PREFACE: HEY BILLBOARD, GO FUCK YOURSELF. Y’all put up a Bonnaroo “review” within hours of the festival finishing that highlighted the dumbest shit about Bonnaroo. Did you even go? Or were you too comfortable in your VIP air conditioned RV to give a fuck about anything that wasn’t on the Main Stage? Either way, your Bonnaroo experience was about as shallowly had as the puddles under the refill stations, (what you know about that BILLBOARD?!) I suggest you hire me or seriously improve your festival coverage.
I forgot how hot it was, how dusty it gets, and how bad my legs/lower back hurt after a full day of inebriated frolicking on a certain Tennessee farm. The crowds, the porta-potty stench, the lack of cleanliness, all seem to take a backseat in my memories of Bonnaroo. However, during the experience, heat, smells, and sweaty, dirty skin seem to be at the forefront of the festival goer’s minds. Every inch of shade available on the farm is taken while the sun is up, while every care in the world is absent as the sun descends. People are either passed-out or napping everywhere at all times; Tibetan patterns separate man from the ground via tapestries and blankets alike. Fried food becomes easier to eat at night; although, eating less means shitting in porta-potties less, so caloric frugality becomes the name of the game. Waking up and walking 200 yards in the middle of the night to use an excrement-filled portable John in the dark is as about as bad as it sounds (get a pee cup). But hey ya’ll, I’m not complaining. Actually, I paid to do this. About 80,000 of us did. Listen, though. The average ticket price of $350 is a small investment in your mental health, your concert going repertoire, and most generally, your life.
The farm brings out the best in the fans, artists, volunteers, and vendors. There is an undeniable atmosphere between the dust particles that seeps in (via reverse osmosis) to the sweat glazed skin that one awakes to in a summer soaked tent. Weed is another of the plethora of common aromas, which can literally be sensed from any campsite on the farm. However, the camp next to me got busted with weed, shrooms, and molly by the Deputy Sheriff on night one. Apparently, they drove by and smelled pot, duh. It was really scary as I sat in my tent, absolutely hammered, staring at them in my recliner chair drinking Jack out of a Dr. Pepper two-liter (visuals for days). That doesn’t stop people from walking campsite-to-campsite mumbling drugs they have for sale — not stopping unless someone acknowledges their sketchy presence. I don’t know how people do hallucinogens in 95-degree weather — don’t you like, melt or something? You see it just about all at the farm and at a lot of boobs too, mostly unwarranted.
BONNAROO DAY ONE:
Gemini Martin (who was my sole companion on this adventure to higher musical performances) and I got way too drunk with a good friend of ours, a Manchester, Tennessee legend, Craig Jarrell before the shows had really even started Thursday. As I described above, I was still in fear as I watched my neighbors get cited for drug possession. So, we got into Centeroo, where it all goes down, late, saw Papadosio but it was packed and we were boppin’. The first real show we ended up seeing was Polyenso.
Polyenso is a killer band from right over in St. Petersburg who recently played Shakey Knees in Atlanta. They played on the smaller Miller Lite new music stage but had a thick crowd compared to others I’d seen there throughout the weekend. They have this Glass Animals feel that hits a bit deeper and harder. Their drummer is an absolute monster. If you get a chance to catch them around Florida, I would do it as they are building their festival resume.
GoldLink played the Other Tent at 12:15 am, technically Friday morning, and in my opinion, put on the best hip hop performance of the entire festival. His energy and live control of his diction were completely on point, as he had the crowd literally bouncing with him all night. After playing the hits from his first project, The God Complex, he paused and got the crowd hype with tracks from DMX and Nirvana, amongst clips of some others. From there, he moved into tracks from his newest project And after that, we didn’t talk which is absolutely killer. If you like Anderson .Paak, Kaytranada, or even Chance the Rapper, give GoldLink a try. Dude is an amazing performer that earned himself plenty of new fans at the first night of Roo.
