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Bonnaroo: Illustrated

In attempt to miss the rush of 80,000 people upon the quaint town of Manchester, TN, I skipped the Thursday night events to arrive Friday morning. I landed at the 11th annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival eager to obtain the full experience through spending the majority of my time in Centeroo and Main Venue, seeing performances, seeing all the vendors, and sampling the wide array of carnival cuisine. Thanks to my primo campsite location, I was a short walk from this main event.

After setting up camp I followed the crowd to hear the first band of Friday, The Kooks. The British pop-rockers started the day off right, while a little funk from The Soul Rebels and Shaon-Jones & the Dap-Kings built up the energy for things to come on “What,†the festival’s largest stage. After a mesmerizing and lively performance from The Avett Brothers, I knew it was worth the four and a half hour car ride from Athens, especially after witnessing a bro propose to the hippy-girl of his dreams during Paranoia in Bb Major (I would’ve gone with January Wedding, but I guess that’s too cliché). Later that night, Atlanta rapper, Ludacris, had his first ever appearance at the festival, while Feist dazzled the “Which†Stage to a crowd full of fellow Canucks. Foster the People kept the crowd dancing for an hour before finally playing their hit single and letting people go for the night’s headliner, Radiohead. Thus, after a long day of music, sweat, several beers, and a lot of second-hand smoke, I stood in a field surrounded by swirling glow sticks, half naked noodlers, and massive quantities of various paraphernalia listening to Thom Yorke croon. 


Day two was just as long as the first, from the incredible fiddling of Casey Driessen to the bluegrass stylings of The Devil Makes Three, there was a plethora of good music to be heard. Blind Pilot had the crowd swaying to some tunes from “Portlandia,” while Temper Trap drew a large audience to hear the hits (and misses) of vocalist Dougy Mandagi. Danny Glover, AKA Troy Barnes from “Community,” AKA Childish Gambino, pumped up the crowd with his free styling, fast-talking, pop-reference rap, before the legendary Roots (now household names thanks to Jimmy Fallon) rocked, bopped, and shredded as the sun set on the festival. Dispatch fittingly prepared the crowd for Saturday’s headliner, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, who jammed until midnight when it was time for heavy metal godfather, Alice Cooper, to put on a show. For the fans of the hallucinogenics and party drugs, Skrillex had them occupied till close to four in the morning. 


The final day of the festival got a proper start from the power-rock Belgian duo, Black Box Rebellion. Taking time to see a few of the numerous comedic acts that included Aziz Ansari, Brian Posehn. Collin Hay, and Judah Friedlander, I stopped at the Comedy Theatre tent to laugh hysterically at the likes of Moshe Kasher, Nick Thune, improv genius Reggie Watts, and New Zealander Rhys Darby. The rest of the day was a long and endless stint of great performances, from the younger band Grouplove to the mature yet always playful Beach Boys. Between the endless beach balls and minimal clothing on most Bonnaroo attendees, it was hard not to think you were at the beach during Surfin’ USA. After twelve years of solo work, Ben Folds added the Five back, inviting his former band members to perform “oldies†(despite being in studio finishing up a new album) and asked the crowd to simultaneously “flip him the bird†as he took video. Bon Iver took the stage in the late afternoon on the only day with poor weather, which seemed fit, as Justin Vernon lulled everyone in an out of sleep under the overcast sky. It was a battle for second-to-last as The Shins, Young the Giant, Fun, and The Civil Wars all played during the same slot, pleasuring the ears of thousands, no matter their fancy. Finally, the festival concluded with four-hour jam fest by Phish for all the hippies and true festival-goers to enjoy. 
 There was an abundance of music, but there was much more to the experience than just that. Setting up camp in a field with 80,000 of happy and ridiculously friendly people can only be expected from a festival that requires its patrons to “radiate positivity.†There was the endless supply of bizarre ensembles, from men far past their prime wearing nothing but tutus, to women exposing all sorts of cellulite as they prance around in short-shorts, fur boots and a cowboy hat. There was the usual supply of troublemakers, hippies, hipsters, druggies, naked chicks, naked dudes, almost naked dudes in Borat-thongs, and babies with headphones. Surprisingly, there were also a large number of older folks (it obviously is never to late to party), as well as a great number of children (never to early to start). Thusly, the experience of Bonnaroo becomes just as much about the people you spend those three to four days with as it is the music. 
 So, in conclusion, the 11th annual Bonnaroo festival proved to be bigger, bolder, and better than ever, keeping people hydrated with new water fountains and shaded under newly planted trees. From amazing music from countless artists of all genres and infinite number of “odd-balls,†the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival is something that must be experienced first hand to give proper justice.