Festival review: Everything that went right at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Special post by Alive intern Matthew Lovett

The constant shrill of blown-out eardrums, the skin of a fried tomato, the crackling of an exhausted voice box - these are the things that wear on the festival-goer days after arriving home. (I'm applying aloe to my forehead between sentences.) In this case, the event is Manchester, Tennessee's Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, consisting of four days and three nights of tent-based live music and 90-plus degree sunshine.

When it comes to Bonnaroo, there's much more going on than jumping from stage to stage in order to rack your brain with as many bands as possible. This festival is full of unique vendors, ranging from overpriced chicken-finger sellers to crunchy, build-your-own-drum booths and other hippie-certified goods. There's a lot to do at Bonnaroo.

This was my first time at a music festival, besides Columbus' annual Comfest, which actually is sort of a miniature Bonnaroo. Bonnaroo has roughly twenty times the amount of people and space; but really, the spirit and atmosphere of my weekend in Manchester was comparable to a Comfest weekend at Goodale Park.

Bonnaroo's size was its only hindrance, as this was the source of humongous lines for everything (food, water, bathrooms) and also the cause of an unusual, potentially aggravating concert experience. My ability to nudge myself into a show's pit at any concert at a standard venue was put in its place. Gaining a spot within 50 feet of an artist at Bonnaroo required showing up to the stage hours beforehand. Who wants to do that when there's at least three different artists you want to see in that time? Not me. Japandroids was the only band I was able to get a front-and-center standing spot for, and getting there seemed to be a miracle (more on Japandroids later).

Below, I've assembled a list of bands/vendors/otherwise neat things that defined the Bonnaroo experience. Even with the heat and being in a constant, shoulder-to-shoulder state, participating in such an event was a profound one. I'm already planning to go back next summer.

1. Meatwad

Cartoon Network's Adult Swim had a theme park of sorts going on throughout the weekend. I didn't get a chance to walk through the immense Meatwad, a character on "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," but I found plenty of entertainment in simply gazing at him.

2. "Brooer's Yard"

Bonnaroo hosted about a dozen craft brewers from around the nation to serve their two best beers from draft - all under one tent. I didn't have the funds or the time to try out everything, though I was able to try out a Hefeweizen from the Nashville-based Yazoo Brewing Company. (This brewery's "Sue" beer appeared in a Jeni's Ice Creams flavor a couple of months back, the Yazoo Sue with Rosemary Barnuts.) The bad side: Every beer cost upwards of $7, which sounds absurd for only 12 ounces, but mind you, Miller Lite was being sold for the same price throughout the rest of the festival offering just a few ounces more in its container.

3. The Amish Baking Company

Hailing from all the way in Florida, the Amish Baking Company had the most booming presence in the food market at Bonnaroo. They only had two items for sale: glazed doughnuts and pretzels, both of which were freshly baked on site. With doughnuts the size of your face and pretzels dipped in butter before being served, this was the place to be if you didn't feel like blowing all your cash on a $10 kabob. (On that note, these titanic treats were $5 or less.) Had I known better, I would have chosen to survive the weekend on a diet comprised solely of their baked goods.


This dream-pop crew headed by Zachary Cole Smith, formerly of Beach Fossils, put on two sets over the course of the weekend. The one I caught at a tiny, Ford-sponsored tent proved to be one of the best shows all weekend. Perhaps my love for their set was largely due to the tribulation they had undergone just prior to their show; Smith announced to the 40 or so people in attendance that the band's keyboardist had up and quit the night before. With that in the back of everyone's mind, DIIV went through the 40 minutes allotted to them without a tinge of despair. What was expected to be a mildly entertaining, head-bobbing gig turned out to be an impressive, vivacious set.

5. The drumstick of David Prowse, drummer of Japandroids

I have David Prowse's drumstick in my possession.

It wasn't handed to me directly, but was given to my friend by Prowse at the end of Japandriods' set. Having seen them the night before in Columbus, and as Alive Editor Justin McIntosh can probably tell you, this band kills it live, making them easily one of my favorite bands. Seeing them twice in a row was an event in itself, one that will surely be remembered for years to come - even if my shoulders are still in pain nearly a week after moshing to two 'Droids shows in a row.

6. The community

The festival does a fantastic job at enticing its attendees and encouraging them to interact with each other and Bonnaroo itself. Inscribed at the top of a long wall was "Before I Die I Want To," asking all Bonnaroovians to finish the sentence in their own way. In addition, a grandiose, mushroom-shaped fountain was crafted to splash around in. Not to mention each garbage area had designated sections for compost and recycling, and all of the vendors gave their products out in compostable cups and plates. These elements (and more) were those of a true festival to me, whether they were intended for fun or the greater good; they were items that created a community around the festival. Surely, this is the reason Bonnaroovians keep coming back.