June 10-13 marked the 2010 installment of (in my humble opinion) North America’s most comprehensive music and arts festival, Bonnaroo. In this lifetime, I’ve been fortunate enough to attend this festival six times and I hope to continue the tradition. Each year is worlds apart from the last. The success and longevity of Bonnaroo can be contributed to evolving nature of the festival. As music and fans grow and change so too does Bonnaroo. During a time many festivals are canceling their experience (10,000 Lakes, Langerado and others) Bonnaroo continues to deliver. According to USA Today this year’s festival saw attendance near 80,000, effectively putting to bed any rumors regarding crappy ticket sales.
Wednesday evening delivered crazy weather, torrential downpours and thunder storms. The weather effectively turned the farm into a mud puddle and wreaked havoc on Thursday morning entry resulting in exceptionally long lineups at most site entry points. I spoke to many fans who waited in line for more then eight hours, while we waited for less then one. These are the directions we followed. I suggest you follow them in the future. Please pass along to anyone righteous, avoid sharing with Douche Bags and Frat Boys.
- Take I-24 to Exit 105.
- Turn right onto Route 41.
- Follow Route 41 toward Manchester for approximately 6.5
- Turn left onto Route 55 and travel north approximately 1 mile.
- Cross over I-24
- Turn right immediately after the I-24 interchange onto Ragsdale Road.
- Turn right from Ragsdale Road onto Bushy Branch Road.
- Follow signs to site.
Thursday night felt like the first night of summer camp. The grounds pristine, fans pumped and ready to get the party started. All tents offering lineups including: The Dodos, The Temper Trap, Blitzen Trapper, Lotus, The XX, while the Comedy Tent hosted two sets of the Bonna-vetran Margaret Cho.
After a blurry inaugural evening patrons awoke to rediculosly hot weather and the official opening of Which and What Stages. Trombone Shorty delivered a solid set to an eager Friday noon hour crowd at Which Stage. The artist, who made several appearances as himself on HBO’s brilliant hit TV series Treme, brought his talent and sense of eternal optimism to the festival. During a press conference later that afternoon Trombone Shorty discussed the growing interest in New Orleans culture: “It is great that people are enjoying what we’ve been doing for a hundred years.” Like a second line after a NOLA funeral the music’s message is clear: forget the past, the future will never come, enjoy this moment.
One O’clock Friday afternoon marked the much anticipated Conan O’Brien standup act. Die hard fans, with surprisingly nothing else to do, began lining up around 5 am to ensure access to the Comedy Theatre. Luckily for the rest of us the Lunar Stage hosted a live feed of the show. Conan’s act consisted of an array of special guests, mixed-media, bizarre musical numbers and a surprisingly honest assessment of self. Since disembarking from NBC Coco has grown a beard which he says makes him look like “Paul Bunyan with an eating disorder” or “the Brawny paper towel guy just before his bone-marrow transplant.”
Other Friday highlights include The Gaslight Anthem bringing their New Jersey inspired style (think Springsteen not Jersey Shore) to Which Stage, Damian Marley and Nas tearing it up on What Stage, while The National, She and Him, Tenacious D, Steve Martin (yes THAT Steve Martin), Tori Amos Michael Franti, Les Claypool and others rounded out the afternoon. You know life is fantastic when your largest dilemma is trying to decide which rediculosly great acts to see and which to skip.
10:00 Friday evening the tents stood silent and all eyes were on What Stage as it played host to local boys made international superstars Kings of Leon. KOL are not new to Bonnaroo but they are the first band to work their way from small tents to a headlining spot on What Stage. Frontman Caleb Followill summed-up the significance of this experience as follows: “There are very, very, very few times when I’ve felt really proud of what we’ve accomplished. This is one of those times.”
