There’s no question that Bonnaroo festival-goers wear a costume of tie-dye, patchwork, and patchouli like we imagined they would, but contrastingly, the acts are actually pretty diverse. There’s no genre—more than any other festival, it seems like a venue where people learn about bands they’ve never heard of, as opposed to one they’ve attended with favorites in mind. Everyone we spoke with had a few favorites (“Weezer!” “Jay-Z!” “Dave Matthews Band!”), but mostly the crowds seemed like they were rambling from stage to stage in search of nothing in particular. Receptive audiences are good for bands, and the unpredictability of the line-up is smart.
We took our first trip of the day to Latino Alternativo, a showcase for Latin American acts. It’s a relief that the festival curated something as tricky and loaded as a “Latin American” stage without reducing it to anything obvious or limited, and we saw Colombia’s Bomba Estereo and the Mexican Institute of Sound right after each other in the noon-time sun. They were both a jolt of caffeine, energetic without insanity.
At 3:30, we scurried between Jimmy Cliff and Isis, a mindfuck of a mix for sure, but a good one. Isis are breaking up in a few weeks and they are, apparently, trying to go out as loudly as possible. They were the first heavy band we saw, and that type of music has always seemed tailor-made for a festival—the sound was beastly and incredible. Jimmy Cliff was quite the opposite, but just as important, singing like a his cover of smooth classic “I Can See Clearly Now” like a siesta lullaby. On the way to the next stage, our walk was interrupted by a caravan of golf carts carrying the members of GWAR in full costume. They yelled something at us, not in a mean way, just in a GWAR way. We were on our way to the Melvins. In an interview with Buzzo earlier in the day, he said he would have killed to see Judy Garland play live. He’s no Judy, for sure, but Bonnaroo was definitely a sludgy Carnegie Hall for the band. They are one of the heaviest bands in the universe and their pummeling sound vibrated the audience.
Next up was an insane twosome, first Stevie Wonder and then Jay-Z. Stevie was literally a hit machine, a jukebox. We laid around and everyone sang to every song. Some baby boomers got mad at us for not standing and dancing to Stevie, but we were enjoying him at our own speed. Our favorite was “My Cherie Amour” because he sang the “La-La-La-La-La-La” part over and over and that’s maybe the most beautiful trill in the history of music. Jay-Z, of course, was also a one-man Top 40 chart. Everyone knows he’s had a million number one singles, but then when he does them all consecutively, you remember he’s been the radio’s guardian angel for over 15 years.
At 1:30 AM, we sauntered to a show by Lissie at the Budweiser Troo Music Lounge for a comedown. The Troo Music Lounge ended up being the best late night spot for us because of intimate shows like Lissie. She makes raw pop, live her voice is gruffer and more whiskeyed than on record, but because songs like hers don’t need or ask for polish. Jay-Z’s got so much bombast, but Lissie brought things down to the mud.