The Bonnaroo Experience: Full Circle

There were 80,000 people (most of which you may call “hippies”) crammed on to a 700-acre farm for 3 days and 4 nights worth of hellaciously hot weather, overpriced food, awful hygienic habits, and most of all; amazing music. This insanely crowded, fun, and half-decade old gathering has come to be known as: Bonnaroo.

Ahh, yes! One of the greatest music festivals in existence can be found on a huge farm, in the Southern U.S. (not on either coast, bitches!), in the middle of nowhere Tennessee. A seriously lethal combination that forces people from every state in the Union to trek to the festival. The city of Manchester, where Bonnaroo is held, has been known to make 85% of their yearly economic growth from one musical weekend in the month of June.

My second year in attendance, I didn’t know what to expect from ole’ Bonnaroo. Sure, there were staple Bonnaroo dishes in the form of drugs, alcohol, and fowl stenches but the music is what Bonnaroo prides itself in. Last year Bonnaroo slowly started shifting away from their “jam band” roots and adding flares of indie/alternative rock such as My Morning Jacket, The Mars Volta, Modest Mouse, and Iron & Wine. Since its conception, Bonnaroo has been progressing more and more towards (what is seemingly) better/expanded music. With a fair amount of jam bands still present in the lineup, there was more of a shift towards a varied musical lineup. Below are my own personal reviews of Bonnaroo. It’s, easily, the biggest post that I have ever assembled and covers each act I attended over three days in fairly good detail. There are some great photos by way of Bonnaroo, commentary, and my personal picks/awards I gave out.

Click the link below to read about the whole Bonnaroo experience. I’ve got a few more Bonnaroo goodies up my sleeve, including a lot of bootlegs and MP3s I’ll be sharing with you all very soon!

Unofficial Bonnaroo Commencement

For many, Bonnaroo doesn’t start until Friday afternoon but for the veterans and smart people that like to have a close camping spot – Thursday was the day of Bonnaroo conception. With traffic starting to back up for miles, exits closed down, every highway patrol officer in Tennessee in Manchester, and a luminous THC cloud beginning to hover over I-24 East; Bonnaroo had unofficially kicked off. Thursday was full of great bands at night and the hard labor of “setting up camp” during the 90+ degree afternoon. Centeroo, the area where all of the stages and entertainment are located, didn’t open until about 4 PM. I didn’t see a whole lot of acts on Thursday night but I did see DeVotcka, who I saw headline for Oh No! Oh My! the night before and they were even more incredible that Thursday. I also got to stand in for parts of Matt Costa and David Ford.

Poppin’ The Bonnaroo ’06 Cherry: Day 1

TGIF! You know why? Because that Friday was the first full day of Bonnaroo and it started off with a hell of a musical bang. The first act that I saw was Andrew Bird who played brilliantly. If you ever get a chance to see him live, anywhere, I strongly suggest you check it out – he’ll literally create songs by himself right before your eyes. Next was a brief stop by Seu Jorge‘s stage, which I had high hopes for but was nothing more than mediocre. I think he may lose some flare singing in English. I’ll tell you who doesn’t lose flare when singing in English – Ben Folds. I had heard that he was not impressive live and that he isn’t “that good”. Maybe it was the huge crowd he had, but Mr. Folds rocked the suburbs farmlands of Manchester, TN.
Andrew Bird

Seu Jorge

Ben Folds

Devendra Banhart only built upon the momentum that Folds left with me – playing a great set that included bringing a random audience member on stage to play one of his own songs, neo-hippy dancing, and a song specially crafted for Bonnaroo (White Reggae Troll). Devendra was nothing short of spectacular and almost had me wonder if Bright Eyes could keep a great day of music going.
Devendra Banhart

I was walking to the stage housing Mr. Oberst Inc. and stopped off to see Nickel Creek on the way. If you’re ever in the situation of walking by Nickel Creek on your way to see/do something else … My suggestion is DO NOT keep walking. Nickel Creek, albeit very Bluegrassy, put on an amazing show. I was so drawn in to their show that I missed half of Bright Eyes and forced myself to walk away, although I was extremely impressed by what I had heard.
Nickel Creek

