Elton John / Kanye West / Jack White
Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival
Great Stage Park
Manchester, Tennessee, USA
June 12-15, 2014
I am finally getting around to posting my Bonnaroo recap. This was mostly written a day or so after I got back and I am just now am getting around to posting it.
Two months ago I did my usual thing that I do in June. I pack up my camping gear and head to a farm to hang out with a bunch of hippies on a farm. I say hippies, although these days it more hipsters and bros. Regardless, I took to my regular vacation spot of the last few years and headed up to Manchester, TN for the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Instead of my normal band by band breakdown, this will be day by day so where better to start than day one.
This is going to be a long one.
Day One - Thursday - It all begins
I left the house a few hours later than I normally do on Thursday morning. I knew that the bands didn't start until around two so I wasn't in a big hurry to get there as I don't really care where I camp. I never return to the camp during the day so the walking distance to Centeroo really doesn't impact me that much. So after 9am Thursday I left the house and made my way to Manchester via Tullahoma and TN-55. I like this route because it lets me stop in Winchester/Dechard for breakfast and some last minute shopping at Walmart, and there is no way that I am taking I-24 that just spells traffic.
Around 10:40 I finally took my place in line on the shoulder of the overpass over I-24 on TN-55 (Exit 111). It was then a slow crawl to the West Tollbooth on Bushy Branch Rd. After a brief search of my car and the activation of the RFID chip in my wristband I entered the campgrounds of Bonnaroo. Shortly before 11:30 I arrived at Camp Brian Johnson and set up my home for the next four nights.
Once I had everything setup at camp I made my way to Centeroo and wander around until the music started. Eventually I took up a spot at The Other Tent where I would spend most of the day. The first band I saw of Bonnaroo 2014 was The Wild Feathers, a band from Nashville, and I honestly can't remember much about them other than I enjoyed them. Forgive me, it was a long four days. Then the first act of my must see list hit the stage, Robert DeLong. Great and enjoyable set with amazing energy. Not only did he play stuff from his album but he threw in a couple of covers as well, "Miss You" by The Rolling Stones and "Take A Picture" by Filter. Great start to the festival.
After Robert DeLong I made my way over to That Tent to see ZZ Ward. It was during ZZ Ward's set that something happened that made everyone outside the Tent go absolutely wild. In what seemed to be a sign that we were in for a great weekend a bright double rainbow appeared behind the tent. Things couldn't have been more perfect. Great music from ZZ Ward, great environment at Bonnaroo, and all capped off with a beautiful display in the sky. Perfect.
After ZZ Ward it was back to The Other Tent for MS MR and Break Science. I was really looking forward to MS MR as that type of music is something that I have really gotten in to over the past couple of years. They didn't disappoint. High energy and great crowd. Then to finish it off with Break Science was really nice. I did some fat white boy dancing for a bit and then found a nice spot outside of the tent to lay down and just listen to the music for a bit before making my way back to the tent. I made it an early night Thursday getting back to camp getting back to camp before midnight. I knew that I needed to get all the sleep I could because that would be it until Sunday.
Day Two - Friday - Kanye is a gay fish. #WhereThePressAt
I managed to get quite a good sleep Thursday night and was actually well rested and ready for the first real full day of the festival. Friday was going to be my longest day of the festival. I had can't miss bands all day with the last ending super late at nearly 4am.
My day began with Jon Batiste and Stay Human, a stop by the comedy tent, and then finally making my way over to The Other Tent to see Sam Smith. Do yourself a favor and give this guy a listen. What an amazing singer. After being blown away by Sam Smith's voice I made my way over to the main stage, What Stage, to catch a bit of Umphree's McGee's set before heading back to The Other Tent to catch Danny Brown. Danny Brown's show may have been the wildest of the weekend. Hands down my favorite rap show that I saw. After his show was over I stuck around for The Naked and The Famous before catching one of my favorite bands of the year, CHVRCHES.
One of the first things I thought when CHVRCHES took the stage was "Wow! Lauren Mayberry is so very tiny." Tiny or not, she took control of the crowd and didn't let go until they left the stage. This band has the potential to be absolutely huge. CHVRCHES provided my only major conflict of the weekend. They were directly up against Animals as Leaders and I made the decision to go with CHVRCHES as I would have a lot more chances to see Animals as Leaders live.
So I was making my way to Which Stage to see Phoenix when I hear something familiar coming from the On Tap Lounge. Sure enough Animals as Leaders was still playing! To say I was excited is an understatement. I can't thank whatever delayed the start of their show enough. From what I saw all weekend it appears that they may have drawn the largest crowd to that tiny stage. Such a great band. Once they were finally done I caught a bit of Phoenix before heading to What to see God's give to music, Kanye West.
