Festival Recap: Bonnaroo 2013

Thanks to Big Hassle and Bonnaroo for gracing us with this opportunity once again. We look forward to working with them next year. Also, thanks to Jake Causey for writing this wonderful article about the behemoth that is Bonnaroo.

This is the second year in a row that I’ve been fortunate enough to make it to Manchester, Tennessee, and this year was equally, if not more magical than the previous. After driving for a little over six and a half hours and picking up my credentials, I headed in through the front gate of Bonnaroo, or as it is affectionately called, The Farm, and headed towards the campsite area. Driving into Bonnaroo you are hit face-on with the mantra for the festival, which is, “Radiate positivity.” One thing you learn very fast about Bonnaroo, is actually something that happens. In both years that I’ve been to The Farm, I’ve found that unless someone is having a bad trip, it’s pretty hard to find anyone that is unhappy at this festival. Anyways, I made my way in for the night and set up camp, which so happened to mean put out two chairs and the beer cooler this year since I slept in my car. I made friends with my neighbors and shared a few cold drinks and our lineups for the week to come.

AKM6018-900x598Photo by: Adam Macchia

The next morning, we woke up to the hot Tennessee sun around nine am, which I will admit is typical Bonnaroo fashion, got ready, and lined up to get into Centeroo itself. We passed through the Bonnaroo arch, which makes you realize that you are actually there, and went exploring until the first band we wanted to see went on. The first band of the festival for me was a band called The Stepkids. They had a very retro, groovy feel to them even covering Cream’s “I Feel Free.” After catching their set I headed over to That Tent to catch the end of Milo Greene’s set. I had never really heard of them before but after catching a few of their songs I was instantly hooked. Everyone in that band had a lot of talent and had flawless harmonies. Their cover of Sufjan Steven’s “Chicago” was easily the highlight of that day for me. After Milo Greene came JD McPherson, a rocking band out of Chicago who’s sound was a throwback to Elvis and the early days of rock and roll. Not only were they a killer band, their upright bass player was the best I have ever seen. Not just musically, but his stage presence was fantastic. They were followed by a band called Haim (High-um) which is headed by three sisters who are as pretty and flirtatious as they are talented, which is really saying something. Django Django, a crazy, psychedelic, electronic band from the UK followed them, who played a very energetic and fun set, surprising most of the crowd, and when I talked to other people in the crowd afterwards, made a lot of new fans. The last full set I caught that night was Father John Misty, which is the project of Josh Tillman, the former drummer of Fleet Foxes, who gave a fantastic performance. Not only was the music good, Josh’s on stage demeanor is funny, entertaining, and just plain fun to watch as he writhes around the stage and pseudo (or maybe not?) tries to choke himself with his own microphone cable. After Father John Misty, I headed over the This Tent to catch the last bit of Alt-J which sounded very good, but the crowd was so large I could hardly see anything.

MGH-Bonnaroo-2013-Father-John-Misty-6-900x600Photo by: Morgan G. Harris

I started off Friday morning at the first press conference, where the Bonnaroo staff officially announced that one of the festivals main headliners, Mumford and Sons, had cancelled and that Jack Johnson was going to replace them on the main stage the next night. They then proceeded to welcome Jack Johnson and Zach Gill to the press tent where they played a few songs off of Jack’s new album which is due out in September. According to Johnson, he was on his way to Europe when he decided to stop in Tennessee to attend the festival. Knowing that Johnson was at the festival, when Mumford and Sons cancelled, the Bonnaroo staff contacted him and asked him to take their spot at the Saturday night headliner. Even though he hadn’t played with his band in almost a year and a half, he accepted. After the press conference, I made my way over to catch the last half of a soulful, Norwegian looping artist Bernhoft’s set which was incredible. Near the end of his set, he brought a four year old boy he called Squish, and the boy’s mother, on stage and proceeded to help Squish shave his mother’s head for Locks of Love which makes wigs for people who are going through chemotherapy. It was so strange yet, so Bonnaroo for something so weird and positive to happen during the middle of an artist’s set. After the “Bonnaroo Barbershop” had closed and Bernhoft had finished off the end of his set, I headed over This Stage to see Calexico. They’ve done a few songs with Iron and Wine, and have a great rock with Latin flavor feel. They had the entire crowd clapping, dancing, and singing in Spanish through-out their entire set. After Calexico was Glen Hansard, who is and Irish singer songwriter you may remember from a movie a few years back called “Once”, or as the lead for a band called The Frames. This is one of the shows that I was most excited to see when I saw the Bonnaroo lineup back in March, and Glen and his band did not disappoint. He sang his heart out and gave such a good performance that it literally had the girl in front of me shaking and crying. He ended off the set with a traditional Irish song called “The Auld Triangle” which had an ever growing crowd singing like, as he put it,” it was the last day on Earth, and that day happened to be St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin.” Foals were next on the lineup for This Stage after Hansard and gave an absolutely electrifying show. Not only was the band all over the place and energetic the crowd became one pulsating mass of happy, extremely pumped people. It was without a doubt one of the best crowd experiences at any show I’ve been too. Finally after waiting all day, Jim James, lead singer of My Morning Jacket took the stage, and gave a performance that can only be described as “breath-taking” or maybe “pure magic” would be a better way to put it. His vocal, guitar, and saxophone skills are nothing short of brilliant. He’s also quite the snappy dresser in a black suit and tie while floating around the stage and carrying around a gold bear statue. After the phenomenon that is Jim James finished his set, I rushed over to What Stage, the main stage of Bonnaroo and the largest free standing stage in the Western Hemisphere, to try and get a good spot for the one and only legend Paul McCartney. When I got there I found that people had been camping out at the stage and the gates surrounding the stage since five or six am that morning. Needless to say I had to find high ground just to see the giant LED screens on the stage, but was it worth it. Paul proved he still has whatever “it” is, playing an almost three hour set, including 3 encores and a full pyrotechnics show during the climax of “Band on the Run.” After seeing a Beatle, I booked it over to This Stage again to see the one and only ZZ Top whose set was nearly as stunning as their beards, and the ridiculous and beautiful set played by Animal Collective afterwards that was accompanied by giant inflatable colored spires and projections overtop of their stage setup.

