Author: Jake Walczyk
On June 7, 2017, I took a 9 hour car ride to another world. As I entered through the gates into this foreign land, a sea of tents stretched as far as one’s eye could reach. Everyone I passed seemed to have a smile reaching ear to ear. As I looked across the field, countless high-fives were exchanges by passersby. Every moment, someone would exclaim “Happy Roo” as if it were their favorite holiday. Though it was in the early hours of the morning, time was meaningless. Though we were on a farm in the middle of nowhere, the rest of the world did not matter. We had escaped reality. We had made it to Bonnaroo.
As one of the most iconic music festivals in the world, Bonnaroo once again did not fail to awe its attendees every second of the four days this year. In the land of positivity, music, and creativity, unforgettable memories were made by all. The food, activities, and music available to Bonnaroovians made for experiences you can’t find anywhere else.
At most festivals, one can expect to get average carnival food or mediocre attempts at adventurous cuisine. Bonnaroo, on the other hand, takes food seriously. Though there is a general disregard for hygiene by most Bonnaroovians throughout the weekend, they eat like royalty. Professional chefs and top tier food trucks from across the country line the walls of Bonnaroo, offering to satisfy serious appetites with interesting takes on traditional and innovative food from a variety of cultures that people could not experience anywhere else.
I only had one bad experience with food at Bonnaroo, and it broke my heart. Hamageddon, which I had expressed my excitement to try in my preview article, was a severe disappointment. Though their massive metal pig smoker with a full pig roasting inside of it was impressive, their food was anything but. First, I was called over by the cashier at the stand. She recommended the grilled cheese sandwich. For $10, I was expecting a rather substantial, and savory sandwich. However, my expectations were proven horribly wrong. I ordered a bacon grilled cheese sandwich and received what appeared to be two slices of Wonder Bread containing two slices of Kraft singles, and a single piece of bacon chopped up into bits. Highway robbery, I will say no more.
Ozark Mountain Biscuit Company, on the other side of the spectrum, proved to be a hidden gem. Though heavy biscuits slathered in gravy did not seem like a pleasant option to most on a sweltering, humid day, these biscuits got me through the long weekend. For a reasonable price, “The Boss Hog” was a filling delight. We’re talking a freshly-baked, open-faced biscuit as a base for simmered greens, pulled pork, sawmill gravy, a signature “Arkan-sauce”, crispy fried onions, and topped with a fried egg. Mmm mmm MMM!
Though the food was generally expensive, as it is at any large event these days, it was a unique experience and well worth every penny to be able to get a “taste” of cuisines from a diverse set of cultures. Whether it was a hearty breakfast to get through the day or a late-night snack, a meal on the farm was always an adventure to look forward to.
There was simply not enough time to explore the wide array of activities Bonnaroo had to offer with so much great music and things to do every second of the day. Fortunately, I did have the opportunity to experience a few.
I played a set of beach volleyball on The Oasis, a giant sand-filled playground of volleyball courts, and bar/lounge areas. Right next to it was a massive inflated waterslide that Chance the Rapper took a slide down on Saturday. Though my body is not flexible enough for yoga, I did pass by the sessions offered, and the turnouts were huge yet peaceful. “TWERK IT OUT” far exceeded expectations, as Big Freedia knew how to shake that thing. She guided the audience to get on her booty’s level, providing a source of exercise for hundreds. Also, shout out to Subway for having an air-conditioned tent that served fresh sandwiches every day free of charge.
Though it was difficult to set aside enough time to experience all of the fun activities Bonnaroo had to offer, it was certainly something to have the option of going to a “Twerkout” every day. No matter where you look, there is always something happening and something to do on The Farm.
With all that Bonnaroo has to offer, let’s not forget what the festival is all about: Music. I will dare to say that Bonnaroo is the largest gathering of people genuinely caused by the power of music. This is not a place to be seen, but a place to see. That may sound corny, but is nonetheless true. This festival is not just about partying, but rather celebrating the beautiful art that is music. It’s about bringing people together and creating an unforgettable experience that can change perspectives on music and even the world. In my mind, Bonnaroo is what music is all about.
Following their last show at Bonnaroo being shut down mid-set in 2014 after literally tearing down the tent, The Orwells were not about to ease up on the gas pedal. Their latest album, Terrible Human Beings is even more thrashy than their last two, which could only call for an even wilder show.
