I would like to thank Big Hassle Media for their hospitality. They were great to work with and I hope that we can continue this relationship forever and always. Also, thanks to Lillian Cai and Alex Chura for taking the pictures that are in this article.
I tried to write this article on my way back from Bonnaroo last Sunday and it was a mistake. All I wanted to write about was how I was looking forward to showering, sleeping, and eating. Now that I have fulfilled those urges by doing excessive amounts of each, I think that I can finally wrap my head around Bonnaroo 2012. The theme of this year’s Bonnaroo was, without a doubt, fake british accents. Everyone and their mother seemed to be attempting to sound as if they were from across the pond. I could be cocky and say that they were probably just trying to sound like me, but I think the real truth can be found in Bonnaroo’s lineup (and the popularity of Game of Thrones). There were a lot of British artists this year. Obviously there were a whole bunch of American acts as well but the bands that I heard most people talking about were the ones who were visiting from the UK. This could possibly be due to the fact that they do not tour here as much, who knows. Regardless of whether the bands were American, British, or whatever else, I enjoyed all the music I saw and this year’s Bonnaroo was a major success.
It all started with an eight-legged cat. Well, that is not true, that came later. It started with me and Jake Causey driving through the magnificent Tennessee mountains. Unfortunately when the road got closer to Bonnaroo’s location, the mountains and the scenery got boring again. When we arrived we got some things from the Bonnamart (Walmart next to Bonnaroo), got lost three times, and finally got directed to our campground. When we secured out spot and jumped out of the car, it was nighttime and it was cold outside. You are probably furiously thinking, “Rupert, you are straight up lying to me. Bonnaroo is never cold.” Well, sir or madam, I am not lying. I was at the point where I was wearing a cardigan and thermals to sleep. It got slightly warmer by Saturday but it was nothing compared to the sweaty nights of Bonnaroo 2011. It was pretty hot in the days obviously, but still not too bad. Anyways, we unpacked our bags and went to sleep, anticipating the festivities of the days to come.
Thursday started with an eight-legged cat. That was the right place to put that sentence. we were camping with 8 other people and we were all sitting and waiting for Centeroo to open. A man appeared and said “I can show you an eight-legged cat for three dollars”. Obviously we says heck yes. Then he pulled out a jar full of isopropal alcohol that had a stillborn kitten in it. No joke. He took us on a tour of its eight legs, four ears, and two tails. He told us that Discovery Channel tried to buy it from him but he will never sell it.None of us knew what to say. It was really weird, and really Bonnaroo. After that introduction to the weekend, we wandered into Centeroo alongside thousands of buzzing-with-excitement festival-goers. In terms of atmosphere, Bonnaroo is the best festival there is. Everyone is friendly and happy to be there. It creates a little world where everyone feels like family.
The band that kicked off my day was The Lonely Forest. They were solid and sound like a baby version of Death Cab For Cutie with some Tokyo Police Club mixed in. I saw Rubblebucket next, a wonderful band featuring a lovely female singer, a horn section, and colorful flags everywhere. At one point, giant robots came into the crowd and danced with everyone. Very impressive. I went back to This Tent and witnessed a triple attack of hip-hop music with Danny Brown, Yelawolf, and Kendrick Lamar. Surprisingly, my favorite of the three was Yelawolf. He is slightly terrifying at first glance/listen but he had such a good stage presence and it was obvious that he greatly appreciates his fans and their support. He made fun of Eminem, sung Johnny Cash, and pleased mostly everyone in the packed tent. Danny Brown and Kendrick Lamar were good as well, I just did not like them as much. From-nothing-to-huge band Alabama Shakes were up next and showed us exactly why they deserve their recent surge of popularity. The only problem that I had with their was that lead singer Brittany Howard’s vocals were turned down too low which was unfortunately because her voice is one of the main draws of the band. They sort of fixed it throughout the set, enough to where I could enjoy it. They were incredible though, and so young! All of the members have insane talent, with the star of the show being Brittany Howard. She was a bright star full of infinite energy. She was talkative, emotional, and inspirational. Everything you could want from a lead singer. She introduced one song by saying that she wrote it because she was best friends with a boy since they were little. As they got older, people started telling them that they can’t just be friend. This enraged her so she wrote a song about it. After their explosive set there were no more bands to see so I meandered off to bed.
