At Bonnaroo, music is your main dish served with a hearty side of weed and any other supplement your heart desires.
Although the festival is rooted in jam bands, drugs and camping, you don’t have to like any of those to enjoy the weekend. But it does help.
In its eighth year, Bonnaroo keeps expanding from its neo-hippie core. I went from catching ebony queen Erykah Badu to the chronic’s Snoop Dogg followed by alternative country starlet Neko Case.
It’s truly a place to see living legends.
I’m convinced “The Boss,” Bruce Springsteen, is a robot after his 3 1/2-hour set, and I will never forget the moment an exuberant young blonde wearing an “I love NJ” shirt joined him during “Dancing In The Dark.”
David Byrne’s roaring performance included new collaborations from his work with Brian Eno as well as Talking Heads tunes such as “Life during Wartime” and “Once in a Lifetime.” The scene was like a modern “Stop Making Sense.”
Elvis Costello began his set with a few acoustic performances, but he eventually said it was time for some rock ’n’ roll. The infallible singer-songwriter did a fantastic cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” as well as his new songs and original staples such as “Everyday I Write the Book” and “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace Love and Understanding?”
Byrne and Costello both served as mentors for the younger acts at Bonnaroo, as Byrne curated his own stage and performed along with Dirty Projectors. Costello joined Jenny Lewis during “Carpetbaggers,” and she exuberantly sang alongside during his set, which also included collaborations from Jim Luaderdale and Allen Toussaint.
Bonnaroo was also for witnessing newer acts that leapt from buzzworthy to mainstay. After seeing Grizzly Bear on June 9 at the Buskirk-Chumley, I had to hear them again. Other bands like TV On The Radio, Animal Collective and Phoenix further heightened their prominence as the die-hard fans piled to be closer to them.
Two representatives from local Bloomington label Jagjaguwar truly shined as well, and I knew I had to see them because I missed seeing them in town. Bon Iver’s set was particularly moving as Justin Vernon transformed his painfully melancholy sound into something most listeners would have never expected: loud and rocking. Okkervil River’s Will Sheff proved to be one of the most gracious and energetic front men around, feeding off the audience and his band members while preserving the clarity of his music.
As enthralling as it was to be a part of something so large-scale, Bonnaroo just made me all the more happy to be in Bloomington. I counted more than 10 bands at the festival that performed in town since I arrived in fall 2006. I saw many of these acts before they “made it big” for less than $20 at the most intimate of local venues.
That’s not to say that the four-day festival won’t hold a special place in my heart – even if I wouldn’t mind never seeing anything tie-dye again.