@shiftywhiteguy: We all owe our gratitude to the jam band scene. Without the Phishes, Widespread’s, and String Cheese Incidents of the world, we wouldn’t have Bonnaroo in the first place. However, it’s no secret that these types of acts have become less prevalent in the grand scheme of the B-Roo experience. This year is a prime example. The closest thing we had to a jam band on the main stage was John Butler Trio playing an early afternoon set on Sunday. In the meantime, MMW was relegated to The Other Tent, and poor Umphrey’s McGee got that brutally hot 3:30 set time on Which Stage. As one of my festival partners phrased it, “Where are all the hippies? I shouldn’t feel out of place wearing a tie-dyed Bob Weir & RatDog shirt at Bonnaroo.”
Part of me feels really bad about this. Bonnaroo is as great as it is because our beloved jam band fans make a lifestyle out of their music. It’s a fantastic view on life that I find extremely refreshing, and a sign that some people out there still have their priorities in order. The move away from jam bands seems disrespectful to the OG’s of modern festivaling.
However, if you’re going to change the Bonnaroo experience, the way they’re doing it is fantastic. This year, there was a huge emphasis on dance music. In fact, where there used to be “The art of Such and Such,” a performance art arena, there is now The Lunar Stage, the home of DJ performances that went until 6 am. On the main stages, this trend continues, as just on Friday night, B-roo goers had the choice between Chromeo, Bassnectar, LCD Soundsytem, and Galactic. To further drive the point, add a fantastic late Saturday night back-to-back of Dan Deacon and Deadmau5 that drew a shockingly large crowd. However, no prime spots given to mellow jam bands.
Now, maybe it’s just me, but a late Friday night at Bonnaroo seems better capped off by LCD’s infectious dance music than by a two-hour set of improvised guitar solos and mellow tunes that only facilitate the natural fatigue of Bonnaroo. When you get to midnight, and there’s still three shows left to be seen, it’s much easier to get through it successfully if what you’re listening to is super loud and gets you moving.
The potential nightmare consequence of this shift in Bonnaroo aesthetics is the crowd it will draw. One of the wonderful things about hippies is that they make great audiences. No one gets hurt, no one gets violent, and everyone pays attention to the music. Take the hippies out of the audience, and does B-roo become less civil? By the end of four days of unrelenting crowds and heat, the average person will be driven to be less than polite to those within 5 feet of them.
But, despite the number of frat boy asshole Dave fans and Bonnaroo virgins present this year,* I witnessed absolutely no douchebaggery, no aggressive people, and a general peace amongst the populous that one would expect with the old Bonnaroo crowd. If B-roo’s organizers can keep the balance of the mellow attitude of old Bonnaroo with the more entertaining music of the new Bonnaroo, this festival’s future has no limits.
*When you meet people at Bonnaroo, one of the questions that naturally come out is “How many Bonnaroos have been to?” Overwhelmingly, my conversations with strangers this year ended up being with first-timers. In fact, I don’t think I met anyone that had been to more than one previous B-roo.