Sometime in the late afternoon this past Saturday, the annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., inched closer to world-class status. By sunrise on Saturday, over 70,000 attendees had already been treated to unforgettable performances by The Flaming Lips, Tori Amos, Kings Of Leon, Daryl Hall, The Black Keys, Damian Marley and Nas, Norah Jones, LCD Soundsystem, Clutch and dozens more.
Already in a class all its own, it was early Saturday night when Bonnaroo amped it up yet another notch. Around 7 p.m., all of the larger stages at Bonnaroo were hosting a musical act of the highest stature. From one end of the sprawling festival grounds to the other, Bonnaroo boasted bands that have attained critical acclaim and popular success around the world, such as Weezer, Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, Jack White’s new outfit The Dead Weather, iconic folkie and songwriting great John Prine and veteran guitar god Jeff Beck.
Just before 9 p.m.
With so much music going on all day long for four straight days, concert-goers put in hours of walking around in the hot sun. After Stevie’s performance on Saturday night some folks turned their attention to the daunting task of locating their tents in the vast expanse of the Bonnaroo parking lot campground after dark. Those with the youthful stamina or chemically-enhanced wherewithal to stick it out past midnight were treated to still another one of the biggest A-listers in showbiz today as Jay-Z performed an energetic late-night set.
Newcomers and relative unknowns are the biggest winners at Bonnaroo, though, as many of them will gain more exposure from a single performance at Bonnaroo than they would from a six-week club tour. Irish rockabilly vixen Imelda May (pictured) is a prime example of a new artist that absolutely slayed at Bonnaroo, surely sending many people scurrying towards the Bonnaroo merch booth in search of her CD. A fireball of infectious energy onstage, May immediately won over the crowd that gathered for her Saturday afternoon performance on the Sonic Stage. This was one of a pair of Saturday shows May and her band performed on two different stages, in addition to her cameo during Jeff Beck’s performance when the twosome paid tribute to the legendary Les Paul and Mary Ford. Backstage in the press compound she skittered around in a tight dress and pumps, flirting with photographers and charming everyone in sight. Sporting a black dress with a pattern of classic monsters drawn in a comic book style, she wore her dyed black hair with a tight pony-tail in the back and a blond streak woven in a stylized conch shell in the front. There were a lot of girls at Bonnaroo. (Many of them scantily clad, for that matter.) None of them came anywhere near the beauty of Miss Imelda May.
Amazingly, Sunday’s Bonnaroo lineup held even more in store. The summer sun blazed relentlessly down from above, sending temperatures into the mid-90s for the fourth day in a row. Bonnaroo attendees took it all in stride, drinking tons of water, making occasional forays under the giant Centeroo fountain, slathering themselves with suntan lotion and huddling in patches of shade like gazelles. The crowd spent one last day hopping from stage to stage to soak up every possible note on this last full day of fantastic Bonnaroo performances by the likes of Calexico, John Fogerty, Regina Spektor, They Might Be Giants, Kris Kristofferson, Dropkick Murphys, Against Me!, Lucero, Blues Traveler and Ween. Sunday night’s headliner The Dave Matthews Band probably contributed considerably to what appeared to be the most successful weekend in the festival’s nine year history.
Big thanks to CityBeat for giving me the opportunity to cover the festival again this year! For a music lover like me, it is by far the highlight of my year and I am extremely grateful and proud to represent CityBeat among the Bonnaroo press corps. If you have ever been to Bonnaroo, then you know it’s no joke: I’m already making plans for next year!
(Photo by Chuck Madden. See more of Chuck's Bonnaroo pics here.)