids, and the other one is a cross-section of people who … probably care. And that’s what I feel, and I just think it’s heartening.”

Though Folds is a fan of music festivals, he said he still prefers touring with just one or two bands.

“Usually, the best pairing is someone opening up for me who is a friend of mine, who I enjoyed touring with,” he said. “At the end of the day … if I can feel good about sitting in the dressing room with a friend of mine, that means more to me, really.”

The organizers of the summer festival make an effort to reduce waste and the impact the festival has on the environment. They support local farmers and businesses and national organizations in an attempt to enhance global awareness.

Folds does his part: “I try not to use plastic bottles, and I try not to leave lights on, and I don’t drive much,” he said.

Outside of what Bonnaroo does for the environment, Folds is pleased with the summer festival’s effect on music lovers.

“Most of the people in the country … we’re kind of divided by demographics and filters and Bonnaroo seems to be one of those things that cuts through,” he said. “I’m not sure how these people got together, but I’m very happy about it.

“Maybe indie rock is actually more mainstream. Sort of like, … you can count something [as] radical, but if everyone in the country is radical, then what is it really? . I would argue that everything’s shifted toward Bonnaroo, rather than Bonnaroo shifting toward other things . I found it easier to play ballads for those 60,000 kids than I’ve found it for playing for smaller crowds.”

Though the music changes from Folds’ fingers to the audience’s ears, it all sounds like summer lovin’ in the countryside.