10 Things We Learned at Bonnaroo 2013

[Originally published on Virgin.com, June 2013]

1) Time management skills are invaluable.

With an unbeatable lineup, Bonnaroo offered perhaps too much of a good thing squeezed into four days. Planning the daily schedule was an exercise in sacrifices and painful prioritizing. To see Foals or Grizzly Bear? Purity Ring or Django Django? To catch half of one and half of the other? Only the headliners afforded us a true break in planning, when no other acts were scheduled. We generally had to settle for quantity over duration in order to catch all our favorites, but duration is what real concerts are for, right? Who needs ’em.


2) There are new reasons to be excited about music!

No matter how cynical you may be about “new” music, Bonnaroo showed us that we have nothing over which to fret. After all, while the headliners were no doubt stellar performers in their own right – that Paul McCartney guy seemed fairly talented – it was truly the meat of the lineup that delighted and inspired. New-ish bands like Alt-J, Twenty One Pilots and Lord Huron, and really new acts The Mowgli’s and Alice and the Glass Lake, gave us an encouraging glimpse at all the blossoming musical goodness on the horizon.


3) Bonnaroo is birthday-suit-friendly.

Boobs. Everywhere. Some painted, some with pasties, some just bare and flopping free. After a while, we stopped saying “boobs!” each time a pair walked by; it’s not that the novelty wore off, but pointing them out just became unnecessary. They have this weird way of finding your eyes first, especially when they’ve been painted to look like eyes.


4) Everyone loves a surprise.

This one comes with an asterisk: Mumford & Sons fans may not have enjoyed surprises as much as the rest of us this weekend. The band decided to pull out of the festival at the last minute in light of bassist Ted Dwane’s recent surgery. Luckily, Jack Johnson was on hand, incidentally, as a surprise guest for ALO’s late night set. The festival organizers asked him to fill in for Mumford as a headliner, and even though Johnson hadn’t played with his band in over a year, he flew them out for a more-or-less impromptu headlining slot on only a days’ notice. If that isn’t impressive musicianship (and bravery), we’re not sure what is.


5) Never forget to bring your stage antics.

One thing we noticed this weekend was that, no matter how great a band might be musically, if they can’t put on a good show, they may not belong at Bonnaroo. This is tough love, to be sure, but several performances left us shrugging in indifference. Cat Power, for one, belted out an impressive vocal range, but she shuffled around so awkwardly on stage that we ended up feeling a little uneasy and embarrassed. Luckily, many of Bonnaroo’s acts actually charmed our pants off: Action Bronson sauntered through the crowd and bought drugs off a fan; Macklemore & Ryan Lewis talked smack at us like cool older brothers; and Bernhoft helped shave a female fan’s head onstage. You got our attention, fellas.


6) Don’t rely on the stage antics.

In some cases, good musicianship does matter more than stage antics, and this is especially true when standing too far away to actually see the act. We’re thinking of Bjork here; the experimental songstress absolutely killed her set on the main stage, but only if within 300 feet could one even see her do it. Rather than a live feed, the jumbo screens instead projected animated scenes from her ‘Biophilia’ album, making for a somewhat dissonant experience, but one for which her knockout musical performance easily compensated.


7) Hawaiian shirts are coming back?

We have some awkward news to report, and it’s that oversized hawaiian shirts are coming back into vogue. Or, perhaps not into vogue, but into that gray area where irony is celebrated and ugliness is accepted as chic. Ladies and gents alike brought aloha spirit to the Tennessee farm with boxy tiki florals, some knotted at the waist, some buttoned with shorts, some left open. After spotting the first few, we had to ask ourselves, “Is this a thing now?” Well, it’s a thing. It’s weird, and it’s a little late to the Beach Boys performance of Bonnaroo 2012, but whatever.


8) We may be in the early stages of an Australian invasion.

Name a band from Australia. Do it. You probably can’t think of more than four or five if you try hard enough. This may change, however, as Bonnaroo brought several impressive Aussie bands to our attention this weekend. Psych-rockers Tame Impala, while not particularly new, have been gathering stready momentum in the States, as evidenced from the huge crowd captivated by their evening set.Fivesome rock operation The Rubens, buoyed by newfound popularity in Australia, made their debut in the U.S. just days before their Bonnaroo slot; and electro-pop outfit Empire of the Sun drew a sizable crowd to its trippy late-night set. Spreading diplomatic goodwill in the form of live music.


9) When the going gets hot, the hot dress better.

Whereas the humid Bonnaroo heat forced most attendees to wear as little clothing as possible (see item…..), others bucked all practicality in favor of absurdly warm attire. Spandex morph suits, animal costumes, furry boots, and even a fur coat, which Macklemore coaxed from a fan, wrapping it around himself onstage and dubbing it a dead “Tennessee bobcat.” We’re guessing this sort of extraordinary dress is merely intended as a conversation-starter (it worked for the Macklemore fan), because there is no other explanation for such masochism.


10) Attitude is everything.

Music festivals like Bonnaroo are wonderful in part because of that which the people bring. No, we don’t mean drugs.. this time. A festival can easily be defined by the shows you catch, but it’s the people around you that define the experience of attending the show. Some people covet their personal bubble. Across the board, we found that those with the most carefree attitude had a better experience. High fives abounded, those dancing smiled the most. We find Roo to have one of the most natural community environments, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.