Bonnaroo 2012 Part I: Fellowship of the Ring
‘Twas mid-November 2011. I had finally come to terms with the morbid fact that I, Jakob Ross, would be forced to move to Grovetown, Georgia, which (unless you’ve not read my more recent articles) you probably know by now. Around this time I had made the decision to do the one thing that would make the move worth it. I’m not talking about humidity, rednecks, or seeing more back sweaters than real sweaters. I’m talking about the legendary Bonnaroo festival which takes place annually in Manchester, Tennessee.
At first, it was sort of a joke. Then came the lineup announcement, and both my dad and I knew this would be maybe our only chance to hit a world-famous music festival before I’m off to college and he’s off to his 40s. With Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Phish handling head-lining duties, I knew that missing this festival would be the biggest mistake of my life. Come February, our wristbands were purchased and the official countdown could begin.
Fast-forward to the beginning days of June 2012. My dad made the decision to pick up a carpooler outside of Atlanta and the countdown was in the single digits. Finally, on Thursday June 7 and after my dad got home from work, we were off. We set sail on the mighty Oceanus Interstatus and were starving for delicious servings (17 to be exact) of amazing bands. They were the best of times, they were the worst of times. Or something.
Chapter 1: Thursday Night
We parked at around 9:30 PM started setting up our tents. Unfortunately there was not enough room to fit both our tent and our guest’s tent. And our car didn’t have enough power for us to blow up our air mattress. So, we set up our tent a bit farther away, decided to sleep on a deflated mattress, and pushed on. At about 11 PM we went into Centeroo (where all the stages are) in hopes of catching Alabama Shakes at This Tent. Unfortunately, the crowd was so big that there was no way we could’ve seen anything. Same goes for Big Gigantic at That Tent and MiMosa at The Other Tent.
Downtrodden and after a slice of pizza, we made our way back to camp to get the best night’s sleep we could hope to get at a festival with no curfews and with bands going all night long. I knew I would feel it the enthusiasm the next morning. Just needed some well-deserved and well-needed R&R.
Chapter 2: Friday Morning
Although we had our alarm set for 10 AM, we quickly learned that sleeping in past 8 is nigh impossible. So, with a good three hours or so to kill until our first act of the festival, The Kooks, we hung out. Got to talk to our neighbors and I even got to meet BeezNutz, a member of the St. Louis chapter of the CC Family.
After a major family-related setback that jeopardized our stay at Bonnaroo, we sorted through it and prepared to make another journey into Centeroo. We explored our general area (thankfully we were close to the port-a-potties) and made good use of the free wash area, which was great for teeth-brushing, shaving, hand-washing, etc. At 10:30 AM (our car was still adjusted to Eastern Time so I thought it was 11:30) we made our way second voyage to Centeroo to catch 2nd wave Britpop band The Kooks at Which Stage.
Chapter 3: The Kooks and the Comedy Theatre
After an hour and 45 minutes of waiting (again, blaming the car here) The Kooks graced the stage to bring their contagiously catchy brand of happiness and smiles to the crowd that was gathered to watch. They played what I’m pretty sure were quite a few of their hits: Is It Me?, She Moves Her Own Way, Ooh La, Junk of the Heart (Happy), and Naive. Their set was pretty fun to watch, actually. I’m not the biggest Kooks fan in the world, but they are great when it comes to summertime music, especially a sunny Friday afternoon at Bonnaroo. In terms of Britpop I’d most likely compare them to Pulp more than I would to Oasis or Blur, mostly because of the cheeriness among the band and the feel of the music.
After their set ended and we grabbed some lunch, we headed over to the comedy tent to try and grab some tickets to catch Aziz Ansari. To get into a comedy show you have to grab tickets which they hand out 2 hours in advance. And for some reason I didn’t expect the line to stretch out to 2000 people. After deciding that it’s not worth it, we walked around to see what else was going on (there’s ALWAYS something going on.)
Chapter 4: SOJA
Celebrating a successful Thursday night set, Virginia-based reggae band SOJA, who have some of the nattiest dreads I’ve ever seen on white people, hit the Solar Stage, a solar-powered mini-stage that hosts environmentally conscious bands and artists that play some songs and do a Q&A session.
