10 things we learned at Bonnaroo
- By Amy Nielsen -
- Jun 15, 2012
From tattoos to Radiohead, class warfare to open container policies, here are 10 things we learned at Bonnaroo...
10. Everyone loves a light show
Bonnaroo is all about the music, and then it’s all about the ‘experience’ (wink wink), which explains why we couldn’t ignore the visual spectacle accompanying the shows this weekend. Aside from reliably brilliant performances by Radiohead, with their giant shifting LED panels, and Skrillex, who rumbled the crowd from behind a hulking illuminated spaceship console, the festival grounds were aglow after dark. Centeroo’s largest structures pulsed and shifted in rainbow patterns, a sight stimulating enough to dizzy even the most sober of Bonnaroovians. UFO-like lanterns floated away into the sky. Glowsticks dotted the ground and countless light-emitting toys adorned sunburned bodies. Fireworks boomed during the headliners’ performances; while Radiohead closed their set with ‘Paranoid Android’ on Friday night, even surly frontman Thom Yorke looked up and smiled.
9. If you’re thinking of getting that tattoo, just do it
Have reservations about putting those lyrics on your skin for life? Quit being such a prude. You are the only one without a tattoo, after all. Bonnaroo showed us that music lovers have no fear of going under the needle, as they proudly bared their ink this weekend in the hot Tennessee sun. On display at the permanent art show were at least two different South Park tats, a plate-sized Red Hot Chili Peppers emblem, large calf portraits, a leg sleeve (a pant leg?), a be-Death-Star’d torso, and a plethora of meaningful caution-to-the-wind phrases like ‘Crazy Fool.’ Surely these pop culture icons and words of wisdom mean something to their hosts, and well, your tattoo idea can’t be that bad.
8. Rock and roll lives on. Yes, it does
While you might not hear it on the hit music station these days, we definitely found rock’s steady pulse at Bonnaroo this weekend, and what a relief! Of all the heavy-hitting acts, like speed rockers Monstro, dark electro-rock heroine EMA, southern rock revivalists The Dirty Guv’nahs and moody, 70s haired crooner Kurt Vile (and the Violators), it was Gary Clark Jr. who emerged as modern rock and roll’s beating heart. The young guitarist, or Jimi Hendrix 2.0 as he should be known, casually blew the faces off the sleepy crowd the morning after the Red Hot Chili Peppers took the same stage. If The Black Keys feel too slick these days, Gary Clark Jr. has the grit you’re craving, and he’s got the technical chops to match. Long live!
7. The whole faux-hippie, tribal-neon-hipster thing is finally over
It’s been a few years since the ‘festival chic’ trend took root, when feathers, neon, headbands and spandex somehow meshed to become socially acceptable festival garb. We are happy to report that, like any other played out trend, its end has arrived. This weekend, we noticed a refreshing lack of pseudo-earth child pretense one might still find lingering at Coachella - sorry, Coachella - and the masses at Bonnaroo went for practical over pretty. Teva’s, Tom’s and basic tank tops were the norm to combat the farm’s heat and grime. Even Santigold’s get-up wasn’t as loud as expected, and Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs dabbed on only a little bit of war paint to remind us of the old times. Rest in peace, Woodstock by American Apparel circa 2007.
6. Covers are to Bonnaroo what surprise guests are to Coachella
Bonnaroo may not always lure the Top 40 brigade out to perform one-offs in its dusty Tennessee fields, but damn did we get some sweet covers this year. Everyone knows covering a song, ironically genre-hopping or not, is the quickest way to earn some buzz, and we say why the hell not. In odes to the recently deceased, Grouplove gave a nod to Whitney Houston with ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ and Skrillex spun ‘Sabotage’ in honor of the Beastie Boys’ late Adam Yauch. Bluegrass band The Punch Brothers composed an eerily authentic string version of Radiohead’s spacey ‘Kid A,’ while groovy rock ensemble Moon Taxi covered Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing In the Name’ and Alice Cooper graced us with - oh, but who else - Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way.’ That’s one you would have to see to believe.
5. You should’ve quit that bad habit beforehand
Like a baseball game or the farmer’s market, Bonnaroo exists in an economic bubble. Forgot to bring cigarettes? That’ll be $16 a pack, no joke. Even this vendor’s sign read ‘Yes, way.’ Black coffee? Four dollars, please. So if you stayed up too late for Flying Lotus or GZA, you better have had a fat wallet at the ready or you were going to suffer the next morning! Even basic needs were pricey, at $7 for a too-hot stall shower and $10 for the average burrito. The things that were free were, like shade, water, and bowel relief receptacles, were of course scarce and inconvenient to obtain. However, being the opportunistic Americans we are, some took advantage of the economic climate and stocked up on necessities (cigs and glowsticks) to peddle at below-market prices. One young man used his backpack to advertise American Spirits at $10 a pack. That guy sure did his market research.
4. What’s new is old (or vice versa)
If the arrival of performing holograms weren’t enough indication, we’re here to let you know that modern American culture is retro-obsessed. While Instagram turns smartphone snapshots into aging polaroids, today’s music will have you believe you were actually holding that old camera. Besides welcoming the Beach Boys to the lineup, vintage sounds had a distinct presence in a majority of Bonnaroo’s newer music. Relative newbies like Orgone, Moon Taxi and the much buzzed-about Alabama Shakes all leaned heavily on soulful roots rock, while Yelawolf showcased his old school scratch skills the day before Black Star and Ludacris had us longing for more late-nineties rap. If the music at Bonnaroo wasn’t bathed in synths and bass, chances are it was either old or heavily retro-influenced.
3. It was ninety-nine percent fun, one percent class warfare
The jerks sitting in the first class cabin, that schmuck with the penthouse apartment, the kids lounging in the VIP section near the What stage. Some things in life just don’t seem fair when waved right in front of your nose. Alas, what we have learned this weekend is that no matter how many hours you wait to see your favorite band up close at a festival, there will almost always be someone who loves them less but is willing to pay more just so they can stand in front of you. We shake our fists at you, soulless VIP pit infiltrators who just rolled out of your air conditioned RV’s after a catered food coma!
2. An open container policy might just be the best thing ever
While we had to leave our plastic handles of booze at the campsite - no glass and no outside liquids allowed on the festival grounds - there wasn’t much to complain about on the alcohol front this weekend. Beer flowed more plentiful than water (seriously) for the 21+ crowd, with more watering holes than water towers and shorter lines for the former. What’s more, if you were able to nurse your pour long enough, you could take it from the Brooers Festival tent to the What stage, through the corporate sponsorship lounges and into the porta-potties, if so desired. No brown paper bags here! To freedom.
1. There ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby
For those who enjoy sharing their lives and experiencing others’ via social media, Bonnaroo was a real treat. Alongside each tent and stage were Facebook ‘Check-In’ towers, where swiping your wristband would check you in to whatever show you wanted to brag about to your online network. Of course, some skeptics made sure to ruin the fun, scribbling ‘Big Brother thanks you!’ by the scanners. But the draw of a two-way vicarious experience was undeniable. ?uestlove reliably tweeted about his Roots performance and Superjam surprise guest D’Angelo, and Ben Folds even stopped midway through a song to tweet a photo of the crowd to his followers. Bonnaroo included those at home, alright; in fact, next year we may just watch the whole thing on livestream from the comfort of the couch. But it wouldn’t feel right, and it wouldn’t be Bonnaroo. As tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus exclaimed upon taking the stage, ‘Well, holy shit. Bonnaroo is everything they say it is,’ and that’s in real life.