The bisexual bed & breakfast manager/yoga instructor/tarot reader in her late 20s offered me a tincture. A mix of dandelion, bilberries, spearmint, and other ingredients I was too lit to remember, it burnt like a triple shot of cheap vodka going down, and I honestly don't think it did anything. But that hippie cocktail was a definitively Bonnaroovian experience. As I sat with the yoga instructor (who tried and failed to teach me how to do a headstand and release all my bodily tension) as well as two middle-aged hippies who passed around joints, moonshine, and margaritas like it was the '69 Woodstock, I was surrounded by the positive vibes (and contact highs) that are the pinnacle of a great Bonnaroo experience.
That was Thursday in the evening as I took a much needed two hour break. The 2014 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival is finally upon us, and if the last two days have been any indication, this year will be as Bonnaroo as ever. That's the second time I've used Bonnaroo as an adjective, and if you've ever been to the four-day festival on the 600-acre Tennessee farm, you'll understand why. Bonnaroo is a magical mixture of music, hippies, drugs, sun, and exhaustion that brings together as diverse a collection of people as you can get in a single concentrated place. From the hippies, the bros, the EDM/Molly heads, hipsters, and urban folksters, Bonnaroo's emphasis on community and eclecticism is what sets it apart from the major national festival pack.
Because only in Bonnaroo could one experience ganja-adjacent introductory yoga in an environment that was downright tranquil (minus the fully-nude male streaker that made sporadic appearances. Nothing like a flopping penis to ruin one's buzz), but actively fear for one's safety in the Cloud Nothings photo pit. Since Attack on Memory
was released in 2012, Dylan Baldi has abandoned his punk baby-face and instead adopted the bearded Grizzly Adams/Daniel Bryan look, and in an unexpected twist, the band brought a horde of moshing and crowd-surfing fans who nearly tore apart the This Tent from song one to finish. As Japandroids enters a hiatus, Cloud Nothings will provide the high-octane, masculine lo-fi punk energy you might not know you need in your life.
And Day 1 of Bonnaroo (if we don't count the hair-pulling Wednesday traffic that just seems to get worse each year) was defined by shattered expectations. The crowd for Oregon blues goddess ZZ Ward was massive. The areas around the That Tent were impassable for her entire set, and in the midst of our half a decade long blues revival, ZZ Ward brought a bad-ass femrock vibe to a genre that has become decidedly white/male (Don't worry Jack White. We're still excited for you on Wednesday). A crowd of easily 10,000 people knew most of the words to an album that is packed with more sing-along singles than I'd expected. And when ZZ Ward broke into one of several harmonica solos, the That Tent became a massive hippie-dance party.
Thursday has set a high bar for this year's Bonnaroo. Great sets from New Jersey slickpop stalwarts Real Estate, soul/New Wave crafters the Preatures, and Minnesota synth-pop heavies Polica buoyed a day that could have been drug down by suffocating humidity. Walking around Bonnaroo this year is like wading through a thick soup, and the forecasted rain for today will only make things worse. But, the stunning vocals of Polica frontwoman Channy Leaneagh made you forget the fact that by Sunday night, you'll feel like the men of the WWE spent a weekend bludgeoning you with steel chairs.
The Friday schedule is packed with great artists from Vampire Weekend, CHVRCHES, Neutral Milk Hotel, Phoenix, Ben Howard, Danny Brown, the Naked and Famous, and of course, Kanye West as the headliner. But in addition to all of the great music, I'll be ingesting today, we can only hope that we'll stumble upon other stories and memories as part-and-parcel to the Bonnaroo experience as taking pharmacologically ineffective but taste-bud searing hippie medicine. It's going to be a fantastic weekend down in Manchester.