Bonnaroo has done it again; but to be fair, they’ve been doing it for the past 15 years. This year wasn’t any different, as the festival honored its sweet 16th anniversary. Bonnaroo has become legendary in the States and they can, and have, pulled some pretty big acts, so anyone who plays the festival should feel honored to be a part of the Bonnaroo legacy.
People like U2 (first U.S. festival by the way), Red Hot Chili Peppers (“We’ve played thousands of festivals and this one is our f*cking favorite!” -Flea), The Weeknd, Chance The Rapper, Lorde, Flume, Portugal. The Man, Major Lazer, Marshmello, The XX, and so many more graced the stages and minds of over 65,000 festivalgoers June 8th through the 11th. This year’s attendance may have been a little more than half of their biggest year ever, but it was definitely an increase in last year’s ticket sales, which was a main goal of Live Nation who took over the festival in 2015.
Some say it’s clear that Bonnaroo was catering to the younger generation in 2017, by offering up more mainstream acts and especially by dedicating an entire stage to mainly EDM and hip-hop. The Other Stage used to be just a tent, but this year it was an entire full-blown stage that was almost the size of the main stage (What Stage), which added room for 15,000+ people. I can completely understand the reasoning behind this and wanting to bring in more ticket sales, but it left a lot of veterans wondering what happened to their precious Roo. Some people who have been to countless Bonnaroos in the past felt that they were missing out on their original vibes. They felt that Bonnaroo had let them down without the jam band/hippie/old-school feel that it once was. Honestly though, I could feel it in the air; there is something significantly different about the people who went to rage to EDM and the people who went to rock out to insane guitar riffs, drum solos, and jam sessions performed by live bands.
I am truly a fan of both sides, but the overwhelming “mainstream” feel was prevalent. Sometimes though, this is the direction that you need to take if the previous years were lackluster. You need something to draw people in and why not cater towards the new festival generation, the people focused on music post-2005 and the people that appreciate tunes that are more relevant to their age.
Even given all of this, the thickness of the good vibes in the air were strong. No matter your taste in music, from sappy R&B, to grimy, heavy electronic, to folk, hip-hop, heavy rock, to hell, even country or even comedy, Bonnaroo had what it was that you were craving. I want you to try and relive the experience if you weren’t there for yourself, so here, let’s run through some of the top performances that I saw this year. (Granted that I did miss some and can’t mention some as there were just too many.)
Haywyre and G Jones broke in the brand new Other Stage with their pulsating rhythms and light shows. July Talk killed it in their psychobilly-style ways, making it the highlight of my Thursday night; they were definitely one of the top sleeper sets.
The Icelandic band Kaleo brought both soft and heavy rock that was a good mix for the midday grind. Gallant was so wild that it looked like he was about to continuously fall over with his crazy moves, this man can definitely sing. Glass Animals were packed early. “Oh you brought me a pineapple, well I’ve got my own right here” as Dave, the lead singer, says to the crowd while he points to a giant pineapple disco ball that was behind them, a wild and funky set for sure.
U2 was in their own dimension, of course. Even if you weren’t a fan, that set had to have touched you in some way. Portugal. The Man opened up with a cover of Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and then straight into their hit “Purple, Yellow, Red, and Blue,” my mind was already blown. “Feel It Still” to “Modern Jesus” with the lasers and guitar solos and jam sessions in between equals probably my favorite set of the weekend. Big Gigantic closed out Friday night with their sax, drums, and livetronica ensemble.
REZZ threw down hard and brought some dark energy, which caused the viral sensation known as the breakdancing unicorn circle. Chance The Rapper took everyone to church and almost got a little preachy with his set but he still lit one up for the ages that drew one of the biggest crowds at What Stage.
Red Hot Chili Peppers played hit after hit and even with their growing age they still managed to play like they were 20 years old again. The intensity of the entire band is overwhelming and was something that radiated throughout the entire venue. Bonnaroo’s famous Super Jam did it again by bringing in Jon Batiste and a slew of other talented musicians but of course the main highlight was Chance The Rapper blasting out Outkast’s “Hey Ya.” Marshmello closed out Saturday night and was honestly a surprise to me. I expected to hear a lot of poppy hits but it was the complete opposite, most of the festival was there but keep in mind, it was the only thing going on at the moment.
Royal Blood had one of the gnarliest sets of the weekend with people moshing and crowd surfing the entire time, another sleeper set for sure. Umphrey’s McGee brought back the old Bonnaroo jam vibes, while Crystal Castles brought the wickedness with their dark/lo-fi hits.
Travis Scott drowned out every single stage that was on at the same moment but Jacob Collier still pulled through to show his magical musical ways. Finally, The Weeknd closed out Bonnaroo, which was another surprise for me. I knew some, but not all of his work; he made me want to sing along to everything so bad, but I couldn’t and I felt so ashamed. He had a way of moving the crowd and getting them ready for their final experience of Bonnaroo 2017. This was definitely a really nice way to end the festival and who doesn’t love seeing fireworks too? It was a perfect amalgamation of everything that happened that entire weekend, a nice mix of what Bonnaroo was to me and I’m sure what it was to countless others.
So as I walked through the glowing arch one final time, thinking back on the weekend and The Weeknd, I just had to ask myself, “What the f*ck just happened?” It all becomes so surreal when you realize that this is your final moment of the festival, that it’s pretty much all over. When you come to these festivals, you think “Oh, we have three more days of this” but then you turn around and it’s all over, just like that, like nothing ever happened. Something did happen though; it happened for me and for over 65,000 people this year and in many years past.
Sometimes you dread thinking about how long the drive home is (10 hours for me) or how hot these things are going to be but then again, you think of how short they will become, just a memory in the back of your mind waiting for the next year. I could have went on more; I would have camped, I would have partied, I would have not showered. Hell, I wouldn’t have even eaten just to get some more of the feelings that we all had that one magical weekend on the farm. Coming from a first time Bonnaroovian that’s been to many festivals before, I can honestly say that it has been one of my favorites of all time and one that I won’t miss again. The Bonnablues are real but it can, and will, be cured soon. See you all there June 7-10, 2018.