I am now a Bonnaroo alumnus. My first music festival was a rip-roaring success, fueled by the sights, sounds and smells that can only mingle in a farm field full of hippies, hipsters, frat brothers and music fans of all stripes.
My list of acts I wanted to see was, in retrospect, naively ambitious. Stretched out supine on my floor with Dinky perched on my back, I envisioned myself skipping merrily from tent to tent, Pabst in hand and music in ears. As it happened, standing for hours on end hurt my back about as much as a 20lb cat sitting on it. But I say this: it was well worth it.
A short day at work was required before heading down to Cheshire, CT to meet up with Bruce, Ali and Johnny, my companions for the trip. We loaded up Bruce’s Chevy Tahoe and hit the road around 4 PM on Wednesday, June 10. Lots of driving, fast food and shallow napping later, we pulled in to the RV rental place in Lebanon, TN around 9:30 AM on Thursday. Two hours and a driving rainstorm later, we were finally hooked up to our R-Pod, which we took to Walmart for a few last minute provisions (beer, galoshes).
An hour and a half later and we were finally in Manchester, TN and found the entrance to the Bonnaroo grounds without too much difficulty. Unbelievably, the line was short and it only took about 45 minutes to navigate ourselves to our spot in Camp Marsellus Wallace. We set ourselves up, organized our provisions and cracked open a beer. We’d finally arrived.
There were a few shows that Thursday, and Johnny went with me to White Rabbits, who played a decent set at This Stage. The power went out during their best song, “While We Go Dancing”, but they managed to finish it, much to the delight of the crowd. After some wandering around and dinner, we decided to take a nap at 10 PM before Passion Pit at 11:30 PM. Needless to say, we didn’t get up until the next morning, so Ali and Bruce went by themselves. This was one of the few disappointments of the trip.
Friday, I awoke much refreshed. I managed to read a bit and take a few pictures before Johnny and I went to see Gomez at Which Stage shortly after noon. Next up was a fantastic show by the Dirty Projectors and a few tasty microbrews at the Brooer’s Fest, also known as “the beer tent.” I saw a terrific set by Grizzly Bear by myself, featuring a transcendent version of “Knife”, then headed back to camp for some tasty steak prepared by Ali. We all hung out and worked ourselves up for the night’s shows, with the Beastie Boys, David Byrne, Phish and Phoenix on the schedule. The highlight of the Beastie Boys show was a green Kevlar balloon that captured the imagination of the huge crowd. As the rogue balloon rose higher and higher, it was more than a little amusing to see everyone crane their necks to catch a glimpse, completely ignoring the less interesting spectacle on the stage.
Next we hit up the David Byrne show, which was great. While men and women in pink tutus ran to and fro across the stage, the crowd joyfully danced to “Burning Down the House” in the warm night air. We went back to the main stage for Phish, picking an open spot in the grass and planting ourselves for a while. I stayed through the first song, then hoofed it over to the That Stage for Phoenix. Since none of my fellow Bonnarooers were interested, I danced along with thousands of strangers to the irresistible French rock outfit that hit the highlights from their stunning recent album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and previous It’s Never Been Like That. After a terrific show, it was back over to the What Stage for the rest of Phish, where standout numbers included “You Enjoy Myself”. The night was young, so Johnny and I took in a solid Crystal Castles show, after which Ali joined us for Girl Talk at 2:15 AM. Though “not a DJ,” the show was an extended collection of samples from all sorts of musical genres mashed together in novel and mostly melodic ways. The crowd was really into it, with glowsticks flying, couples fornicating in the middle of the throng and Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis) repeatedly having to plug the cord to his computer back in, as the dancing coeds on stage kept tripping over it and pulling it out.
By 4:30 the show was over, and we toyed with the idea of hitting up the Silent Disco (where everyone dances in silence to music piped through headphones given out upon entry). However, the line was huge and we decided to head back to the RV. Cracking open a beer and watching the sunrise marked the end of the best day of Bonnaroo 2009.
On Saturday, I awoke around 10:30 AM and did a bit of reading before the day’s festivities kicked off. I made my way over to This Tent for Elvis Perkins shortly after noon and got a good spot for a fantastic show. A combination of slow folk ballads and delightful folk jams made this show my joint favorite with the Phoenix show of the night before. The afternoon was spent mostly wandering around, relaxing and snacking. In the evening, I caught the end of Wilco and the Decemberists, then headed over to the main stage for Danielle’s favorite musician, Bruce Springsteen.
I wish I could say I loved it, but I’m still not really a fan. Mitigating circumstances include me being about half a mile from the stage, “Bruce” coming on 30 minutes late, and being tired from a few full days. I’m willing to give him another shot, but this show didn’t do it for me. I headed back to camp before venturing out later for a semi-interesting circus performance and a pointless Nine Inch Nails show. I lasted two songs and made my way back to the RV to go to bed, to exhausted to even stay up for MGMT.
Refreshed and ready to go on Sunday, I saw an excellent AA Bondy show at The Other Tent and got some lunch back at the RV. Ali went to see an abbreviated performance from Elvis Perkins and Dearland at the more intimate Sonic Stage, where members of the band came down into the crowd for the trombonealicious start of “Doomsday”. I returned the favor by going with her to see Erykah Badu, but only managed to catch one song due to her coming out 45 minutes late. Striking off by myself again, I stood through most of Andrew Bird’s show, which I thought I’d enjoy more. By this point, a deep-rooted fatigue had set in, and I wandered back over to the Sonic Stage, where I saw AA Bondy perform for the second time that day. Lying on the ground looking up at the sky, I closed my eyes and enjoyed some peaceful Americana and a brief escape from the crowds.
With no interest in seeing Phish again, that was the end of my concert-going at Bonnaroo. I helped Ali and Johnny pack up our stuff and we went to bed early to get a few winks before Bruce came back from the show. He came running shortly after midnight and we quickly harnessed up the RV and took off for Lebannon, beating the rush of traffic and parking at the Walmart down the road from the RV rental place. After a few more hours of sleep, we got up at 8 AM, returned our R-Pod, got some breakfast at Sonic and headed north. In between sleeping, chatting, eating and listening to music, we finally pulled in to Cheshire at 2:30 AM. Another hour or so in the car saw me home, snuggled up in bed after an exhausting but wonderful weekend.
Here’s how I’d rate the shows I saw, with an MP3 link to my favorite song that they played.
White Rabbits :: B+ :: While We Go Dancing
The Dirty Projectors :: A- :: Temecula Sunrise
Grizzly Bear :: A :: Knife
Beastie Boys :: C :: Sure Shot
David Byrne :: A- :: Burning Down the House
Phish :: B+ :: You Enjoy Myself
Phoenix :: A+ :: Listzomania
Crystal Castles :: B :: Courtship Dating
Girl Talk :: B+
Elvis Perkins in Dearland :: A+ :: Doomsday
Rodrigo y Gabriela :: B-
Wilco :: B+ :: Hummingbird
The Decemberists :: B+ :: The Rake’s Song
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band :: B :: Born to Run