Music Festival Travel Journal: Bonnaroo 2017

The last two years, I’ve hit a bunch of festivals in the months of April, May and June as my NFL job has ended prior to festival season kicking off. This year, the plan is to hit 11 festivals in 11 weeks starting with Coachella weekend one all the way until Arroyo Seco back in southern California at the end of June. I’ve decided to do something a little different with my blog and do a bit of a journal detailing my travels to go along with the regular festival coverage I usually do. Follow my journey below!

Festivals I’m hitting: Coachella weekend 1, Coachella weekend 2, Fortress Fest, Middlelands, Shaky Knees, Hangout, Boston Calling, Governors Ball, Bonnaroo, Firefly, and Arroyo Seco. Also, please follow the blog on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!

This was my third straight year at Bonnaroo, read my recap of my time on The Farm below!

BONNAROO (MANCHESTER, TN.)

THURSDAY, JUNE 8

Bonnaroo is my favorite festival. Sure, the conditions are pretty close to unbearable with it being hot as balls pretty much all the time. But there is no better vibe of any festival I’ve ever been to. This was going to be my third straight year on The Farm, and the main reason I came was to see U2 play their first major headlining festival set ever. They are probably my favorite band of all-time, and I’ve only gotten to see them once — from the bleachers at The Forum in 2015. This was an opportunity to get super close to the band without shelling out a thousand bucks.

I took a bus into Nashville from New York on Wednesday, which took about 12 hours and cost $60. It wasn’t too awful — and this is how I’ve been able to save money on this trip. My friend Dan I was crashing with in Nashville worked until 5 PM, so I posted up at a Starbucks for a few hours and did some work and catching up on e-mails while I waited on him to come grab me. We had a pretty chill day once we got back to his place.

I found a ride to the festival on Reddit — this dude Jamie was riding solo to the fest and was looking for people to pick up. I took an Uber to his house (holy shit, Uber in Nashville is NOT cheap) and we went to the airport and picked up another dude. A homie of mine was hooking me up with an artist wristband for Bonnaroo, and I had to meet him at will call to grab my pass. We met up there and I rode in with his crew into the fest, getting dropped off in the artist area.

One of the girls that was with my friend needed to drop off her stuff in the artist camping, and the dude I rode into the fest with Jamie hadn’t yet parked so I helped carry her stuff to where she setup camp.

I had forgotten to grab my tent out of my friend Dan’s car before leaving for Bonnaroo, so here I was at The Farm without one. I wasn’t really worried, the year before I slept in a hammock pretty much every night in The Grove — a treed-off area setup by the festival that’s always pretty chill. So that became my gameplan. I kept all my bags in Jamie’s car. He had a tent and a chair, our campsite was pretty bare.

The festival doesn’t kick off until early evening on Thursday. The first set I caught was this band July Talk, who I had gotten into maybe a week after they played Los Angeles and was finally catching for the first time. The male singer has a really unique voice and their camaraderie with the crowd was top-notch. Before they played, this guy in front of me turned around and asked, “What’s happening here?” He was clearly on some psychedelics, but I knew he meant to ask who is playing and I explained it to him.

“Make a bad decision for every good decision,” the front man of July Talk said early in their set. I think a lot of people probably took that to heart at Bonnaroo that weekend.

After July Talk, we headed to the new The Other Stage, which was pretty much just EDM all weekend, with a rap act or two. We went to catch Goldfish, and I was kind of bummed at how low the volume was at the stage, you could barely hear the band over people’s talking — and we weren’t even far away. They dropped dope remixes of Nina Simone and also “Heart Shaped Box” by Nirvana.

Afterwards, I went to catch a bit of Tim Gunter at the Silent Disco and meet up with my friend Bo. Then we went over to catch Mt. Joy on the small Miller On Tap stage, this band he had been talking up for awhile. I was really impressed by their set, I got some Band of Horses vibes from them watching from side stage. They made my top five favorites of the weekend.

After Mt. Joy ended, I heard someone call my name and I turned around and saw my friend Ashley on the rail for their show after it ended. I had met her at Hangout last year when we rocked out at HAIM, and we did the same thing at Bonnaroo a few weeks later. I had picked up an extra artist wristband from my friend for my friend Mitch who was coming in from LA — he bought it for a couple hundred bucks. But since Mitch wasn’t there yet, I let Ashley use it and we went in the artist area for a bit and grabbed a few drinks before catching the next set.

