Photo by Bruce Matock. See more in the photo gallery below.
Ten years since my first Bonnaroo. That was the excuse to get me back. It didn’t take much. The last few years were torturous as I watched my friends celebrate at our festival without me. Not that I didn’t have fun in the absence of Bonnaroo, but it was a void in my emotional calendar that was difficult to fill. On to the proceedings.
Part One: The Long Night. As we waited in line for approaching seven hours, it was difficult to feel anything other than frustration building as we crawled towards the Bonnaroo entrance. As the group began to read posts online that other entrances were moving while we remained stationary, the urge to try something new rose. But the line did move and a sold-out Bonnaroo crowd set up camp and the celebration began.
The side effects of this night were felt well throughout Thursday. Dragging legs and tired eyes ruled the day. Still, with hundreds of high fives behind us, we were finally in Centeroo and not much else mattered. 75° weather didn’t hurt either.
Grand Ole Opry showed up with their second annual Bonnaroo edition and Riders in the Sky playing the “Woody’s Roundup” theme song from Toy Story 2 (as well as “You’ve Got a Friend In Me”) felt like a Bonnaroo moment that won’t fade from memory anytime soon. Other highlights included Boone, North Carolina band The Nude Party, whose set felt like a ‘60s pysch-rock house party, and Magic City Hippies, who played a funky set that shared many musical similarities with Miike Snow.
Part Two: Free. Friday can more or less be summed up in two words, Childish Gambino.
There was no artist that encapsulated Bonnaroo 2019 more. Much like Donald Glover, time has evolved both as they reemerged as something capable of selling to the masses while remaining as faithful as possible to their roots. Glover promised the crowd if they put down their phones that he’d take them on a spiritual journey, and he did not disappoint. Make no mistake, Phish might have received the title of headliner, but no one drew bigger crowds than Glover and Post Malone.
From start to finish, Friday brought joy. Parquet Courts, Ibeyi, AJR, and The Avett Brothers all enjoyed crowds ready to party as beautiful weather led to higher energy levels (and more alcohol consumption). Honestly, in seven years at Bonnaroo, Thursday and Friday may have enjoyed my favorite two days of weather I’ve ever seen on The Farm.
Late-night Friday was youth-focused, to say the least. Solange, Brockhampton, and a Griz-led Superjam all took the lead. Four-time ‘Roo veteran Girl Talk was the elder statesmen of the evening, having first played Bonnaroo in 2007.
From everything heard in camp, Post Malone did Post Malone things and put on a great show. For a significant portion of the crowd, the late-night set from The Lonely Island, performing their first-ever live tour, presented the true highlight event Saturday. The crowded Which Stage served as the space where Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer essentially performed what had more in common with Second City than Post Malone. Many moments caused confusion from a crowd that didn’t know whether to laugh, dance, or both. Chris Parnell joined Samberg on stage to perform “Lazy Sunday,” which hilariously devolved into an “impromptu” Hamilton performance.
Saturday was a bit warmer which loosened things up for the first-ever (HOW?!?) Bonnaroo Pride Parade. The crowd gathered around the gorgeous new Where in the Woods area while Crooked Colours played a DJ set. The parade was showered with love, acceptance, and free condoms.
Brandi Carlile, who received the key to the city of Manchester, joined Hozier on stage for a sway-inducing version of “Work Song.” Kacey Musgraves performed “Golden Hour” during the golden hour. It felt like glitter was shining in the air (it was dust). She also played a killer cover of The Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize??” just to further confirm her Troo Roo™ status.
Part Three: The Last Exhale. Sunday night, everyone gathered around the Bonnaroo campfire and listened to Phish. It felt right. Anastasio and co. headlined their third ‘Roo and remain an intrinsic part of what makes the festival what it is. Without the inspiration of Phish festivals, Bonnaroo would not exist, at least as it does.
Hobo Johnson and The Lovemakers brought the realest set of the year. Five years ago, Johnson (Frank Lopes Jr.) lived in his car, now he’s playing the largest music festivals in the country. Johnson’s spoken word poetry is an art and science, and beautiful to behold. King Princess also led the pack on Sunday and showcased, along with Johnson, that Bonnaroo and music in general are in good hands with a younger generation starting to shine.
Bonnaroo is a journey. Not one to be taken lightly. It requires patience and stamina. It’s also a beautiful place where people are free to be the person they want to be. 80,000 people came together and reminded themselves that we do love being around each other, just not the version that society forces us to be. | Bruce Matlock
See below for Bruce Matlock’s photos from Bonnaroo 2019. Click to enlarge.