Posted on June 15, 2011


You think you’re low maintenance. Then you go to Bonnaroo.

This was, perhaps not shockingly, the most striking reminder I received over the course of June 9-12. Bonnaroo 2011–without a doubt the hottest and dirtiest four days of my young adulthood–was no cake walk for a lady who likes her showers, shade and produce. Besides my ginger curse (see: layers upon layers of 50-70 SPF sunscreen), I also faced early-morning wake-up calls compliments of the sun, living like a homeless person stocked with Boca Burgers and beer, and long days of anxious anticipation for the evenings and nights of music to come.

I traveled to Manchester and subsequently lived in filth and funk with five dudes: my brother Frank and his friends Ray, Patrick, Michael and Johnny.

Here we are on the last day, which we labeled “Afghaniroo” because of the dust. (L-R me, Johnny, Frank, Ray, Michael, Patrick)

But it was all worth it. I hadn’t experienced such a surplus of my beloved artists live since the four Warped Tours I attended during my emo phase as a youngster (rough patch–don’t wanna talk about it). And of course, Bonnaroo surpassed those jam-packed days of screamo and pop-punk by miles of time, taste and sound. I also gained a few nuggets of knowledge along the way.

Lessons Learned:

-Some hippies are hypocrites. Or should I say hippiecrites. Badung ching! Wow! For a festival filled with naked sketchers with hearts o’ gold, some hippies sure don’t know how to clean up after themselves. Despite widespread and thorough efforts by onsite volunteers to collect and separate trash (compost, landfill, recycling), it remained EVERYWHERE. So much for environmental awareness, children of the soil! Shame on you!

-Never name my child Molly. Listen, folks–I come from a conservative Catholic family. I might pride myself in my worldliness compared to the hefty population of Bible Belt Christians who surround me on a daily basis, but I DON’T KNOW JACK ’bout drugs. Yeah, I’ve heard of a lot of them, but I haven’t seen so many in use in my life. Now, for instance, I suppose that I can cross “Being Offered Opium” off my bucket list (SARCASM. I DID NOT ACCEPT.). But I digress–Molly, aka MDMA, aka Ecstasy, is one of the most frequently dabbled in drugs at the ‘Roo–at least, it was during the Bassnectar set I moped through (this gal has retired from womping). So as I watched these drugged out high schoolers (I assume they were young, and though I’m entering my senior year of college, I refuse to label anyone younger than I anything older than “high schooler”) ask, “Where’s Molly? Have you seen her?” I had a revelation–any parent who has ever named their child Molly either a) loved ecstasy during their hippie/bi-curious/anarchist phase or b) has stayed seated in the arena of street drug-ignorant yups. So no Molly for me, ever. In neither human nor pill nor powder form. 

-If you like Wavves, well… have you seen my respect for you? I think it disappeared. That’s all I have to say about that.

-Who are all these Canadians, and why are they so patriotic? I realize this is not not a lesson but instead a question, and I’m only 85 percent serious when I say this, but REALLY, Canadians? Did your government ship all of you down to Tennessee to sing the Canadian national anthem before The Knux’s set because they thought maybe hippies would have some respect for your nation? Did they not realize that a U-S-A! chant would immediately ensue after your citizens were booed off-course by the most peaceful people in America? Did you really think Frank wouldn’t try to strike down your Canada pole with every beach ball that crossed his path? Did you not know that, even if you’re good-looking, having a Canadian flag draped around your neck is a turnoff? On behalf of the rest of the patriots of Bonnaroo, please return to being America’s accessory. Or next time, at least keep your Canadian-ness to yourself. Red, white and ‘roo, baby!

-Appreciate all you have. As a girl, when you get to day four of Bonnaroo and your hair feels matted, like your American Girl Felicity doll’s used to, it really puts things in perspective. Running water is a godsend. As are vegetables. And beds. And electricity. You get it.