Kanye's history with this festival is well documented and I'm not going to get into that here. but it did lead to the weirded vibe I have ever felt at a festival like this, especially for a headliner. There were some hardcore Kanye fans who waited in line during Vampire Weekend to get a place in the pit in front of the stage. For them, they probably think Kanye was the highlight of the weekend. For the rest of us, we got a different show.
I started off on the far right side of the stage because I knew I was leaving early to see Mastodon. When Kanye started I nor anyone around me was actually sure that Kanye was on stage. He had a real awkward setup for anybody who wasn't directly in front. He had the sides curtained off and a giant vertical screen behind him that I could barely see. This was made worse by the two screens on either side of the stage not carrying video of the performance. This only made the fact the he was terrible even worse. I eventually moved toward the middle where I could see better and expected things to get better. I was wrong.
Abruptly during songs Kanye would stop the music and go on these rambling rants. It wasn't even like he had anything worth while to say it was just repeating over and over how good he is. Even when he was saying how humbled he was it came off to me as more ego stroking. When he was done talking he would go in to this over auto tuned terribleness that was just unpleasant to listen to and then he began "The 'Where The Press At?' Rant." This is where a good majority of the people in the What field, including myself, begin their exodus back to Centeroo to wait on much better acts like Mastodon, Ice Cube, and Disclosure.
While waiting on Mastodon at This Tent a chant of "Kanye Sucks" broke out. I have heard tell of the same thing happening before Disclosure over at The Other Tent. As it turns out we Bonnaroovians can only radiate so much positivity and some assholes don't deserve it.
Anyway back to Mastodon. I have seen Mastodon several times over the last four years and they have always put on a great show. Typically festival shows aren't as good as solo shows, but wow, Mastodon put on one hell of a festival show. I knew it was going to be good when Brent Hinds greeted the crowd with "Fuck Kanye West. Fuck that guy." The crowd lost their collective shit and the evening was back on track.
Now this was a stretch of time where I wanted to see every band that was playing on every stage at the same time with my priority being the metal bands playing This Tent. After Mastodon finished I ran around the site to catch as much of Ice Cube and Disclosure as I could before heading back to catch Deafheaven. After they finished up I rand around again to catch the first fifteen minutes or so of Die Antwoord before making my way back to see Meshuggah. These guys brought it. It was 2:30 in the morning everyone was tired, but no one cared. The crowd was on the smaller side but it was insane. There were two circle pits and the music was as brutal as I imagined. By the end I was so exhausted I really didn't know if I could make it back to my tent.
I made it back to camp at 4am and prepared to crash when I heard the following coming from the next tent over just a few feet from my head.
Guy: "You're so pretty."
Girl: "Be quite."
This was followed by the unmistakable sounds of sex. It isn't easy to doze off to that no matter how tired you are. I eventually got my two hours of sleep.
Day Three - Saturday - Lionel is God
My Bonnaroo Saturday started off in the Cinema Tent where I watched about half of Revenge of the Nerds. This was followed by a spotlight on the Farrelly Brothers where they showed King Pin and Dumb & Dumber with a Q&A with Peter and Bobby Farrelly. I stuck around for King Pin and the Q&A. The exciting bit of this is that after the Q&A was over they showed the recently released trailer for Dumb and Dumber To. After the trailer they had a surprise for us. A Bonnaroo exclusive showing of about a 10 minute scene from Dumb and Dumber To. The crowd went insane. It was hilarious and dispelled any feeling that I had that the movie isn't going to be funny. I had to leave for the What Stage before Dumb and Dumber started because I had to make up for a mistake I made at Glastonbury nearly a year ago.
At last year's Glastonbury Festival I missed Seasick Steve's set. This year I wasn't going to make the same mistake and I am glad I didn't. The guy is just an amazing old school blues guy that writes about what he knows and loves be it women or tractors. I cannot recommend this guy enough. He is an unknown legend.
As soon as Seasick Steve was finished I headed over to This Tent to catch a group that I did see at Glastonbury, First Aid Kit. When they wrapped up I headed over to the Which Stage for the first time all weekend to see Cake. I have liked these guys for ages and they put on a great show. After they were done I made my way back over to What for my most anticipated show of the weekend.
I will not lie I am a bit of a Damon Albarn fanboy. I absolutely love all of the things he has done in his other bands and projects such as Gorillaz and Blur so I was absolutely looking forward to this show. I was not let down. He went into his entire catalog pulling out some great songs from not only his solo work but from Gorillaz, Blur, and The Good, The Bad, and The Queen. He also brought out De La Soul to perform "Feel Good Inc" and then Del the Funky Homosapien out for "Clint Eastwood." He even dished out some amazingly high praise for Bonnaroo by comparing it's vibe and feel to Glastonbury. That I can certainly agree on. But if it wasn't for the next act I saw, Damon Albarn would have been the highlight of my weekend. But it wasn't. And it was because of one man.
