Thoughts on Bonnaroo

After many miles and many hours on the road, we arrived. We were in the outer most circle of the campsites, basically after entering the site we parked and set up. This dramatically altered our game plan for Bonnaroo but didn’t drastically alter our level of anticipation.

THURSDAY!

Coming off of BOMB Fest in Hartford, Connecticut, I wasn’t particularly pumped for the Thursday line up, which happened to be very similar. I caught some of the Freelance Whales and both performances were excellent. These guys are really catchy and inventive. They use the banjo is a really percussive way and minimizes the twangy down south cliche that the banjo can sometimes fall into.

We then went over to see some of Best Coast. I was skeptical and not looking forward to this show. I had seen them 2 weeks prior in Hartford and I have to say, their demeanor there on stage was souring. However, their show at Bonnaroo was full of enthusiasm. I was really impressed by the sound they proud and how excellently they bring the lo-fi sound to the stage.

After that, we wandered the grounds. Getting familar with the stage lay outs and the cool new attractions until it was time for The Walkmen and Sleigh Bells. The grounds were packed and there was plenty to see and explore.

Sleigh Bells was one of my most anticipated bands of the weekend and I’m guessing it was on many short lists as well. We arrived at the stage in the middle of their opening number and the crowd was unbelievable. We could barely hear and definitely not see. It was kind of distressing. Exhausted we decided to head back to the camp site and pack it in for the night. As we exited, we noticed that the sound was way better outside the grounds. We idled by some campers and listened for a few songs. It felt detached but the music was good and you could hear the crowd loving very second of it.

FRIDAY

We woke up sweaty and sore but ready to take on Bonnaroo. We had a long day ahead of us so we tried to pace ourselves. I compromised and we missed the Ben Sollee show. (I am a cellist and I love his album and his concept.) We headed in to see Matt and Kim! They were … I want to say “adorable” but the amount of times Kim said  the word “titties” kind of rules out “adorable.” The show was a mix of their hits with late 80’s and early 90’s familar rnb hooks. The crowd was charged and it was a really fun show.

The 5:30 to 6:30 slot was an outrageous hour. The Decemberists, Ray Lamontagne, Florence and the Machine and NOFX. CRAZY HOUR! The Decemberists are awesome and I love their shows but Ray Lamontagne breaks my heart and I had to indulge. Florence and the Machine was packed and hard to hear but her voice was on fire and she sounded awesome. NOFX was a throw back to my high school years and I caught a little of their set for nostaglia’s sake. The guys were punchy.  However,  insulting Jesus and Christians may not go over well at Bonnaroo.. General judge-y-ness is frown upon at this festival for both fans and performers.

My Morning Jacket was one of my favorites of the weekend. Jim James and honestly, the whole band, are powerhouses. There were jazz bands and marching bands and Ben Sollee?! Really, really great. I would love to see them in a smaller venue.

Arcade Fire was great. Truly a very cool set but I didn’t get the same energy from these guys as I did from My Morning Jacket. Their set was an brilliant mix of old with new and it was refreshing to see these guys on a major stage.

SATURDAY

Low Anthem was really cool. Very nice use of the Peter, Paul and Mary mic set up.  Ben Sollee sat in again and that was really cool. Their harmonies were excellent and they sounded beautiful.

Deer Tick was plugging a new album and treated us to some new material. I’m definitely looking forward to that.  We walked past Portugal. The Man and they sounded great. The lead singer’s voiced seemed to carry really well.

Allison Krauss and Union Station was another great highlight for me. Seeing them live, made me realize I had neglected their back catalog recently. Her older albums are full of such great music and I am revisiting those.

Mumford and Sons – holy crowds. I think Bonnaroo mis-staged these guys. It was a great show and the crowd was unbelievable. The sing along factor really stepped it up a notch and their new material was really exciting.

I had to see Loretta Lynn and it was worth it. She was really great, possibly alittle out of sorts. She repeated a song twice in her set and she had to cut on short because she forgot the rest. That being said, she was endearing, beautiful, funny and she was a delight.

Man Man was on of the bands I was looking forward to seeing. However, I could barely see the stage and a lot of the band’s appeal for me is visual. I enjoy their music but what puts them over the edge for me is their on stage antics and that was lost to a lot of the crowd.

Black Keys were fun to watch but I was kind of hoping for alittle more from those guys. They were blues and gritty but I was hoping for a little more pizzazz from a headliner. However, they did what the Black Key’s do best.

We saw Buffaloo Springfield and a little Eminen and then called it a great night.

SUNDAY!

While our camp mates were packing up to make the drive back north, we packed up our back pack and headed in. Definitely tired, sun burned (a touch home sick… which really means I miss my dog) we headed in to try to catch some of the Sunday shows before heading back to reality. We caught The Head and the Heart and Mavis Staples before the thoughts of 18 hours in a car overwhelmed us.

On a whole Bonnaroo was excellent. It was in fact crowded, dirty, crazy, hot, dusty but it is also a weekend in which nothing really matters but enduring music and fun.

[Next Year I’ll have pictures for you.]

By Alexa Donaldson

I work for a musical instrument company and I live in southern CT with my boyfriend and my dog. I am a cello player, singer and arranger. In the past I have worked for a record studio and a record label. I have a degree in music from the University of Rochester and I'm exploring the idea of getting phd in musicology. My end goal is to listen and discuss music for a living.

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