The small town of Manchester, Tennessee has welcomed the bulging crowds of Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival for eleven years - opening its quiet roads and grassy knolls to infiltration by hippies, hipsters, burnouts, ravers, rockers and every other category of music lovers imaginable. Giant RVs, cars stuffed to the brim with supplies and hitchhiking hopefuls invade the nearby Walmart en route to the festival, gearing up for four days of foregoing electricity and showers in favor of nature exploration and musical madness. Excitement flairs during the hours-long wait to the entrance, everyone eager to set up camp and start boogying down!
With over 60 hours of live music spread across four days and ten stages, Bonnaroo provided both a blessing and a curse - so many musical options, but likewise so many overlapping sets. My friends and I battled back and forth over these “conflictaroos” - how could we possibly see all of our favorite artists in such little time? Four days may sound more than ample when it comes to music festivals, but if I had my choice, I would’ve stayed in Bonnarooland forever.
As the sun scorched our bodies, we trekked for nearly an hour back and fourth from the campsite to “Centeroo” (the staging area) each day in search of the happiest tunes, most soulful voices, and bassiest beats. From rock’n’roll legends The Beach Boys to dubstep master Skrillex, our options were endless and we did our best to soak up as much musical magic as possible.
Thursday evening closed with a bass-heavy set from electrofunk duo Big Gigantic. Jeremy Salken and Dominic Lalli, hailing from Boulder, kicked off their musical offering by flinging blowup saxophones into the audience - a move which made the crowd go wild. Props in hand, the audience flailed away to Big G’s electronic-meets-live-drums-and-sax sounds. Rotating from dubstep to funk to ghetto rap samples, the band mixed funkadelic sounds with dirty beats for a balanced blend of musical bliss.
Legendary Radiohead stole the show Friday, with an intricate laser light show coupled with iconic sounds that simply melted faces. The band is know for their unique visual accompaniments, which came not only in the lighting but also in the video screens that projected six closeup shots of the musicians’ hands strumming and beating away at their instruments. Thom Yorke and the guys blasted through 25 epic songs, evoking singalongs in each and every case.
Santigold brought her electro-fire Saturday evening. Armed with two backup dancers and a throng of wild costume changes, she belted out her hits like “Lights Out” and “Disparate Youth.” With the crowd already moving and grooving to her beats, Santigold kicked the dance party up a notch when she invited crowd members onto the stage. With the rules of no pictures, no humping, and non-stop dancing, fans showed off their moves to the tune of “Creator.”
The Red Hot Chili Peppers need no introduction. With an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 tucked proudly under their belt, the headliners faithfully swooned fans with hits such as “Suck My Kiss,” “Can't Stop,” and “Dani California.” Fitting a crowd-pleasing assortment of 30 years of music into one set can seem like a daunting task, but the Chili Peppers successfully selected the right tunes - as evidenced by a rowdy reaction from the tens of thousands of fans watching on eagerly.
Superjam’s Saturday midnight set was a pinnacle point of the festival for all jam-funk fans. After months of rumors surrounded Questlove’s potential guests for the jam session, D’Angelo emerged onto the stage and delighted fans with his first American performance in 12 years. The set ranged from funky grooves to rock’n’roll covers, proving to audience members that Bonnaroo really does have “something for everyone.”
If RHCP or Superjam didn’t feed your bass crave, you could’ve headed over to the “Which Stage” for Skrillex’s mind-blowing two hour set. Spinning his decks from a massive spaceship onstage (as seen at Ultra), the dubstep extraordinaire took his beats from his normal level of crazy to absolutely f**cking bonkers. Playing an intricate mix of thrashing tunes and bassy-drops, Skrillex had the crowd bouncing around like energizer bunnies for the entire set. The Grammy-winning DJ shook the house with his fierce sounds and brain-blasting visuals, commanding attention from even the farthest campsites.
Sunday’s sunrise brought along thunderstorms, but a little rain couldn’t stop The Beach Boys’ good vibrations. The iconic band stormed the stage with their fan-favorite “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and continued with a string of hits that allowed fans of all ages to join in on the singalong fun. With a lighthearted spirit and high-energy vibe, the classic boy band offered one of the happiest sets of the entire festival - unifying music lovers of all genres for a short time of absolute togetherness.
And last but certainly not least came the festival’s main headliner Phish. The four hour closing set from the greatest jam band since The Grateful Dead featured highlights like “Sample in a Jar,” “Backwards Down the Number Line,” and “Wilson.” A surprise cameo by Kenny Rogers who sang “The Gambler” causing ear-piercing roars from the dedicated audience who stuck it out to see the last musical rendition of the festival. Keeping with the tradition of the festival’s jamcentric roots, Phish used their set to offer funkadelic guitar solos, crazed drum patterns and soulful melodies.
When it comes to eclectic festival lineups, Bonnaroo has mastered the trade. Meshing hip-hop lovers with rock’n’roll fans has the potential to spiral downhill quite quickly, but hats off to Superfly for reaching the perfect balance of genre-mixing success.
For our full coverage of 'The Scene' check out Bonnaroo 2012 Part I.
And check back here on Thursday for our full photographic coverage!