At the risk of sounding cliché, the best word to describe Bonnaroo is “magical.” There are many ways people try to define what makes it so– hugs, high-fives, and cool vibes are usually mentioned—but for factual proof, look no further than the hordes of people that flood The Farm each year in Manchester, Tennessee. The Bonnaroo faithful outnumber the townfolk by five to one and the fest boasts more attendees than the entire local county’s population. Even after my sixth year on The Farm, I have trouble describing the feeling I get when I pass under the yearly-updated arch and make my way to the home of the fest’s many stages and tents, Centeroo. It’s something that I recommend everyone experience–but be warned, you will keep coming back.
While there are many new entries in the festival scene, Bonnaroo has long set itself apart with its amazing cultural and musical diversity. One of the most exciting parts of the Bonnaroo experience is finding new artists that become the backbone of your summer playlists. Thursdays on The Farm have long been eclectic showcases of emerging talent that show off the fest’s curating chops.
To get East of 8th’s party started, I made my way to This Tent to catch St. Paul, Minnesota indie rockers, Hippo Campus (and for those of you have not yet made it to The Farm, the stages/tents all fall into the naming scheme of Who, What, This, That, etc.). Hippo Campus is coming off of a February release of their latest album Landmark, which was featured during their early evening set. Backed by touches of synth and vibrant guitar, with musing lyrics delivered by front man Jake Luppen’s bright falsetto, the band had the crowd clapping along and and awash in the festival spirit. After a quick walk to the Who Stage, it was time for a bit of a musical change of pace, with Vienna, Austria’s James Hersey. Coming into Bonnaroo, I was familiar with Hersey’s works that feature strong electronic influences. Hersey brought a stripped- down set to the Who Stage, perfect for the festival setting. The crowd swayed as he strummed through a set of originals and an occasional cover that showed his range as a bluesy indie pop artist. Back at This Tent, we arrived just in time for the start of July Talk’s ridiculously high-energy set. With driving bass lines, a touch of dreamy synth, and a dynamic stage presence, the Canadian rockers kept the crowd on its toes and dancing. Co-lead singer Peter Dreimanis stressed that the festival was all about balance. “Every good decision needs a bad decision,” he preached to the cheering crowd. Back at the Who Stage, a sea of people pressed close to listen to alternative rockers, Two Feet. The set featured mellow, dream-like guitar, offset by well-placed body quakes of bass–a more bluesy feel than I am used to with their studio works which paired perfectly with the laid-back sunset vibe of the fest. Staying at the Who Stage, the Bonnaroo crowd welcomed Charlotte Cardin to The Farm. Featuring electronic pop style fused with touches of jazz, Cardin tackled social issues over ominous synth and dark keys. With a long day of music already in the books, I was thankful for the explosive energy of pop influenced rockers, The Lemon Twigs. The brothers, supported by a full band, shined bright under the Bonnaroo lights as people danced, jumped, and shouted along with the harmonies. When the show started, That Tent had already spilled into the surrounding fields. By mid-point of the Lemon Twigs set, they had drawn in a sea of people drawn by their infectiously bouncy sound. You could tell that this a band that we will see again at Bonnaroo in years to come, but on a much bigger stage in the future.
It was only the first day, and I was already blown away by the musical talent. While it was tempting to stay up all night exploring the rest of the festival, I remembered the sage advice of July Talk and decided to bank bad decisions for another day.
[This brilliant Bonnaroo coverage was provided by Eo8’s own dynamic duo, George and Sammi Maifair. Stay tuned for more Bonnaroo coverage!]