Salutations friends! As June opens its’ door, festival season is officially underway. People can once again begin to embark out on the perpetual quest to satisfy their ears and eyes by indulging in one of the greatest gifts life has to offer-live music. Across the nation, fans now engage in chasing their favorite destination events, bands, songs, and comrades. Among them, next weekend’s (June 13-16) Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee.
Bonnaroo has risen to world fame from its’ beginnings as a mostly jam-centric haven to its’ current state, a wonderful melting pot of genre, visual art, and collectiveness from all over the planet. Yes, Bonnaroo is one of the largest festivals in the country, but it’s so much more. It is an explosion of diversity through art, a sponge for culture, and a tradition of expression like none other.
The lineup this year is as staggering as ever, dripping with intrigue at every avenue. Heading up the cavalry is the likes of Phish, Cardi B., Post Malone, The Childish Gambino, The Avett Brothers, Griz, John Prine, Gucci Mane, Odesza, Solange, The Lumineers, Brandi Carlisle, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, The Grand Ole Opry, The National, and so many, many more brilliant acts waiting to unload, including tremendous representation from New York sure to stamp the South. Additionally, Bonnaroo boasts so much extra flavor it differentiates itself from any other event on the circuit. Bonnaroo has, and continues to always stand-alone in greatness and mystique. As I prepare to join the horde down on the farm, let’s look ahead to some of what this year’s installment has to offer.
Bonnaroo stretches four days; each packed to the brim with exciting names, activities, and opportunity. I look forward to rejoining the mass down in Manchester for the first time in many years, and it’s a pleasure to act as the correspondent for NYS Music for the first time! I’ll be rolling along from start to finish as the biggest party of the year pops its’ top, and I’d like to point to a few things which excite me about this event.
The Grand Ole Opry (Thursday evening): This conglomerate of folk and bluegrass takes the headlining slot on Thursday evening. The wagon features Old Crow Medicine Show, Steve Earle & The Dukes, Ricky Skaggs and a collection of other friends that is sure to bring the downhome sounds of the do-si-dos right into the heart of Graceland. The energy at Bonnaroo on Thursday night is something fierce; of course arriving at a festival is always special. Anticipation breathes, evening comes quickly, and for the first time the site really becomes alive. Bonnaroo Thursday is the above but just a little more special simply because of the size and tradition of this place. The sounds of Appalachia is the perfect way to send the first shockwave through the crowds, and I can’t wait to see what this group of bluegrass all stars has to throw down.
Access to new discovery: I can’t stress to our readers and fellow attendees how special this aspect of the festival is. Naturally a few names will jump off the lineup every year, and every individual has their favorites, but Bonnaroo is at its’ roots a mecca of discovery. Stumbling upon a band I’ve never heard of, from a distant region, or perhaps one whose genre is so outside my wheel well is just serene, and Bonnaroo is the place for that. I encourage those on the grounds to get lost at least once, and bask in the sheer size and undertaking of this gathering. Follow your feet to sound, and discover something new.
Phish: The boys from Vermont make their third appearance on the hollowed grounds of the What Stage for what promises to be an epic soul shakedown. Their last appearance at the ‘Roo was in 2012, and the band is in quite a different place today then they were in 2012, when they really had just begun to step back into their stride following their hiatus during the early and mid 2000s. Today, the band has been firing on all cylinders for quite a while, and while Bonnaroo is only at the tip of their summer tour, these shows will be absolutely special. Especially of note is Friday’s performance, which finds the foursome busting loose at 11pm, a start time much later than their usual shows. Always well aware of the stage and moment, expect a high energy, barnburner style punch right out of the gate.
New York in the house: Good news everyone! Fine company represents New York this year down in Manchester. A group that includes headliner Cardi B, the space funk party sounds of Rubblebucket, the indie quartet Parquet Courts, the dynamic electro dance king Space Jesus, the multi-instrumentalist rockers The Lemon Twigs, the young singer-songwriter and producer whiz King Princess, modern pioneers of the “now” sound AJR, and of course Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. I want to touch explicitly on Russo’s band for a second, or, JRAD, as many known them by their acronym. JRAD, a band born at the New York’s own Brooklyn Bowl in 2013 is a group which reprises the music of The Grateful Dead in a way that is so fresh, so their own that a listener can get completely lost within their compositions. Bonnaroo would not be the same without some iteration of The Dead’s catalogue in its’ midst and JRAD is the perfect selection. Late night? In a tent (That Tent)? Yes please. The group pioneered by kit virtuoso Joe Russo is always good for a surprise as well. Listen carefully for off the wall covers and licks to keep the crowd guessing. This collection of homegrown artists is as diverse as the great state and city from which they hail, and it will be a treat to see how they weave into the mix.
The site/sights/people: Bonnaroo is absolutely a national treasure of sound, but it’s also delightfully visual. The installations and works of vast creative genius teams stretch far beyond the actual venue (dubbed Center Roo), and engulf in color, light, and wonder that sweeps through the surrounding campgrounds and commonplaces that make up the bulk of the festival’s map. Feast your eyes on tapestry of color created by attendees and visual artists alike. There is not a more diverse group of patrons to be found than at Bonnaroo, and there is something very powerful to be said in that. The beauty in a distinct diversity of ages, races, sexes, nationalities and beyond all transcend themselves on the farm. I have always found it to be a fluid place in so many different ways, I encourage everyone to notice how special this feature is as they traverse through the weekend.
Bonnaroo has a lane, a speed, and a taste for everyone. It continues to reinvent itself. It’s a testament to the industry and people for which it serves. Stages arise out of the woods; themed areas such as The Christmas Club Barn wait to be stumbled upon, roving DJ pop up sets in the plazas of the camps are just the beginning. To invoke the great Paul Simon, these are the days of miracle and wonder, of lasers in the jungle my friends, this is the long distance call. A wave of positive kinetic madness is about break under the hot Tennessee sun. Bonnaroo 2019 is finally here!
For more information on the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, including tickets, the complete lineup, map, schedule, and much more, visit www.Bonnaroo.com. Keep your browsers dialed in right here at NYS Music for all of our coverage as I roam around the fields with my trusty photographer Rob Roane. Check our coverage out throughout the festival as we document our happenings via the NYS Music Instagram page, and after the festival wraps we will be dropping our reviews to keep you informed, up to date, and enthralled. Until then my friends, I will see you on the other side.