At about 2:05 the eight-piece came out and put on a very four-song set, interspersed with questions curated by…. some dude. I was sorta hoping it would be an audience participation sort of thing where we could ask the questions. I really wanted to ask Jacob Hemphill how high he was at that moment, on a scale of 1 to Snoop Dogg.
Either way, it was great to see them break into acoustic version of songs such as Strength to Survive and Nothing Ever Changes. Based on the interview they seem like legitimately cool dudes and I’m glad we got to check out their set. And with that we made our way to see a last-minute addition to the Ross Duo’s Official Bonnaroo schedule: Fitz and the Tantrums.
Chapter 5: Fitz and the Tantrums & St. Vincent
Sometimes fate can be great. Fitz and the Tantrums just so happened to be playing That Tent, which would be followed in the same tent by St. Vincent, one of my must-see artists of Bonnaroo.
This was my first time in one of the tents, so discovering that the ground was sand was quite the surprise. This would mean that if the crowd got crazy, a huge sand cloud would form and make its way into the lungs of the hundreds of people gathered to see whichever band. It’s already pretty dusty at the farm, so whoever thought it was a good idea to put sand on the ground was a moron. But that’s just my opinion.
At about 5, neo-soul group Fitz and the Tantrums appeared on stage to many adoring fans. And despite what Reverend Justito might say, they put on a fantastic show. The music is simple enough for most people to get and fun enough for most people to dance to. They even through in their covers of Steady As She Goes and Sweet Dreams Are Made of This, making both songs way cheerier than they actually are.
Singers Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs have a great chemistry and seem to play characters during their songs which reflect their attitude. Sometimes they’ll get up in each others faces West Side Story style and other times they’ll smile at each other and dance. That is only a part of what makes them so great live. Add in the insane amount of audience participation (my hands were sore from clapping along) and you’ve got a Fitz and the Tantrums show. They ended their set with their career-starting hit MoneyGrabber and even pulled a Slipknot by having the ground crouch to the ground and jump up at the song’s climax.
Setlist: Don’t Gotta Work It Out, Winds of Change, Pickin’ Up The Pieces, Wake Up, Breakin’ the Chains of Love, Rich Girls, The End, Steady As She Goes, Tighter, 6 AM, L.O.V., New Song, Dear Mr. President, News 4 U, Sweet Dreams, MoneyGrabber
After Fitz ended, we grabbed some food and took a quick bathroom break before preparing to have our faces melted off by St. Vincent. I made my way into the crowd because I knew this would be a show I wouldn’t want to miss.
Annie Clark is to women what Dave Grohl is to men. She is an astoundingly talented musician, singer, songwriter, and just all-around cool person. Her 17-song 75-minute no-holds-barred set at Bonnaroo showcased her talents, both on her axe and on her vocal chords. She played mostly songs from her stellar 2011 record Stranger Mercy, but broke out a couple songs from her other records Actor and Marry Me.
One thing you notice about Annie Clark is her guitar playing. The guitar is almost an extra appendage for her; to see her perform without it would be like seeing the drummer of Def Leppard lose his other arm. And she is full of emotion, too. At times she is ominous and borderline scary, kind of like Winona Rider in Beetlejuice; other times she is happy and cute, kind of like Winona Rider in Heathers. (Those will be the only Winona Rider comparisons because those are the only movies with her I’ve seen.) Couple that with the “How did she make her guitar sound like that?” effect that benefited Jimi Hendrix, Kevin Shields, and Tom Morello, and you’ve got a face-melting show from an insanely talented person. Long live Annie Clark.
Setlist: Marrow, Cheerleader, Chloe in the Afternoon, Save Me From What I Want, Actor Out of Work, Dilettante, Black Rainbow, Cruel, Surgeon, Champagne Year, Neutered Fruit, Year of the Tiger, Northern Lights, She Is Beyond Good And Evil, The Party, Your Lips Are Red, Krokodil
Chapter 6: Radiohead and Major Lazer
After St. Vincent’s glorious set, we headed over to the What Stage to catch the first headliner of the festival, Radiohead. Earlier this year, I didn’t care much at all about Radiohead, but I’ve slowly been turned onto them after listening to more of their music and watching their more recent live performances. And what can I say? Radiohead absolutely delivered, and then some.
