Baby Got Back! Bonnaroo is Back on the Map!

Bonnaroo is one of the largest, most well known, and highly regarded festivals in the United States. As such it is also subject to some of the most scrutiny and has, in recent years, been considered to be in a decline. With steep drops in attendance, lackluster lineups, and missing features now standard at most newer modern festivals, many in the festival community had been wondering how much longer ‘Roo would be able to stay relevant or if indeed the powers that run the festival cared about what its loyal patrons wanted any more.

Camp Ground, More Like Party Central

Enter 2018, with the past several years having seen many changes, including the addition of permanent restrooms, the conversion of The Other Tent into a full-blown stage known simply as “The Other,” sponsored areas such as a beach by Bacardi, Subway, State Farm, and the absence of famed traveling dance stage Kalliope, as well as numerous other changes. The Bonnaroo faithful as well as those who had forsaken the festival were still anxious to see what changes this year would bring to The Farm. In strong form and fashion Bonnaroo did not disappoint. Starting in the campground, Bonnaroo changed the name of its famous Pod camping areas into Plazas, intending them to be so much more than just a quick stop but areas festival-goers would want to spend time in. With planned parties, countless surprise sets by artists both on and off the lineup, wifi, parades by the glowing art car Big Red, and several other amenities being added, it was definitely a common theme of the weekend to hear people talking about what was going on in which plaza that night and which ones they were going to be heading to to party once their favorite bands were done in Centeroo.

Big Red’s Garage, Plaza 2 – Photo by Bryan Edward
Plaza Party – Photo by Bryan Edward
Plaza Performance – photo by Bryab Edward
Plaze 3 House of Yes – Photo by Bryan Edward
Plaza 9 – Photo by Bryan Edward

Centeroo Til Sunrise!

For those who have still not been won over by ‘Roo, Centeroo is the main venue area, home to all of the main scheduled musical performances of the weekend, as well as several surprise ones. The famed arch is the main gateway into this land, and it is where most of the previously mentioned sponsored areas reside as well. With stages, shade, a Ferris wheel, shopping, food, workshops, photo ops galore, and any other number of kinds of fun to be had, Centeroo is truly the heart of the farm. This year’s biggest Centeroo improvement included the return of Kalliope, the glowing, laser- and smoke-shooting, fire-breathing dance stage by famed Walter Productions. With the return of Kalliope came the return of another element Bonnaroo had been missing the mark on for the past couple of years, and that is music until the sun comes up inside Centeroo. Kalliope ushered in the return of sunrise sets appropriately, with names such as Kaskade, Opiou, and many others keeping the party going until the sun shone down.

Photo by Bryan Edward
The Other – Photo by Bryan Edward
Kaskade sunrise set – Photo by Bryan Edward;
The Other – Photo by Bryan Edward
Mushroom fountain – Photo by Bryan Edward

April Showers Bring May Flowers, but June is Just Plain Hot

Speaking of the sun, this was a brutal Bonnaroo weather-wise. With highs in the mid-90s three out of four days, this was the most consistently hot Bonnaroo in recent memory. Fortunately, with installations such as the famed mushroom fountain, numerous water stations, and water faucets as part of the flushable toilets added two years ago, water never seemed to be a problem. I myself never waited for more than one person ahead of me to get water and never saw a watering station overcrowded, in contrast to past years where I had seen watering stations crowded ten deep in a circle. Also, for those who know what I mean when I talk about Bonnaroo sulphur water, I am happy to report that, at least in my case, I never saw, smelled, or heard mention of it all weekend. Sunday morning brought on a thunderstorm that left campers kicked out of the usually 24/7 Centeroo and relegated to seeking shelter in their campsites as per policy. The showers only lasted a few hours in the morning, however, and had no impact on the schedule in any way, instead cooling the grounds into a  pleasant low-80s day, albeit mud-soaked ground. One area by the Arch entrance had water standing up to mid-calf height. This water was quickly dispatched by suction, and hay was applied in many areas to combat further slippage. Overall, weather was standard Tennessee in early June, hard to predict, quickly changing, with hot days and moderate nights that can feel cold after being outside in that heat all day, yet scorching by 9 AM.

