Every once in awhile, our lives offer us the opportunity to be schooled. As a kid we are constantly presented with circumstances that teach us how things work, and hopefully sometimes why they work. As I get older and the years pass, I’ve realized how easy it is to become stuck in cyclical thinking, continuously applying the same perspective to every situation. But as I said, occasionally, life throws throws you a bone that completely alters your sense of direction.
Bonnaroo was no exception to this rule.
I have been a festival participant now for just over a decade. My first being a small world music gathering called Bliss Fest in northern Michigan back in 2000. Since then, I’ve enjoyed my fair share of Phish shows, and other smaller local festivals. I’ve always been tempted by Bonnaroo, but never brave enough to dive into it head first.
As fate would have it, our management company has been associated with Bonnaroo for 7 years, and because of this was able to hook us up with access passes for the weekend (we love you Brian Asplin!). We arrived on the scene on Wednesday, about six hours before the general gates opened. The festival grounds were a ghost land, silent with the emptiness of their vacancy from the last year. But beyond the gates, you could feel the buzz of anticipation for the magic that was beginning to manifest.
Thursday marked the kick off of the festival, there wasn’t a whole lot of music that I was interested in seeing during the day so I opted to zip around on a golf cart checking out the sites and scenes going on around the various camp sites. It was really amazing to see the wide range in which people lived at Bonnaroo. It’s truly a pop up tent city, with people living under tarps, and others paying 25k to relax in their own souped up tour bus. There were horrific port-a-potties (of which thankfully I avoided entirely), and swanky green marbled bathrooms for the fancier or randomly hooked up folks. So many different people from so many different places all there with the same shared love of music. So. RAD.
Now I am not a music critic, that would make me foolish. As someone who has a career in the music business, I consider myself an apprentice and appreciator of all kinds of sounds and sights. Regardless of quality, there is always, always, ALWAYS something to be learned by any performance. The minute I begin to judge, is the minute I stop learning. Here’s a list of the shows I saw:
Pimps of Joytime
Gypsy Hands Tribal Dance
Sharon Van Etten
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
Florence + The Machine
Forro in the Dark
Mumford and Sons
The Black Keys
Dr. John w/ The ORIGINAL Meters
Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea
Oh, and I was also assaulted out of my sleep by the bad ass heavy beats of Big Boi, and the happy trance instrumentals of Ratatat, but that’s a story for a whole other day.
My favorite show hands down was Bootsy Collins. I have never IN MY LIFE heard funk as in the pocket as that band, good lord. The audience just kept dancing and dancing, with Bootsy in the audience for nearly 20 minutes, joining the festivities. It really says something when a band can groove on the same section for up to 45 minutes, but at no point does it get tedious. Bootsy, you’re a-okay with me my friend. Worst show? Surprisingly, and disappointingly, Florence+The Machine. Surprising, because it was one of the shows I was most looking forward to. Disappointing because it seemed to lack focus and direction. It all sort of just floated above the surface, seemingly to brainwash the audience. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but it felt slightly cultish, which in turn made me nervous, and after about five songs, I fled to dinner.
I’m still registering what happened at Bonnaroo. I literally felt like I was at rock and roll university and sitting in on a weekend intensive watching all of these wide ranging performances by some of the most buzz worthy musicians from both yesteryear and today. Some of it was mind bogglingly beautiful. Some of it made me wonder who the hell was booking some of these acts. But that’s the miracle of music. Like our finger prints and our life stories, each song, each band, each performance is a manifestation of the musicians own life. No one can ever REALLY be compared to another, because in order to do so you have to blur out so many of the details in order to line the generalities up.
I feel altered and inspired. Renewed, refreshed, and ready for action. So there you have it Bonnaroo, I came in with an open heart and mind ready to be changed, and you succeeded. So thanks for reminding me that I can in fact still be schooled.