MGH-Bonnaroo-2013-Jim-James-5-900x600Photo by: Morgan G. Harris

Saturday morning I headed back to This Stage to catch a Canadian by the name of Patrick Watson who, with his band, put on a great show. His on stage demeanor was charming and funny, and his voice was pure silk. After Watson was LA based Lord Huron who put on a fantastic set, cowboy hats and all. There was a lot of buzz about this band going through the festival, they are one of my favorites at the moment, and they definitely did not disappoint. Following Lord Huron was Kristian Matsson aka. Tallest Man on Earth. This is my second time seeing him, and it never ceases to amaze me how one little Swede can put so much sound and emotion through one guitar and a microphone. What also grabs me about him is that he always seems so genuinely surprised and grateful and the amount of support and the number of people that show up to his performances. After his set was over I headed over the Bonnaroo Comedy Tent to catch Scott Auckerman and Reggie Watts, doing a bit of a live version of their show on IFC, Comedy Bang! Bang! which I am a huge fan of. It was equal parts strange and hilarious and I loved every minute of it. I caught the end of The Lumineers, who were great, and also packed out, and headed over to What Stage to see the first part of Jack Johnson’s set which was packed yet again, but still good none the less. After I had my fill of banana pancakes, I made my way over to Which Stage to get a good spot for “the World’s Greatest” aka R.Kelly, and it was totally worth the hour and a half wait and getting hit in the head with someone’s full backpack. Kelly started the set with “Ignition” while on a crane platform over top of the stage with a full choir below. He proceeded to give one of the best live performances I have ever seen, pulling out all his classics, and releasing hundreds of dove shaped balloons during his grand finale performance of “I Believe I Can Fly.” I hurried over to That Tent to catch Billie Idol performing his hits such as “White Wedding” and “Rebel Yell” and was swept up by the crowd for the next band. The next band just so happened to be from Australia, and one that I had waited for almost three years to see live, but boy was it worth the wait. The band of course is Empire of the Sun, who you may recognize from the single “Walking on a Dream” off of their first album which came out almost 5 years ago. Now their back with a killer new album titled Ice on the Dune, and the best theatrical live show ever conceived. This band had everything; great music, costumes, dancers, a space theme, pyro technics, a giant rake crowned multicolored skull monster that shot off high pressure smoke guns, it was absolutely incredible and the best end to my favorite day of the festival.

170689938_JK_9089_2066B04BBA5F6BDA150DD3EB571909C0-486x700Photo by: C. Taylor Crothers

Sunday, there weren’t very many bands I was desperate to see so, I took the chance to explore and catch bits and pieces of different sets. The highlights of the day were; Macklemore doing his hit song “Thrift Shop” in a full on fur coat in the 90+ degree Tennessee heat, a killer band by the name of Delta Rae, and of course seeing not only Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, but Tame Impala as well. By this time of the day, both my traveling companion and I were exhausted so we decided to pack up and head back east, but not before sneaking a peak at Ed Helms Bluegrass Situation and The National.

Though thoroughly exhausting, the week I spent on the Farm this summer will stay with me for a very, very long time, and is one of the best times I’ve ever had doing anything ever. Bonnaroo is in my opinion one of the best festivals in the United States and the even world. Not only is the lineup consistently fantastic, but the atmosphere is inviting and friendly, and you just feel at home with all the rest of the people you are wandering around with in these fields with. Though by the end of the week you’re tired and ready to leave, three days later, you find yourself looking through pictures and wishing you were right back on that farm in the middle of the mountains of Tennessee.