GOING LIVE: Bonnaroo 2011

Though we made the cut to provide coverage of the 2011 Bonnaroo Music And Arts Festival, our staff couldn’t make it due to still collecting themselves after South By Southwest and trying to prepare for a long, wet hot Canadian summer full of music. So we sent a “green” freelancer.. here’s what he came up with.


Bonnaroo has taught me a lot about searching for the cleanest washrooms. You never know what you’ll see when you open a port-a-potty door. Sometimes it’s feces all over the walls, or a woman eating a chicken drumstick, but you always have to be prepared for the worst. As one of the doors opened during my stay, a seven-foot tall man wearing a shirt that said “Skyhook” emerged. I couldn’t tell whether it was the beer I had before breakfast, or the heat that made me think I hallucinated, but the creators of Bonnaroo weren’t joking: the NBA great Kareem Abdul Jabbarr was here.

Seeing the athlete next to Stephen Stills, Nicole Atkins, producer Daniel Lanois and Jerry Greenfield (co-founder Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream) at a press conference later on plainly stated: the Bonnaroo Music And Arts Festival has evolved since its inaugural year in 2002. The crowds are still the same (approx. 100,000 or so), the lineups are still heavy with headliners from across all genres and even the comedy lineup, cinema tent and hundreds of vendors have shown improvement (look out glow-stick sunglasses). The contagious blur of sweat, excitement and music as a whole is still the same.

And for the better. Thursday was a culture shock, coming to the realization there are no showers for four days, water stations are crowded and there are “special brownies” signs everywhere on Shakedown Street. The intro was short-lived until speakers were turned on and New Jersey folk/punk group River City Extension stepped on-stage at This Tent, delivering a rocking set for The Walkmen, Atmosphere and rapper J. Cole to take notice and follow suit.

Because fusion groups (Beats Antique) and DJs (Bassnectar) combine mixes and styles that usually welcome the night and the morning, sleeping can be quite difficult. Ignoring the heavy bass thumps and late-night party noise takes some getting used to; the scorching Tennessee sun that makes it impossible to stay asleep in your tent past 8 a.m. – not so much. Especially when waking up in a puddle of your own sweat.

As the weekend hits, the festivities pick up. There’s everything from early morning yoga classes, everlasting drum circles, water slides and community fountains to refresh the body and if you need it, there’s air conditioning in the cinema and comedy tents that attract a few marquee names (Donald Glover, Lewis Black, cast of Workaholics). Centeroo itself is like one long acid trip. The stages confuse you like an Abbot And Costello skit – with being named What, Which, This, That and The Other – are lit up by the glow of neon which is accented by more neon from ferris wheels and outlandish costumes.

When not taking a nap in the middle of the field or pretending to be a supermodel in the $7 Garnier Fructis shower, the music is the biggest experience. Friday showcased a plethora of genres with banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, punk rockers NOFX, hip hop’s Big Boi, The Warren Haynes Band, Bassnectar and Lil Wayne who made history reuniting with producer Mannie Fresh. The energy was eclectic, with My Morning Jacket creating a sea of head-bangers, Arcade Fire setting their crowd ablaze with both old and new cuts, and even songwriter Ray LaMontagne tapping a few spines performing Neil Young’s “Down By The River” which led into Pink Floyd’s “Breathe”.

Hearing the familiar sound of a beer can opening kicked off Saturday, showing the day would be as epic as the last. Your early morning meal often turns out like something from Epic Meal Time when you need to combine leftovers of bacon, eggs, sausage and mac and Cheese. Luckily there is a variety of food served by vendors in both Centeroo and Shakedown. With a variety of barbecued food, pitas and gyro, teriyaki, pizza and free scoops of ice cream, you’re bound to find something to satisfy your craving. Knowing everyone was getting tired and in desperate need of a boost of energy must have in turn convinced acts like Chiddy Bang, Portugal. The Man, Mumford & Sons and a number of supergroups (Deervana, Superjam, Eugene Hutz Gypsy Punk Review) to impress and revive listeners with their performances.

The headliners on Saturday performed with so much energy, they fended off the thunderstorm looming above. The Black Keys‘ heavy blues rock romp opened for Eminem while a reunited group of Neil Young, Stephen Stills, and Richie Furay performed as Buffalo Springfield. None of them took drastic measures such as suspending a 50-foot T-Rex in the crowd and a man attached to balloons shooting fire into the sky (String Cheese Incident). Sample DJ Girl Talk came somewhat close letting loose hundreds of balloons onto his crowd at the end of his set which surprisingly was still popping at 4am.

To sum up this beast-of-a-festival in as few words possible is as tough as it is to see all the big-name bands on the lineup. It truly is a marathon that tests your passion of music and tolerance for roughing it, creating an authentic experience you will talk about and look forward to the second you leave the park.. that is until you come back again in about 360 days.

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