This was my first year to ever attend Bonnaroo, one of the largest and most attended festivals that happens to be forty-five minutes away from my house. It takes place in Manchester, TN beginning with camping opening Wednesday night and going all the way through live music Sunday night, but not having to leave till Monday. Although it was rumored that attendance was down this year from previous years coming from a person that was on the ground every day, it seemed like there was no problem selling tickets despite the increase in price. Bonnaroo also took place the same weekend as the CMA’s in Nashville, just sixty miles away which either made fans choose one, split the weekend, or take advantage of the helicopter provided by Uber that would take you to both (yes, seriously). Each day was in the upper 90’s, with the heat index reaching over 100 degrees each day. Bonnaroo fans are incredibly resilient, making it to shows from noon to 5am daily, camping for 4-5 days, traveling from all over the world, and prepared to endure the Roo Flu that would most certainly follow, all with big smiles, high-fives, and kind words.
The lineup this year was an interesting one. While some were disappointed, others were more than impressed. Overall you only get one 15 year anniversary and Bonnaroo did it right. It brought many up and coming bands such as Waxahatchee (above). I was lying the grass taking a break from the heat when I heard lead singer Katie Crutchfiel say the words, “Brock Turner is a rapist, and it doesn’t matter what else he’s done,” and immediately got up to photograph them. It also brought Con Brio, a 7-piece band only three years old with incredible energy and quite the interesting back story. Lead vocalist Ziek McCarter’s dancing would undoubtedly make James Brown smile. Mothers are a band that just debuted their first album earlier this year. They played on The Who stage, a smaller stage at the festival, but commanded it as if it were bigger. Adventure Club was one of the late night EDM sets, musicians I hadn’t heard of before, but that definitely blew me away. They were up against Big Grams for the time slot, but definitely gained a large crowd despite sharing the time with a member of Outkast. I also caught Sara Watkins, a bluegrass musician, while that is not usually my genre of choice this girl was a strong performer. She had a wonderful voice and absolutely killed it on the violin.
The lineup also included huge names such as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (above). Five songs into his set Centeroo had to be evacuated on day three due to the threat of bad weather with lightning being sighted all over. Thankfully, the festival did continue roughly thirty minutes later allowing him to continue and with minimal changes to the schedule for the rest of the night. I was more than impressed with his performance and especially with his talk of free love regardless of gender, sexuality, or background. The weekend also included big hitters such as LCD Soundsystem, Pearl Jam, and Dead & Company. Halsey was another artist I was really caught off guard by over the weekend. She had not only a great stage presence but interacted with the photographers, and by interacted with the photographers I mean she gave us the finger while singing the lyrics, “Tired of all these cameras flashing,” which I absolutely loved. Her set also included smoke and fire, two things people always love. I finally got to the catch The Chainsmokers and was very surprised with their live set. Andrew Taggart came down from behind the mixer and interacted with the crowd plenty including a shoutout to the fans that had been around since before their popular song “Roses”. They also debuted a song for the first time ever with Halsey called “Closer,” a great experience added to the Bonnaroo weekend. The weekend also included surprise appearances from Chance the Rapper, Hayley Williams, Pharell, and many more.
Bonnaroo is like another world where if you don’t know what time it is it’s okay, where every stage you walk past you stop for five minutes because you like what you’re hearing, where it’s okay if you haven’t showered in three days because no one else has either, and where everyone is happy to be together with thousands of strangers. No matter if you’re camping in a tiny tent in general admission or if you’re posted up in an RV in VIP camping with a front porch and pink flamingos outside. While the price did go up this year, a little higher than I think some expected I would say it was completely worth it. This was the first year Bonnaroo has had real indoor plumbing. In the last year two permanent buildings were constructed each housing 150 toilets, which were incredibly clean every day of the festival no matter if it was 4pm of 3am. As a frequent festival goer and I’m sure others will agree, this is like a haven and one of the best new additions to Bonnaroo. I was also able to debut MEB’s snapchat (MEBMusic) that seemed to be a great success and an addition to the MEB tool belt to be used much more in the future. Overall, this was an experience of a lifetime.
Check out the full gallery on MEB’s Flickr