In 2007, many moons ago, I was on my way to what would become a common occurrence over the next few years. I may have went for only a select few bands, but the musical experience I encountered made an impression on me. That first drive, through the night and through the amazing black mountains of Tennessee, I would have never guessed that in 2013 I’d be making my fourth trip to “ the Farm” as it’s known to hardcore fans and devotees of the Bonnaroo Music Festival, held every year in the beautiful, but very hot surroundings of Manchester Tennessee. Let’s take a journey back in time a few months, shall we?
Before I even start, let me note that yes I’m aware this is months after the festival has concluded. This late review is due in part to busy schedules, lack of inspiration, and also for the awesome fact that I recently got married!
Basically the day the lineup was announced I knew that I would be going, and after months of planning, checking lists and making sure everything was correct my good friend and I embarked on our journey. In the three previous years I had went I had always gone with people who had never been before, and it’s always and amazing thing to share with someone for the first time. This would be no different. After driving through the whole night, leisurely hanging out and speeding through the dark night, finally, finally, FINALLY, we were there. After setting up our home in the field for the new 4 days, and after several celebratory drinks with our new neighbors, we embarked to see what the farm had to offer us. Several hours later we were back at our camp, hanging out and getting ready for the first night of the festival.
First up on our list was Haim. These sisters from California were apparently a big draw for the early arrivals at the festival, although I don’t really see why. When I had checked them out during my pre -fest research, I remember liking them marginally, but live it just didn’t do it for me. They have great crowd energy, but what’s lacking for me, I think, is that it’s clear that they still aren’t sure what type of band they want to be. They go back and forth between growling, heavy tracks, and then change it up with music that sounds like Susanna Hoff and the Bangles from the 80′s. For me at least it didn’t work, but to each his own. Since that day though, they’re blowing up, which I guess is good for them.
Around that time, thanks to the Bonnaroo app, we found out that the Saturday headliner, Mumford & Sons, had canceled. I had mixed feelings about seeing them, so it wasn’t a major disappointment to me. Having said that, I can’t imagine how bummed the big M&S fans were that they wouldn’t be playing. Just an unfortunate situation all around.
Next up was Django Django, who I had been listening to a lot since the album had come out the previous year. Just an all around solid set, and really got the crowd involved. The sound from where I was also was impeccable. Sounded just like the album, but much much louder. All around an enjoyable opening day set.
Now, if you’ve ever been to this festival, you should know of the famous Fountain in the middle of Centeroo, which is where all the bands play. I bring this up because earlier in the day it was pretty hot, so I took the chance to soak myself under the cool water. Three hours later though, I was paying for it. The nights tend to get pretty cold, and of course I had forgotten that. Freezing my ass off, but wanting to get a good spot for the Japandroids, we made the quick decision to run back to camp and allow me to change. We had about 30 minutes, but somehow we made it there and back and made our way to the Japandroids.
To say they were good would be an understatement. My partner for the fest had seen them before, and insisted it would be awesome. As a fan of both albums, I was completely down with seeing them. Basically they rocked the house. The crowd energy was also extremely high. Due to this, we went from being outside the tent when they began to getting within about 50 feet of the stage by the fourth song of the set. For two guys they murder a crowd. The music is a little more frantic than on albums, but it works perfectly. I’d highly recommend seeing them the next chance you have. These guys are gonna be around hopefully for awhile,and I’d be shocked if they didn’t continue to get more popular as they go.
By this time, our bodies started to wear out, and we decided to head back to camp. Roo is a marathon, not a sprint, and if you’re not careful you end up burning out pretty quickly.
Waking up Friday and there was one thing on everyone’s mind: Sir Paul McCartney was playing today. One of the awesome things about the internet is the ability to make connections to people you’d never meet otherwise. Every year the good people from the Roo message board hold a brunch on the Friday of the festival. After trying to go the previous years, it was nice to finally be able to attend. To meet and chat with people I’d never met in person was awesome, and there was plenty of awesome food, snacks and drink for everyone.
The first act I checked out was Charlie XCX. Now maybe I’m just dense, but while I enjoyed the portion of the set I saw, I was confused also. The big Icona Pop hit of this year “ I don’t Care,” was definitely played, but I wasn’t aware they were the same person. Maybe I’m wrong, but I heard quite a few Icona Pop songs being played. Is Charli XCX the producer? Either way, the 20 minutes I saw I enjoyed. Next it was on to the what stage for the majority of the day.