BONNAROO DAY TWO:
Andra Day was the first show of the day. She graced the second largest Which Stage with pure R&B/Soul vocals that leave a trail of goosebumps. She did a cover of Kendrick Lamar’s “No Make Up” which she intermittently sang and rapped beautifully. I hope Kendrick hears that somehow because I think he would absolutely love it. After we left, I heard she brought out saxophonist Kamasi Washington, introducing him as one of the “most important artists of our time.”
Allen Stone surprisingly enough was at the Main Stage. Last November, Gemini and I traveled to Atlanta to see him play at Center Stage. Remembering how fucking awesome him and his band were, we rushed from Andra over to the Main Stage to dance in the heat. If you’ve never heard Allen Stone, get ready for pristine vocals over a full band of brilliant individuals. From the horn sections to the keyboardist who talkbox solos with the guitarist, it’s one of the coolest jams you’ll ever see. Stone and his band put on an incredible show and the Bonnaroo heat didn’t stop the red-haired and red-faced frontman from bringing all the soul he normally does. I’m glad I had sunglasses on all weekend, because his performance of his song, “American Privilege” marked the first welling of the eyes for me. We walked away with big smiles remembering exactly why we had to leave Andra Day. (Sorry, Ms. Day, you are so amazing please come to Florida soon!)
FIDLAR: Gem was hot, so I went in by myself. A mosh pit was centered and pushed to the front of the crowd as the dudes from LA ripped through the punkiest and one of the most fun shows Bonnaroo had to offer. Songs about cheap beer, pot, and coke resonated in the hearts of just about every attendee within ear shot. I was comfortably in the middle of the crowd, a couple rows back from the moshpit when I saw a fella get blindsided and immediately flattened then within a second, get back up and crowd surf to the front barrier. In between songs, lead singer Zac Carper started fucking with the crowd.
“Hey guys, everyone just close your eyes and put your hands in the air and thank mother nature.”
Leon Bridges is good old-fashioned music. Your Momma is going to like him. Your Daddy is going like him and if they don’t, they are wrong. The guy is about as likeable as The Beatles and brings that 50’s era rock and roll, soul and doo-wop feel back to life. His voice is powerful in the sweetest of ways and is complemented well by his swift feet as he suavely jives his way around the stage. We left a little bit early to see J. Cole.
J. Cole: There was only one redeeming factor in the decision to leave Leon Bridges early to go see J. Cole. As we were walking into the main stage, he started introducing Chance the Rapper. As Chance came out, J. Cole’s DJ dropped “No Problems” off of Chance’s new project, Coloring Book. Chance proceeded to do his verses during J. Cole’s set and it was probably the hypest his crowd was all night. Meanwhile, we were running around the back part of the crowd going crazy to Chance as we were so excited we just so happened to stumble upon this awesome surprise.
Tyler, The Creator: I had been waiting some time to see this show. I missed him every time he came through Florida for some reason or another and was poised to make it to his show and rap all the gnarly shit from Goblin and sing all the pretty shit from Wolf and Cherry Bomb. The show was packed, but what do you expect … the dude is like a cult-ish figure. His directing and production ability, clothing line, comical internet presence, and ear-catching verses have separated him from the average cat in the in the music industry. “I’m honestly surprised Tennessee. I didn’t think ya’ll would fuck with me”. And fuck with him they did; literally, “FUCK THAT, GOLF WANG” echoed from This Tent throughout the entire campgrounds. Tyler brought it the whole show as he jumped around and screamed for an hour. I’m just so stoked he did “48.”
Tame Impala: I think I’m just going go ahead and deem this my favorite show of Bonnaroo. The lights were incredible, Kevin Parker’s voice was unreal. The whole band sounded just like the album recordings. Father John Misty joked on Sunday afternoon after performing “Babylon,” “Tame Impala used all the fucking confetti, that’s why that song went no where.” And they did, two huge blasts of confetti filled the air, beams of light shown through the remaining spaces creating an incredible visual. Underneath the mess of party favor was one of the best bands in the world playing their hits “Elephant,” “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” “The Less I Know The Better,” and “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” This was the second time I was brought to tears at Bonnaroo. I felt like I basically cried the whole time.
