Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival


After four days of music, art, and comedy, tens of thousands of Bonnarovians were finally sent home with ears ringing, dust and dirt clinging to their bodies, and the smell of corndogs sitting gently in their noses. Huge plastic bags of trash and recycling, empty beer cans, and random articles of clothing were left scattering the fields of the 700 acre plot of land the festival occupies, all evidence of a weekend well spent. Bonnaroo’s eleventh year was again a huge success, with some of its greatest performances and highlights ever.

For the four days of the festival, Manchester, Tennessee is one of the happiest places in the world. One of the most important aspects of the “Bonnaroovian Code” is to “radiate positivity”. The thousands of fans filling the fields certainly didn’t ignore this. As soon as fans saw the Bonnaroo toll booths, nothing could dampen their spirits, even after multi-hour car rides stuffed full of camping gear. Everybody in attendance was excited and happy to be there, where their biggest worry was deciding who to see Sunday evening between The Shins, fun., and Bon Iver.

The band lineup this year was incredible. Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Phish headlined, but the most anticipated performance of the festival was no doubt The Beach Boys. The men played for an hour and a half on Sunday afternoon while fighting off a rainstorm. The set was full of super-fan favorites, a couple from their new album released June 5th, and nearly every one of their many hits. Beach balls were flying everywhere through Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and the rest of the boys’ performance. They came back for an encore playing “Kokomo”, “Barbara Ann” (to which a group of ten people in front of me stripped naked for), and “Fun, Fun, Fun”.

Radiohead and the Chili Peppers also had incredible performances. The crowd for Radiohead’s Friday night show was covered in light sticks and various other accessories that light up. Everything about their performance was extremely stylized, as they are known for. Instead of using the giant screens of the main stage simply to show the band playing, they used them to shoot extreme closeups of the band and their instruments while changing colors in a psychedelic-electronic-futuristic rage. The best part of the set was during “You and Whose Army” where cameras focused solely on Thom Yorke’s funky eyes as he moved around the stage.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers played many of their hits including “Dani California”, “Scar Tissue”, “Califonication”, and closing with “Suck My Kiss”. The best part of their set, though, was the positivity radiating from bassist Flea. His excitement was evident as he praised the crowd and other Bonnaroo acts, walked across the stage on his hands, and encouraged people everywhere to buy any music, “even Brittany Spears.”

One of the major attractions of the festival is simply people-watching. If you find a nice place in the shade, take a seat in the grass and glaze over the crowd; you’ll find it almost as entertaining as watching a band. Many concertgoers clothed themselves in ridiculous outfits, my favorite being a young, dark haired man dressed only in cutaway jean shorts and suspenders with American flags and eagles on them. There’s also a topless woman every now and then, as well as men stripped down to underwear and wearing a cape. Another thing to look out for are the walls that separate the main stage from the rest of the festival, which are covered in more and more graffiti everyday, which range from Harry Potter references to murals mourning a person’s death. The best piece of graffiti was an orange octopus complimenting Beyonce’s figure.

Other WERS artists popped up everywhere throughout the four day festival. Alabama Shakes had a full crowd late Thursday night as they played their monster hit “Hold On”. The Shins rocked a huge crowd Sunday evening playing classics like “Phantom Limb” and “New Slang” as well as their new hit “Simple Song”. Fun. came into the festival with the hugest song in the nation, and they didn’t fail to deliver their anthem “We Are Young” to a giant crowd Sunday evening. The Avett Brothers also put on a heartwarming set and had one of the greatest moments when the band left the stage, leaving just the brothers to sing “Murder in the City”, a song of brotherly love that left many in tears from their sincerity. You could also catch WERS artists Laura Marling, ALO, Feist, GROUPLOVE, and many others there.

The Bonnaroo experience isn’t limited just to its fantastic lineup, though. There are dozens of other activities happening at any given time for fans. One of the most popular and most fun activities was the Silent Disco tent. Walking by it, all you saw was a crowd of people dancing around in time with each other, but no music could be heard. That’s because as people entered the tent, they were each given a pair of headphones that were controlled by a DJ. The festival also offered a market full of vendors selling clothing, bags, posters, and anything that could be made of hemp, really. One of the most popular vendors was a tent where people could purchase a drum, then hang around and paint it right there before having it mailed to their homes. Bonnaroo also hosted a ferris wheel, hundreds of food vendors, and the “Big Ass Water Slide”, which was a perfect way to cool off and get a jolt of energy that the hot sun may have sucked away.

For music lovers, there is no better place than Bonnaroo. For four days, it’s home to some of the greatest bands in the world, thousands of people caked with mud and dirt and sweat, and good vibes. The Bonnaroo fields are empty now, but come next summer expect them to once again be full of thousands of people ready for another unforgettable weekend.

By Anthony Cantone Heinze

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