by Jack Dodson for The Pendulum (Elon University, NC)
Manchester, Tenn–It was 2 a.m. and a man in a bunny mask was having a dance off against someone in a Gumbi costume. The audience formed a giant circle to watch it happen, but it dissolved into a mosh pit as Dan Deacon, the performer, yelled, “Now everyone.”
The Deacon concert kicked off what was to be an eventful third night at Bonnaroo — one that lasted until the sun was beginning to shine on the 650-acre field packed with tents, performers and vendors. With Deadmau5, GWAR and The Disco Biscuits still in line for sets, the shows went on until 6:30 a.m. Sunday.
From June 10 to 14, the Bonnaroo Arts and Music Festival rocked central Tennessee, bringing about 80,000 fans and more than a hundred artists to Manchester for the festival’s ninth year.
Headliners at the festival included Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder, Kings of Leon, Weezer and Dave Matthews Band. But those weren’t the only big names, and there were plenty of unknowns. With everyone from Les Claypool to Phoenix and everyone in between, the festival brought almost any type of music to the stage.
Concert-goers battled unrelenting sun throughout the weekend, taking breaks in the fountains when they could. Something about the Bonnaroo atmosphere makes it a distinct feeling — between the push for sustainability, the endless lineup and the feel of not showering for four days, the festival offers an experience that’s hard to find elsewhere.
“It was really entertaining, but it was hot,” said Nashville-native Julie Godwin. It was her first time at the festival after she decided to come when her friend had an extra ticket. “I thought that the bands were really good,” she said. “There were a lot that I knew.”
She said her favorite concert was seeing Jay-Z, just because she’d never been to a rap concert and enjoyed seeing him perform. And the Avett Brothers show for her was just as good as it usually is, since it was the sixth time she’d seen them in concert.
But she skipped out on the camping part, something that makes the Bonnaroo experience unique from most music festivals. She stayed at a friend’s house in Manchester, near by the festival site.
“I was so happy to get back to the house (every night),” she said, “after seeing how messy I got and seeing how many other people were there.”
For Nick Johnson, though, a rising junior at Pennsylvania State University, his first time at the festival this year proved to be everything he hoped it would be.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” Johnson said. “It was just amazing. Seeing all the bands…one’s I’ll never get to see living in a place like central Pennsylvania.”
He said the vibe of the festival — meeting new people and listening to music all day — is part of why he enjoyed it so much. The National was his favorite set, he said, because of the energy the band had on stage and the unconventional antics of lead singer Matt Berninger.
“When he jumped out into the crowd and was running around — that was really, really awesome,” Johnson said.
But his favorite performance was The Flaming Lips, a midnight show on the second night filled with strobe lights, LCD screens and megaphones, not to mention a large amount of confetti.
“It was the most over the top show I’d ever seen,” he said, “in a good way. It enhanced the music instead of distracting from it.”
But Johnson’s favorite moment came during his last night at Bonnaroo. While watching the Phoenix show, he hung out with a bunch of people he’d met and become friends with over the four days at the festival.
“It was that sense of community that just sort of spontaneously formed over the course of the four days knowing each other,” he said.
Johnson said he’s already started planning his trip for next year to see the festival again with friends because he enjoyed himself so much this year.
“We’re plotting out getting a trailer or a camper and trying to learn from our mistakes from this year,” he said, “some of our unpreparedness.”