The polished sound and feel good vibes they emitted fit over us like a warm blanket of awesomeness that I will long for at every live show I attend in the future.”
Thanks for setting a new bar, Tame Impala.
BONNAROO DAY THREE:
Jason Mraz was added on the first day as a surprise guest. Mraz absolutely packed out That tent as we walked up to the mass of people screaming, “You and I both laaaahav.” After trying to break into the crowd, I forced Gem to take me to Grace Potter.
Grace Potter is the dreamiest dreamboat in all of reality. She played the Main Stage at 2:00pm on Saturday and absolutely shut it down. Playing songs from all her projects and reminding the crowd how sexy they were, Grace really was tailored to perform at Bonnaroo. Her performance was among the most entertaining and lively of the whole festival. I really love when she’s shredding her classic Gibson flying-V, or belting her boisterous voice, or smiling or talking or breathing. I was so bummed when I missed her in Orlando a couple months back but this made up for it in every way.
Chris Stapleton is a force to be reckoned with. His voice is so powerful, yet so controlled. It’s hard to draw any comparisons. His band was riddled with legendary musicians that played alongside the likes of Willy Nelson AND his backup singer just happened to be his wife. “Tennessee Whiskey,” “Fire Away,” and “Traveler” brought me to tears (if you’re counting, that’s three…so what?!😭). Regardless of whether you enjoy country-based music, Stapleton’s music is easy and enjoyable to digest.
Band Of Horses was a long time coming for me. Everyday in 9th grade I listened to the Cease to Begin album start to finish. The What Stage was filled with people singing “Funeral,” “No one’s gonna love you,” and, my personal favorite, “General Specific.” The unique voice of Ben Bridwell is every bit as pure and interesting as it is on the records. Again, my eyes well as “No one’s gonna love you more than I do” rang out from a crowd of dedicated emotionally drunk fans.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats was one of the bigger surprises of the weekend. His tent was absolutely packed; we fought and watched the first half of his boisterous and beautiful set. His gritty southern voice rasped with soul and conviction as him and his band seemed happy with their turnout. We left to escape claustrophobia and to take a break for the night.
The Claypool Lennon Delirium played their first show a week before this one at the Beacham in Orlando. Saturday night at Bonnaroo they took the stage and seemed far more comfortable than the week before with Sean’s voice and guitar still as powerful as ever and Bonnaroo legend Les Claypool still creeping people out with his vocals on “Mr. Wright.” Claypool actually played two sets at the first ever Bonnaroo in 2002.
Miguel: (preface) Yeah, okay, we woke up in the back of Pearl Jam like assholes. We saw the first bit of it, woke up at 12:30pm, and literally Olympic fast-walked to Miguel. Fighting our way inside the tent, we were just in time for him to bring out Chance the Rapper to rap along to “Biggie.” Shortly after, Miguel went into “Quickie” and “Adorn U.” Wwe all lost our tiny little minds and sang our tiny little hearts out. His guitar player seems like an absolute douchebag but was really fucking good. He didn’t do anything like kick a girl in the face but he just seems like a goofy dude. Apparently, he did a pop up show outside the camp grounds Sunday afternoon. I think Miguel fell in love with Bonnaroo like the rest of us.
BONNAROO DAY FOUR:
Kurt Vile & The Violators are some laid back dudes. I enjoyed the vibes of his show, as his stoner persona shone through with his audience banter.
Jason Isbell: Whoa, this dude shreds. Honestly, he writes really beautiful and moving music. I was brought to tears (five 😭) and was kind of mad about it at first. But, I mean, the honesty and purity in his music is something special. I was standing and dancing around after not necessarily wanting to leave Kurt Vile. I was sure glad I did. Isbell was responsible for some of the best guitar jams of the weekend, which always gets me excited.
