Another year, another Bonnaroo. Each June, Manchester, TN, gains 80,000 temporary citizens who wish they could live there year-round. There are some who think about the festival and plan for it year-round, counting down the months until they pack up the car, head to Tennessee, and live on The Farm for four days. There are plenty of first timers, unsure of what they’re getting themselves into. There are also hundreds of volunteers, employees, artists, musicians, writers, and photographers in attendance. All of these people are coming together in a field in Tennessee for an experience like no other. There are plenty of great music festivals out there, but there’s nothing quite like Bonnaroo.
Could this have been the best Bonnaroo ever? The folks at AC Entertainment and Superfly continue to make necessary tweaks to make the festival run like a smoothly oiled machine that just keeps getting better with time. The difference in the festival as a whole from the first time I attended eight years ago to today is immense, and all the changes have been for the better.
Photo by Amanda Koellner
The traffic, like last year, was reduced significantly from the ridiculous waits of previous years. The grounds were more open and beautiful than ever. The infamous ditch between the What & Which Stages was finally fixed. The cinema tent felt like a real theatre. The stages and comedy theatre seemed to run smoothly, even while dealing with various schedule changes. The Kalliope Stage was perfectly situated next to the Food Truck Oasis and provided a great place to eat and catch World Cup, NHL, and NBA finals games — plus, it gave ravers an extra place to dance into the morning. Even the weather cooperated for most of the weekend. The rain stayed away, aside from a few light drizzles, and the temperature remained relatively low all weekend with plenty of cloud coverage most days.
That’s not even mentioning the lineup, which was once again stellar in both depth and quality. The various Superjams held lots of surprises; Jack White put on a memorable headlining set; Skrillex did Skrillexy things until dawn (well, almost) and played three times across the weekend; the late-night lineups proved to be epic; and Elton John closed it all down with a massive sing-along. How can you top huge sing-alongs from Paul McCartney and Elton John in consecutive years? We’re not sure, but we can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2015. But before we look ahead to next year, let’s take a look back at the weekend that was, shall we?
Senior Staff Writer
Wisest Life Lessons
Hannibal Buress with Sasheer Zamata and Emily Heller
Photo by Ben Kaye
Thursday, Comedy Theatre – 7:00 p.m.
In my seven years attending festivals, I’d been to a comedy tent exactly once, and it was such an unsatisfying/frustrating experience I vowed never to attempt it again. But Hannibal Buress is really freaking funny, and a good laugh felt like the right way to start the weekend after 15 hours on the road. Thankfully, The Eric Andre Show star delivered, telling tales about how to live life his way. Whether letting his fly hang low (“I wear silver pants; I don’t care about pants rules.”), peeing his pants while on molly and dancing through it (“I’m wearing silver pants; what’d you expect?!”), or making large investments to avoid lending money, Buress shared his askew perspective on the norm to rollicking reactions from the packed tent. Still, his best bit had to be pointing out how many rap songs discuss morning erections. Seriously, everyone from Mystikal (“Woke up this morning/ Rocked up/ Dick hard like wolverine claws”) to Lil’ Wayne (“I woke up this morning, dick rock hard/ Dick harder than an armadilla”) has done it, and it’s a disturbing trend. Keep an ear out. –Ben Kaye
Most Unexpectedly Awesome Collaboration
Seasick Steve with John Paul Jones
Photo by Ben Kaye
Saturday, What Stage – 1:30 p.m.
I’m told Seasick Steve is rather famous over in England, but I hadn’t heard his name until Bonnaroo announced their lineup for the year. Attracted as much by the moniker as the boogie blues, it ended up being well worth rising early Saturday to catch the man’s mainstage-opening performance. He opened playing a single-string “diddley board” for “Diddley Bo” before bringing out “the bassist for the greatest rock n’ roll band of all time,” John Paul Jones. Apparently frequent collaborators, the strange pair make for a damn fine-sounding live show, with JPJ switching from bass to mandolin to lapsteel throughout the set. The former Led Zeppelin bassist remained humble on stage, continuously smiling at the joy of playing with his friend. Meanwhile, at 73 years old, Steve is a perfect subtle showman, strumming his homemade instruments and addressing the crowd in his soft drawl. He even pulled up a lady named Charlene from the crowd to sing her a love song (“Walkin’ Man”), and in a sweet way, not a creepy-old-man-hitting-on-me way. “This is how we do it in the South,” he told the crowd before wooing Charlene. “She’s from Canada, so she’s gonna learn a thing or two.” Consider me more educated, too. –Ben Kaye
Photo by Ben Kaye
Saturday, The Other Tent – 3:30 p.m.