Up next were UK indie rockers Ten Fe, whom I wasn’t familiar with outside of one song. Ashley knew their music pretty well and we watched from side stage. I could tell that the band was pretty shocked to see her singing along all the words, and after the set they popped off stage and chatted with us a bit. They were going to be playing School Night at Bardot the following Monday in Hollywood, so I made sure to tell some friends to check them out. Afterwards we hungout and caught some of Turkuaz. Afterwards I went to go meet up with Jamie and left Ashley to hang with the band, they had hit it off.

Jamie and I watched G Jones and then Ookay from the side stage at The Other. Usually, sound side stage blows, but for electronic music it actually sounded pretty good. It was also pretty cool being that close to the big screen behind the DJs, the quality of it was really high. Afterwards we walked all the way back to our camp in Pod 10, which was a good 35 minute walk away. That night I didn’t go sleep in The Grove because I was so damn tired, I slept in the passenger seat of Jamie’s car. One day down at Bonnaroo.

FRIDAY, JUNE 9

Friday, we woke up and had a beer or two, got ready and headed towards Centeroo. Our camping neighbors had a canopy and let us chill under it since we didn’t have anything of the sort. They were two nice girls from 9 hours away somewhere.

We went into the fest around noon and went and hung in the artist hospitality area and had a few drinks and stayed out of the sun until Klangstof‘s set on the Which Stage. They had really wowed me at Coachella with their Radiohead vibes and they were solid here as well. I love the derp faces the lead singer of the band makes (see below). Afterwards, I went and caught Springtime Carnivore at the Miller On Tap stage. I’ve been a big Greta Morgan fan since I was 18 or 19 dating back to The Hush Sound and I’d actually seen her a half dozen times in various projects. We watched that set from side stage and then had to go meet my friend Mitch who had flown in.

We went and met Mitch at where the shuttle drops off, he had taken an Uber from Nashville. We went and dropped his stuff off at camp and then headed out to see Francis and The Lights. A guy passed out next to us, falling face first into the ground but seemed okay after a few minutes of sitting down and his friends and him left. Chance the Rapper came out during Francis’ set for the third straight weekend to dance, and the crowd went wild. We went to the artist hospitality area during Cold War Kids and got some drinks in and chatted up some other people in the area. I met someone who had been following my journey on Reddit, which was pretty damn cool!

Afterwards, we went to catch most of Kaleo‘s set — these Icelandic rockers are going to be massive, I think. They’ve got a bit of Black Keys in them and it doesn’t hurt that the lead singer does something for the ladies. We again got some drinks in, this time while Tove Lo played, before we went to get in the pit line for U2.

The pit line for U2 was already pretty long. I thought we would get access ┬ábecause of artist wristbands but it didn’t extend to the main stage. So what we did is grabbed some free beers and jumped in line in front of someone, and handed them a beer. This is the same trick I used for Pearl Jam at Bonnaroo 2016 and I ended up 15 feet from the stage. Mitch kept leaving the line to get a drink and the next time he came back, he arrived with a plate of ribs and a plate of spring rolls. He had apparently snuck into some area where there was a BBQ going on for the ultra-rich Party Like a Rockstar people, who shell out thousands. I shared the ribs with the people near me and it was the first food I had eaten since some free Subway mini sandwich around 1 PM.

The xx were solid but we weren’t really close enough to fully take it in. Once they finished, the line for U2 was starting to move into the pit. We ended up about 10 to 15 feet back from the stage dead center, a dream come true. I would have honestly camped in line for U2 all day if I didn’t have to meet Mitch in the middle of the day, so I’m glad it worked out that we were still able to get so close.

U2 went on and immediately kicked into “Sunday Bloody Sunday” — I, along with everyone around me, lost their shit. When I was in middle school I had done a speech on Bono and used lyrics from that song as my intro. Having two older brothers, I grew up listening to U2 a lot and they were my favorite band until very recently. I never thought in a million years I would be so close to Bono I could yell shit at him and he’d hear. U2 played “New Years Day” and “Pride” before kicking into The Joshua Tree, which they were celebrating the 30th anniversary of.

Hearing “Where The Streets Have No Name”, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, and “With or Without You” in succession, I don’t think I’ve experienced a more enjoyable three song stretch of live music in my life. My face still hurts from all the smiling I did during the show. It was great being surrounded by die-hard fans — some young, but most of them much older. Deep cut “Red Hill Mining Town” had never been played live before this tour. The visual production of the show was overwhelming.

Singing #sundaybloodysunday during #u2 from 10 feet away at #bonnaroo with the homie @themitchallen

A post shared by Mark Ortega (@markeortega) on

I was so stoked Bonnaroo gave U2 an additional 30 minutes after the initial schedule said they were only playing 90 minutes. Their encore consisted of “Beautiful Day”, “Elevation”, “Vertigo”, “Ultraviolet” and “One”. I never loved “Elevation” or “Vertigo” but hearing them live and up close gave me a new appreciation.

