I just wrapped up my third straight year on The Farm in Manchester, Tenn. for Bonnaroo 2017! It was my ninth festival of an 11 festival in 11-week run I’m on, and although I picked up a cold on the way out, it was all in all an enjoyable time! Here I recap what I found to be the best and worst the festival had to offer in 2017!
BEST: U2 transforms Bonnaroo into Bono-roo, fest extends set by 30 minutes
U2 playing their first headlining set at a music festival while touring in support of the 30th anniversary of their landmark album The Joshua Tree is the main reason I came to Bonnaroo 2017. In a crowded music festival landscape, it was truly one of the few landmark headline bookings to be made this year. When the schedule originally came out, U2 was slotted for just 90 minutes, which really bummed me out. Thank goodness the festival announced Friday — the day of their performance — that their time would be extended to two full hours.
Though I don’t listen to the band as much as I did when I was growing up, U2 remains probably my favorite band of all-time. I’ve only seen them once, from the bleachers at The Forum, and knew this was an opportunity to get close to the band without shelling out a thousand dollars. I got into the pit with my friend Mitch and we were no less than 20 feet away from Bono and Co. — surrounded by die-hard fans to take in what I consider the best concert experience of my life. My face still hurts from smiling non-stop, and I nearly lost my voice during the first half-dozen songs of the set. After low attendance in 2016, the booking of U2 has catapulted Bonnaroo back into being a top-tier United States music festival in my opinion.
WORST: This asshole who was trying to sell fake drugs to people
By now, you might have heard about the piece of shit who went to Bonnaroo to sell over a thousand fake drugs to people. Selling something disguised as drugs is even worse than selling drugs. David Brady of Albany, N.Y. was busted on the first day of the festival after deputies spotted him with what appeared to be narcotics. After obtaining a search warrant, they found 37 pills made to look as though they were MDMA, 22 bags of fake mushrooms, about 1,000 hits of fake acid, 20 bags made to look like cocaine, and an incense stick made to look like black tar heroin.
The asshole said he was “doing God’s work” by selling fake drugs. This is why it is important that if you are going to buy substances from people you don’t know, you should at least have a test kit to make sure you’re taking what you think you’re taking. A lot of stuff is being sold as something it isn’t and this a lot of times is how kids really hurt themselves.
BEST: The Grove and weather in general
One thing I’ve looked forward to about attending Bonnaroo every year is the place in Pod 7 called The Grove. It’s one of the few shaded areas on the campgrounds, with a ton of trees with an array of lights that are on timers. There are also a ton of hammocks put up by the festival that are open for people to lay in. I was camping all the way in Pod 10 for the second straight year, aka the dark side of the moon. So I did what I did in 2016 and brought my blanket and pillow to The Grove and slept in one of the hammocks overnight. It allowed me to sleep well into the morning, whereas the sun in Manchester would wake you up in your tent at 6 AM. That being said, the weather was incredible. It was my first Bonnaroo and the first one I remember utilizing a sweater when the sun came down. We were very lucky.
The other cool thing about The Grove is all the people you meet over there. It’s a welcome respite from a long day of music inside Centeroo, and people are really open to chatting in this area more than anywhere else. I always meet some really cool people there and it’s an awesome place to trade stories on your experience at the festival. Good on the Bonnaroo team for setting it up.
WORST: R.I.P. late-night and surprise Bonnaroo sets
Early on, Bonnaroo built their name on the fact that oftentimes sets went until sunrise and some key acts often played where they weren’t announced. Last year, GRiZ played a set in the campgrounds. In 2014, Kaskade played a set until the sun came up. The latest any official act played in 2017 was Big Gigantic playing until 3:25 AM on Saturday, with a set time advertised until 3 AM. Perhaps since LiveNation came in, they saw there might be more liability running music into the morning as it might inspire campers to go harder than they should? The festival even axed the Kaliope Stage, which always had music going until morning.
There was music happening in the campgrounds until early morning in some places if you looked hard enough. But a lot of people are lamenting the lack of sets in Centeroo like in years past where you could see Umphreys McGee play into the morning. Maybe Bonnaroo can adopt what Middlelands 2017 did and bring a Soundcamp aspect to the fest, where attendants can bring their own legit equipment and play music into the morning in an area of the campgrounds.
BEST: Portugal. The Man come into their own with 1 AM set
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Portugal. The Man perform about a half-dozen times just in the past year, and every time they’ve managed to really impress me. They were slotted with 90 minutes in one of the tents right after U2 ended on Friday and I was curious how they would handle a late spot like that. They passed with flying colors.
I asked at least 100 people who their favorite shows of the weekend were and Portugal. The Man came up more than anyone else. The light show was on par with a top-tier electronic act, but with the musicianship of one of the best rock bands out there. I’m listening to an advance copy of their upcoming record WOODSTOCK as I type this, and if their Bonnaroo performance is any indication, this is going to be a massive record for them. They had the crowd singing along to pretty much everything, and their extended jams were incredible. Props to the band for taking the challenge Friday night head on.
WORST: Volume issues at The Other Stage
A new addition came to Bonnaroo 2017. The Other Stage was a mostly-EDM stage with awesome visual production, but it couldn’t quite make up for what it was lacking in sound. On the first day, I was struggling to hear Goldfish play and I was not where I would consider far away from the stage. Pretty much anytime I approached that area I was shocked at how low the sound was. You shouldn’t be able to hear people in the crowd talking over the sound, but oftentimes that was the case. It’s an issue I would expect would be an easy fix.
Five Favorite Sets
- U2 — As stated above, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see my favorite band play an out-of-character billing for themselves. Was so glad I got into the pit for the show and was surrounded by lifetime die-hard fans of the band. They really relished the opportunity and they even played “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” — one of my favorite lesser-known jams of theirs.
- Portugal. The Man — Really seized the moment in following up U2’s epic performance with one of their own at This Tent. I highly recommend checking them out on their current tour before they start playing venues so large it’ll be hard to get super close. It’s crazy to think how much better performers they are than when I first saw them in 2014, they’ve really grown a lot.
- Royal Blood — I woke up Sunday and could hear a band soundchecking Queens of the Stone Age’s “No One Knows”, only to find out it was this UK two-piece. It kept getting better from there once they took the main stage. The fourth and hottest day of the festival can leave people restless, but people were really getting it during their set — especially in the pit. Their new album drops this week and the new jams sounded exquisite.
- Warpaint — This was my seventh and last time during this 11-week stretch of festivals I got to see Warpaint play, and I did it from my usual spot on the rail. I even got to see them play “Above Control” for the first time during this set — they’d only previously played it at European gigs this year. It’s one of my favorite songs from Heads Up. I was rocking out and was a sweaty mess during this show, so apologies to anyone in my vicinity.
- Mt. Joy — I’d heard good things about this Philly indie-folk band and got to experience how dope they are first-hand for the first time. They gave me serious Band of Horses vibes with their set on the small Miller On Tap Lounge stage. They had a pretty packed crowd and it definitely left me wanting to check them out next time they’re in Los Angeles — August 17 at the Bootleg Theater.
OTHER BEST + WORST FESTIVAL RECAPS: