Desitively Bonnaroo: Reporting from the Land of Dust and Music (Part 2)

Tomas Hachard
Photo Credits: Jonathan Linds

You are at Bonnaroo. You do not sleep. You are not a wimp.

Bonnaroo Festival 2011

City: Manchester, TN
Date: 2011-06-09

Here Comes the Sun, and it’s going to Kill You.

Bonnaroo is all about choices, so let’s start with the most basic one: Do you have fun or do you get the bare minimum amount of sleep needed to function properly as a human being?

At Bonnaroo your day begins at 8:30 AM. You do not sleep in at Bonnaroo because the demonic sun will not allow it.

At Bonnaroo your day ends somewhere between 4 and 6 AM. You do not miss the late night shows at Bonnaroo because you’re not a wimp.

Given these two rules, your days at Bonnaroo are spent gauging and trying to get the most out of what’s left of your physical capacities. What that means is that your experience of any given concert is just as dependent on your physical state at the time as it is on the performer. Did you rush in to see the Smith Westerns without eating lunch and then grab a bite to eat right before Galactic? You can guess which band might make the better impression. This isn’t unlike any other concert experience. It’s only that over four days at Bonnaroo you can’t help but miss the full force of some concerts due to mental or physical exhaustion.


Any time slot between 12 and 5 PM is particularly brutal. One of the first victims was Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Bonnaroo started as a festival dedicated primarily to jam bands, so having the original lineup of the Flecktones was perfect for those who still come to the festival to get their jam band fix. (As if to leave no doubt about the matter, Fleck sported a t-shirt with a large rainbow peace sign). But Fleck and his band, even if incredible in their technically proficiency, were too unfocused to bravely fight the midday heat.

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

Alison Krauss and Union Station, who were playing with Jerry Douglas, faced a similar problem. Their bluegrass music, reminiscent of their work on O Brother Where Art Thou, also fit the Southern setting perfectly. But their set, like Fleck’s, was ultimately too subdued and placated.

The best thing to do during the day at Bonnaroo is to accept the heat and hide from it while still staying at earshot from a stage or tent. Lying in the shade on a 90-degree day is nice; lying in the shade on a 90-degree day while Mavis Staples sings “The Weight” or The New Orleans All-Stars play a funk cover of “Fortunate Son” is heavenly. The shade at the festival is limited, and the best of it is found in the corners of the festival grounds where you won’t necessarily see the music you’re hearing, but if you get it right these more subdued moments are just as enjoyable as any other concert experience you’ll have at the festival.

The daytime is also when you can catch the younger bands at the festival, many of which have only released an album or two worth of material. One of the first shows of the weekend was by Wavves, who managed to overcome the bad sound that festival stages are infamous for and play a raucous set to a densely packed crowd. Nathan William’s voice carried perfectly over his skuzzy rhythm section, and the loose and frayed sound of the album was given a full and very tight sound for the concert.


If Wavves surprised by just how good they sounded, Best Coast disappointed at first with what was a much more muddled sound. They ended up putting on a great show, though, based only on the sheer range and quality of their material. Their ability to move with ease from raw blasts of white noise to soothing vocals made for one of the more engaging sets of the festival. They played songs from their upcoming second album, but the most memorable moment was their cover of Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City”, one of those endearing country songs that hide explicit violence behind a jovial melody and chord progression.

Best Coast

Another young band playing an early set was the Smith Westerns. Their latest and second album is one of the highlights so far from this year, but their live set lacked any sense of adventure with regards to the material. It was too much like listening to the album, with very little added flare. Then, when at the end of the set Cullen Omori told the crowd that “if you didn’t like this set, then fuck you,” it was clear that the band harbors more youthful conceit than useful stage presence, at least for now.

Smith Westerns

That’s the opposite of Man Man, who came on sporting white face paint and proceeded to stalk the stage while yelling and singing their way through their weird, caveman music (that’s a compliment, just in case you were wondering). Their best songs incorporate everything from doo-wop to more modern rock and filter them through a stream of percussion and lead singer Honus Honus’ growled vocals. Their live show adds a whole new level of energy to their music as they play and bang on everything they can get their hands on, from a glockenspiel to a large aluminum percussion device that sat next to the keyboards until one of the band members started running around the stage putting dents into it.

Man Man

Desitvely Bonnaroo (Part 1)





Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".


The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?


Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.


Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.


Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.


Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.


Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.


Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.


Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.


Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.