When Bonnaroo started in 2002, it was rooted in the ever-popular festival jam band scene and was really just an experimental event that is now one of the most notable festivals worldwide.
Over the last few years the lineups have been somewhat more mainstream than when I first stepped foot on The Farm. My first Bonnaroo was in 2008, and was the first festival I had ever been to. It was the year of the first Kanye debacle but was also my first time to get to see artists like MiA, Jack Johnson, Led Zepplin, Alison Kraus & Robert Plant, MGMT, OAR, Stephen Marley, Chris Rock, and Zach Galifianakis.
Bonnaroo’s overall mantra of “radiate positivity” and the family-like atmosphere is what has kept me coming back year-after-year even when the lineups weren’t mind-blowing. But, this year I feel like they got it right.
It was the perfect blend of a true mash-up Bonnaroo lineup that included pop acts, jam bands, country stars, EDM, Hip Hop, Americana and few deliciously obscure names in the fine print.
But lets be honest the headliners that included THREE SETS of Phish (aka The Godfathers of Bonnaroo), Post Malone, the Lumineers, Kacey Musgraves, Childish Gambino, and Cardi B are what encouraged a sold-out crowd of 80,000 to make their way to the Farm.
And that crowd brought some of the OG Bonnaroovians as well as many new fans of the Roo way of life. As well as a big open-arms welcome to the LBGTQ community with Bonnaroo celebrating it’s first year of Pride Awareness with the Pride Parade and numerous other activities during the weekend.
Brandi Carlile’s acknowledge the parade and spoke on the progress during her set on Sunday afternoon, “I feel that it’s so important to stand here in front of you right now and talk to you about my family, and our right to exist in this country today,” she said. “Progress doesn’t only move in one direction. It can also go backwards, and we must not let it.”
Kacey Musgraves has been a long time favorite at Bonnaroo with 6 appearances and this year her set was at sunset and played a set that included most of her new material from the Grammy Album of the Year Golden Hour LP. “I don’t think that this could get any more beautiful,” she said after opening with “Slow Burn.” “You guys, you look amazing tonight. Welcome to Golden Hour at Golden Hour. I’m not lying at all when I say that Bonnaroo is my absolute favorite place to play. I’ve been looking forward to this for so long.” Near the end she took on the sounds of another Bonnaroo favorite: the Flaming Lips. She covered “Do You Realize??” and was joined on the stage by dancers from the Pride Parade and Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, posted a clip to his Instagram praising her tribute.
During Maren Morris’ set she call out Country radio on their lack of support of female country artists noting how a programmer had warned her not to release “I Could Use A Love Song” because people don’t want to hear female artists sing sad songs on the radio. That song went No. 1 and needless to say that programmer got the boot. Another female artist that performed that weekend who is on tour with Maren is Kassi Ashton. She performed at the Whiskey Jam set out in the Plaza’s and was quite a crowd pleaser.
This year’s Super Jam was curated by Griz and honored the G.O.A.T.s. (For those that may have trouble with acronyms – Great of All Times). The Celebration of Great Music Legends included Beastie Boys (“So What’Cha Want”), Janis Joplin (“Piece Of My Heart”), Prince (“1999”), and Queen (“We Will Rock You,” “Under Pressure,” which famously featured David Bowie). Rapper PROBCAUSE joined for a tribute to Mac Miller while Noah Kahan sang Avicii’s “Wake Me Up.” The SuperJam house band also tore through Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time.” Bonnaroo famously got its name from the New Orleans funkmaster’s 1973 Desitively Bonnaroo LP and there was hardly a more fitting tribute to him on these grounds than here.
Dance act, Odesza performed the What Stage with a drum line horn section and a light show that included pyro, fireworks and confetti. It was spectacle that one can only dream of reliving. Another favorite that performed over the weekend was GirlTalk – which has not been to Bonnaroo in some years and while his set was overlapping with the Super Jam it was hard not to stop and dance to a few just on GP. Zhu proved that combining your talent with an artistic-curated performance is something that every artist should be striving for. If you haven’t caught a Zhu Blacklist set, I suggest you do so ASAP.
