Bonnaroo 2013 | Days 1 & 2

Why are fans so willing to put up with mass amounts of sweating and miniscule amounts of sleep for the better part of a week?


Photos: Bruce Matlock

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, nestled away in the inconspicuous country farm lands of Manchester, Tenn., is more of a pilgrimage for those who consider music a religion than a festival. Every year, 90,000 rabid music lovers converge from around the world to experience five long days in the scorching Tennessee summer sun. Some people work for free with no payment other than their admittance to the festival.

Why are they so willing to put up with mass amounts of sweating and miniscule amounts of sleep for the better part of a week? Bonnaroo does not cater to a genre. In fact, the focus is more on merging genres to create a once in a lifetime experience. Where else on Earth can one go from seeing the Euro-nightclub vibe of Björk playing “Joga” at sunset to a surprise nighttime New Orleans jazz club, with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined by Jim James for “St. James Infirmary.”

This year’s iteration of Bonnaroo was shaped by three Superjams and numerous surprises that would lie in store for the open-minded crowd. The fact that it was shaped by that and not the loss of its second billed headliner speaks volumes to what makes the Bonnaroo spirit so pertinent in a festival goers’ experience. No one comes to a place like this for simply one band, but more on that later.

One of the biggest changes to Bonnaroo in the last two years is the open knowledge that they open the gates earlier and earlier on Wednesday evening. This has effectively changed it from a four day event into five. While it does allow everyone to get in, set up camp, begin making friends, and pre-partying, it has also made what was once an easygoing Thursday into an overcrowded mess. Thursday crowds used to be small, and treated to intimate shows. Now, with most people showing up for Thursday the crowds for the shows are huge. While the larger stages are closed, the Thursday crowd of upwards of 60,000 is now forced to the smaller tents. If one change to the festival is to be made, anything on the larger stages would be much appreciated to give everyone a bit more space.

Thursday would kick off with one of the festival’s best lineups ye,t and surprises on top of that. Stacked front to back, Milo Greene, Twenty One Pilots, Ariel Pink, Araabmuzik, Walk the Moon, Japandroids, Father John Misty, Alt-J, The Vaccines, and Capital Cities made up a formidable collection of newcomers and bands looking to collect a larger following. 

Thursday was also a great day for comedy with Maria Bamford delivering a very personal stand-up set focusing on mental illness and her struggles with bipolar disorder. [adult swim] talk show host Eric Andre also showed up for a few sets and seemed lost as to what to do in a stand-up setting, which led to an avant-garde, slapstick set that began with Andre coming out, penis tucked between his legs drag-queen style, and being humped by surprise guest Amy Schumer. That’s Bonnaroo.

A less shocking surprise came in the form of Jack Johnson joining ALO, a band on his Brushfire Records label. Johnson joined the band for five songs including two of his own, “Better Together” and “Mud Football.” The biggest surprise of the day began as a rumor spreading around the farm that Saturday night’s headliner Mumford & Sons had to cancel their appearance due to bassist Ted Dwayne’s brain surgery for a blood clot. 


As Friday began, it was confirmed by Bonnaroo, some 12 hours after several websites had already announced, that Mumford would, in fact, not be appearing and that surprise Thursday guest Jack Johnson would replace the band. In any normal circumstances, this would be cause for near riot; however, at Bonnaroo, no one seemed to even care outside of the occasional well wishings for Dwayne and the band. This is the spirit of Bonnaroo, and a night of Sir Paul McCartney to come certainly didn’t hurt.

Before McCartney would come to the stage, however, there would be a raucous set with British pop sensation Charli XCX playing her last show in the U.S. before heading back home after being on tour with Marina & the Diamonds for the last month. Post-show, Charli admitted that Bonnaroo is a different experience, in particular for her because “everyone is really fucked up.” She shared that most coming out for the tour were extremely young with “10-year-olds crowd surfing,” so the older crowd at Bonnaroo ready to party at two in the afternoon was definitely a special experience.


Glen Hansard & band always delight

Polar opposite musically, bearded touring expert Glen Hansard brought his full band out to play in the hottest part of the day. Songs off of Rhythm and Repose made up a large portion of the set, but Swell Season songs, as well as covers of Marvin Gaye song “Don’t Do It” and Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” also thrilled those seeking a chill afternoon set. Back in the dance category, Boston indie rockers Passion Pit triumphed over a large crowd. Lead singer Michael Angelakos admitted earlier in the day that at their first appearance at the festival in 2009 they had no idea what they were doing as a band. On this day however, the band was in top form from the opening of “Little Secrets” to the closing “Sleepyhead,” notably both off of 2009s Manners album.

Paul McCartney doesn’t have openers, but if he did, Wilco might be about the best possible opener. Jeff Tweedy & Co. played a set heavy on Yankee Foxtrot Hotel, and The Whole Love tracks and filled the other half of their nineteen song set with tracks reaching all over their discography, including two songs featuring special guest Calexico. Around the rest of the fest, Wu-Tang Clan played a muddled set of classic hip-hop tracks that will largely be remembered for the American sign language interpreter whom has since went viral. Jim James was his usual Bonnaroo-loving self and was seen almost everywhere, including his own set featuring mostly his solo tracks but also a few Monsters of Folk songs, and My Morning Jackets’ “Wonderful.”

Perhaps the largest single crowd ever to witness an artist at Bonnaroo was prepared to see Sir Paul McCartney to take the stage by 9 p.m. on Friday evening. The previous night hundreds gathered as McCartney did a sound check just to get a listen of what was to come. Many of those songs sound checked found their way into Friday’s history lesson of a rock and roll.

McCartney changed things up from his last tour, now on the “Out There!” tour. Altogether an immense 38 songs were played over the nearly three hour set. Some tracks played for the first time ever on this tour included Beatles songs “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” “Your Mother Should Know,” and “All Together Now,” the latter of which featured putty-like monsters dancing around the screens that made up 95 percent of the stage. Was it cheesy? Absolutely. Has he told the same stories about Jimi Hendrix and his trip to Russia a thousand times? Of course. This was Bonnaroo though, and singing “Let It Be” with 90,000 people is more special than you could possibly imagine. Seeing Paul McCartney from under a hundred feet away was opened up to a younger crowd that couldn’t possibly afford what those tickets would cost at a regular McCartney show, myself included.


Of course, realizing he was at Bonnaroo invited special opportunities like McCartney mentioning, “that’s some pretty good weed I can smell up here!” Also, towards the end of the set as someone threw a plush walrus onto the stage, McCartney took the time to gently place it on his piano and ever so lovingly sing “Golden Slumbers” to it. It was without a doubt a set that will forever rank in the Bonnaroo echelon with the storied Radiohead exceptional 2006, My Morning Jacket playing for 4 hours in the rain in 2008, and Phish joined by Bruce Springsteen in 2009.

The music continued after McCartney’s headlining spot with sets by bands like The xx, ZZ Top, and a hip-hop superjam. The hip-hop superjam was filled with covers and original material by a group that was at times made up of DJ Jazzy Jeff, Schoolboy Q, Rza, Method Man, Red Man, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, Pretty Lights (who came out and played bass for one song before leaving to play his own set across the farm), Solange, Chad Hugo, and Lettuce, and felt largely like another Wu-Tang set. Sets by Pretty Lights and Animal Collective kept the party going until the early hours of the morning. | Bruce Matlock & Matt Wallin

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