MOVE takes a roadtrip to Bonnaroo

Music Columnist Patrick McKenna shares his experience at America’s best fest

By Patrick McKenna | July 8, 2014

Tags: Festivals Music Travel

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On a normal afternoon of the summer of 2013, I ventured to the nearby coffee shop in my hometown to meet a friend I hadn’t seen in weeks. One of the weeks I hadn’t seen him involved him, along with seven other of my close friends, attending the Manchester, Tennessee-based music festival Bonnaroo. So, as a fanatic of everything revolved around live music, I was all ears on the recap my friend was promising me.

After an hour of drooling over my friend describing the wonders of watching Tame Impala on a hill, the pyrotechnics of the glorious Paul McCartney and the straight-up weirdness of Björk, I knew what my goal for the next summer had become. I would make it to Bonnaroo’s 2014 festivities, and as a music fiend/journalist/adventurer, I would have the greatest week of my entire life.

SPOILER ALERT: I made it, and it was in fact without a shred of doubt the greatest week of my life.

My two best friends and I decided in early January we would not only attend the fest, but we would do it in cheap-living style by volunteering and saving ourselves a good $275. The idea seemed smart, but we had no idea how extraordinarily awesome it would be.

Once being assigned positions and making the 10-hour trek from Chicago, we finally found ourselves in the promised land of Manchester. For those who have never attended a camping music festival, the best way to describe it is a delightful concoction of obscenely happy individuals, all together for the purpose of seeing their group. The air was a bit muggy, the sun can be ferocious, yet spirits are consistently through the roof at the farm (for those unaware, the Bonnaroo is also known as “the farm”).

After a day and a half of working our six-hour volunteer shifts, Thursday, the first day of the festival, finally came around. The plan of attack was to see the smooth, beachy indie rock outfit Real Estate, followed by the poppy-hardcore punk Cloud Nothings and the personally worshipped garage rock angel of California, Ty Segall.

Now, after a couple days of fully engulfing the Bonnaroovian energy of loving thy neighbor and hanging out with thy homies, I wasn’t nearly prepared for the magnificence of each show I ended at on the first night. While loitering by the “Mushroom Fountain,” a lovely Bonnaroo-certified watering hole, Real Estate, the dudes I had witnessed hours before, stumbled by and graciously accepted our fan-boy praises. In addition, while the band packed up their gear, I shouted to the bassist for Ty Segall’s show, Mikal Cronin — a similar artist I’m obsessed with — that “I would get sweaty to his music any day of the week.” He responded by looking up, smiling and laughing for thirty seconds. The amount of happiness I had could never even fit into this sentence.

The week just went uphill from there. Between sweaty, yet exhilarating, punk shows like Diarrhea Planet, King Khan & the Shrines, The Orwells, YEEZUS FREAKING CHRIST and the roots-rock enthusiasts the Avett Brothers. Saturday’s headlining performance by Jack White will go down as the greatest live music I have ever witnessed in my entire life. Oh, and it’s important to not forget that Sir Elton John closed out the festival, proving to all 80,000 something attendees that the piano holds far more beauty than that wonderful new instrument, the computer.

By the end of the weekend, I was left with more contentment for life than could even fit into one body. The people I met were lovely, the scenery at Bonnaroo was surreal and the music was…well, I think you understand I enjoyed myself. To anyone wondering if a music festival really is worth the distance or money, I can promise that if you like music enough, you’ll see what I mean.

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