Bonnaroo. ‘Roo. The Farm. Home.
My first trip to Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival was in 2013, just a few years before the Live Nation takeover. Bonnaroo was a place where I discovered myself. The magical essence of the festival wrapped me up and changed me, as it does so many others. ‘Roo started my path down the curious rabbit hole of music festivals. When I had the opportunity to attend in 2017, I gripped onto it and said, "C’est la vie."
Wednesday, opening day for patrons, is notorious for parties. It’s the night where after you set up camp you go to meet your neighbors and explore your new home. For first timers it is usually the night you learn Bonnaroo is not a sprint to the finish line, it’s a marathon. Wednesday is really the time to discover all of the cool things the pods have to offer before Thursday comes and your schedule is so full you barely have time to sleep.
I arrived later on Thursday afternoon after Centeroo had officially opened, and landed out in the scorched field of Pod Six. If you’ve never been to ‘Roo, there are about 11 “pods” where camping is permissible. If you end up in Ten, then you’re guaranteed an hour walk at least. We set up our little Pod Six campsite and made the mile trek to the Arch. The weather was phenomenal during the day and at night it became wet and cold but still couldn’t dampen the vibes. A breeze was almost always filtering through Great Stage Park and the hot Tennessee sun. As I made my way through the line, high-fiving all of my new family members, the Arch glittered in the sunlight. Its beauty was unreal, blinding me with a magical rainbow fit only for mermaids and unicorns. We caught a glimpse of What Stage, which was blocked off. Music wafted through the wind and played through my hair. I tingled knowing I was finally back home. Thursdays for me are usually more laid back with no set schedule. I had to get a feel of the new ‘Roo, everything was different.
The stages are so far away from each other which was a good change in certain aspects. Most of the stages don’t bleed together, but now that The Other is a glorified EDM stage, I found myself dropping acts off of my schedule in an attempt to conserve energy and actually witness more than one song from some of my must-sees. The new permanent bathrooms seemed somewhat nice, although I heard intoxicated patrons were basically peeing on the walls. I say heard because I never once used them. I don’t like lines and that was what you could find at all of the new bathrooms. I opted for porta potties whenever that time came.
Probably the biggest change that has shaken every veteran attendee is the actual ending of music before sunrise and the lack of surprise sets. Bonnaroo used to be a place of never ending music and now the acts have a true time limit. It doesn’t resemble anything of Pretty Lights’ legendary Bonnaroo set where he played past 6 AM. Even though the fest is upgrading certain aspects like running water, we still want to hear music 'till the sun comes up.
Earlier on Thursday, Which Stage hosted a Predators watch party. If you haven’t heard, my hometown Nashville is finally being recognized as a hockey city. As I sat with some friends watching, our team began drowning. Once the Penguins had 5 up on the board I couldn’t torture myself anymore. I spent most of Thursday night walking around trying to grasp it all. I caught a few performances like Two Feet, The Lemon Twigs, and EDEN who all played to excited inebriated crowds. They obviously were not Preds fans. The Orwells also went on to deliver a great performance (check out our recent review of their show in Atlanta here.) We decided it would probably be a good decision to go to bed in preparation for day two so we shelled out $10 for a phenomenal 5” x 5” crab cake and made our way home.
On Friday the sun woke me up at 5:30 AM, which is just the way it is when you’re camping. Due to the nightly temperatures, it took a few hours for the earth around me to warm up, permitting me just a few extra hours of sleep. At 11 AM we made our way back inside of Centeroo, ready for Friday performances to grace us with their presence, and they did not disappoint. Big Freedia led a sort of wake up exercise series every morning called TWERK IT OUT with Big Freedia. In the distance, I could hear screams of laughter and the word twerk being said about every 30 seconds. Judging from the videos it was definitely an experience I should not have missed. I got an overpriced healthy burrito and smoothie and ended up heading back to camp after checking out some of the vendors.
At 2 PM Klangstof took to Which Stage to deliver a stellar performance. The day was full with shows from The Strumbellas, Blossoms (check out our recent interview here), and Car Seat Headrest. It seemed that no one could deliver a less than amazing show. It was definitely the year of undercards, and I saw people gather at every show no matter who it was, including the shows taking place at the New Music On Tap Brewed by Miller Light stage. I headed on to my interview with Klangstof in the much-needed air conditioning, set for the same time as the opening of Ganja White Night.
