For me, Bonnaroo marked the official beginning of the summer. Finals were survived and a few weeks had passed reading and sleeping, but the second weekend in June inaugurated the part of summer we had anticipated since the start of classes and downright unfair weather in January. We left on Wednesday, planning to arrive that night, set up camp and get some sleep before the sun rose. However, a chaotic and seemingly never-ending stop at Wal-Mart (see “Ode to Thee, Oh Bonnaroo” 2009 — Ted didn’t make that shit up) and a six-hour wait in the shorter line to get through the festival’s gates doubled the length of our drive. We drove into camp with the sun.
We set up camp as quickly as possibly and tried our best to get some shut-eye, but were rudely awakened about an hour later by glaring and unrelenting heat. We sat under a makeshift awning and finally surrendered to the promise of air-conditioned tents inside the festival walls. We bypassed the line (sorry) and walked onto the grounds and into the Ford Focus tent — arguably the best feature of the festival, besides the music of course. They offered free ice filled bandanas in a variety of colors, air conditioning, phone chargers and couches: the essentials. Many a nap was taken in that tent.
Eventually it came time to see some bands. Thursday, hazy with the delirium of sleep deprivation, dehydration and perspiration, remains somewhat of a blur. We got our bearings on the grounds, saw a fair number of acts and tried to soldier through. By nightfall, around the time things are supposed to pick up, exhaustion won. Feeling dejected and lame, I made my way back to the campsite, expecting to be the first and only to sleep, I was welcomed by the arrival of friends with the same idea.
Friday, we awoke to suffocating heat and crawled under our square-foot of shade, breakfasted on peanut butter and awaited a reasonable time to head to the festival. The day began with Matt & Kim, who drew a crowd much larger than their tent could accommodate. The duo lived up to their apparent hype, delivering an engaging and energetic show. The crowd sung along to most songs, cheered with gusto and had a blast. The only way the show could have been improved was if I could have seen any of it. Even the video screens remained out of view. This was not true, however, for the night’s headliner.
Friday night brought Arcade Fire. I surrendered to the crowd weaving professional I had traveled with and found myself, along with the rest of my fellow campers, in the front of the crowd in perfect view of the stage — no video screens needed. Waiting for the set to begin, we made friends with our neighbors, a very nice and very intoxicated high school girl (who I think I’m in a band with now) and her friend. The band did not disappoint the eager crowd, playing lots of The Suburbs and lots of everything else, every song coming exactly when we wanted it to, and at times spontaneously inciting the entire audience to sing along at once. Lil Wayne and Ratatat ended the night, and we all eventually made our way back to camp to get what sleep we could before morning.
Saturday was our last day at the festival, as some of us had to reenter the real world first thing Monday morning. We made sure to go out strong. The day began with the end of Old Crow Medicine Show, who I wish I had arrived earlier for. Later on, I made my way to Portugal. The Man, who performed an awesome set. Not my favorite band going in, I was thoroughly impressed, entertained and glad I had decided to go.
By the time I made it to Mumford and Sons, the crowd was already formed and too dense to navigate, so I watched from afar, which ended up being very solid. By the time their set ended, I had mustered up the appropriate enthusiasm for the show that I was most looking forward to, and which turned out to be arguably the best of the weekend: The Black Keys. I had seen The Black Keys perform before, and knew them to be great performers, but this set surpassed expectations. We made it to the front row, and were met with an exceptional set. They performed right around sunset, when the heat began to let up, and did everything right. They played a lot of Brothers, but didn’t neglect their earlier albums. They were jammy enough but hardly aimless, and the amount of sound those two can generate with a guitar and a drum-set confounds, regardless of how much I expect it.
The Black Keys were followed by Buffalo Springfield, at which point the weather threatened to storm — we stuck it out, saw Neil Young and went to camp to regroup. The night and weekend ended with Girl Talk, at which point everybody danced and yelled and jumped around until they couldn’t anymore, and walked away fulfilled and contented. By the time we drove out on Sunday morning, the thought of a shower and a bed coaxed us home, and eventually back to Ithaca. While generally ready to leave camp, the bubble of Bonnaroo was sad to part with — like leaving summer camp. But then again, it’ll be there next year, hopefully along with the Ford tent (and maybe upgraded port-a-potties).