On our way to the campgrounds on the last morning of Bonnaroo, when we stopped at a roadside stand to pick up a basket of peaches for a dollar, the vendor asked us if we were in town for the festival. When we responded yes, he shook his head and, almost pitying, said, “God bless y’all.” When we left him, we took the scenic route to the festival and discovered that, less than five miles from the chaos of Bonnaroo’s campground, there are acres of flat corn fields, the quietest places imaginable. Is Bonnaroo a mirage? It’s filled with almost a 100,000 people, but in Tullahoma, Tennessee, just miles from the festival and its behemoth sound system, you’d never have a clue, except for a few Phish bumper stickers scattered along the highway.
It was 97 degrees, the hottest day yet, and the humidity made it seem twice that, so we opted to see shows that matched our molasses-speed moods. First, we hit up the Troo Music Lounge, where we saw Australian folk-pop band Tamarama play a selection of plucky, sugary hits. Afterwards we ran to see John Fogerty perform on the main stage. His voice sounds exactly the same as it did in the 1960s, and his backing band recreated Credence’s sound exactly. Americana is a sure hit at Bonnaroo.
That’s partly why we shuffled over to see Kris Kristofferson, the antithesis of Fogerty in his approach. He had no band, just him up front on the stage. His voice sounds wearier than it ever has, like he smoked cigarettes all night and hasn’t been to bed to let his lungs recuperate. It’s not nostalgic—it’s fully in the present, and he had the quietest, most attentive audience of the entire festival. Kristofferson was our Bonnaroo farewell, too, and ending it with a greyed sage full of wives’ tales was good punctuation to a festival that seemed unreal, like freak folklore, all along.