As I got closer and closer to the stage I grew more nervous with each step. Bright Eyes is a tricky beast to tackle. Although they’ve been making great records for a long and have had a noticeable impact on “indie music,” they’re live shows (as of late) have been somewhat dismal. I think most people would agree that Bright Eyes is essentially Connor Oberst renamed and not a band, so when the lead singer/songwriter of aforementioned band gets supremely intoxicated before a show(s) and makes incoherent sense while butchering his own songs… It tends to leave a bitter taste in his fans’ mouths. Throw a huge crowd and 90 degree weather into the mix and BAM! You’ve got yourself a sober and talented Bright Eyes. I was impressed by their show; there was no drunken babbling, a stage presence that Connor has seemed to lack for awhile, and a great set of songs from his lengthy catalogue.
Bright Eyes

Death Cab For Cutie was to follow Bright Eyes on the same stage, but I had already seen them a few times so it was across Centeroo to check out Cat Power. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Chan Marhsall, I had tried to see her once before but failed miserably. This time she was with the Memphis Rhythm Band which had the possibility to be an awesome or awful combo. Luckily, and as no surprise, it wasn’t the latter of the two. Chan has this awkward presence on stage that almost makes her seem angelic, which I’m sure is due (in part) to her being endowed with the voice of a Saint. I did want to see a little bit of Mr. Gibbard (blast my love for his damn catchy lyrics!) so I split early only to be (for 39478 time that day) delightfully surprised. Death Cab sounded better than anytime I had previously seen them. They seemed more excited to play than in past experiences, with everyone jumping all over the place and feeding off of one another’s’ chemistry. They drew a large crowd considering they were playing versus Oysterhead, which Gibbard even mentioned, “And I thought it was going to be awful having to play against the likes of Oysterhead! You guys rock!”
Cat Power

Death Cab For Cutie

Speaking of rock, the legendary Tom Petty was ready to rock and roll by night fall. He came complete with his Heartbreakers and a three and a half hour set. That is a HUGE chunk of time to fill. I hardly knew any Tom Petty, yet there I was amongst 70,000 other drunken fans who sang along with every song. I must admit, Tom Petty (who looked like a skeleton) put on a great show and converted me to appreciate his music. The two biggest highlights for me were when he covered/played Handle Me With Care from his Traveling Wilburys days saying, “To all the Wilburys, wherever they may be traveling tonight,” to a huge crowd ovation. The second highlight was when he played Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around and a female voice kicked in and I thought, “Gee, that sounds an awful lot like Stevie Nicks.” Three seconds later Stevie Nicks herself walked on-stage and started singing with Petty. The enthusiastic crowd, a great setlist, and the surprise visit of Stevie Nicks made the Tom Petty concert worthwhile.
Tom Petty

My Morning Jacket puts on a live show that is just insane. It’s always good. I don’t know how they do it all of the time, maybe its their kickass Kentucky blood, but whatever they do.. it works and works almost too well. Perhaps it was their incredible setlist? No, that can’t be it. Maybe their cover of The Misfits? No, wait.. Maybe their cover of The Who? No, still? Oh, how about when Andrew Bird walks out to join them for 4 songs. Yeah, I’m thinking all of the above ingredients plus an amazing amount of late night energy added to one of the best set at Bonnaroo this year.
My Morning Jacket

And Now Your Feature Presentation: Day 2

The first few days or Bonnaroo were nothing short of amazing. Nothing short of insane. Nothing short of pure excitement all whilst enduring 95 degree weather. But I’d be hard pressed to say that Day 2 wasn’t a day everyone was looking forward, if not the day. There was a singular thought occupying thousands of brains that day: Radiohead.

Before Radiohead could enlighten us all with their amazing set, they had some kick ass opening acts that started at 12:30. The Magic Numbers and Jackie Greene, who I posted on earlier, were two of those acts. Both were equally amazing. I ran back and forth to catch as much as each set as I could. Jackie Greene played like he was possessed staring into the crowd with his eyes half open and closed singing songs that have often been compared to the styling of Dylan. Meanwhile, The Magic Numbers played with more energy than I thought most people could fake at 12:30 in the afternoon. They commented multiple times on how surprised they were at the turnout and praised their fans which is never a bad thing. If you ever get a chance to catch these guys – do yourself a favor and see them.

