The Bonnaroo musical festival has quickly become my generation’s version of Woodstock. Even though it is much more mainstream and commercially viable than Woodstock, it is by far the most popular large music festival with the largest breadth of talent. It’s the type of venue where up and coming bands can play an adjacent stage to one that Eminem will take later in the day. It’s also a place where fans of a certain genre of music can come see several top performers and stay for several top performers in a different genre.
It’s all about exposing yourself to new music, and being around a crowd that has as eclectic tastes as yours. For instance, this year I really want to see Lil Wayne, but I’ll probably skip the beginning of his set to stay with friends who are dying to see Bassnectar, which is a band they like that I’m not familiar with. We’ll still make it to the Which Stage for part of Wayne’s show, I hope.
June 21, 2002- First day of First Bonnaroo
Bonnaroo’s inaugural year saw all 70,000 tickets sold out in advance. Highly anticipated acts were Umphrey’s McGee, Robert Randolph, and Norah Jones. The headliners were a far cry from today’s all-star lineup, but the cult following of several bands more than made up for the festival’s lack of radio number 1s. The festival also included fan favorite bluegrass acts Old Crow Medicine Show and The Del McCroury Band.
2005- Bonnaroo takes on its current format
The Festival in 2005 looked much more like this year’s offering than previous years. This was the first year the cinema tent was introduced, as well as the comedy tent. Kidz Jam hosts activities for the family, and there is a whole slew of other activities unique to Bonnaroo, like the Silent Disco, a club where you are given headphones and it appears to people outside that a large crowd is dancing feverishly in silence.
2006- Radiohead takes the cake
With one of the biggest lineups of headliners to date, Bonnaroo was sure to be an epic show. Beck, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead and Bonnie Raitt all had great sets in 2006, but it was Radiohead that put on what has been called the best set in Bonnaroo’s history. While the other bands pandered to the unlikely crowd, who had started to cross over into the mainstream, Radiohead played a 28-song set with several encores. It was the longest set of the band’s tour, and the crowd was still anxious for more. Bonnaroo began with a bunch of jam bands, and it is only fitting that the festival made its mark with an iconic set like this.
2008-Kanye West Egotistical Absence
Kanye West was originally scheduled to perform on the Which Stage earlier in the day, but had the stage changed to the main What stage at his own insistence. West claimed his set would not fit on the slightly smaller Which stage, and his show needed to be at night for the light show effects. No doubt his ego played into the request, because, after all, whoever heard of a headliner on the smaller stage?
The change put West after Pearl Jam, and it irked the rapper when Pearl Jam’s epic set ran an additional 45 minutes, even though the band cut its set short. As the start of West’s set rolled around, Kanye was nowhere to be found. Fans booed and littered the stage with debris for the next two hours. Finally minutes before dawn, West took the stage for his set. Some of the fans said it was worth the wait, but most concert goers were understandably upset.
West released a statement saying that the delay was because his performance took so long to set up, and he tried to blame the festival management for not giving people the chance to see his light show in its full glory. He said it was the most offended he had ever been, and the maddest he ever will be. You can see West’s all caps response here.
2009- Grateful Dead is Grateful Gone
For the first time since its inception, no member from the Grateful Dead performed at this year’s show. Most people attributed the absence to the aforementioned Kanye West debacle. Not only did West cut Pearl Jam’s set short, he also cut the Phil Lesh and Friends set in half. Since Lesh had been with the show since it began, he no doubt took offense to the fact Bonnaroo played like a star-struck intern instead of dancing with the man who brought them. While his declining health and the fact that he had quit touring may have been factors, it is obvious that his relationship with Bonnaroo has soured. Lesh’s new project, Furthur, has never played Bonnaroo, possibly because the bands playing at the festival have progressively become more pop-oriented.
2011- Back to basics
With an increasing number of acts being played on the top 40 and some of the founding acts leaving the lineup, it seems that Bonnaroo is trying to regain some of its jam band credibility. For the first time since 2008, the superjam is scheduled. With all the bands playing this year, it will be very interesting to see what the festival will do with this distinctive feature of an overall unique concert experience. I would love to see the Black Keys play with Grace Potter’s talented backup The Nocturnals.
Bonnaroo starts Thursday and will go through Sunday.The festival has been sold out for quite some time now, but luckily I already have my tickets. You may be able to find a pair for sale from some unlucky couple who couldn’t make the trip, so all hope is not lost if you wish to catch one of the greatest concert experiences of the year.
Bonaroo Official WebsiteRadiohead 2006 Bonaroo Setlist @ sterogum.com
Kanye West’s Bonnaroo Debacle, William Goodman, Spin.comKanye Addresses Bonnaroo Incident, Hoodfever.com