Father John Misty is a goddamned rock star. I watched him put on one of the best performances of the whole weekend (his live show is incredible) from the pit right up in front of the Which Stage.
This large question mark in front of me does nothing for the existential quandary — that is talking about my emotions to thousands of college kids on mushrooms.”
Death Cab for Cutie: Another middle school dream come true. I was too much of a pussy to go see them in Orlando the other month but knowing I would see them at ‘Roo made it acceptable. “We weren’t gonna play this one, but when Chance the Rapper makes a request, you kind of have to.” “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” followed, which was sang back by seemingly everyone in attendance. “I will possess your heart” and “Soul Meets Body” were among the crowd melting favorites. It was amazing to see Ben Gibbard in person; the dude is literally a musical god. They played as the sun was setting. I, again, welled up with happiness. (six 😭)
Dead & Co played two sets from 8:00pm to Midnight on the last night. John Mayer and Bob Weir fronted the band as Deadheads from everywhere rejoiced. If you’ve ever been to Bonnaroo you know that it’s basically a Grateful Dead merchandise trade show. Never before have you seen more skulls or bears on t-shirts or tapestries. The anticipation of this show was palpable as the cult following of the Dead had been waiting all weekend for the remaining members to take the stage. Dead and Co began the set with “Truckin’” and ended with “Casey Jones.” What happened in between was a jam session of classic Dead songs that Mayer shined on. It seemed there would be no more capable vocal cords or hands for those songs to be in than Mayer’s. His harmonies and lead vocals were gorgeously on point but slightly different than his solo tone. If you are a Grateful Dead fan, this is the best tribute/reunion/anniversary tour they’ve done, certainly better than the Trey Anastasio jams. (Sorry dudes! Johnny May is a 6-string virtuoso) I would get out there and try to catch their summer tour if I was yous!
Alright, so, RECAP …
Those aren’t all the shows I saw, just the ones I enjoyed the most and saw in their entirety — minus like Jason Mraz and Andra Day. However, I did see other great shows from Brett Dennen, Beach Fossils, Twin Peaks, and FKJ. I really dig the Cali vibes Beach Fossils set forth by picking guitar parts and airy vocals. Twin Peaks was a rock and roll dream. Their Thursday night set was killer and pretty full under This Tent, one of my favorite discoveries from Bonnaroo. I admit, I regretfully stumbled in on the second half of Brett Dennen’s set and quickly found myself singing songs I had heard him perform on Daryl’s House. I met him at a Burrito stand after his set and gave him an awkward side hug picture pose, which I think he appreciated. You’re voice is killer man, you got yourself a new fan. I was also stoked to see that Chance the Rapper has become a fixture at Roo. I saw his first set there ever under That Tent in 2014 — it was incredible. I have been back every year since, and so has he. In 2015, he performed with SZA and in a Superjam. This year he performed with J. Cole and Miguel (to my knowledge) and was making requests to Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie. Thanks again, Chance!
Bonnaroo is often romanticized for its amazing line-ups, remote location, and anarchist type campgrounds that initiate the feeling you get when you finally realize what you are apart of. It’s a beautiful thing to see 80,000 people from different sects of life dedicating their weekend to “radiating positivity” and intermittent drug/alcohol abuse. Most ‘Roovians’ have struggled to string together an underwhelming description of what actually happens during that second weekend in June on that farm now for the last 15 years. The authenticity of the moment never ceases to amaze me; the filth, the sweat, the determination to survive and dance and repeat until your legs are overtired. Those who complete this chosen right of passage into live music heaven are rewarded greatly with fond memories, insane stories, and beautiful tans. The small price of gnarly porta-potties and waking up under the brutal Tennessee sun seem to be those of vanity. The rewards reaped out weigh the monetary expenses (anytime that’s the case I think you’re in a good place.) So thank you again, for the third straight year Bonnaroo. I can’t wait till next year.
LIVE REVIEW Bonnaroo RECAP 2016 by Sean Gray and vids by other rad ‘Roovians’ ✌
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