MANCHESTER, TN (RMR) - In only its 4th year, Bonnaroo has established its mark as a leading music and arts festival in the US, boasting 80,000 attendees and the best lineup in the nation.
But Bonnaroo's populatity doesn't just come from the music. It's also from the people that come from across the U.S. and even the world. These fans attend the festival because they know they can find the best music from many genres - jam bands, reggae, classic rock, blues, and even hip-hop... but also because of the amazing, laid back atmosphere.
I arrived at the festival, located in Manchester, TN, on Thursday - the day before it officially started. Despite being early, there was plenty going on. Vendors lined the streets and venue with hand-made jewelry, tapestries, rugs, art, food, and more. People played frisbee and hacky sack in the grass while others cooked out. Everyone was having a good time.
The highlight of the weekend was obviously the music. With big names like Dave Matthews, Jurassic 5, Modest Mouse, The Mars Volta, and Widespread Panic, there were several options at all times for music fans of all varieties. Many sets even included guest performances, such as John Mayer with Herby Hancock and Robert Randolph with Dave Matthews. Warren Haynes, of the Alman Brothers Band, also made several guest appearances throughout the weekend.
My favorite performances were from Rilo Kiley, My Morning Jacket, and The Mars Volta. Older fans likely favored Widespread Panic, The Black Crowes, and The Alman Brothers Band.
My Morning Jacket had the most entertaining set throughout the entire weekend. During their first song, I wasn't sure they were all together as a band, but the performance definitely got better. What made it most amusing was the conductor standing at the front of the stage. And then came one of the most entertaining stage shenanigans I've ever seen. For each of the last several songs of their set, they brought out a new 10 foot costumed performer. First a white haired man, then a giraffe, a wasp, an African woman, and more. They danced about and frollicked to the beat. In short, I loved it.
Rilo Kiley was a very pleasing show. Jenny Lewis' (who also lended her voice to the Postal Service) voice can best be compared to angels. I think it's a shame current pop music wasn't more in this direction, but then maybe it's better that way. The weekend featured many female singers, another being Joss Stone, whose best attribute was her sex appeal, although she too is a good singer.
The Mars Volta, who went on about an hour late, had quite a sound - one that I can't even classify in any one genre. Their rock-emo-alterna-soul sound and excellent live performance puts them near the top of my favorite bands at the moment. Their latest album, Frances the Mute, has definitely found frequent play in my music collection.
Amongst other great performances were Jurassic 5, Jack Johnson, and Modest Mouse. Trey Anastasio, formerly of Phish, also made a highly anticipated late night appearance that ended the night perfectly.
Although the performance of Dave Matthews Band and Friends was admirable, I do feel that it was a bit too hyped up. Sure, he writes good music and is a marvelous performer, but his songs tend to sound a lot alike and run into each other. But that's just my personal opinion. I'm sure many people came just for him, as his fans tend to be very dedicated.
The weekend also included stand up comedy from names like Charlie Murphy (as recently seen on the Dave Chappelle Show) and Jim Breuer (who coincidently starred in Half Baked with Dave Chappelle). Unfortuantely I missed them, but I know they're both very good stand up comedians.
The underlying attitude from people throughout the weekend was peaceful. Everyone was respectful of each other and the general atmostphere was very positive. Well, with exception of the guy dressed as Jesus carrying a cross that said 'You're all going to hell'. I've never experienced such giving, open and extraordinary people in my life.
One of the main points that made the event feel peaceful was its lack of 'security'.
That doesn't mean the place wasn't secure, however. The festival took a different approach: throughout the grounds there were employees wearing 'safety' shirts - a strong message in support of peace instead of intrusiveness. They were there to help, not to intrude. Policemen also lined the grounds, riding high on horses that my friends and I dubbed "The McDonald's Brigade" because of their red and yellow rain jackets. Police only made a few arrests during the weekend, mostly drug related, which is expected at any large festival.
I went into Bonnarroo expecting something reminiscent of the original Woodstock, but figured in its fourth year it might have lost that charm, especially with mainstream artists like Dave Matthews. But I was wrong. Bonnaroo was everything I expected it to be and more. The people were amazing, the music was beautiful, the atmosphere was perfect, and I even got a tan.
It's only been a week, and I already can't wait for next year.
Photos (provided by Bonnaroo):
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