Afterwards, Mitch and I met up with Jamie. We watched a few songs of Major Lazer, and then Jamie and I left to go watch Portugal. The Man‘s late-night set. They absolutely crushed it, overflowing the tent despite going head-to-head with Major Lazer. Their light show was impressive and they’ve really developed over the last few years into one of the best rock bands in the world. They jam as hard as anyone, and their medleys of songs are impressive, especially how they can jam out a song for 15 minutes. The crowd loved it and their set was probably the most talked about of the weekend.

Afterwards, the three of us went back to camp. I told Mitch that we were sleeping in The Grove and he had no idea what the area was, so he was very hesitant. As we got our shit together, we made the long walk over there. I could tell Mitch was pretty pissed at the situation, but once we got to The Grove and nabbed two hammocks immediately, he passed out pretty quick. We were able to sleep until 10 AM in the morning, whereas if we had a tent in our campsite, the sun would have woke us up at 6 AM.

SATURDAY, JUNE 10

We took things pretty easy on Saturday. We went to the artist hospitality area and hung there until Jon Bellion went on at 4:45 PM. Afterwards, I left and went back to do some exploring before returning to the artist area. I could hear Tegan & Sara playing nearby and was getting myself ready to head over to This Tent to stake out a spot for Warpaint while watching Michael Kiwanuka.

If you’ve been reading this blog the last few months, you would know I have seen Warpaint a half-dozen times on this trip — always from right up front. Right as I was about to leave the artist hospitality area, I spotted Theresa from Warpaint talking with Adrian Grenier (Vince from Entourage). As I walked up to her she said “Hey!”, recognizing me from the crowd the last few months. She said it’s nice to have a familiar face in the crowd and she asked how the hell I am able to make it to so many festivals. I explained that I have a huge gap during festival season and have hit the circuit the last few years and there is always a band I love that plays it heavily and this year it was their band. After talking a few more minutes I said thanks and it was a privilege seeing them play so much this summer before heading out.

I went and got a spot for Michael Kiwanuka, This Tent was pretty empty. I wasn’t super familiar with his stuff, but once the show started I really dug it. It was extremely chill and Kiwanuka has a great voice. I was vibing pretty good to his music and his band is extremely talented. After that, I sat with me back to the rail while Warpaint’s stuff got setup.

An hour after Michael Kiwanuka finished, Warpaint had taken stage. The familiar sound of the intro to the title track from their latest album Heads Up kicked in. The crowd for the show wasn’t very big, they were head-to-head against Chance the Rapper on the main stage. The lights and fog that covered the stage were really trippy and I kept going back and forth between rocking out, jumping up and down, and just grooving while looking at the stage. At one point, the security dude facing me between the crowd and the stage looked at me and said, “You’re really in it right now, aren’t you?” “You have no idea,” I responded.

Warpaint played “Above Control” from the latest album, and even though I had seen them a ton of times, it was the first time I heard them play the song live. It is one of many great deep cuts from the album and it was awesome to hear it for the first time in that setting. There was a guy to the left of me on the rail that was really appreciating the set on the same level as me and we were basically singing the songs back and forth. The finale of “New Song” and “Disco//Very” left me drenched in sweat and out of breath.

Afterwards, I went to go meet Mitch and Jamie near the orange wall with all the writing where Cage The Elephant was set to play. I got there before they had, and this girl who looked like Katy Perry needed help cutting some tape she had used to hold a broken shoe together. I struggled but eventually got it and she said “Thanks! Happy Roo!” before taking off. Afterwards, Mitch and Jamie found me and we started making the walk to Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Mitch was leading the way into the crowd and was getting us really close, but as we moved closer the crowd got really tight. I wasn’t even trying to get that close. Once Mitch led us near the soundboard, the crowd started getting really tight and he got claustrophobic and left. Jamie and I stayed there and when the Chili Peppers came on we were pretty close.

I had only ever seen RHCP play a couple benefit shows, where they played in the ballpark of 45 minutes to an hour. When they kicked into the opening jam of their set, I got pretty excited. There were also several people around me that seemed to be on another level, this group of kids sat down during the set and played with glowsticks while the band played

“Scar Tissue” and “Right On Time” from Californication were two early highlights for me. They even did a dope cover of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by The Stooges. Later in the set, I yelled “Soul to Squeeze!” hoping they’d play my favorite song, and 10 seconds later they launched into it. I later read that they had written “Under the Bridge” on the setlist where they played “Soul to Squeeze”, which wasn’t written on it. Pretty amazing. We walked out as they played “By The Way” and met up with Mitch to go see Flume.