First up was Of Monsters & Men, whom I had been looking forward to immensely for months now. The show was good, but I was expecting a more fast paced upbeat show, which wasn’t exactly what we got. What we did get instead was a low key, slower, more relaxed set. It still worked, and was enjoyable, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for. Maybe the extreme afternoon heat was just too much for the pack of Icelanders. Next up was a late afternoon set from the amazing Grizzly Bear. These dudes should be way bigger than they currently are. The still haven’t managed to make even a decent album. Every thing they release gets better and better. Shields is no exception. While the setlist was heavy on Shields and Veckatimest, they brought in things from all the albums. It was incredibly enjoyable. Just a perfect way to spend the day.
Grizzly Bear Setlist: Speak in Rounds, Adelma, Sleeping Ute, Cheerleader, Yet Again, Knife, A Simple Answer, Gun-Shy, Ready, Able, On a Neck, On a Spit, Two Weeks (with Solange), Half Gate, Sun in Your Eyes
Next on the itinerary was Wilco. I was a decent fan of the band, but this was more to invest in a good spot for the Beatle playing next. They were solid as always, with Jeff Tweedy offering up his unique form of humor. They were perfect for the spot before McCartney and more than served their purpose.
Now, now, where to begin on Paul McCartney. This isn’t just a concert, but a major life experience, in my opinion at least. The show doesn’t even really start when he walks out on stage. In earnest, it starts about 30 minutes before he appears. Beatles music starts blaring from the speakers and a very large montage of pictures from his entire life slide through the screens on either side of the stage. It’s the perfect way to start this concert.
Finally, the man casually comes walking out with his band. Now on first thought I’m surprised that he only had 4 other guys on stage, not the giant band I expected, but with these guys you don’t really need anything else. The musicianship is excellent, and the choice of songs is nothing short of brilliant. For nearly 3 hours this old man hammers the crowd with everything he has, and barely works up a sweat. He’s so fine tuned it isn’t even funny. Towards the end is where he REALLY ramps it up. He plays Let it Be, Live and Let die, then Hey Jude. In that order.
One of the only rock songs my grandmother even showed any interest in was Let it Be, and upon the start of that song, tears and goosebumps aren’t really an option. Then Live and Let die is just fucking madness. More fire and fireworks than even your average Kiss fan could handle. It’s just magical to witness. From then he continues with Beatles songs, and finishes the truly unbeleuevable set with the impeccable sounds of Golden Slumber, Carry that Weight, and of course, The End.
I can’t properly convey the overwhelming positivity of this event. Being part of a field with 80,000 other people, who are all different colors, ages, and from all walks of life, and seeing them share this moment is truly one I’ll never forget.
Paul McCartney Setlist:
Eight Days a Week, Junior’s Farm, All My Loving, Listen to What the Man Said, Let Me Roll It, Paperback Writer, My Valentine, Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five, The Long and Winding Road, Maybe I’m Amazed, Midnight Special, We Can Work It Out, Another Day, And I Love Her, Blackbird, Here Today, Your Mother Should Know, Lady Madonna, All Together Now, Lovely Rita, Mrs. Vandebilt, Eleanor Rigby, Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!, Something, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Band on the Run, Back in the U.S.S.R., Let It Be, Live and Let Die, Hey Jude, Day Tripper, Hi, Hi, Hi, Get Back, Yesterday, Helter Skelter,Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, The End
Now, how exactly do you follow that up? Well, if you’re us, you head back to the tent to make many drinks before heading back to the stages for a 2 am. serving of Animal Collective.
Since there’s no way of competing with a Beatle, you have to just go another way, which is what they did. The visuals were awesome, and the fact that Michael Winslow, you know, the voice-box guy from the Police Academy films introduced them was just an added bonus. The other times I’ve seen them they never played more than 1 or 2 songs I knew, but this time they stuck mostly to newer songs, which worked in their favor for obvious reasons.
They kicked ass until 4 am, and by that hour, it was time for rest.