Lionel Richie. My god. This guy was amazing. He was so amazing that Bonnaroo gave him an extra fifteen minutes on his set so that he could basically do his whole show. I am glad they did. This may be the best performance by anyone I have ever seen. Consensus was certainly that no one on that farm that weekend was better. Kanye can shut up because this guy is a real rock star. He played every single song you wanted to hear from his solo stuff and the Commodores. And he played it with a certain style and humor that you could only expect from Lionel Richie. It was the perfect set.
How do you follow Lionel Richie? I don't know but Jack White found a way to do it. While I won't dare say it was a better set than Lionel, I will say that it was certainly the best headlining set that I have ever seen at a festival. Better than Radiohead. Better than RHCP. Better than Arcade Fire. Better than Eminem. Better than The Rolling Stones. Like Kanye, Jack talked quite a bit during his set, however, I felt that what Jack was saying was important. What he was saying mattered and had significance toward the music and the event. Never once did he put himself above the crowd or any other musician. He was the perfect headliner. This will not be the last time headlines Bonnaroo, not by a long shot. Just a great artist and musician.
After Jack White finished his epic two and a half hour long set I made my way back to Which to catch The Flaming Lips. I don't remember much from it. I spent all the energy I had for the previous three artists and I was drifting in and out of sleep sitting in the field in front of the stage. So when they wrapped up I made my way back to camp and missed The Glitch Mob who I had on my to see list. I have a feeling I will get plenty of chances to see them at Bonnaroo or other festivals in the future.
Day Four - Sunday - All Hail Sir Elton John
Sunday started off much like Saturday, in the cinema. This time is was a 20th anniversary screening of the Quentin Tarantino classic Pulp Fiction. This was no ordinary screening either. This was a quote-a-long. Set up karaoke style as the quote came up on screen there was a cue on when to say them. This in itself was quite entertaining but no, they turned it up one more notch. They handed out cap guns and they had a little countdown to when anytime a gun was fired in the movie. So when someone got shot in the movie the cinema went crazy with cap gun fire.
After the movie I did a wander around the site until something caught my ear. That something was Lucero playing the Which Stage. They quite a good country/rock band from Memphis that I will certainly be checking out in the near future. After that I would spend most of the day just sitting back in the sun and heat in front of What. First up was Yonder Mountain String Band. They are a great bluegrass band that kind of has a real rock vibe.
Next up was the Arctic Monkeys. A band that I had seen headline Glastonbury less than a year ago. They are still as good as I remember them. There is a reason they have headlined Glastonbury twice and I can see them headlining Bonnaroo in the future as well. As soon as they were finished I went back to Which to catch the first half of Broken Bells before making my way back to see The Avett Brothers at What.
As soon as the lineup hit a friend/coworker came to me and demanded/threatened that I see the Avett Brothers. So I gave them a listen and she was right, they were really good. They are even better live. They put on one hell of a show. This was their fifth time playing Bonnaroo and it certainly won't be their last and this won't be my last time seeing them either. Just a really great band whose cross genre music is an absolute perfect fit for Bonnaroo.
When I grabbed my spot for Avett I knew that I wanted to get the perfect spot. I wanted a spot that wasn't going to be too crowed, but still pretty close with a good view. I wanted this because I knew I would be holding on to it for the next and final act of the weekend.
Last year Paul McCartney headlined at Bonnaroo. That is a mega name, but Paul McCartney is Paul McCartney because he was part of one of the greatest and influential bands of all time, The Beatles. To me Elton John is bigger. Elton John is Elton John because he is Elton John. He is one of the ultimate rock gods. He is the ultimate diva. He is Elton John.
When I saw The Rolling Stones I expected to be awed by them because they were The Rolling Stone and not really because of their performance. I was right. Their presence was amazing, but the performance was good, but just wasn't as inspiring as it would have been 50 or 25 years ago. Elton on the other hand delivered the full package. From playing every song I knew plus a couple deeper cuts to bringing out Ben Folds to sing and play keyboards with him to a touching dedication to Casey Kasem who had died earlier in the day, Elton John nailed it. He closed out the festival with the style that only Elton John could.
And with that the festival was over. Musically this may have been my favorite festival that I have been to. The lineup and performances were almost perfect. The 2014 edition of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival proved once again that it is the king of all American music festivals.