My anxiety about all the Bonnaroo things (see my preview post) were magically erased upon making my way through the Highway Tollbooth Thursday afternoon. Roo definitely has this positive vibes thing that is well known and legendary. Though I have some commentary on that, for the most part, I noted this and had an enjoyable weekend with friends and exploring on my own. I kind of almost suggest trying a festival on your own sometime…it produces a completely different experience than you usually would have.
PS – Huge shoutout to C. Michael Stewart for all of the photos below! 🙏
The lineup: Initially I wasn’t overjoyed with the lineup, but there were some shining spots. After last year’s massive attendance drop I think they worked the lineup to get the younger crowds back. Although the big headliners fed to older Roo fans’ desires, the big EDM presence was geared for the younger folks. And they definitely showed up for the lights, bass, boobs, neon and drugs. Oops did I say that?
The people: There were a lot of young people. Like a surprising amount. How can an 18-22 year old afford a $400 ticket? I sure couldn’t have…but I digress. Apparently 65K people showed up for this year’s festival – a much needed boost. It felt like there were a lot of people, particularly for the big evening shows on the What Stage and when looking at thousands of tents on the grounds.
The Grounds / Camping: I’ve only camped at the tiny ROMP Fest, where there is very little structure, you are feet away from portas and the stage, and you don’t have to pay for showers. Bonnaroo clearly has done this a time or two and know what they are doing. The process of parking to camp was quick and systematic. The “Pod system” for each area of the camping grounds provided the necessities. The showers and “real” bathrooms at the Pod areas were quite nice and efficient. (I had heard about the lines for showers…it’s all about timing, people!) My camp was about a 10 minute walk from Centeroo and if I didn’t have earplugs would have probably heard the EDM sets until 4 in the morning. My friends were ALL the way across the grounds, like literally as far away as they could have been from me (i.e. a 20+ minute walk), but their Pod and set up was chill. I didn’t do much exploring of the Pods and didn’t really make any friends, but whatever. I’m sure that experience is there.
The Grounds / Centeroo: The space itself was pretty massive and apparently they’ve had some stage/tent changes (per my friends who have been before). The names of all are annoying as fuck, which I think is the point of it (What, Which, This, That, Other, Who). On the big stages they had a separated front section that you had to stand in line to enter – that kind of eliminated the rail riders from posting up, so I get it, but was kind of annoying for me just wandering. The layout was fairly walkable, but still huge. I tried to wander around the outside of the RHCP crowd on Saturday night and it was nearly impossible. That being said, I still traversed between the smaller stages/tents with fair ease. There were plenty of food and booze vendors, so lines weren’t an issue. I got one of the reusable beer cups and I think I got my money’s worth? Who am I kidding? I definitely did. The bathroom layout was a bit of a struggle to navigate though. Usually, we try to find the unused or underused portapotties…that wasn’t a thing in Centeroo. They were all gross and filled to the brim with all the things…BUT, with the new bathroom structures, that were always clean and stocked, I ended up not even using portas like ever after the first day. My only other complaint was the lack of communication about media access…like no one knew where the press area was? It was an adventure, but everything got figured out, no worries folks.
The vibes: Not that I don’t think a lot of people come to Bonnaroo for the music, I think there is a larger proportion that come for the experience…be it camping/chillin with their friends, doing drugs, whatever. Hearing “ROOOOOOOOOO” and “Happy Bonnaroo” a bajillion times, people really do love the festival, maybe even more than the artists.
Next time: There are other aspects to the festival beyond the music that I didn’t really explore, like art, yoga, food, which might make another trip warranted. Also, these kids who have the stamina (drugs) to go all through the night are something else…I’m like Cinderella, once it strikes midnight I run out of steam and there’s no coming back. I had the SuperJam on my can’t miss and was soft AF so I missed this. Unacceptable. Will not happen again.
Also, I have a commentary on the classist, sexist, racist nature of festivals that I’ll leave for another time.