Three-thirty in the afternoon might not typically fall into the “early” category of life, but on day three of Bonnaroo with the cloud coverage breaking and heat pouring down, it really is. That’s what made Haerts a good fit for the time slot, despite having only one EP out. Their dreamy synthpop played coolly over the fairly sparse crowd, with frontwoman Nini Fabi a near embodiment of the sound. Dressed in an elegant white dress that would’ve been as appropriate on a red carpet as a stage in Manchester, TN, her soft confidence gave her the presence of a ’70s pop balladeer, which does seem to be what the band is going for. Alongside favorites like “All the Days” and “Call My Name”, the Brooklyn quartet proved a welcome blast of cool with a few new slow jams. Though they probably would have been more successful and drawn a larger crowd had they been given a Thursday set, Haerts provided a touch of class to get the second-to-last day going in the right direction. –Ben Kaye
Best Life Soundtrack
Down N’ Dirt Hosted by Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson & Ilana Glazer
Photo by Amanda Koellner
Sunday, Comedy Theatre – 2:00 p.m.
Wouldn’t you know it, Hannibal Buress put on such a good show that it encouraged me to go back in for another comedy performance. Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer were full of energy, coming out bumping and twerking as they danced through the crowd. After sharing the adventure they had getting to the fest (“It was like Mother Nature had her first period in 42 years”), the girls shared their personal soundtrack to life’s little moments. With Abbi occasionally hitting the notes and Ilana more about scatting to lyrics she didn’t really know, the applauding audience was given great tunes to play “in your head or IRL” during your daily inappropriate activities. Abbi, for example, would suggest the Forest Gump suite for makeout sessions or “River of Dreams” for “fuck jams,” while Ilana apparently listens to “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” while jerking off and heard “Against All Odds (Take a Look At Me Now)” during her first lesbian experience. I just hope they get to hear “Circle of Life” when they die in their sleep after a long, successful career as comedy’s raunchiest, most lovable female duo. –Ben Kaye
Best Way to Open a New Stage
High and Mighty Brass Band and the Big Red Beetle Second Line to the Kalliope Stage
Photo by Ben Kaye
Friday, Centeroo and the Kalliope Stage – approx. 12:15 a.m.
As Bonnaroo continues to get bigger, more features find their way onto The Farm. One of the fresh additions this year was the Kalliope Stage, a glowing neon haven for dance and World Cup fans alike. I was heading to go catch the tail end of J. Roddy Waltson’s set when I heard the sounds of a brass marching band blowing in the evening air. Looking to my left, I saw a moko jumbie, frilly umbrellas pumping into the air, and a big ol’ sousaphone with the words “High and Mighty Brass Band” painted on the inside all bopping through Centeroo. Driving alongside was a giant VW Beetle all lit up with LEDs and sitting high on giant wheels. Of course I had to follow! The crowd following the procession was led to an oasis between The Other and This tents where the Kalliope Stage sprung to life with lasers and lights as the first DJ ever to play the stage threw the weekend’s first sneak-attack dance party. Surprise second lines are a trademark presence on The Farm, and having one open the festival’s newest stage on the first night was an excellent way to enjoy the weekend’s first late-night experience. –Ben Kaye
Most Earplug-Appropriate Set
Photo by Ben Kaye
Thursday, This Tent – 1:00 a.m.
Having seemingly won the lottery with his Thursday night headlining set, Ty Segall was met with some semi-drowsy faces when he walked out onto the That Stage at 1 a.m. He savagely beat them awake, thrashing out a brutal set backed by a four-piece lineup that included Mikal Cronin. “I Bought My Eyes” into “Slaughterhouse” was an expected standout moment, but right on par with that was a string of brand-new cuts that he broke out – or more accurately, broke over people’s ears – presumably set to appear on his forthcoming album, Manipulator. –Steven Arroyo