Bonnaroo really upped its game with everything this year. There was more shade, more toilet paper and most importantly, more water. Last year I spent half my time lining up for water but this time I was barely in any lineups the whole weekend. We cooked some sausages then walked into Centeroo the begin the first full day of the festival. I started off the warm day by heading to That Tent, hearing some fake british accents, then getting a nice spot for one of my most anticipated acts, Michael Kiwanuka. Kiwanuka is a sweet fellow from London who has a soul sound akin to Otis Redding and Bill Withers. He won BBC’s Sound of 2012 and his live show showed just why he won this coveted award. He had a full band with him but luckily it just the right amount of sound so as to not drown out his soulful, era-transcending voice. He played guitar so well that you would think that he went to university for music (which he did). His biggest hit in the UK, Home Again provided a sort of anthem to Bonnaroo since I know that every returning Bonnaroo attendee was thinking those two words when they entered the festival gates. Next up was another Londoner, folk artist Ben Howard. I have his debut album Every Kingdom, and I enjoy it, but I did not expect to see the absolute show that he and his band put on. There were only three of them but they somehow managed to give me goosebumps by the second song. A lovely brunette girl played cello, bass, drum, and provided hauntingly beautiful harmonies. The energetic drummer also added his voice and played guitar as well as pounding on the drums. The thing that surprised me, and I think it surprised the band as well, was the support from the crown. I did not think that many people knew Ben Howard but the tent was full of screaming, happy fans. Together, we hung onto Howard’s every word and were all impacted by his godlike guitar playing. It really was something special.
Afterwards I caught some of Hey Rosetta!’s set before heading over to the What Stage to wait for Radiohead. Hey Rosetta! were a good live band but they just did not seem too special after seeing Ben Howard. Then I headed to the massive What Stage to wait for 4 hours to get a good spot for Radiohead. The excitement was already in the air. Radiohead was the band that most of the people there were looking forward to most and they were finally going to see them. I sat next to some friendly people and got ready for the long wait. As the sun was setting Rodrigo y Gabriela came onto the stage. They were so good. I have never seen guitar being played the way that they played theirs. At some points they were playing the most complex guitar parts I had ever seen with their eyes closed! During their set, I ran into Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell and they were both beautiful.
Finally, after getting 8 rows back and making some wonderful friends, the lights turned off and Radiohead stepped out onto the stage and played underneath one of the most impressive stage setups I have ever seen. They had about 10 separate monitors that moved around, flashed different colors, and showed videos of the band. At one point the monitors all came down flat and made it look as if Radiohead were performing in a small club venue rather than a massive outdoor stage. Though without these screens, the band would have done just fine. I do not even want to talk about how good the band were. I was mesmerized from start to finish. I heard people complaining after the set that they did not play many of their old songs but seriously, how could they complain? The set was flawless. What surprised me most was the amount of energy that all the band members had. They were dancing, screaming, and having fun. I just did not expect this brilliant stage presence. Thom Yorke was nuts. He spoke in weird voices, taunted the crowd, and most importantly, sang his heart out. Contrary to the ideas of some, their new songs were the ones that stuck out most to me. Their newer songs have an enormous range of genres and style from hip-hop to chillwave. During new song Indentikit, Thom Yorke and guitarist Ed O’Brien were singing what sounded like two different songs but it sounded absolutely perfect. The Daily Mail and Weird Fishes were some other highlights. You probably saw this on the internet already but they hinted at a collaboration with Jack White and also dedicated a song to Saturday’s headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers. I could seriously write an essay about Radiohead’s performance due to their massive, expansive set featuring two encores but I cannot write too much as I have already busted out a lot of words. I did not even get a chance to talk about Johnny Greenwood’s immense music palette. After being wowed by Radiohead and experiencing my first full day of Bonnaroo 2012, I went to bed.
On Saturday I slept in, got a free homemade granola bar, and saw some more talented acts. When I got into Centeroo I went straight to This Tent and stuck it out there for most of the day. At the tent I saw Das Racist, Battles, and SBTRKT. Das Racist were as ridiculous and fun as I expected them to be. They hyped up the crowd a whole lot and at one point they made us all turn around and face the back of the tent before launching into their song Michael Jackson. I saw Battles at around 2am at Moogfest last year and was just about asleep so I enjoyed their performance at Bonnaroo this year a lot more. They told the crowd that they had planned to take a year off but had to come back just to play ‘Roo and I think that everyone was glad they did. They are way too good at instruments. Up next was SBTRKT, which is a stage name and project headed by Aaron Jerome from London, UK. It also refers to the live musical duo of Jerome and his frequent collaborator Sampha. Jerome spent the show triggering samples, mixing, and playing the drums which Sampha played keyboards and sang. His voice and both of their passion and energy was highly impressive. The only gripe that I had was that the show not at night. I believe that with an amazing light show, their sound would have worked ever better. Afterwards I headed over to see The Roots who were huge and full of energy. All of the members were all over the place and having the time of their lives. They got the enormous crowd moving and left an impression on everyone. During Red Hot Chili Peppers I went on Bonnaroo’s fantastic ferris wheel and then saw some of ?uestlove’s Superjam featuring D’Angelo and members of The Roots.
I woke up Sunday morning and thought that I had drooled everywhere but I realized that it was actually raining. Jake and I had already been planning to leave early due to our 8am summer class but this rain convinced us to skip Sunday altogether and drive home. It was very unfortunate that we had to miss The Civil Wars, The Antlers, and Bon Iver, among others, but that is the price I have to pay for being a super smart college student. As you can tell from my review, Bonnaroo was amazing. I will be in Europe for the first half of 2013 so I will not be there next year but I hope that SceneSC can continue this happy relationship with the festival. Happy Bonnaroo!