Photo by Bryan Edward
Photo by Bryan Edward

The Real Reason for the Season

Okay, okay, I’ll get down to brass tacks — the real reason for festival season — the music. Everyone and his mother has an opinion on every music festival lineup, and one person’s dream-come-true is another’s garbage. Looking at it from an unbiased point of view, I feel it was a well-balanced lineup with scheduling well handled. Were there conflicts and shows missed because of those, of course. Were there genres with limited representation or lacking lacking, yes. Looking at you hip hop. But overall it felt like a schedule with a good deal of what is popular in the modern festival scene without forcing the festival into a ‘jam,’ ‘EDM,’ or ‘pop’ subcategory. Scheduling was well done and created just enough conflict that very few shows ever felt like they were too crowded. That feeling of people were stepping all over you to get to the front and abusing personal space? That was not something seen too often this weekend, as it had been in years past. There was plenty to choose from late in the evening from The Other, Kalliope, and tents with raging jam bands, not to mention pop-up sets out in the camping plazas.

Sheryl Crow – Photo by Bryan Edward
Manchester Orchestra – Photo by Bryan Edward
The Revivalists – Photo by Bryan Edward
Anderson .Paak – Photo by Bryan Edward
Sylvan Esso – Photo by Bryan Edward
St. Paul and the Broken Bones – Photo by Bryan Edward
Jason Huber of Cherub at Kalliope Soundstage – Photo by Bryan Edward
Spafford – Photo by Bryan Edward

There’s Always Room For Improvement

All of this improvement did not come without sacrifice, however. The most glaring and arguable change was the omission of the famed Comedy and Cinema tents, with some comedy headliners being given full slots on stages while others were given brief ten-minute slots before other performers came on. These acts paled in comparison to previously enjoyed full-blown comedy performances and seemed more like afterthoughts in an otherwise well-organized event. Cinema, while severely diminished, at least got relegated to the Plazas and had a solid home base. Some may not miss the comedy tent; others, like myself, mourn for its loss. It stood as a place to see hilarity ensue while escaping the heat for a bit in the middle of the day. Overall I would vote for this as the main issue that the group over at Superfly needs to work out before next year. The other glaring issue is the bag policy. Many festivals are going to a clear and small bag only policy as a way of attempting to make security more rigorous, and understandably so. The gripe comes that patrons were notified with only about a month left of planning. Countless reports were seen across the internet of people who had already purchased highquality hydration packs that did not meet the new criteria. It is understandable that sometimes decisions are made official in the 12th hour, but if it is even being considered, then publicizing that ASAP can be the deciding factor between a happy visitor and one who is irate. Transparency is key, so just give patrons warning that a clear bag policy or something similar is being considered, please and thank you.

Rail crowd – photo by Bryan Edward
Photo by Bryan Edward
Kalliope – Photo by Bryan Edward
Photo by Bryan Edward

Your ______ Attracts Your ________! Long Live Bonnaroo.

Finally, that all elusive ~vibe~. Overall I would say that this weekend had a solid happy vibe. Thousands of high fives were given out, smiling faces abounded, and many instances of help thy neighbor were witnessed. Were there jerks, sure, but they were definitely in the minority this year, as opposed to, say, last year, where I felt a large portion of attendees were a little too off-vibe. Bottom line: the people asked, and ‘Roo listened. Better features, more fun activities, campsites worth hanging out at, sunrise sets at a stage loved by many. Mark this as the year of the Bonnaroo Renaissance! Long live Bonnaroo!

Bonnaroo Watchtower – Photo by Bryan Edward
Photo by Bryan Edward
Photo by Bryan Edward
Photo by Bryan Edward

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