Lest we forget why I roughed it all weekend, though, here is a summary of my favorite performances:

1) MY MORNING JACKET. Perhaps the festival band of all festival bands, My Morning Jacket could not be beat at Bonnaroo. They played song after song with perfection, Jim James’ hair blowing in the wind as if God were pushing it back and whispering, “Keep going, Jim, you’re doing great!” We jammed, and we jammed hard. We may or may not have even been asked for class-A drugs because people thought they prompted our dancing and giddiness. Pictured below is me in my wildest state of ‘roophoria, with the main stage in back left.

2) Junip. I don’t think it was just my personal attachment to Jose Gonzalez, lead singer of Junip, that caused the band’s set to be my second favorite. Even though Gonzalez is responsible for one of my favorite songs of all time, it wasn’t just my state of awe and happiness in being fifth row, dead center to watch him perform. Junip’s meandering, multifaceted jams capped my festival experience perfectly. 

Since I figure many readers have never heard Junip, here’s one of my favorite songs of theirs, “Black Refuge.”

3) The Black Keys. After being very close for the Wiz Khalifa set at the main stage, we ventured even closer for The Black Keys and Eminem. So close, in fact, that we stood right behind the pit section for both. After Aziz Ansari hilariously introduced The Black Keys, I was promptly rocked throughout a blur of an hour and a half.

Our spot for The Black Keys and Eminem

4) Eminem. Whether you’re a fan of Eminem or not, you cannot deny that he’s a paragon of our generation. He’s been with us since our childhood. And as he performed “Stan” (remember that song with Dido?), Eminem reminded me of that very fact. Both a musical treat and a truly nostalgic experience.

Enimem in the center. Click photo to enlarge.

5) J. Cole. I’m not well-versed in the J. Cole discography (er, mixtapeography?), but boy, did his set impress me. For a young rapper to not perform over his own track, and to hype the crowd perfectly, J. Cole set the bar on This Stage for the rest of the fest. This guy is a legitimate entertainer, and he’s one to look out for. Check out his awesome, one-take video for “Who Dat” below:

6) Childish Gambino. Well, duh. Those who know me or frequent SYIH understand my undying love for Donald Glover, so to be perfectly honest, his set could have sucked and it still would have landed in my favorites. But this didn’t happen to be the case. Though Gambino’s show at the Variety Playhouse in May was populated by fans familiar with his lyrics, this ‘Roo set seemed to be filled with less devoted listeners–and many more people in general–who danced and waved their arms in genuine awe of Glover’s ability. He spits witty double entendres and compliments them with a gentle falsetto. It’s unadulterated talent.

7) Ratatat. No longer just my favorite Pandora station for studying, Ratatat put on a fun–and truly trippy–live show. See for yourself:

Honorable Mentions: Ray LaMontagne-missed 1/4 of his set hoping to see Jack White play with Wanda Jackson (FAIL WHALE), so it simply wasn’t as enjoyable as his show at The Tabernacle in ’08–one of my favorite shows of all time; Wiz Khalifa-who, impressively, did not rap over a track, AND Amber Rose was there; Twin Shadow-a band I knew nothing about but was impressed by and have since jammed to on the reg

Others I saw: Futurebirds, The Knux, Matt & Kim, The Sword, Atmosphere, Wanda Jackson, Bassnectar (get me away from these high school chach bags on Molly plz), Big Boi (who would’ve surely been in my top 5, had I not only made it to three songs), Lil Wayne, Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea, Iron & Wine, Cold War Kids (and Wavves, if I hadn’t walked out halfway through the second song)

Ultimately, Bonnaroo transcends music and art. For four unique days of the year, it’s a lifestyle–one to be experienced by any fan at least once in his or her lifetime.

As I walked into Centeroo for the first time as Athens’ own Futurebirds opened the festival, and for the last time as Greg Allman sang “Melissa,” I knew my first Bonnaroo had been perfect. Until next year…

Update: psssst! Here is Frank’s top 10. More to come. For those who attended, pleeease share your favorite performances in the comments section!

1. Eminem
2. Ratatat
3. MMJ
4. Black Keys
5. Wiz
6. Junip
7. J Cole
8. Twin Shadow
9. Childish Gambino
10. Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea (I just can’t get over how good her voice was live)

Posted in: Music