The Magic Numbers

Jackie Greene

DIY blog-rockers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! disappointed me. I’m gonna go ahead and put that out there. I’ve read mostly good reviews and with such a delightful debut album full of so many great tracks, its usually hard to play a bad live show. “Details Of The War” and “The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth” were the only two tracks they made great live, otherwise their performance was somewhat dismal. Maybe I expected too much? I’ll see them again at some point to make up my mind, but they didn’t seem to have their A-game at ‘Roo.

And then it was on to the main stage for 5.5 hours of waiting. Of course seeing Elvis Costello and Beck made the wait somewhat more enjoyable. I hold Elvis Costello in high esteem, especially his live shows. I saw him last summer with my dad and it was one of the best concerts I have been to. Bonnaroo didn’t prove to be any different, especially with the remarkable of help of his Imposters, Allen Toussaint, and The Crescent City Horns. Adding brass to an Elvis Costello show is a unique twist that only amplified a superb setlist.
Elvis Costello

A long-haired Beck came on next and just happened to open with Devil’s Haircut. Beck played a great great show. I had never got a chance to see him prior to Bonnaroo and he didn’t disappoint me. I asked my friend, “I wonder if he’ll play Do You Realize??” Sure enough he then began to tease the crowd, with just him and his guitar, by playing half-covers of “Do You Realize??” and “Creep” saying, “I don’t think Radiohead is gonna play this one… At least I hope not… Oh well.” As if Beck’s stage presence alone wasn’t enough for the massive audience, he had the help of a dancing maniac (see picture) and some hilarious look-alike puppets.

So, this is the part where Radiohead comes on stage and plays for 2.5 hours. I really cannot put into words just how sensational Radiohead was. It was like achieving nirvana – twice! That’s two lifetimes of spiritual clarity and enlightenment in one Radiohead set. It was everything a Radiohead fan, or a newcomer, could hope for. Thom was bouncing all over the place and full of emotion while Jonny looked as if he was possessed orchestrating the entire show ingeniously. I got to meet a friend of the guy who booked them for Bonnaroo where Radiohead got paid $800,000 plus $2 per ticket sold. That’s over $1 million for one show. Regardless, the show deserves its own review – so look out for one in the not too distant future.

After Radiohead was another great late night show in Balkan Beat Box and The Dresden Dolls. So good, they were, that my friend Emily at JDub Records (who I got to hang out with Bonnaroo) did a great write up of their labels Bonnaroo Bound act. Be sure to read it! She wrote a way better review than I would’ve.

Running On Fumes: Day 3

By Day 3 I was drained. I’m not gonna lie. The combination of late nights, long days, blistering heat, and Radiohead can really drain a man. I only made it around to four acts throughout the day seeing how my caravan had no interest in the evening show of Phil Lesh and Friends. I wasn’t exactly protesting to stay either.

The last day I saw Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, The Streets, Bela Fleck and The Flecktones, and Andrew Bird (again on a side stage). They were all really impressive, though I found The Streets to get somewhat annoying at times. Stephen Malkmus was incredibly good – way better than I had anticipated. Bela Fleck, complete with all the Flecktones, were sensational. They mesh so well as a collective band that it’s like your watching one person play the entire show. Even if you’re a hater of the banjo, you have to respect Bela and their live act.

Stephen Malkmus

The Streets

Bela Fleck

Nathaniel’s Bonnaroo Awards:

Top 5 Best Acts: Radiohead, Beck, Andrew Bird, My Morning Jacket, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones

Top 4 Surprisingly Awesome Acts: Tom Petty, The Magic Numbers, Balkan Beat Box, Stephen Malkmus

Top 4 Over-Hyped Acts: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Seu Jorge, Matisyahu

Overall, Bonnaroo 2006 was more than I could ever have hoped for. The festival is the highest grossing in the world ($15 million) but this year didn’t even compare to last year. The environment, music, and all around audience atmosphere was different/better than 2005. It seems Roo’s trend of only getting stronger and stronger each year is holding out to be true. Hopefully next year will be just as sweet and some of you crazy people will make the trip to join me!

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: