From the Saturday _Bonnaroo Beacon:_ All My Friends

Matt Inman on June 11, 2016


This is how it starts: I was sitting in the Relix Library booth yesterday afternoon when a visibly cheerful woman came in looking for copies of the Bonnaroo Beacon. As she was glancing at the paper, our conversation quickly came to center, as it so often does on The Farm, around two questions: One, “Is this your first Bonnaroo?” and, depending on that answer, “How many Roos have you been to?” The woman’s answer to the second question was, impressively, “14.” Not only that, she’s getting married on Sunday before the Dead & Company set to another 14-year veteran, and yesterday was their three-year anniversary. Festy love turned lifetime commitment. The Beaming Bride of Bonnaroo.

I share this story mainly because, as I’ve happily told dozens of friends and strangers at this festival, this is my very first Bonnaroo, and I can’t think of anyone who embodies what I’ve found to be the spirit of Roo better than that woman and her husband-to-be.

Bonnaroo is the definition of community. I dare you to try to walk from This Tent to That Tent without getting a single high-five or returning a single “Happy Roo!” from the people you pass. These are strangers, yes, but on The Farm, these are all my friends. Far from looking down on me for being a first-timer, everyone I tell has only grins and stories for me, along with vicarious excitement at what I’m about to experience.

I feel fortunate in that I couldn’t have asked for better weather for my first Roo, besides, of course, the fact that this sun has me feeling like a giant deviant child is constantly following me around while holding an oversized magnifying glass over my head. But I’ve heard that it’s preferable to the mud.

Far be it from me to try to define a festival after having experienced only two days, but from what I’ve seen and heard, it doesn’t even take that long to know that things are special here. To an outsider, which I was just a few days ago, the talk of tens of thousands of strangers coming together and calling it a family seems more than cliché, but I have to say that yesterday made me a believer. It starts with the festival-goers, of course, but the performances are where it all comes sublimely together. Here’s what went down:

As the heat rose just after midday and the difficulty of discerning the sparkle of glitter from the sheen of sweat presented itself, Australia’s Henry Wagons declared from the Who Stage, “I see a lot of potential in you, people of Bonnaroo.” I’m right there with you, Henry. Meanwhile, over in That Tent, his countryman Jarryd James continued one of the day’s sub-themes that would solidify with a late-night set from Aussie psych-rockers Tame Impala.

From those coming from far abroad to those from just down the road, Nashville’s own Rayland Baxter took the stage in This Tent. “I’ve been to so many Bonnaroos, it aint’ even cool,” he joked, before adding “Nah, it’s the coolest.” Across the lawn, Dungen did their part in nodding to the jam roots of the festival with an improv-heavy set.

After a day and a half of This, That and The Other, Bonnaroovians got their first taste of the big stage with an elated performance from soul belter Andra Day, who managed to stick impressive tributes to both Nina Simone and Bob Marley into her setlist. Kicking off the main What Stage at the same time, Allen Stone served up a fine soul-infused counterpoint.

The festival family notion took on some literal meaning yesterday with a few of the acts, as the sisters of Ibeyi invigorated their crowd in This Tent, and jazz master Kamasi Washington played with his father later on the same stage. Pair that with Mothers introducing themselves to the Bonnaroo crowd with an indie-pop interpretation of Glenn Frey’s “Heat is On” while Daughter (no relation) vibed out That Tent, and you have a family affair on multiple levels.

Yesterday’s true theme came to the forefront starting with St. Lucia, who kicked off an electro-pop-heavy latter half of the schedule before MisterWives countered with horn, unbridled energy, and lots and lots of flowers.

With the sun still menacing in the sky (Leon Bridges would eventually croon it to sleep with his throwback elegance), GRiZ shook the entire Farm with a Which Stage performance, andCHVRCHES got in the Bonnaroo spirit by welcoming Paramore’s Haley Williams on to the What Stage after claiming that this was in fact her “favorite festival in the world,” adding, “And I don’t always say that.” (They always say that.) J. Cole would later keep the guests coming to that stage with a performance that had the crowd in the palm of the North Carolina rapper’s hand—even before Chance the Rapper made a surprise appearance.

The night finally began to cool just as M83 and Tyler, the Creator warmed up the crowds for the impending main event, which came in the form of the newly reunited LCD Soundsystem, who made their triumphant return the The Farm after playing in 2010.

“You seem to be in a good mood,” understated LCD frontman James Murphy after kicking of his set with “Us V Them” and before diving headfirst into “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” and joking that, while his state of mind wasn’t the clearest after a hard night on Thursday, he was confident that he wasn’t alone in that.

I would say that LCD continued their headlining set with their crowd-pleasers like “Get Innocuous,” “Tribulations,” “Someone Great” and “New York, I Love You” (and they did, of course), but I’d be hard-pressed to find a tune that these folks couldn’t turn into a crowd-pleaser. The energy from the music radiated like the glittering light from the oversized disco ball that descended above the band shortly after they began, and every riff and repeated chorus seemed to send the audience into a new frenzy, culminating in the fitting set closer, “All My Friends.”

Now, I address you, all my friends, knowing that I still have another half of Bonnaroo to go (and many happy returns, I expect), while the faces of thousands of new friends I haven’t even met run through my brain, reminding me with each passing smile that Bonnaroo is—and, I hope, will forever be—a place that can transform thousands of individuals into a cohesive community, if only for four days.


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