"Hey, bro, take my photo! I'm addicted to adrenaline and I burst all the blood vessels in my eye doing back flips!" Such are the strange, close encounters that happen every few steps while one wanders the 700-acres of Tennessee farmland crawling with 75,000 people during this weekend's Bonnaroo music festival. Time and space don't permit a full accounting of all the bizarre sights, sounds, and smells observed during our three days here (there's still one last afternoon of Snoop Dogg, Andrew Bird, Erykah Badu, and Phish ahead), but click through on the photos here for a glimpse at the recession-defying bacchanal. (The adrenaline addict is in there somewhere.)
While it's easy to dismiss Bonnaroo as just a decadent, neo-hippie drug bazaar—and it is; oh it most certainly is—the programming reflects a refreshing catholicity of taste, and the audience, for the most part, seems generally more attentive and curious than your average jaded NYC crowd. Musically, this year's festival had something for everyone, and sometimes too much—with simultaneous sets spread over six stages, there were some difficult decisions: Public Enemy or Phish? Grizzly Bear or Yeah Yeah Yeahs? David Byrne or Beastie Boys? Having just caught Byrne's phenomenal Celebrate Brooklyn show, we opted for the latter, and weren't disappointed.
Speaking of Byrne, he joined Brooklyn's own Dirty Projectors for one song during their spellbinding performance at "That Tent," which he curated "that" day. (All the stages and tents have names such as Which Stage, What Stage, This Tent, etc.) That set was preceded by the all-female Katzenjammer, who put a foot-stomping, Norwegian spin on traditional mountain music. (You can and should catch them at Mercury Lounge Tuesday night.) After Phish's beyond the pale, three hour set Friday night, Saturday peaked with the ever-delightful Wilco, followed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band, who rocked for over three sweat-soaked hours. If Springsteen's high-energy stage presence sometimes feels a tad rote, and if his anthems sometimes swerve toward schmaltz, the big, bruising sincerity of his show is ultimately irresistible. There's just something cathartic about singing along with Bruce to rumbling classics like "Thunder Road," and hearing the Boss repeatedly yell, "Bonnaroo!" was, for some reason, hilarious every time.
Regarding the huge task of organizing an event for such a massive flood of obliterated humanity, Bonnaroo does so many things right that it's sort of astonishing: We saw sign-language interpreters for the deaf during Nine Inch Nails' white-hot set (which, according to Trent Reznor, was his band's last North American gig ever); security guards pouring water into the open mouths of parched concertgoers; dozens of staffers stationed at every recycling/compost/trash station to guide attendees in disposing their waste; uniformly compostable cups, plates and utensils; reasonably priced water ($2.50) and food; free tap and filtered water stations sponsored by Stanley; and an overall attitude that treats the crowd like guests, not numbers—which, for a New York concertgoer accustomed to herding like livestock in and out of places like Terminal 5—was particularly refreshing. There's more to the story than we can fit here; click on the images above for the rest-aroo.