Mondo Cozmo – This man is on a roll. Ostrander’s sets have caught people’s attention at all of the festivals he’s done so far (and there have been several). The hugeeee crowds will only continue. More and more of his album is being released (I’m assuming this will come to fruition soon) and he continues to take festival stages around the country. See ya at Forecastle in a month!
Klangstof – This band is making big moves for the Dutch music scene. I felt really bad because I interviewed them after running from Francis and The Light’s set and I was a cracked out (not literally) pile of emotions/excited from Chance’s appearance for “May I Have This Dance.” That being said, I enjoyed their set early Friday and had a blast talking to them. They’ve got a dark, yet vibey sound that was unlike anything else on the lineup. Check out our interview in our preview of their show with Miike Snow this coming week!
Francis and the Lights – “HOLY fuck” was all I wrote down and that is pretty descriptive of how I felt at the conclusion of this set. Being so early in the day, it was easy to get a spot in the “front” part of the What Stage (the only time I did that all weekend). The bass was heavy and his charisma/dance moves on stage won me over immediately. It was just such a fun set. My friends had not really heard of him before and left with the same thought as me: one of the best sets of the weekend, hands down.
I had to make moves to go meet up with the Klangstof guys, so I didn’t have the same primo position as earlier in the set, but THIS HAPPENED AND I DIED (because I have been obsessed with their music video.)
James Vincent McMorrow – First of all, he’s hot af and quite charismatic. It was a change of pace, much slower, but fun hearing the songs I played all winter in person.
Gallant – We skipped The xx for Gallant’s set and it was worth it for sure. He killed it. We watched as he jumped around the stage, engaged the crowd, grooved all while keeping that effing falsetto rolling. It was so impressive and made it impossible not to smile.
U2 – Upon walking up on the crowd (I ran back to camp for a long sleeve real quick), my thought was: damn that’s a lot of people. I think a lot of folks were quite excited for this big headlining set, though may have been ashamed to admit it. I played a game with myself…how far can I get in, since I’m by myself. I did pretty well, tbh, but not as good as we did at their Lou set this weekend. Both shows were breathtaking and I’m glad I can say I’ve seen them in person.
Tegan and Sara – The Canadian twins are perfection. Their light pop was exactly what I needed and their commentary got me thinking on my future “woke” write up about the festival culture.
Future Islands – Gerrit Welmers worked so fucking hard. He was sweatier than me, and I was a hot ball of perspiration. His voice is so dynamic, something that isn’t necessarily captured in a recorded song. Another artist we saw in the immediate week following Bonnaroo- the Mercury Ballroom show definitely competed with the marvel of U2 going on simultaneously.
Chance – Everything about this was a dream. I cried, I danced, I sang, I waved my hands around. I couldn’t really see shit (dudes were tall and we weren’t that close) but that didn’t take away from my experience. AND Francis came out for another round of “May I Have This Dance” and I pretended I knew all the moves. It was kind of cool because only probably a small percentage of the immense crowd saw both of the dances…and we were among the few.
White Reaper – Our Louisville boys opened up the What Stage for the last day. Though the crowd was small – lots of folks were slow moving after Saturday, I get it – the moshers still came out to enjoy WR. Sunday was by far the hottest day and those dancers benefited from the shade of the massive structure. I saw the guys wandering around the festival the rest of the day, too, enjoying the experience I am sure.
Mandolin Orange – They weren’t on my radar initially, but after I committed to staying til Lorde, I had to find a seat and some chill time. A little mandolin and bluegrass fed my soul what it needed. Their music is so beautiful and simple. I declare Sundays are for bluegrass.
Lorde – Okay, I was literally only there for 3 songs (the 3.5 hour drive –> bed was calling me) and I was stupid far away, but I could tell the set was going to be unmatched. She had some technical difficulties to start, which delayed things, but once it was all settled she came out and quite literally graced the stage. I know she just announced her tour for Melodrama (which you should listen to) and though she isn’t coming to Louisville, a trip elsewhere may be warranted.