How do I even put into words the experience that is Bonnaroo? It’s really impossible, but I’ll do my best.
The music, oh the music. I’ve never been a Beatles or Paul McCartney fan. I appreciate the music and enjoy some of their songs. But the nearly three-hour McCartney headliner on Friday night was probably the most monumental music experience I’ve witnessed. Beatles fan or not, it’s impossible not to appreciate the great performer that is Paul McCartney. Rolling Stone called it the greatest headliner in Bonnaroo history.
There were plenty of bands that gave outstanding performances: Tom Petty, Jack Johnson, Alt J, Foals, Tallest Man on Earth, Of Monsters and Men, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Local Natives, The National, Walk the Moon … the list goes on and on.
There is an arts element as well. It amazed me on the first night to happen upon several vendors exhibiting great artwork.
There was all kinds of shopping, from dresses to a build-your-own-drum workshop. If not for a quickly dwindling supply of cash these shoes would’ve gone home with us on the final day.
The food was outstanding. There are the typical corn dog and funnel cake vendors, but there’s also a food truck area.
And really, who can complain about the option to buy gourmet macaroni and cheese at a music festival?
Did you say beer? No, well you should, because there’s plenty of that for sale too. The Broo’ers Festival features several microbrews, some of which are larger ones like Atlanta’s Sweetwater and California’s Lagunitas. But there were smaller regional ones from Birmingham, Ala., and Asheville, N.C., too.
If you missed it last week, I wrote about my expectations for my first Bonnaroo experience. I had several bands in mind and for the most part saw them. But I was also excited about the unknown. And it started as soon as we drove into the gate the first evening.
As we pulled into the West Tollbooth and exited our car for it to be searched one of the several volunteers standing there asked if this was our first Roo experience. When we said it was he told us not to be shocked at anything we’d see.
And what could that be? “People will be having sex, you might see some weed, people acting really crazy. But everyone is having a great time. You’ll love it.” That pretty much summed up what I already had been expecting, so no surprises there really. The fact that he told us that, though, might have been the surprise.
I won’t confirm or deny what adult activities I might have witnessed.
The festival is crazy, honestly, but it’s not really for lewd behavior. People dressed as Gumby in 90 degree heat, a mass of crowd surfers because Kim of fun band Matt and Kim told the crowd in the back to push their way up by surfing. That was followed by Kim walking across the heads of those in the front of the crowd. She walked for what seemed like a couple of minutes, never falling. Truly impressive.
What else was crazy? The willingness of so many people to slum it in the campgrounds, honestly. If you Bonnaroo camping is the norm, but I was fortunate that my wife grew up less than three miles from the property. So we “slummed” it at my in-laws’ house with a comfortable bed and nice shower. And air conditioning. I. Must. Have. Air. Conditioning.
I’m not the camping type, even though I realize experiencing Bonnaroo gets to another level when camping. I experienced the great tent city hanging out with friends at their campsite. Good enough for me.
And speaking of camping, I’ve never seen such a well-designed layout of a camping city. The campgrounds are broken down into pods with each pod having their own shower facilities and toilets. The streets are named and laid out in a rough grid system.
And maybe you’re a bit more like me and prefer air conditioning. There are lots of camps set up for RVs. And I’m not talking the little pop-up campers – although there are plenty of those too. The big RVs, even the ones seen at big-time college football games, are scattered throughout. These guys aren’t playing around.
And about that lewd behavior. Sure, late night at Bonnaroo isn’t Rated PG. If the smell and even sight of pot bothers you then yes, it’s questionable behavior. That warning of public sex? I never saw it, although I’m sure it was going on in tents and in dark places on the grounds. I saw a few women walk around topless. But honestly, spend a few minutes on a beach in Europe and that’s the rule, not the exception. I saw plenty of children in attendance and if I weren’t such a cheap person I would’ve bought a third ticket so our son could attend some of the shows.
In general, Bonnaroo is a community of about 100,000 music and art lovers just out to enjoy music, their friends, meeting new people, and having a great time.
I had several bands that I really wanted to see. And for the most part I did. But some of the cooler experiences were just popping in on random tents to see musicians who weren’t on my radar. For example, I’m familiar with Jim James, the lead singer of My Morning Jacket. But I wasn’t planning to watch him play. I’m so glad we did. He is such a talented and entertaining musician. Happened upon James McCartney on one of the smaller stages. Turns out he’s the only son of Sir Paul. Actor Ed Helms leading a strong bluegrass super jam on the final night was interesting.
My takeaway from Bonnaroo 2013? It’s an amazing experience that as a fan of music I’m thrilled I was able to be a part. Life is full of opportunities to experience. We can give in to our reservations and miss out on what could be exceptional experiences. Or we can choose to take a chance and participate. I’m glad I participated and I look forward to getting back to Bonnaroo.