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Bonnaroo 2013: Four days at the world's greatest music festival

By Jackson Howard, Daily Arts Writer
Published June 20, 2013

There’s something really, well, special, about going to a farm in the middle of Tennessee with nearly 100,000 other people for a four-day music festival. There are the incredibly revolting Port-A-Potties, the erratic weather that can bring 100-degree heat followed by an apocalyptic thunderstorm, and the inevitability that you will be forced up against someone that a) has not showered in days, b) has hair in really weird places and/or c) is doing whatever drug is in their possession (weed, mushrooms, ecstasy, unrecognizable powders that scare me) in front of you and your mother, making both of you unspeakably uncomfortable.

All that aside, in a world of seemingly impending doom, destruction and despair, Bonnaroo is an anomaly, a paradoxical utopia that on paper looks impossible but in practice is one of 21st century society’s greatest accomplishments.

Think about it. Somehow, tens of thousands of people from all over this God-forsaken country and planet — people from California and Brazil, Jews and Buddhists, straights and gays, and everything in between — come together once a year at a 700-acre farm in no-man’s-land, Tennessee in the name of music, art and an intangible feeling that can only be called Bonnaroo. This past weekend was my fifth trip down to Manchester, and despite my swollen feet, sun-burnt shoulders and the exhaustion of having my never-aging mother Sofie, who inexplicably has the energy to see nine concerts back-to-back, as my companion, I had maybe the greatest weekend of my 19-year-old life.

Yes, I got to see some of my favorite musicians play music non-stop for four days. But what really makes Bonnaroo so special are my fellow Bonnaroovians — a family of dedicated, relentless, costume-wearing, tattoo-flaunting, borderline-psychotic music lovers. Three-hundred and sixty-one days of the year, we trod along as students, office managers, secretaries, advertising consultants and garbage men, but for four glorious days, our inner ’Roo is allowed to emerge, and what a sight to see: Superman capes, an obese man with pasties on his nipples, a woman in a full banana costume and lots and lots of boobs. It’s hot, it’s overpriced and it’s a hell-of-a schlep, but year after year, people come back to the farm because it’s Bonnaroo. And once the Roo is in your system, you’re never getting rid of it.


Being Year 5, Sofie and I had a near-perfect sense of how to navigate the pit of chaos that is Bonnaroo (the venues are named as follows: That Tent, This Tent, The Other Tent, Which Stage and What Stage. Yeah. Confusing.). We wasted no time on Thursday night, going to see Haim, Deap Vally and Alt-J at a variety of tents. Thursday night is always fun: Not as many people are there, and more up-and-coming bands usually play. The two girl groups, Haim and Deap Vally, both put on great shows, with Haim running through a fun set of ’80s-infused, harmony-laden pop-rock and Deap Vally shredding through a ferocious, sexy, White Stripes-esque hour of music. We arrived at Alt-J to find This Tent overflowing with fans, and we fought to get even a decent look at the group (that’s another thing about Bonnaroo. There are always more people.) The band played songs from their incredibly catchy and well-executed debut, An Awesome Wave, and though their often-mumbled lyrics were pretty difficult to make out (“I dare you to understand one word” Sofie whisper-shouted), their tight grooves and dedicated fans made for a great show, climaxing with the “I love you so” chants of “Breezeblocks.” By the end, my knees were already shaking with fatigue, which worried me considering we had only been at the festival for five hours. I went to bed at 1 a.m. both excited and nervous for the next day.


My mother and I flew through nine concerts on Friday, and I had to drink more than a few Red Bulls to stay alive.