Animal Collective Setlist:
Moonjock, Did You See the Words, What Would I Want? Sky, Wide Eyed, Today’s Supernatural, I Think I Can, Father Time, My Girls, Applesauce, Peacebone, Honeycomb, Brother Sport, The Purple Bottle
By Day three, your body starts to give out, and it being day three, my body was slowly getting over it. Thankfully there wasn’t a lot on my plate this day. Early sets from Cults and Lord Huron were both as solid as they were enjoyable, even with the heat to contend with. Cults played everything I wanted to hear, but the bright sun didn’t lend well to the overall feel of the set. They should’ve been a late night set at the very least, but they worked with it and ended out doing pretty well.
Lord Huron was as chill and relaxed as it is on the albums. Sometimes you just can’t beat a nice ay listening to music while you lay in the grass.
Next up was Four Tet. Another solid show from this awesome electronic musician. Having seen him at Fun Fun Fun Fest a few years ago, I kinda knew what to expect, and much like he did there, he completely delievered the crowd to really good edm, which in my opinion, is something that’s lacking these days.
The big draw for me though was Bjork. I’ve loved her since I was young, and I never thought I’d get to see her live. Now, her placement on the schedule was perplexing to say the least. A day light set? Really? It doesn’t make any sense, but I guess you have to take what you can get. Either way, she brought it, all with a minimal set up. Two guys doing keyboard work, and a choir of sassy young ladies dancing and rapping behind her. That was it. But in the end that’s all she needed. Also, the amazingly pleasant surprise of my all time favorite Bjork song, Bachelorette, and it was easily the second best show I saw the entire weekend.
Bjork Setlist: Cosmogony, Hunter, Moon, Crystalline, Hidden Place, Heirloom, Bachelorette, One Day, Jóga, Pagan Poetry, Mutual Core, Hyperballad, Pluto, Declare Independence, Náttúra
Having witness something special and unique, we wisely chose to have a slow evening, and headed back to camp to hang out for the rest of the day. After all, Sunday was by far our busiest day of the entire festival.
First up for the final day was Wild Nothing, who honestly, didn’t really jump out at me, and after a few songs I lost interested and wandered around until it was time to see Holy Ghost, who were much better.
They bring a fun mix of nerdy and dancey that more or less worked for the setting they were in. It was a nice way to wind into what was a busy busy day. One thing I hate about big festivals in conflicts, and this day was full of them. Swans, Tame Impala and the National all playing within 90 minutes of each other.
Next for me was Swans, while my pal waited for one of his must see’s Tame Impala.So Swans is really fucking loud, and downright evil in sound. As I’m waiting for them to begin and as the opening number begins, I see a group of very pretty girls, who I doubt know anything about this band. I imagine they saw the name on the schedule and thought “this sounds pretty,” let’s go see them. The sheer look of horror on these same faces when Swans delves head first into absolute destruction is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Swans live really can’t be reviewed to full justice. They must be experienced. Also, in their 70 minute set they managed to squeeze in 2 songs, both offering equal views of a vast wasteland of desolate sound.
Next my goal was to see 15 minutes of Tame Impala before the National, but seeing as they were very late, that didn’t happen.
The National have been a band that I’ve slowly started to love more and more over the last few years, and this time seeing them was well worth the wait. They played everything I hoped for, and even had a special guest in the form of Annie Clarke from St.Vincent. An excellent show, full of plenty emotions, and an excellent way to spend the last day of the festival.
The National Setlist: I Should Live in Salt, Don’t Swallow the Cap, Mistaken for Strangers, Bloodbuzz Ohio, This Is the Last Time (with St. Vincent), Sea of Love, Afraid of Everyone,Anyone’s Ghost, Conversation 16, Squalor Victoria, I Need My Girl, Abel, Apartment Story, England, Humiliation, Graceless, Fake Empire, Mr. November, Terrible Love
After this, I decided to quietly watch St. Vincent & David Byrne, who brought all the hits you’d expect and energized the decreasing crowd on the final day of the festival.
Last but not least was Tom Petty. Simply, he was great. While not being a huge fan, how often do you get to see a living legend. “ Free Falling” was of course a highlight, and after watching half of the set, I decided to head back to camp and relax and prepare for the long drive home. It was an amazing experience, and one that will surely stay with me for the rest of my life.