June 8th -11th Bonnaroo 2017 was held in Manchester, Tennessee. This was a different kind of festival for me. I have been attending off and on since the inception of this incredible festival in 2002. This festival is really what kicked off my love for concerts, and has given me the opportunity to explore music I might not otherwise have given a chance. 2016 was a difficult year for Bonnaroo with a recent transition to new ownership (LiveNation) and a huge drop in attendance. It was apparent that something had to change (even if 2016 was one of my personal favorite years) to maintain its status as a world class festival.
The first major change I saw was during the announcement of the lineup. Bonnaroo 2017 was targeting a new market and it was apparent. There were some things that fit within a typical Bonnaroo lineup, but overall this was a drastic change from previous years. Not to say I didn’t enjoy the line up, there were certainly artists on there that I wanted to see. Overall it felt like it was too heavily loaded with EDM and didn’t have that one artist that blew me away. There was still enough artists on the lineup to get my attention and get me to buy a ticket though.
High Five Friday
Work kept us from attending Thursday evening, but Friday morning we packed up and headed out. Whatever changes Bonnaroo had made worked. For the first time in a few years of day parking, we ended up stuck in traffic for a while. As frustrating as that was I was glad to know that they drew a big enough crowd to do that.
After waiting in line, going through security, and parking, we made our way to Centeroo, the main festival area, to meet up with friends. High-fiving our way under the arch, we headed to Which stage for our first show of the weekend. The Strumbellas kicked of their set on Friday afternoon and had the crowd singing along almost instantly. Throughout their energetic performance, the biggest beach ball I have ever seen bounced around the crowd.
After the Strumbellas, we decided it was time to check out the grounds and see what kind of changes they had made. The most obvious was the reworking of the Other. Formerly a tent, the Other was now an EDM dedicated stage that had been relocated. This relocation really seemed to help with sound bleed into Which stage and This Tent.
Another new addition, right next to the Other was the Bacardi Oasis. This pseudo-beach had volley ball, hammocks, and rum drinks. It was like a island vacation in the middle of a farm in Tennessee.
The art for the Mushroom Fountain was incredible this year too. It featured black light responsive painted Skulls, elephants, tree frogs and other wild looking stuff.
Time goes by fast on the farm, after just a little bit of wandering around it was time to head to What stage to catch Kaleo. If you haven’t seen them yet, you should remedy that. These guys were awesome. I had seen them once before at The Pilgrimage in Franklin, Tennessee, and both times they were incredible.
Shortly before U2 was scheduled to go on stage I got a notification on my Bonnaroo app that there was a schedule change. I was a little worried at first, but once it finally loaded it showed that they were extending their set. I am not the biggest U2 fan in the world, frankly I wasn’t excited when I saw them on the lineup, but this show was great, and I am glad they extended their set. They played the Joshua Tree in its entirety, and the played other hits for about another hour. This is one of my favorite things about Bonnaroo, it gives me the opportunity to see artists that I would ever go see otherwise. I am often pleasantly surprised and this year was no different.
We got a late start Saturday. I had planned on catching some early shows, but it just didn’t work out that way. No matter, by Saturday although still cooler than average it was pretty hot out, so it is likely that I would have been hiding under a shade tent anyway.
We started Saturday at This Tent listening to Michael Kiwanuka. I had heard a song or two of his on the radio, but I was not prepared for the level of talent and enthusiasm that this artist brought. The tent started pretty empty and before the end of the show was absolutely packed. This was probably my favorite show of the entire weekend and I can not wait to see him again.
Head and the Heart and Chance the Rapper carried the middle of the evening for me. Both of them put on excellent performances. Chance the Rapper does Bonnaroo like no other performer. He went out to the Oasis for some beach volley ball before his show and went down the giant water slide.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
I have seen the Red Hot Chili Peppers before and had high expectations going in to this show. The Peppers did not disappoint. They didn’t play as much of their older stuff as I would have liked, but it was still a great performance. They blended their new and old tunes and kept the crowd going through their entire set. Soul to Squeeze and Aeroplane were the highlights of the set for me.
Sunday is always an interesting day at Bonnaroo, the crowd is worn down. You see more people sitting in the shade, relaxing through shows, and catching naps throughout Centeroo. We started our Sunday with Umphrey’s McGee, and they brought the house down with an amazing set. I was amazed at the energy they brought despite playing a late night (starting around 1am) set the night before.
After Umphrey’s McGee, we checked out Milky Chance at the What Stage. All the way from Germany, this group braved the hottest part of the day to put on a great show. The crowd was awesome and the band lived up to the hype. This is another group I really want to see again!
Sundays are for Bluegrass
One of my favorite things about Bonnaroo is the diversity of artists they book. Sunday evenings are always a great time to catch some bluegrass. We started with an amazing sunset show with Greensky Bluegrass. Our intentions were to hop over to what stage and catch a little bit of Lorde’s show before coming back for the Bluegrass Situation, but due to technical difficulties her show was delayed.
Instead of making the trek between stages we stayed put and waited on the Bluegrass Situation super jam hosted by Ed Helms. This was such a great show. With artists like Martina McBride, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Margo Price, and Mandolin Orange swapping tunes, we danced out the night. The highlight of this show for me was “Rocky Top” performed with Bobby Osborne, of the Osborne Brothers.
The Weekend is not for me, his music just doesn’t do it for me. Since he was closing down the official show Sunday night we decided we were going to explore Centeroo one more time and maybe try to ride the Ferris wheel when there wasn’t a line. Nope, everything starts closing during the Sunday headliner. Jake and Snakes Christmas Barn, the Ferris Wheel, most of the beverage stands and food vendors were all shut down. I was a little bummed, but we pressed on. We had one more show to go.
I know I said The Weekend closed the official show, but the party doesn’t stop just because they said so. We headed to Shakedown Street to see Jahman Brahman, a Asheville, North Carolina Jam Band, that has played on Shakedown for the past few years after the Sunday headliner. I can’t think of a better way to close Bonnaroo 2017 down than paying homage to its jam roots with these guys. They played an incredible set and the crowd ate it up.
Overall Bonnaroo 2017 was a positive experience, and most of the things I didn’t like about it were related more to me aging out of their target demographic than anything. I saw all of my favorite things like the mushroom Fountain, the Arch, the Ferris Wheel, and silent disco. I also enjoyed a lot of the new features like the Oasis.
- Attendance was up
- The Other & The Oasis
- The Crowd
- High Fives
- Giant Beach Balls
- Clean Vibes
- Food – Pie for the People, Ozark Mountain Biscuit Co, and Amish Donuts
The Not So Good
- The Lineup for Bonnaroo 2017 wasn’t my favorite
- Music Stopped at 3 am
- No Kalliope
- Everything shuts down during the Sunday Headliner
- Fleetwood Mac for 2018
- Bring Back the Bobble heads
- More Art
Until Next Time
Bonnaroo 2017 was great. I got to see some great performances and make memories with my wife and some great friends. Will I go back in 2018? Well, it depends. If the lineup is right, and ticket prices don’t go up drastically I’ll probably be there. What about you? Did you go this year? What did you like/dislike? Will you be back next year? Tell us in the comments.