As music festivals go, Bonnaroo stands out
Editor’s note: Salisbury native Ben Clark recently attended the Bonnaroo music festival and shared this report.
By Ben Clark
For the Salisbury Post
MANCHESTER, Tenn. ó At first glance, Manchester appears to be your typical, unassuming, Tennessee farming community.
It is an area of picture-perfect sylvan glens where locals sit on their front porches and drink iced teas. Where cows graze on the tall wheat grass that undulates like waves on rolling hills.
But for four days each June, this quiet little town becomes ground zero for the most boisterous celebration of music, the arts and life seen since the love fests of the Woodstock generation.
A new town springs up, replacing the sleepy Manchester with a cataclysmic, cacophonous celebration the likes of which middle Tennessee seldom sees.
Bonnaroo has arrived.
For the record, Bonnaroo is a music festival running from June 11-14 under the auspices of Superfly Productions and AC Entertainment. In its eighth year, Bonnaroo continues to grow, with this latest edition hosting approximately 90,000 people on a 700-acre farm.
Admission prices vary from $220 to $290, and those are the cheap seats. (For the cash strapped, there are easy payment plans.)
From there, Superfly allows squatters and campers the option of purchasing the more expensive RV and VIP packages.
This was a special year for the music at Bonnaroo. The program varied from rock and roll, to country, to hip hop, and then tried to cover everything in between.
Big named bands such as Phish, Bruce Springsteen and Beastie Boys made appearances. Erykah Badu, Snoop Dogg, Gov’t Mule, Ani Difranco, David Byrne, Ben Harper and Nine Inch Nails also graced the many stages, strategically located through- out the sprawling tent city so that the wailing, screeching, booming or riffing of one group never infringed on another.
Smaller bands less likely to make the covers of Vibe energetically plied their wares, hoping against hope that they’d shed the stigma of opening acts and one day become headliners. These included (and remember the names): MGMT, Moe, Toubab Krewe, Grace Potter, Paul Okenfold, and Bela Fleck.
The music started at noon and lasted way through the night until the sun came up.
Each stage had its own moniker: the What Stage, the Which Stage, the This Stage, the That Stage, and even the Other Stage. There was even a stage called the Solar Stage that was powered from (guess what?) solar panels.
Each band would play anywhere from an hour and a half to a numbing four hours, depending on stamina and an estimation of the audience’s tolerance for long, self-absorbed riffs. The music was continuous and ever-present.
The epicenter of the festival was christened, get this, Centeroo, a makeshift city of streets lined with white tents that vendors had strategically erected to hawk their merchandise. Food vendors would be selling homemade burritos, gyros, Chinese food and almost any meat or vegetarian fare you could ask for.
Interspersed were art booths, produce, general supplies and mini lecture halls for dispensing self-help books, pamphlets and advice on everything from sustainability in your personal life to the effects of planetary alignment on your future.
If you became tired of the music and bored with the vendors, there were other options. A Ferris wheel was erected to give you a nice view of the sun setting over the Tennessee countryside.
Old, discarded scrap metal had been turned into art. A circus-like pavilion featured sideshow performers juggling and spitting fire.
Huge bobble-headed statues dotted the landscape to cast shade for the overheated. A large mushroom-shaped fountain in the center of it all spat out water for cooling down. Mist tents were located at every turn.
People watching was a favorite pastime. Here, you could watch “children” from infants to 75-year-olds wandering around gawking and commenting on the crowds of eclectically dressed characters. And at night, spontaneously formed parades of people would snake through the crowds with glow sticks, drums and tambourines singing to the heavens.
With all of this excitement and the thousands of people, one might wonder about Bonnaroo’s ecological impact. After all, bringing this many people together in one spot makes a huge footprint on the Earth. What is one to do with all of the trash from food and drink, not to mention the inevitable personal waste?
Fortunately, a group called Clean Vibes works at Bonnaroo cleaning up all that is left behind. This year, Clean Vibes was working harder than ever staffing stations for compost, recyclables and general garbage throughout the venues.
Vendors demonstrated how to grow organic gardens, and volunteers made speeches on how to reduce the amount of carbon we put into the air.
This year’s Bonnaroo was the Clean and Green edition.
One comes away each year secure in the knowledge that diversity, whether in music or people, does not preclude community. For a few days in the hills of Tennessee, total strangers congregated to celebrate the joy of music only to realize that existing together in harmony is not only attainable, but also enjoyable.