Even for those of us who fear the sun and only rise at night to lurk the streets in search of music and elusive superheroes, summer is a magical time. The outside becomes hospitable, New York stops being so surly, and music festivals give cause to trade subway maps for atlases (or at least GPS receivers) and venture out into the vast United States. Bonnaroo
in Manchester, Tennessee is unrivaled in terms of sheer perseverance - 80,000 attendees grab their tents and tie-dye T-shirts and pledge their full commitment to what becomes either an epic entry in a long list of lost weekends, or the highlight of a summer.
For four days we joined the grinning unwashed masses in big sky country, fascinated by watercolor clouds and the breadth of regrettable tattoos. Bonnaroo is truly an alternate universe, a carnival completewith ferris wheel and good-natured corn dog vendors that call you "darlin'." You can pass out exactly where you stand with little repercussion except mud in your dreadlocks, everywhere you walk you are within range of music, hipster synth-pop and classic country coexist peacefully in the scorching southern heat, and despite the 80,000 festival-goers you can get reasonably close to any stage (provided you withstand the heavy smell of sweat, beer, greasy food, and marijuana permeating every crowd.) Additionally, your Bonnaroo wristband is redeemable for free fireworks at participating vendors in the great state of Tennessee!
But of course, what would a festival be without outstanding music? Without further ado, we present you with a rundown of the top five shows (excluding big names such as Snoop Dogg, Phish, and The Boss, because what can we say about the "earth-shaking, baby-making, Viagara-taking" E Street Band that you don't already know?)
5. Yeasayer (That Tent, Saturday 1:00-1:45am)
The 1am slot can be a tough one, especially when your stage is flooded by scenesters eager to catch MGMT. Yeasayer blew it out of the water with enough pretty lights to rival Pretty Lights, enough edgy psychedelia to freak out of Montreal, and an audibly intense yet oddly danceable futuristic-Middle-Eastern/Brooklyn-experimental sound that not only saturated the air with an unexpected fervor, but also completely upstaged MGMT. (And yes, they played "Tightrope.")
4. Band of Horses (Which Stage, Sunday 6:30-8:00pm)
When in the south, don a cowboy hat and sing your heart out 'til the cows come home. At least that's what Ben Bridewell
did, and while I don't think he roused any actual cattle, the entire crowd was hypnotized. Band of Horses played an even mix of gorgeous music from their two full-length albums, filling the grounds with their sprawling chords and sweeping vocals. As the sun went down over tent city and Bridewell crooned, "The world is such a wonderful place," we couldn't have agreed more.
3. Dirty Projectors (That Tent, Friday 1:30-2:30pm)
Anyone skeptical of the hype surrounding this eccentric Brooklyn outfit fell head over heels for Dirty Projectors after Friday's show. Seeing them live results in the jaw-dropping realization that real instruments and real people are making all those intricate sounds, that the music is infinitely captivating despite being precisely calculated, and the obligatory "ohmygod how are they making their voices do
that?" Not only was seeing Amber Coffman
toss her French braid while getting her R&B on to "Stillness is the Move" enough to result in endless looping of Bitte Orca
on the drive home, David Byrne
showing up to sing "Knotty Pine" was easily the most triumphant cameo of the entire festival and a serious indication that the Dirty Projectors are kind of a big deal. Sure we may have been "Thirsty and Miserable," but the flawless set put everyone in a great mood to face the long day ahead.
2. Wilco (What Stage, Saturday 6:00-8:00pm)
Oh Jeff Tweedy
. You have an awesome last name, six studio albums with a seventh coming out, kind of a funky haircut, and our loyal allegiance. You see, we've gotten so involved with bells and whistles, light shows and stage oddities, psychotic stage banter, and using terms like "post-disco minimalist synth-punk" to describe our music, we've forgotten the simple things. Wilco makes simple music, and it simply doesn't need anything extraneous to prove that it's worth listening to. In fact, there are few places I'd rather be on a late afternoon in June than lying in a field hearing Wilco churn out some wonderfully folksy old-time rock n' roll. So here's to you Jeff Tweedy, bringing together the old and the young, the elitist Northerners and drawling Southerners, and even a mysterious hot air balloon that appeared on the horizon in a very cinematic turn of events. Oh and that dance move where you jogged in place, swinging a mic around lasso-style for the duration of an entire song? We salute it.
1. Phoenix / Crystal Castles / Girl Talk (That Tent, Friday 11:30 - 4:00am)
Okay, so this might be cheating, since this block was technically three shows. But with one genius breakthrough in scheduling, That Tent was turned into a swarming nightclub and the triptych of sweaty, rabid hysteria blended seamlessly into one another. Phoenix stunned with a tent-shaking set that took Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
to dizzying heights, exploded "Too Young" with enough heart to reawaken even Bill Murray's lust for life, and thrilled the convulsive masses beyond any expectation. Flooding the tent with a gloriously seizure-inducing barrage of strobe lights, Crystal Castles raged through a frenzied hour, the entirety of which Alice Glass
feverishly shrieked through while crowd-surfing atop the flurry of blurring lights and bodies. In case anyone thought it was time to stop moving or maybe catch a breath, Girl Talk stepped in with his usual shenanigans - a nonstop assault of mashup action resulting in gaggles of soaking bodies hurling themselves over barricades and onto a stage threatening to collapse. A giddy Greg Gillis
said his goodbyes, subtly proclaiming himself the king of Bonnaroo nightlife and restless young people everywhere, but though his act is fun it's getting a bit played out. Everyone duly appreciated the extended dance party, but it was definitely the first two acts that gave the night its manic soul.
Although these five moments were the most memorable, nearly 150 acts crammed into four days and six stages made an overwhelming array of talent where no matter what you caught a glimpse of, it was hard to go wrong. No wonder that when Phish was strumming the last of their 20-minute riffs and the volunteers were loading the ferris wheel onto the flatbed of an 18-wheeler, we late night stragglers stumbled out of the gates and into tent city for the final time, wondering if the events of the last four days weren't some sort of collective hallucination. - Nina Mashurova