One of my personal favorites was Post Malone. He played the What Stage and did so solo. We had a chance to catch Post in a more intimate set at Mempho last fall which allowed him more time to talk to the crowd and joke around but even with a crowd 5x the size he was still true to who he is as an artist. “My name is Austin Richard Post, and I’m here to play y’all some music and get fucked up,” he said before launching into “Better Now.” “Thank y’all so much, every single one of y’all, for comin’ out and fucking with me tonight. Let’s get fucking weird!” He’d thank the crowd numerous times between thunderous cuts—“White Iverson,” “Stay,” “Sunflower,” and “Rockstar.” But the biggest fan he won from the night was Dolly Parton and not because of his voice but because of his outfit. He was wearing an outfit that consisted of pants and shirt that were covered in her face!!
We actually were slated to see Childish several times over the past year and a half and each time, something happened and he had to cancel his set, so to our delight seeing him on the lineup and then actually getting to watch him live for the first time at Bonnaroo was epic. Donald Glover is one of the the greatest multi-threat entertainers with his acting, directing, and story writing, and of course, the music. Childish Gambino ascended on a smoke-enveloped riser from the middle of the crowd. From the beginning, Gambino asked the crowd to put their phones away. “Feel some shit with me because tonight is church. And I am not playing around.” He didn’t. Over the next hour, he performed his set with such precision and attention to detail that it deserves to be made into a film. Every facial expression, every dance move, every lighting and pyrotechnic flair was perfect, making the set the greatest audiovisual experience of the weekend – well maybe a toss up between him and Odesza.
Another Bonnaroo-only-delight that happened this year was Grand Ole Opry live at the Farm. It brought a little bit of Nashville’s Country Music Legends to the eclectic lineup this year. The attention to tradition and country western music’s legacy is honest and exhilarating, attracting many who would otherwise never listen to the high-energy bluegrass picking of Ricky Skaggs or the frontier music of Riders in the Sky (whose performance of Toy Story 2 classic “Woody’s Roundup” was a definite crowd-pleaser). Bonnaroo favorites Old Crow Medicine Show closed the set. Bandleader Ketch Secor led the crowd through rambunctious country sing-alongs of “Rocky Top”, “Me and Bobby McGee”, and, the newly popular, “Old Town Road”. “If anybody was wondering if that song was country, I just played it on Roy Acuff’s fiddle,” Secor boasted before closing out the night with their own canonical classic “Wagon Wheel”.
From Brandi Carlile’s shredfest and special words to Kacey Musgraves’ psychedelic experiment to an entirely new woodsy trip-land, here is a montage of photos that we think best describes what we saw this year.
Notables of the Tiny Fonts:
Ida Mae: It is a husband and wife duo out of England who now reside in Nashville, Tennessee. At least they have for the last 10 months as they just moved to the States to seriously pursue this thing called music. The husband is Chris Turpin on guitar and vocals and his lovely wife Stephanie Jean also on vocals.It is a deep south blues mixed with British upbringing. It is a really cool sound. Chris comes out with his Trussart Steelcaster and played one mean slide guitar. His playing along with his vocals were the highlights for me. He is one hell of a great blues guitarists and he rocked it out the whole set. His energy was infectious and his vocals were no slouch either. He has a little grit to his vocals live and you can feel his passion for this music. Stephanie played tambourine and sang backing and lead vocals at times. She has a beautiful voice and blends nicely with his vocals. And as good as she is, I just dig her husband as I am partial to the guitar and blues guitar add to that prejudice. He was the highlight for me…no disrespect to Stephanie at all as she is fantastic and without her, whose to say he would have that passion.