We got into the premium VIP pit for Flume on the right side where there was a lot of room to dance. The visuals were awesome. The set was one of the better I had seen from him before, having seen him many times. Afterwards we went to catch the last 30 minutes of the Superjam, and there I bumped into the Katy Perry lookalike with the broken shoe again, which was pretty funny. We heard a dope cover of TLC’s “Waterfalls” before heading back.

We went back to camp and Mitch decided he was going to sleep on the grass rather than walk back to The Grove that night. I walked back to The Grove and laid a blanket on the ground and looked up at the lights, which were on a timer. I talked with some people in hammocks around me for an hour or so before I fell asleep, waking up around 9 AM the next day.

SUNDAY, JUNE 11

Bonnaroo 2017

Sunday was going to be a rough one. It was the hottest day of the weekend by far, and you could feel it. Mitch was leaving that afternoon to go hangout in downtown Nashville, so Jamie got to use his artist pass that day. I hadn’t seen as much music as I wanted to on Saturday so I wanted to make sure I got as much stuff in Sunday as I could.

The first set we checked out was Detroit’s Flint Eastwood on the small Who Stage. She was really asking a lot of the crowd, getting them to come close and participate as much as possible. This is a lot to ask on Sunday afternoon of a hot as balls fest, but credit her for getting them to do it. I was only familiar with her song “Glitches” when doing festival research and went into it otherwise blind. It was a really strong set and I hope to catch her again soon.

After recuperating a bit in the artist hospitality area, we went and sat in the shade to watch some of Margo Price. It was a really good set from the local act who has done really well for herself in recent years. Afterwards we went to the main stage for Royal Blood. They got the crowd really into it despite the heat and it being the fourth day. There was a massive mosh in the pit and the band seemed to really have a good time. I can’t wait for their new album to drop this week.

Next we went to watch some of Umphrey’s McGee in the shade. These guys are jammy as hell and I wish I had caught some of their late-night set earlier in the weekend. Next we went and watched some of Vanic sidestage at The Other, staying afterwards for UK grime rapper Skepta.

Skepta hasn’t connected with the south the way he has with the coasts. His crowd at Bonnaroo was really small in comparison to Coachella, where he had a really big crowd in the Sahara Tent. Next we watched some of Borgore, but I left early to get a spot for Lorde while Jamie stayed there.

Lorde had technical difficulties and it took them 30 minutes to fix them, but Bonnaroo promised she would play her full set, which pushed back The Weeknd’s start time 30 minutes. She killed her set, but I noticed that she didn’t have her full production with the box of people on stage like at previous festival stops. Afterwards I caught my final breather in the artist area during Travis Scott and met up with Jamie to go watch The Weeknd.

I was so tired at this point I spent the first hour of his set on the ground for the most part. People seemed to be really into it despite it being the end of the weekend, and it’s clear he was a huge draw for the younger crowd. I stood up and moved around for the last half hour and we started to walk out as the fireworks went off overhead. We went back to camp and that night I slept in the passenger seat since we were leaving back to Nashville at 5 AM. I got back to my friend Dan’s place around 7:15 and took a shower and passed out.

Bonnaroo takes a LOT out of you and I think if I do it again, I’m going to try and do RV camping. Walking all the way to Pod 10 was extremely draining. The weather was nicer than in previous years and it still took a lot out of me. The artist hospitality was cool, but I found myself drinking more than I usually do because it was free. That also sapped my energy. I’m going to learn from that and not drink as much of the free booze at Firefly this weekend (they give VIP access to media there!).

Now with my ninth festival in nine weeks in the books, it’s onto Firefly in Dover, Delaware. I am taking a bus from Nashville to Washington DC for $65. iIt’s going to take almost a whole day but my funds are tight at the moment. When people ask how the hell I pull it off, well now you start to know. I endure some stuff most people wouldn’t in order to maximize the amount of festivals I can hit. If you’re at Firefly, hit me up and let’s grab a drink!

OTHER FESTIVAL TRAVEL JOURNAL RECAPS:

Music Festival Travel Journal — Governors Ball 2017

Music Festival Travel Journal — Boston Calling 2017

Music Festival Travel Journal — Hangout 2017

Music Festival Travel Journal — Shaky Knees 2017

Music Festival Travel Journal — Middlelands 2017

Music Festival Travel Journal — Fortress Festival 2017

Music Festival Travel Journal — Coachella 2017 weekend 2

Music Festival Travel Journal — Coachella 2017 weekend 1