Memories from Bonnaroo last a lifetime—and it felt like equally long since we got to make some new ones. That is, until the Thursday when The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival made its grand return to Manchester, Tennessee.
We will always look back on the 2020 lineup that was lost to the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the best music festival lineups to never happen. We’ll also remember how close we came to having Bonnaroo in 2021, but Hurricane Ida had different plans that year. With our light at the end of the tunnel at full blaze and massive infrastructure improvements completed over the last year, Bonnaroovians were cautiously optimistic that this year’s pilgrimage would go forward. That optimism was finally rewarded with four days of heartfelt reunion on The Farm that even the blazing heat couldn’t temper.
The festival itself was not the only thing making a return. While it seems like a distant memory, longtime supporters of the festival will remember that in 2019 the potentially largest controversy struck—the square arch??!! Dubbed the squarch on social media, it was liked by some, loathed by traditionalists, and ultimately in this writer’s opinion, just didn’t feel right. Not to worry, Roo heard the outcry and this year saw the triumphant return of The Arch to help us cross from the boundaries of the campsites into the hubof live music, Centeroo. While the original arch was humbler, it always dazzled. The new, brighter, and even dazzlier arch serves as a beacon, beckoning us music lovers into the Eden beyond.
While there is a world of things to see and do at Bonnaroo, East of 8th is a music blog, so let’s get to the music! After making the short trek through the logjammed traffic of Nashville, down I-65, meticulously obeying the speed limit through rural Coffee County, and trying to beat the world record for campsite setup, it was time to hit the party.
For those of you who have not experienced Bonnaroo, the performances are split between stages, “tents,” and pods. Tents is in quotes because they are really massive, metal-roofed pavilions. The stages and tents in Centeroo are named What, Which, This, That, Who, and The Other to give everyone a slight chuckle and to ensure that even a seasoned Bonnaroovian will end up at the wrong concert at least once each year.
Like many years, our festival experience started at the Who Stage, which showcases a wide variety of rising talent. The stage is all about discovery and, not to slight any of the performances, it’s often home to the hardest working, most in the moment shows you will see each year.
Our 2022 Bonnaroo was kicked off with the pop influenced R&B of Bren Joy. The singer is what we call a unicorn in Music City—an actual Nashville native. He’s also a shining example of how there is more to the city than country music. The heat and humidity of the evening begged for a set like Bren Joy’s—chill enough to just absorb the sounds, enough energy to take our minds off the weather. Using his soulful voice on his top tracks like “HEADLINE” and “Henny in the Hamptons,” he drew fans…and casual passersby, close to the stage to gently sway along with the enticing rhythms.
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THE BROOK & THE BLUFF
“I knew I was going to cry, I just didn’t know it would after the second song,” The Brook & The Bluff frontman Joseph Settine shared early in their set. The audience had crowded This Tent to watch the Nashville-based indie rockers and had just filled the night air with an extended and extremely loud roar of applause welcoming the band. Soon after, another cheer went up from the crowd as the first notes to “Misnomer” were played and we experienced the first large-scale singalong of the festival. While indie rock at their core, the band adds elements of soul, R&B, funk, and chill vibes, that combined on songs like “Shelby” and Everything Is Just a Mess” for a setlist that allowed the crowd to float away on the music, temporarily leaving their cares behind.
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We will admit that writing about EDM is a little out of our ballpark. It’s something we like but can’t explain. However, leading into Bonnaroo 2022, one of the must-see names we kept hearing was CloZee—even from other people that aren’t deep into the electro scene. Her set was also a good excuse to catch a show at the revamped The Other stage, which has been Bonnaroo’s home for electronic music for the last few years.
The best way to put it…we were blown away by CloZee’s show. We use show here purposefully. While many of the other EDM performers also enhanced their sets with lasers, lighting, and choreographed video, CloZee took it to a new level. It wasn’t that it was more, it was that it was seamlessly woven into the music so that it was a complete experience. Her transitions were flawless, the music was melodic instead an assault of bass and beats, and her drops were perfectly spaced to allow a full current of emotion to flow through the crowd. She is the real deal, and we wouldn’t be surprised if she’s a headliner at the festival sooner rather than later.
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It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of concerts coming your way at Bonnaroo. Sometimes you need a set that helps you recharge, have a little fun, and just appreciate the wonder The Farm has to offer. That’s exactly what we felt under This Tent watching Nashville’s Goth Babe. Like many of the artists we have watched over the years, Bonnaroo is a special place for Goth Babe’s frontman, Griff Washburn—in 2015, it was the first music festival he had ever attended. The band put together a well-curated setlist that not only hit all the highlights of their career, but also kept the audience’s attention as tempos ebbed and flowed. The gentle electro washed indie sounds of “Sometimes” was early in the set, followed a couple songs later by the head-nodding “Canary Islands,” and ending with a double dose of energy on their hit, “Weekend Friend” and a cover of “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers. In between, the band simply enjoyed the moment while sending their friend floating across the audience on a giant inflatable donut and doing a cupcake toast with their booking agents. It was one of those memorable sets where both the band and the crowd appreciated every moment.
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As Thursday became Friday, there was still plenty of music to be heard on The Farm…if we had the energy. Bonnaroo isn’t a sprint or a marathon, it’s a trek. After unfortunately making the smart decision to call it a night, we headed back to our campsite, ready to see where Friday at Bonnaroo would lead us.
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