My First Bonnaroo Experience: Special thanks to Wonder Waffle, Of Montreal and the Healing Shaman

17 Hours have never passed so quickly. Maybe it was the stop at Sonic that kept us going (us New Englanders think of it as some Holy Grail of fast food), but most likely it was the excitement of Bonnaroo finally becoming a reality. Honestly, I feel like my visit in Manchester, TN was a fantasy I dreamt up for my own fun. But it happened, and I have the lime green wristband, 3D ticket, and tie-dye t-shirt to prove it.


Even when you talk with people who went, Bonnaroo is hard to describe. If there’s a God, I hope heaven is a big ol’ Bonnaroo in the sky (sure as hell I’d go to church more often). Some friends from Boston College plus some and I all arrived around 5 am on Thursday, pitching our tent and canopy by the light of the sunrise. We napped, and then the adventure officially started.

Here’s the layout of Bonnaroo, 700 acres of former farming lands: Centeroo is an area where all the stages are located and carnival-like vendors. That majestic red archway you see in your friends’ Facebook albums? That’s the entrance to Centeroo. They sell anything from traditional pizza to deep fried gator, and as far as souvenirs go, buy a cool band posters or a didgeridoo. When and if you go, make sure to stop at the Wonder Waffle stand to get the hot waffle sandwich: a cube of vanilla ice cream between two thick waffles smothered in chocolate syrup. Surrounding Centeroo are all the campsites grouped by movie titles and divided by that movie’s characters. Ours was Pussy Galore in the James Bond area… we all got a kick out of that. Port-a-potties are located throughout, and you get used to peeing in the dark after the first two nights. Showering is a no-no. I mean you can for a little less then 10 bucks, but if you’re going to Bonnaroo you might as well do it up right.

[caption id=”attachment_2238” align=”aligncenter” width=”400” caption=”Say hi to my friends Kristen and Josh.”]Say hi to my friends Kristen and Josh[/caption]

Bands play all the time, til everyone’s strung out at 4 am and dancing their asses off. But considering an audience of 75,000 sticky-sweaty people, getting to the front can be a complicated process. Due to a string of great shows on Saturday, we made it to the front for some out-of-this-world entertainment. We edged in the side of This Tent as Bon Iver’s falsettos shivered my bones in 80-degree humidity. He closed with ‘Wolves,’ having the audience sing over and over “What might have been lost” until we were shouting the line 10,000 strong. At that point the crowd headed out and we headed in, close to front row for Of Montreal. I had already seen them in April at Paradise Rock Lounge in Boston, so I was expecting an identical set. Same costumes, different experience. There’s just something about seeing Kevin Barnes in a smoking (literally emitting smoke) fur poncho doing the cha-cha in broad daylight as a brontosaurus with giant arms catapults balls into the audience. After bopping around to ‘Rapture Rapes the Muses’ and grooving out to ‘A Sentence Of Sorts In Kongsvinger,’ they smashed their instruments in a distortioned cacophony that simply defines Of Montreal, and proceeded to hurl their bodies atop the audience to crowd surf.

Here’s a taste of a live Of Montreal show that I recorded at the Paradise show, apologies for the quality.

Barnes once explained his performance style in an interview with the Daytrotter crew:

I’ve always loved the theatrical side of performing. I never really got into the whole indie rock approach of taking the stage in your street clothes and just playing the songs. That isn’t fun for me. I really want to put on a performance that people will remember. That means considering the visual aspect of things. I hate going to see shows that just have this static image. I think it’s important to have lots of movement on stage, lots of changes in the images you present to the audience.
[caption id=”attachment_2239” align=”aligncenter” width=”400” caption=”Of Montreal”]Of Montreal in Boston[/caption]

The Decmeberists were up next. If I had to narrow it down, I went to Bonnaroo mainly to see Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Of Montreal, Phoenix and MGMT. The Decemberists were my favorite show at Bonnaroo 2009. A fan informed me that their set was a straight play through of their latest album The Hazards of Love, and they did so without conversation or even a pause. Dark lighting, robotic dancing, violent timpani banging followed by a half-hour encore of fan favorites, which showed a lighter side of congenial performance. I can’t tell you the set list, and I don’t know the names of the band members without Google-ing them, but I can tell you it was just phenomenal.

[caption id=”” align=”aligncenter” width=”520” caption=”In the flesh, the Decemberists”]In the flesh, the Decemberists[/caption]

This article could easily be longer than a senior thesis. To list my favorite performances is like naming all of the places in the world I’d like to visit - it’s endless and actually sort of boring to everyone but me. The last thing I want to squeeze in here is a note about the people. For four glorious days, I shared a really strange freedom with tens of thousands of other people from all walks of life, ranging from all ages, with different intentions. I watched teeny boppers play around in the mushroom fountain, babies strapped onto ambitious parents, young bucks drinking beers with their friends, and I particularly remember these two middle-aged women swaying their arms with floor-length dresses and mom haircuts. The Healing Shaman was seen daily, carrying a sign advertising his services, doing yoga and chanting “heeemmehpennay, huuuuhhhh” behind us as we walked to Centeroo. There were bearded men wiggling their hips to sound checks, and a man whose bad trip required 8 paramedics and a needle to a neck.

Everyone was just really satisfied to live in a tent, meet new people, and listen to good music.

In your lifetime, go to Bonnaroo. If you’ve already gone, you don’t need to me to tell you to do it again. It is beyond an experience.

[caption id=”attachment_2260” align=”aligncenter” width=”400” caption=”Heeemmehpennay, Huuuuhhhh. Photo Cred: Evan Waters”]Heeemmehpennay, Huuuuhhhh. Photo Cred: Evan Waters[/caption]

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