Saturday, the sun rose early over Bonnaroo. Even in our oasis of shade trees and with an extra shade tarp draped high in the trees we knew that it was going to be a scorcher. By 10 o'clock in the morning it was in the mid-80s. A combination of sleep deprivation and what felt like boot camp levels of walking had begun to take its toll.
It was a good time to make our way to the main stage to see Seasick Steve and bassist John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. Seasick Steve is a California-born American Blues artist known for his unique instruments, like a four-string cigar box guitar and one-stringed “Diddly Bow.” We would still have plenty of time to make it back to the Which stage for BlackBerry Smoke, a Southern rock band from Atlanta, Ga.
This all sounded great in theory, but our legs and feet and matching headaches persuaded us to spend a few hours lounging at camp and resting. The path of least resistance (and most interesting band for us) when we decided to go out was Cake. We took our yoga mats out on the lawn in front of Which stage and spent a couple of glorious hours stretching, doing yoga, and listening to Cake who drew a huge crowd. Hearing them live for the first time was surprisingly like listening to a Cake album. Cake front man John McCrea bantered with the crowd between songs and encouraged audience sing-alongs. For the most part, the audience knew every word note for note. Like their albums, this show was distinctively, delicious, Cake.
As if 5 main stages and 3 side stages of music aren't enough, there was also the Bonnaroo Cinema with around the clock movies and documentaries and the Comedy Theater, with Taran Killam, Hannibal Buress, Craig Robinson, TJ Miller and Neal Brennan to name a few. The Academy at Planet Roo, for studious festival goers, offered a multitude of workshops including raw food prep, wilderness basics, wild fermentation, shitake mushroom cultivation, break-dancing, and hula hoop technique.
We didn’t come for comedy, movies or classes though. We came for the music. We reluctantly left while Cake was still playing to cool off in the 20-foot-tall mushroom fountain. Nearby the fountain, Desert Noises, an alternative indie rock act from Utah, was a pleasant surprise at the Sonic Stage. The Sonic Stage is an intimate affair, with a cozy, living-room feeling. Then a few songs by Athens-based Drive by Truckers, followed by a change of musical pace, with the last half of Grouplove. Next came Australian band, Cut/Copy, Ms Lauren Hill, and lastly Zedd. Bonnaroo gives you the opportunity to span so many musical genre’s and hear so much diversity just by walking a bit.
A “Bonnaroo Friend” is a good friend who you met at Bonnaroo. You see them every year at Bonnaroo, but they live far away, so you only see them there. One of my best Bonnaroo friends is Will Jordan, ace photographer, and owner of the legendary Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor in Franklin, Tn.
I first met Will five years ago when he was at Bonnaroo shooting for High Times Magazine. Between us, we’ve taken pictures of just about every big band in the country, and we share the same take-no-prisoners approach to festival stomping. Will and I enjoyed yet another of Jack White's shows at the main stage, followed by Skrillex Superjam, in This Tent. This was a unique blend of music for Skrillex, having him paired with Big Gigantic, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, Robby Krieger (of The Doors), Zedd, and Mickey Hart among others. It was a high-energy, instrument-based, hip-hop throw-down. We hung around backstage for an hour after the show and met Robbie Krieger, guitarist of the Doors, and were there long enough to get the all-important celebrity photo with him.
Now, after midnight, the music was just getting started. I saw The Flaming Lips on Which Stage and met up with a couple of other Bonnaroo friends, to take in some late-night EDM in the form of Kaskade and Darkside. I’d like to say they were excellent, but by then I was so tired that I don’t remember much. I wandered back to camp and collapsed in a heap.
Sunday morning we woke to the blazing Manchester sun and spent a few hours over home-cooked breakfast with neighbors while we compared aches and pains. After creaking around like the tin man looking for a can of oil for a couple of hours, we broke out the schedule and gathered our enthusiasm for a final burst of energy to get us through the day ahead.
We headed straight for the main stage to enjoy Carolina Chocolate Drops and Yonder Mountain String Band with the rest of the bluegrass lovers and afterward the unrelenting sun drove us back to camp. We missed a lot of bands on Sunday afternoon, resting up to see Elton John in the excruciating and glorious cartoon that is Bonnaroo.
At 9:30 p.m., all the other stages were silent and fans flooded into the massive What Stage lawn. We took our chairs and grabbed a spot near the back, dead center, behind the sound board where the sound is close to perfect. He started promptly and put on a solid two-hour performance that covered all his (and Bernie Taupin’s) hits.
With Chinese lanterns floating in the night sky, we soaked in every note of his performance, utterly familiar, strangely different, overtly nostalgic and wonderful. His music bridged generational barriers as Roo’ers of all ages sang his songs back to him, danced and grooved as part of the bittersweet vibe that’s always a part of Bonnaroo drawing to a close.
Being a live music lover at Bonnaroo involves sacrifice and spontaneity. You get to enjoy bands you've never heard of while missing others you wanted to see. You meet people from all over the country and sometimes run into your next-door neighbor.