Once we concluded, I ran from Which Stage to The Other, and grabbed some loaded tots at the Super Tot Food Truck and found a nice shaded spot to eat and watch the show. The duo from Belgium had everyone dancing. People at the rails were throwing their heads to the bass, which was reverberating through the ground. Cold War Kids was coming onto Which Stage so I ran back to catch “Hang Me Up To Dry" before gracing the What Stage pit to witness one of my all-time favorites, Kaleo. Kaleo was so raw, with the lead singer, Jökull Júlíusson wearing charcoal or something on his face creating this dirty lumberjack look. You could take away their looks and their raw talent would blow you away. When they played “Vor í Vaglaskógi” I melted.
Illenium was the sunset set along with Tove Lo. Both put on great performances. I had seen Tove Lo before, and I think delivered a better performance this time. She flashed the crowd during “Talking Body," her signature. The xx went on to woo the crowd at What Stage.
I powered through to make the end of U2. I’m not a huge U2 fan, but they delivered and paved the way for late-night. I ran into the crowd at Major Lazer and we all danced the night away. Friday, sadly, was the only day I made it until 4 AM to catch a few songs from Portugal. The Man and end with Big Gigantic. As I looked around, I could really see the change in the crowd. It seemed kids were just stumbling around with no direction. It was as if a bunch of unsupervised toddlers were making their way to Big Gigantic, and I eventually left the scarring scene to get some sleep.
Saturday is usually the day. A lot of people blow it out on Saturday due to the nature of the day’s lineup. I started my day off with Reuben Bidez after spending $80 on an inflatable trash bag, I mean WindPouch. A small crowd gathered and Reuben played one of his new singles, “Too Many Alarms.” His set conflicted with Coin for a few songs which was frustrating to listen to. It sounded like they pulled a pretty decent sized crowd and did a good job, though. One of my favorite things about Bonnaroo is the ability to just walk around and discover new music left and right, and the fact that people actually do just that. I ran over to catch The Front Bottoms for quite possibly the best strangest set I’ve ever been to. It was their first year at Bonnaroo, and as the lead chugged a beer on stage and said “I feel young” the crowd begged for more.
The day was so hot and we were so sunburnt that we went to chill in the cool water at The Mushroom Fountain. We were able to catch Rainbow Kitten Surprise from our spot, and it made for a perfect set. We ended up needing to catch a break and as my friend stated that her Fireball smelled ‘like bad memories and broken dreams’ we began to set into the Bonnaroo. We ran the entire way from our site in Pod Six to make Cage the Elephant at Which Stage. I had never seen Cage before, but it was the best set at Bonnaroo, at least for me. We all danced and sang until Matt Shultz said “I’m heading over to Chance the Rapper," who had already played earlier on in the day. Regardless, I went to calm down at the Red Hot Chili Peppers show where it seemed everyone was on acid. Some guy tried to steal my phone and mixed with my exhaustion I decided it might be best to head back to camp and sleep before our final day.
Sunday came before I knew it, and I was sad and ready for a real shower all at the same time. It was a day where none of my wanted shows began until later on and I spent my time packing my car back up and finding my car keys. Borgore’s time finally came and he delivered a pretty average set in most opinions. His scheduling originally conflicted with Lorde’s, but due to technical difficulties, she didn’t end up coming on until Borgore was almost over. Lorde gave the crowd exactly what they wanted and eventually played “Royals” for her fans.
The Weeknd, for several veteran attendees, is just not a typical closing headliner for Bonnaroo. It seems the festival is giving up legendary headliners like Paul McCartney or Elton John to cater to a different crowd. Is Bonnaroo changing? There is a resounding yes answer to that question, but we control our Bonnaroo experience. Bonnaroo has created something so magical that people from across the globe come to partake in it.
This year may have been a disappointment to some, but it’s not over. It is up to us as attendees to radiate positivity and make sure that we teach our new friends the Bonnaroo way. As I drove home on Sunday, I felt the magic leaving with each mile I drove, and I, for one, will be back. It may be the dirtiest most exhausting weekend of my life, but I still can’t wait to go home to The Farm again.