Midnight marked the beginning of the acid-inspired-carnival that is The Flaming Lips. The Lips started an hour long set composed of their own material, followed by a short intermission, and a second set of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (featuring Stardeath and White Dwarfs). In a press conference earlier that day Wayne Coyne eloquently summed-up the essence of Bonnaroo “If you are not giving into the festival experience. If you are not enjoying the ride and surrendering to the flow then you are effed for life.” Well put Mr. Coyne, well put.
The rest of the evening saw Bonnarooians surrendering to the flow as they danced themselves clean to LCD Soundsystem, Kid Cudi, The Black Keys, Daryl Hall & Chromeo, B.O.B. and Galactic......... life is freaking fantastic!
Saturday afternoon the Dead Weather effectively brought the real weather on What Stage. Torrential rains lasted for about half an hour, it was enough to cut the humidity and make the rest of the day even more enjoyable. Cruel scheduling conflicts forced fans to choose between the Dead Weather, Weezer, Jeff Beck, John Prine and Ozomatli. I managed to catch a little of each set, which was a bad move and definitely not recommended.
9:00 Saturday evening, all was set right in the world, as every man woman and child made their pilgrimage to What Stage to experience the wonder that is Stevie Wonder. This set was an open-invitation-party for the masses. Stevie’s genre-jumping style and mulit-generation-appeal created an atmosphere so unique and rare one could not help but surrender to the flow. One music legend, one sequence jumpsuit, thirteen band members and one helluva mass singalong were just a few elements contributing to the success of this set. The power of collective experience was alive and strong for Stevie and spilled over into Jay-Z’s spotlight.
Jay-Z. What can I say? This set was so great even Stevie Wonder stuck around. The energy of artist and fans was electric. Mr. Z was an unstoppable force and even displayed signs of genuine enthusiasm to be preforming in front of a crowd 70,000 strong. At one point he pulled a lucky fan and had the entire audience sing Happy Birthday....... then pure elation caused her head to explode.
Apres Jay-Z Patrons were faced with yet another round of difficult decision making, including Thievery Corporation, Clutch, Gwar and The Disco Biscuits....... I choose Toronto’s own Deadmau5. This set blew me away. Mau5 combines fresh beats with on helluva visual show involving a giant mouse head and many vibrant colours; the product is an experience so original you can’t help but feel like a part of it. Grandma always told me to beware of dead mice, where there’s one Deadmau5 there are bound to be 10,000 live mice........... which was the case for this show. One particularly involved group of fans brought their own professional grade Mau5 heads, a sign of devotion rarely seen for DJ set. Ottawa fans will have a chance to dance with the Mau5 on Canada Day for a free set apres dark on George Street. See you there!!!
Sunday started with a ripping set from Vancouver’s own Japandroids. Despite a few equipment malfunctions the duo delivered a solid performance to a very responsive audience. They may have even won over a couple of famous fans as Against Me! watched from the wings.
The afternoon was jammed packed with more decision-making as patrons chose between Calexico, John Butler Trio, Blues Traveler, John Fogerty and Kris Kristofferson, among many others.
Late afternoon was punctuated by an extremely well-received and well-attended show by Bonnaroo veterans Ween. The eternally entertaining band treated their fans to an eclectic set, which included a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance.’
French band Phoenix closed Which Stage with a brilliant sunset performance. The audience was extremely involved as the band delivered a precise experience under the most beautiful sky of the festival. The set ended with two versions of their smash hit 1901, as lead singer Thomas Mars high-fived fans from the photo pit, climbed scaffolding and visited the soundboard.
Sunday evening closed with a performance from multiyear headliners Dave Matthews Band. DMB treated their audience to a two and half hour long set, which included classics “Don’t Drink the Water” “Tripping Billies” and covers “Needle and the Damage Done” “All Along the Watchtower.” Although beautifully executed and technically sound, this set was lacking the passion and furry of Dave shows past. Next year DMV plan on taking a summer off which is probably a very good idea.
The last note faded effectively marking the end of another successful Bonnaroo.
See you next year, same time, same place, new experience.