The New Respects: Local Nashville favorites, The New Respects graced the Who Stage, offering a Janelle Monáe-esque fusion of rock, funk, soul, and Destiny’s Child harmonies. Whereas Monáe takes a more pop-centric focus, The New Respects are not afraid to rock out to Led Zeppelin-inspired riffs and a heavy, soulful cover of “Come Together”. Music City may be known best for its Americana and country roots, but the New Respects’ infectious grooves offer a glimpse into the Nashville of tomorrow.
Festival Fashion Faves:
Despite 2019 being one of the cooler Bonnaroos in recent history, summery beach fashion remained in full swing. Tank tops, swimwear, and wide-brim or bucket hats kept bedazzled and glittery attendees free and comfortable under the sun. As things cooled down into the 50s and 60s at night, many sported fuzzy onesies featuring Winnie the Pooh, unicorns, and Pikachu, which honestly looked like a blast. Of course, the totem game was strong as flags and posters celebrated meme culture, particularly Game of Thrones. Though, Post Malone was also a fan favorite with totems sporting everything from Toast Malone to Watermalone to Post Kevin Malone from The Office.
It’s easy to attend Bonnaroo and feel a sense of FOMO about the number of food options and cuisines available throughout the Farm. Hamageddon, the iconic metal pig that serves as a meat smoker, remains a staple outside This Tent where barbecue lovers will get their fill of brisket, sausage, rotisserie chicken, and more. While a lot of the food offerings are pricey, Rolling Oven Mobile Pizzeria has the best bang for your buck, featuring 10-inch wood-fired pizzas made to order for $12. In terms of drinks, the Broo’ers Festival tent is a favorite among craft brew lovers who can choose from a couple dozen of America’s best beers.
Some other notables from this years foodie scene are brisket covered mac and cheese, Roti Rolls, Peachey’s Donuts, Humpty Dumplins, Asian Sensation, The Cracked, and Pretzel Revolution.
Beyond the Gates:
Pride Parade: With a couple of hundred people, and the Big Red art car blast music, marching and far more lining the parade route from Where In The Woods to Plaza 3: The House of Yes to the new Arch and finally to the fountain in Centeroo and the Which Stage, the over two-hour parade saw nothing but smiles along the way. The New Breed Brass Band helped lead the way second line style the whole time. It was truly a parade that will never be forgotten and hopefully a new yearly tradition.
The Ville: The Ville, a campground experience that featured local artwork, food and performances from acts like Charlie Worsham and Airpark. It’s also where we caught the badass-ness of Kassi Ashton during Whiskey Jam.
Where in the Woods: Where in the Woods garnered the first big crowd of the festival Wednesday night as many campers finally made their way into their respective campsites. The festival has continued to evolve each year, primarily concentrating on the camping areas outside of the Centeroo festival complex over the last several years. The newest area may have been inspired by the critically acclaimed but short-lived Okeechobee festival in Florida. That festival featured beautifully shaded groves where multiple hammocks were hung from the trees, and an EDM stage was erected in one of these groves. The new Where in the Woods stage at Bonnaroo integrated these ideas into a wonderland of fantastically lit trails through the woods with hammocks hung all about. Along the path were various kiosks of art and interactive gaming areas with vintage pinball and video games, retro games and interactive art installations. The trail ended at a fully functional EDM stage with its own sound system, advanced lighting, and video screens. The festival has really become a five-day event with thousands of campers arriving Wednesday, the day before the opening of Centeroo and partying at locations like Where in the Woods. The stage was not only the first taste of the festival for many in the campground but also offered up the final party for hardcore EDM fans early Monday morning after Phish ended their closing set.
Few festivals remain such a cultural staple as Bonnaroo. Coming to mind immediately alongside festivals such as Coachella, Lollapalooza, Summerfest, Electric Forest, Outside Lands, and Burning Man, Bonnaroo has brought millions of artists and music lovers alike to Great Stage Park in Manchester, Tennessee over the last two decades. And in a final note Bonnaroo has risen to the occasion with this year’s lineup and restored the faith in what I consider one of the best festivals ever. Now, if we could just get the arch back, that would be the icing on the cake.