I had the opportunity to interview lead singer Mario Cuomo and guitarist Matt O’Keefe before the show, and they confidently said that their last trip to Bonnaroo was one of their favorite shows they have played to date. I have a feeling they may have a new favorite after this year’s performance.
The show began with O’Keefe walking onto the stage alone, tossing his guitar high into the sky and letting it smash to the ground, snapping it in half. Cuomo then walked out wearing nothing but white overalls cut off to his upper thighs.
The show consisted of a mix of their hits from Terrible Human Beings and Disgraceland with sprinklings from Remember When. Throughout the show, Cuomo ran around the stage belting out the lyrics with all the voice his lungs could handle, feeding off the energy of the moshing crowd.
With 15 minutes remaining in the set, Cuomo stage-dived into his fans, disappearing into the crowd. While most artists may use this as a short, little stunt, Mario Cuomo is not like most artists. He fully committed, never came back, and left his band to improvise. O’Keefe took the opportunity to climb the lighting structure and tie the body of the guitar to the top of it. The rest of the band closed out the show without Cuomo, adding yet another chapter into their unforgettable Bonnaroo performances.
Like many emerging artists at Bonnaroo, The Orwells started off at the very smallest stage on The Farm and upgraded to a far larger stage this year. It won’t be long before they rock the biggest stage of them all: “What Stage”. Something tells me that this show won’t be the last time Cuomo says, “thanks for the upgrade Bonnaroo”.
Glass Animals have been steadily gaining popularity for the last few years, especially after releasing their most recent album How to be a Human Being. With this rise in fame, expectations for performances increase. Good thing Glass Animals know how to put on a show.
Let’s start with the stage. Props from How to be a Human Being were scattered between instruments on stage. Most notably, a spinning pineapple disco ball was placed in the center of the stage, a nod to their smash hit “Pork Soda”. A TV resembling the one that appeared in the music video for “Season 2 Episode 3” was on the right side of the stage. Massive pixelated-font letters “G” and “A” kept consistent with the album’s theme around video game effects.
But enough about the décor… let’s talk about the performance. Lead singer Dave Bayley has certainly made quite a bit of progress with his performance style since their last Bonnaroo Performance in 2015. However, his energy had not decreased at all. Bayley once again seemed to be the most excited person in the sea of people at “Which Stage”. He was never standing still, whether it was running across the stage or stomping on the ground while dancing with emphatic hand gestures.
From their shows that I have watched in the past, this was by far the best performance I have seen from Glass Animals. Their genuine passion and excitement was clearly put on display, and the band could not stop thanking Bonnaroo for making the show an incredible experience.
This is just another example of a band that has made its way back to Bonnaroo and has flourished performing on The Farm. Artists feed off audiences that truly care about and embrace their music. Because of this, in my mind, there is no better place to perform than Bonnaroo.
Portugal, The Man
It was quite the 4th trip to Bonnaroo for Portugal. The Man. With the release of their new, highly-anticipated album Woodstock only a few days after the festival, it was a time for the veterans to show that they still had what it takes. Trust me, they’ve still got it.
To celebrate the upcoming release of Woodstock, the band hosted a listening party in one of the party barns scattered across the camping grounds. The barn was packed with people even climbing the beams of the barn just to catch a glimpse of the band. People spilled outside the barn, and because of the massive amount of people, the band had to leave the party early. The party went on and hundreds danced along to their new poppy album.
The show started at 1am and went until 2:30am. Fortunately, this was a normal occasion on the farm, so fans were more than ready for the show after perhaps catching some shuteye while camping for good spots in the crowd.
The band oddly walked out to “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers, which seemed like an unlikely choice, but learning about frontman John Gourley’s musical influences made perfect sense. The second the first chord was struck, bright lights shot out into the sky and psychedelic visuals appeared on the backdrop. Though the performance was incredible, the light show and trippy visuals may have stolen the show.
It was easy to tell that this was not the band’s first performance. The band could have been mistaken as a jam band by any passerby, as improvisation controlled the flow of the performance. The band did play their hits… twice. They played “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” and “Feel it Still” each twice, with Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant’s groovy moves making an appearance for the second round of “Feel it Still”. Being known for their activism, they also played a tribute to Manchester with an incredible rendition of “Don’t Look Back in Anger”.
Once again, Portugal. The Man made it a night to remember. Hopefully they’ll make their 5th trip to The Farm sometime soon.
*Photos courtesy of James Kowalski