The set was devoted songs from 2011′s The King of Limbs and 2007′s In Rainbows without any doubt. Almost half the set, actually, was from those two albums. Other bits and pieces from Hail to the Thief, Amnesiac, Kid A, and OK Computer were scattered throughout, as well as the new tracks Identikit and Daily Mail.
The lights display for Radiohead is really what makes their show so fantastic. As the drum-and-bass rhythms reach an epic climax, the screen lights up brighter and brighter. There were even eight or so little screens that moved around above Thom and Co.
Say what you will about their music, especially their more recent music, but Radiohead are a phenomenal live band, and I’m glad I got to see them once.
Setlist: Bloom, 15 Step, Kid A, Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, Staircase, The Daily Mail, I Might Be Wrong, The Gloaming, Separator, Nude, Morning Mr. Magpie, Identikit, Lotus Flower, There There, Karma Police, Feral, Idioteque ENCORE 1: You and Whose Army?, House of Cards, Supercollider (dedicated to Jack White), Bodysnatchers, Everything In Its Right Place ENCORE 2: Give Up the Ghost, Reckoner (dedicated to Red Hot Chili Peppers), Paranoid Android
After the longest Radiohead show of the year ended (this is a fact), we headed over to This Tent to catch dubstep/electronic/reggae duo Major Lazer and then make our way into the crowd for Umphrey’s McGee’s late night set.
Electronica and reggae were two things I never thought would go together, but Major Lazer makes it work so perfectly well. DJs Diplo and Scratch played music for everybody to dance to, from the fat men to the topless women they were begging to see.
Audience participation is a big part of their show, they even brought a guy on stage and had their dancers give him the Major Lazer treatment, whatever that is. Their set was a lot of fun, but whoever the hype man is, he is wicked obnoxious. Just saying.
Chapter 7: Umphreaks’ Delight
Umphrey’s McGee are a band that, to be honest, I hadn’t heard much of. But per the recommendation of CC family members, we made the decision to stick around until 4 in the morning to catch a super-special late night Umphrey’s McGee set. And you know what, we had a lot of fun!
20 minutes had passed since they were supposed to take the stage, and nothing had happened. The stage was set up and everything was tuned. Then, the lights went down and Umphrey’s came out and blew the roof off This Tent.
Umphrey’s opened up with Gurgle which led right into 40′s Theme, the latter of which featured a tease One Nation Under A Groove by Funkadelic. Then they went into Plunger which led right into The Floor. Afterwards they played Pay the Snucka with a Stranglehold tease, which jammed on into the Triple Wide which eventually led back into Pay the Snucka, this time with a Bulls on Parade tease.
Umphrey’s played like absolute maniacs. The two guitarists are amazing at what they do, and watching them do the overhand finger-tapping was insane. If I passed these people on the street, I would NEVER in a million years think “That guy must be an insane guitar player.”
At around 4, Umphrey’s invited up the special guest that everyone was speculating about: Big Gigantic. The saxophone player did a sax solo as the members of UM left the stage. Big Gigantic did a jam before Umphrey’s came back on and did a second set that lasted til 6 in the morning!
As cool as it would have been to say that I was there, I just couldn’t stay up that long. So we left after Big Gigantic came on got 3 hours of sleep.
Setlist: Gurgle > 40′s Theme*, Plunger – > The Floor, Pay the Snucka** > The Triple Wide > Pay the Snucka$, Puppet String, JaJunk > Breathe$$ (Pink Floyd cover) > Plunger, Ringo^ > All In Time&, Bright Lights Big City, 1348 > Hajimemashite, Miss Tinkle’s Overture > Thunderstruck (AC/DC cover) > Miss Tinkle’s Overture, Booth Love, Wizard Burial Ground ENCORE: In the Kitchen&& > JaJunk
* with One Nation Under a Groove (Funkadelic) tease
** with Stranglehold (Ted Nugent) jam
$ with Bulls On Parade (Rage Against the Machine)
^ full band switch with Big Gigantic
& with Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ (Michael Jackson) jam
Chapter 8: Day Complete
Quite a successful day if I do say so myself. I wasn’t disappointed at all by any band I saw. And I could say that I got 3 hours of sleep at Bonnaroo! Because seriously, you’re not gonna sleep in after 8 in the morning. Trust me.