WNKU | Scene & Heard: Bonnaroo 2016
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16 Jun Scene & Heard: Bonnaroo 2016


Bonnaroo is much like Disney World or Venice, Italy. Trying to explain it to someone that has never been there is nearly impossible. It’s best left experienced or just described with the simple term: “magical”.

This was my fifth time at Bonnaroo (or as it’s called, “The Farm”), which was celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. I’m an even numbered year kind of guy that has attended the inaugural 2002 showing, as well as the ‘06, ‘10, ‘12, and now 2016 festivals.

There are so many things that help make the magic, but there are two that are especially meaningful for me. The first is attending with a “rookie”. Doing so allows you to easily & quickly remember what it was like the first time you spent a weekend hiding away in Tennessee. The other is an observation that came from my friend (his sixth ‘Roo) when he said something like: “Bonnaroo is like that old friend you have that no matter when you find time to catch up, it’s like you’ve never been apart.” That’s magical, right? As I’m sure anyone reading can attest to that has been on The Farm having the right company makes Bonnaroo all the better.

Let’s talk music. There’s so much honestly that it can be intimidating and hard to manage for even the most grizzled veteran. (Not to mention to try to recap!)

What I have always found is the best approach is to draw up a loose outline each day & have some flexibility aside from the “can’t miss” shows that I’ve identified. Here are some of my personal highlights, some of which were “can’t miss” and some of which were new discoveries.

Con Brio

One nice part of Bonnaroo is that you’re always going to walk away with something you wouldn’t otherwise. Con Brio (pretty much the first band to play this year) was mine. They had infectious horns and a dynamic lead singer in Ziek McCarter that made for an absolute treat for the folks that were gathered early on Thursday for their set.

Leon Bridges

It’s funny what expectations can do to you. I love Leon’s album Coming Home. but after seeing a rather stiff performance on the Austin City Limits TV show, my enthusiasm was tempered for his set. However from the moment Leon took the stage on Friday night, he was on top of his game. He was energetic and he put on quite the show for the packed tent. His show was one that still had everyone talking the next day, which is a true Roo testament to having a great night.

Pearl Jam

There is nothing like a headliner set at Bonnaroo. From a musical perspective most everything else is shut down & so if you’re at a show you are at the same show as everyone else. The Pearl Jam set on Saturday night did not disappoint & left us all talking not about Eddie, but about Mike McCready and his guitar chops. There was a nice personal touch too as the Bonnaroo crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Eddie’s oldest daughter, Olivia. With that said though, the highlight had to be the entire farm singing “Why Go Home” in unison.


death cab bonnDeath Cab for Cutie

For some reason I had done a lot of reflecting regarding the legacy of this band leading up to Bonnaroo. I’ve never been a huge fan, but I’ve always paid attention to (and respected) their work. After a late Sunday set on the biggest stage, I can only wonder more about these guys and their legacy. They were on fire on The Farm and hit after hit came along. Is it fair to start to move DC4QT up the proverbial ladder and talk about them as one of the great bands based on their live show and overall body of work? I’m starting to think so.

Lord Huron

The 2015 release, “Strange Trails” was a personal favorite of mine & my expectations were sky high for this late Sunday set. But as day turned to night for the last time on The Farm these guys really brought the house down. The tent was rocking with great crowd participation and the Lord Huron set was an ideal way to (almost) close down the weekend. Their two albums flow together seamlessly at their live show & it worked perfectly on Sunday night.

Sunday @ That Tent

That Tent (one of the many cleverly named stages at Bonnaroo) hosted essentially a Bluegrass Sunday. It started with a jaw dropping solo set from John Moreland, and included acts like Bluegrass Bonn
Sam Bush
, The Wood Brothers, and others. The closing set was curated by Ed Helms (yes, Ed Helms), which included plenty of guests that had performed throughout the afternoon but also included surprise performances by both Lee Ann Womack and Langhorne Slim who weren’t even on the Bonnaroo bill. It was a perfect respite of well-curated tunes for a Sunday on a farm in Tennessee. The set closed out with a beautiful all-star version of the Stills-Young tune, “Long May You Run”. Now that was a great way to close down the weekend.

All in all, one time a year a plot of land in Manchester, TN turns into a little piece of magic where like-minded people can immerse themselves in a musical experience. “Rookies” are always surprised there are no fights and that people do so well together. Frankly given the news that arrived early Sunday morning from Orlando while we were sitting around camp, it’s a damn shame that the real world can’t be more like Bonnaroo. Dave Rolfes (Photos courtesy of Dave Rolfes)