For four days in the June heat, a farm in Manchester, Tennessee was transformed from wide open fields into the seventh largest city in Tennessee overnight for Bonnaroo Arts & Music Festival. Artists as diverse as Paul McCartney to Japandroids to Sea Wolf to Death Grips played sets across the various stages and tents that took up all of the 780 acres that the festival sprawls across and for the weekend all eyes in the music world were on Manchester. The music played was almost across the board, incredible. Paul McCartney’s headlining set on Friday was described by many concert goers as “the best concert of my life” and it was obvious why as Paul appeared to have not lost a step, tearing through a nearly three hour setlist and three subsequent encores while managing to balance Beatle’s classics with Wings and tributes to fallen bandmates and rock icons George Harrison (“Something”) and John Lennon (“Here Today”) while also paying tribute to Jimi Hendrix, playing Hendrix’s slinky “Foxy Lady”. The Superjams were also a highlight of the weekend and likely the only place where anyone would be able to see R.Kelly sharing a stage with John Oates and Jim James for a soul warming cover of Sam Cooke’s “Change is Gonna Come”. Across the board the performances were stellar but for many it as much about the whole Bonnaroo experience rather than the music alone. Across the festival, there was always someone who was sharing or helping someone else in need and even browsing through the virtual community that is present in the aftermath of the festival, a certain type of “spirit of Bonnaroo” can be felt amongst all who go.
Also notable was the comedy tent where despite long lines and short sets, big names like David Cross and Daniel Tosh took to the stage often being joined by bands or other comedians including The Lumineers who joined Ed Helms’ Whiskey Sour Radio Hour, an under the radar high light of the festival for many. Ed Helms seemed to be everywhere, performing in the Comedy Tent and also curating another Bluegrass Situation as he did before in LA, also reminding attendees of his plans to expand the Situation into a full blown festival of it’s own.
Whatever you wanted to do at Bonnaroo, the opportunity was afforded to you. For those there solely to see the headliners, credit is due to the festival organizers for managing to overcome the cancellation of Mumford & Sons on such short notice, for picking widely accessible names and also for making sure the shows went off without a hitch. For those there to see their favorite bands who were “about to blow up”, the tents were the perfect amount of stage for most bands and despite some sound imbalances on Thursday, the rest of the weekend was ideal. In all it was one of the strongest festivals in recent memory and maybe the best Bonnaroo of all time. The only downside is that the organizers have their work cut out topping it next year (ahem *Led Zeppelin* ahem)!