There are highs and lows but with the right supplies, helpful friends and, most importantly, a good attitude, Bonnaroo grows on you, over, and over, and over again.
See you next year.
By Katie Hall & Fil Manley firstname.lastname@example.org
The Bonnaroo 2014 Lineup included
Elton John, Kanye West, Jack White, Lionel Richie, Vampire Weekend, The Avett Brothers, Phoenix, Skrillex, Arctic Monkeys, Frank Ocean, The Flaming Lips, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Kaskade, Wiz Khalifa, Damon Albarn, Neutral Milk Hotel, SuperJam: Skrillex and Friends featuring Big Gigantic with special guests Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, Robby Krieger (of The Doors), Zedd, Mickey Hart, Janelle Monáe, Joel Cummins, Warpaint, Chance the Rapper, Mike Einziger, Ruby Amanfu, High & Mighty Horns, Thundercat, and more, SuperJam: Derek Trucks featuring Chaka Khan, Taj Mahal, Eric Krasno, James Gadson, David Hidalgo, Willie Weeks, Nigel Hall, Ryan Zoidis, Eric Bloom and Adam Deitch with special guests Andrew Bird, Susan Tedeschi, Karl Denson, Ben Folds and more, The Bluegrass Situation SuperJam hosted by Ed Helms featuring the Lonesome Trio, Dierks Bentley, Sarah Jarosz, Lake Street Dive, The Black Lillies, The Lone Bellow, Robert Ellis, Della Mae, Bryan Sutton, and Dave Johnston of YMSB, Disclosure, Cut Copy, The Head and the Heart, Zedd, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Funkiest Dancer, Chromeo, Broken Bells, Tedeschi Trucks Band, James Blake, Bobby Womack, Umphrey's McGee, Ice Cube, Ben Howard, Slightly Stoopid, Fitz & The Tantrums, Cake, Janelle Monáe, Grouplove, Amos Lee, CHVRCHES, Cage the Elephant, Die Antwoord, Craig Robinson & The Nasty Delicious, Drive-By Truckers, Andrew Bird & the Hands of Glory, Mastodon, Capital Cities, Taran Killam & Friends, Jake Bugg, Chance The Rapper, Dr. Dog, Yonder Mountain String Band, Hannibal Buress, John Butler Trio, Down n' Dirty Hosted by Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson & Ilana Glazer, Little Dragon, T.J. Miller, City and Colour, The Glitch Mob, The Naked and Famous, Phosphorescent, Washed Out, Danny Brown, Warpaint, Sam Smith, A$AP Ferg, Darkside, Seasick Steve, Shovels & Rope, Lucero, Real Estate, Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Wood Brothers, The Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar, with special guests Billy Martin, Marc Ribot, DJ Logic and Shahzad Ismaily, Pusha T, Rory Scovel, Meshuggah, Poliça, DakhaBrakha, Goat, ZZ Ward, Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, Blackberry Smoke, MS MR, First Aid Kit, Sasheer Zamata, A Tribe Called Red, Omar Souleyman, Brooks Wheelan, The Bouncing Souls, Greensky Bluegrass, Ty Segall, Sarah Jarosz, Vintage Trouble, Okkervil River, White Denim, Jonathan Wilson, Seth Herzog, J. Roddy Walston & the Business, Robert Delong, Cloud Nothings, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, Valerie June, King Khan & the Shrines, Cherub, BANKS, Emily Heller, Break Science, The Black Lillies, The Lone Bellow, Caveman, Big Sam's Funky Nation, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, La Santa Cecilia, Classixx, Allah-Las, Cass McCombs, Vance Joy, Haerts, Those Darlins, Deafheaven, Lake Street Dive, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, The Wild Feathers, The Preatures, Brad Williams, Ryan Belleville, DJ Equal, DJ Logic, Full Service Party, Holden, Jared Dietch, Jonathan Toubin, Le Chev, Quickie Mart, Solu Music, Tiki Disco, The Weeks, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Foreign Fields, Tim Baker & Adam Hogan of Hey Rosetta!, Ásgeir, Animals As Leaders, Arc Iris, The Black Cadillacs, Black Pistol Fire, Blank Range, The Bots, Bronze Radio Return, Bully, Cayucas, Desert Noises, Diarrhea Planet, Donald Cumming, The Dunwells, ELEL, Empires, Fly Golden Eagle, The Futures League, The Griswolds, High and Mighty Brass Band, Hunter Hunted, James Bay, Jamestown Revival, Jennifer Sullivan, Jeremy Messersmith, John & Jacob, Kansas Bible Company, Kevin Devine, Kins, Lily & the Parlour Tricks, The Lonely Biscuits, Meghan Tonjes, Monster Truck, The Orwells, Parade of Lights, PJ Loughran, Roadkill Ghost Choir, Royal Canoe, Royal Teeth, The Saint Johns, Sam Hunt, Skinny Lister, Speedy Ortiz, Streets of Laredo, Syd Arthur, The Unlikely Candidates, Wild Child, Willy Mason