With the summer season in full swing, an abundance of music festivals are popping up all over the United States, but none are as unique and nostalgic of Woodstock’s vibe than Manchester, Tennessee’s Bonnaroo – a festival tucked away from all of Nashvillle’s city lights, paved asphalt streets and disconnected from the rest of the world. Over the span of four days, tens of thousands of music fans flock to Bonnaroo, a hidden music community, in order to run off of the connectivity of music. Those lucky enough to camp on 700 acre property called “The Farm,” pull all of the stunts in order to personalize their tents with kites, glow stick chandeliers and garlands to decorate. Several hours have passed since the gates had officially opened and the wooden fences paving the way to the entrance of it all are already covered in a plethora of graffiti. Patrons take advantage to settle in and capture the positivity shown in peace signs and swirls of colorful art that seem to be growing as each hour ticks by.
The most noted art is the mural of the yellow brick road to the famous Emerald City highlighting the way to Centeroo – the epicenter of the music festival. This year, the Bonnaroo stages are named in the most confusing manner: What Stage, Which Stage, This Stage, That Stage, and The Other Stage. All outlining the outer courtyard of Centeroo, the whole process of asking for directions from stage to stage has already ensued a mixture of confusion and hilarity.
After crossing underneath Bonnaroo’s iconic green archway, welcoming Rooians to Centeroo, the sounds of guitars tuning ring from inside the That Tent where ZZ Ward is warming up for her afternoon set. Dressed in a black fringe bandage dress with a black sun hat, ZZ Ward prepares the audience for her blues-influenced sound. Her soulful voice swells deeper and louder with her opening track, “Overdue” followed by “365 Days,” both off of her Til The Casket Drops album. It is her rendition of a bluegrass version of Drake’s hit single, “Coming Home” that warms the crowd up with Ward’s harmonica skills and rich vocals. Ward’s infectious marriage of blues and hip-hop helps encourage the crowd to kick off day one of Bonnaroo.
Across Centeroo, bright white lights and an excess amount of fog flood the sides of This Stage in preparation for Banks. Festival-goers squeeze in tighter as lasers cut through the thick layer of smoke hovering over the packed crowd. It’s estimated that not all of the Bonnaroovians are even present the first day. However, fans of the Los Angeles-based goddess are. Fifteen minutes pass by before she finally struts on stage, dressed all in black with matching cape in tow. Banks’s sleek and haunting vocals during her track “Goddess” rally all of her female fans to belt out the anthem. Her slow tempos and R&B undertones are just as enticing live as they are on her debut record, Drowning, out earlier this year. With outstretched arms, Banks feeds off of the vibrating energy that the audience radiates. In turn, she thanks them for giving her the power to be on stage and reminds them to stay powerful.
By now the sun has kissed the sky goodnight, and the festival is in full swing for its first night on The Farm. Lit hula-hoops and glow sticks light up the masses that migrated from tent to tent throughout the night. A large glowing clock tower overlooks the whole Centeroo, marking as a post mark for a general store and the headquarters for Bonnaroo’s official daily printed community newspaper. Walking through the grounds on the eve of Kanye West’s performance, it is beyond noticeable that negative comments about the rapper appear on everything and anything, ie port-a-potties, posters, fences and t-shirts. The Bonnaroo backlashes from his 2008 appearance (where he made the audience wait until 4am for him to take the stage only to get booed off of it) are still fresh. If West has not received the memo that he better deliver this time around, he will surely see it once he steps foot on the grounds.
From one rap act to another, it is only fitting that Pusha T, signed on to West’s G.O.O.D Music label, is unleashing a storm at The Other Tent. Quick to not miss a beat, Pusha T comes on stage and erupts with “King Push” off of his 2013 record My Name Is My Name, getting everyone’s hands up. A huge portrait of the rapper lights up the stage behind him and his entourage. The whirlwind of energy on stage is infectious with Pusha T’s sharp lyrics; and he even drops some West tracks, “Mercy” and “I Don’t Like,” within his own set list. While he gets the crowd hip to the beat, it is definitely just left a taste of what is to come for West’s Day Two performance.