While the move-in and first day of Bonnaroo 2019 were a total and utter fiasco, the festival wasn’t so bad once we were actually allowed onto the farm and given a good night’s rest. Nevertheless, Helsboro left a sour taste in my mouth that was hard to wash out. In moments like this, it’s important to remember Bonnaroo’s favorite corporate marketing slogan: “Radiate Positivity.”
And you know I made sure to radiate that positivity all over the damn place.
The best part of Bonnaroo, for me at least, is waking up early enough to catch a few of the early afternoon acts. The first on our list was Ida Mae, a small British blues outfit. Needless to say, they kicked ass. We ended up going to see what the Teskey Brothers were all about. Eventually, the heat from the Tennessee mid-day sun was too much and we returned to camp to refuel.
We inevitably returned to Centeroo to listen to AJR, a group of three brothers who make samey-sounding electronic pop music. They were really fun and energetic, even going so far as to cover both “The Office” theme and Smashmouth’s “Allstar.” Somebody once told me how to pander to a crowd of millennials.
Then, we moseyed on over to see the Avett Brothers for a hot second before catching GRIZ at the Which stage. Each time I see a DJ or EDM producer act, I play a game of guessing how the musician will occupy their time between pressing play and before turning off their laptop. Instead of throwing cakes, pretending to adjust knobs, or playing a traditional instrument badly, GRIZ competently played a little sax, while otherwise letting the other artists that he has collaborated with do most of the crowd work. All in all, it was good.
We saw Childish Gambino’s set at the What Stage.
Let me preface this a bit by saying that this was my second time seeing Donald Glover perform at Bonnaroo. The first time was in 2015, I had only just begun listening to him casually after graduating from college, and he had, it seemed, begun experimenting more with singing rather than rapping. At the time, I shrugged, turned and walked away. In my mind, he was an amazing comedy writer, a great lyricist, a competent rapper, and an iffy singer in that order. Fast forward four years later and I was cautiously ready to rediscover Childish Gambino from a fresh perspective.
And then he completely knocked it out of the park.
I was stunned, confused, elated, and ready to jam to more after the set was done. Most of the songs involved him singing, prancing about the stage with his new beard and bare chest flexing all around. It was clear he was no longer an actor/comedian trying to make his music career work. I was no longer watching Donald Glover; Childish Gambino was in full effect.
Out of all of the shows I’ve seen at Bonnaroo, Gambino’s blew me away the most. Sure, Elton John, Lionel Richie, and Jack White are all undoubtedly rockstars of epic proportions, but there was something about Gambino’s performance that felt effortless, calculated, and polished. Maybe it was the contrast between my experiences at both shows, but I came out of Childish’s set muttering how blown away I was. That was the moment that I realized that Helsboro had been “worth it,” so to speak.
Although we knew that Phish were playing their first set for the week just after Childish, we made our way back to camp to wind down for the night. Here’s where I let you in on a little Bonnaroo secret: the sound is really good and, depending on your campsite and the stage that the artist is playing at, you will probably be able to hear their concert just fine from your campsite. This was especially true for us, as we were pretty close to Centeroo and could hear Phish, Brockhampton, and eventually, the GRIZ super jam juuuuustttttt fine. You can’t always be on the rail for every show at Bonnaroo, even if you wish you could. The fact is that you take what you can get and sometimes after walking around in the heat all day, it’s better to listen to a relaxing set from the comfort of your own camp.
Tips for How to Survive Bonnaroo Burnout Without Missing the Show
- Prepare In Advance: If there’s a show you desperately want to be up close for, you’re going to have to get in line. And by line, I mean you’re going to have to start weasling your way to the front during the set prior to the one you want to see. People will already be rushing the stage after the first show ends, even if there’s a 45 minute wait until the next set. While I would rarely ever commit this much energy to a show I like, it does offer you respite from having to worry about the hustle and bustle of running from stage to stage. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the wait because you’re going to need it.
- Enjoy From Camp: It may sound sacreligious for some to drive 1,100 miles to not see the show you came to see. The fact is, there’s a lot more to live music than seeing the artist. If you’re not on the rail for some of the bigger shows at the What stage, the main artist isn’t going to be much larger than a small speck on the stage all the way across a field of people. Sure, the screens help display what’s going on on-stage, but most of the time, you will not be able to see what’s happening. That being said, there will be moments when going back to camp and listening to the show will be the better option for you and your group, whether it’s just to refresh before a long night of raging or an excuse to get an early nightcap.
- Skip Around: You’re not going to be able to see all the shows you want to see at Bonnaroo. You’re going to have to accept that fact. Part of the thrill is being able to stop in for a great show, turn around and walk a few hundred feet to find more amazing live music. Don’t get too caught up in seeing the whole set; dance around and see what you are able to see.
- Cut Your Loses: Although you want to see the show, sometimes that’s just not possible. Obviously, you want to see as much as possible, but there may be an overlap with a show you just can’t miss or some other complication. In these cases, it’s best to recognize that you are seeing more live music in a week than most see in a year. You’ll catch them next time.
Stay tuned for next week when we go over what happened on the third day of Bonnaroo, including a review of Post Malone’s set, the Lonely Island’s first festival show, and much more.