The BonnaroOregon Trail: Day One
“You guys should cover Bonnaroo this year like it’s the Oregon Trail.” It’s a few days before zero hour for the festival, and Eleven fan and compatriot, Peter, has raised a good point. Bonnaroo is a weekend tour through all of the same trials, tests, and dreams faced by the American California-hopefuls of yesteryear. We’ll stave off blistering heat without cover, and battle sickness and dehydration. We’ll manage limited supplies, and frequently be forced to decide between foraging, bartering, and starving (if only for a few hours). There will be Natives, and they will be wild. Though I suppose instead of hunting for food, we’ll be shooting bands and on the pursuit for live music (and we’ll score each band’s set accordingly).
This analogy seems close enough for us. We’ll run with it until it becomes even more infuriating to write than it invariably will be to read.
Family Name: ELEVEN
Party Member 1: Josh
Profession: Journalist, Wizard
Party Member 2: Fritz
Profession: Photographer, Journalist
Inventory: Tent, SLR Digital Camera (infinite ammo), Point & Click Lego Camera (50 bullets), Backpack, Spare Axles (none), Spare Wagon Wheels (none), Notepads (2), pens (2), cell phones (2), sunblock (1)
Our journey starts true enough to form: Our trip from St. Louis to Manchester, Tennessee is at grueling pace. We depart from St Louis shortly after dawn on Friday, and our caravan arrives at our first trading outpost in Nashville in around 5 hours, game time. True to the Oregon Trail spirit, we eat…uh…sushi…for lunch (Sam’s Sushi’s $5 special is unbeatable, regardless of the era), and pick up some supplies for the rest of our journey:
Bread, Peanut Butter, Jelly, Whiskey, Beer (x12), Boxed Wine, Fruit (x6), Water (3 Gallons), Money (-$35)
In another hour, we’ve arrived on festival grounds. Admission is lightning-quick this year, compared to last year’s 7-hour…uh…loading time (okay, bear with me) in bumper-to-bumper traffic around the town. We find our campsite, arm our weaponry, and head off into the wild.
What Stage: The Decemberists (above), 5:30p
Opening with a rousing rendition of “July, July!” we knew our favorite verbose indie-folkers would be playing a solid yet theatrical set. Within the first three songs, frontman/perennial jokester Colin Meloy was already calling out the lounging festival-goers in the VIP section of the audience. “When the revolution comes, you’ll be the first ones up against the wall.”
Continuing foraging, we end up at the Wheat Thins Crunch lounge (see above), where the beautiful and talented Grace Potter (see below for a super-candid shot) will be playing a private show. We catch a song, and continue on the trail to This Tent.
This Tent: Florence + The Machine (above), 6:45p
Florence + The Machine’s Bonnaroo debut was met by a tent full of rabid fans, waiting to be annihilated by the UK singer’s wailing, bluesy vocals. Still riding the success of her debut LP, Lungs, the band blasted through their singles, and made sure to replicate the intricate instrumental backings for Florence Welch’s voice. Extra points to the roadie responsible for carrying a full size harp around in the relentless heat.
That Tent: NOFX, 7p
After hearing stories of frontman Fat Mike’s Cokey the Clown fiasco at last year’s South by Southwest, this NOFX set was a must-see. And the band knocked it out of the park with trademark obscene banter between Fat Mike and his cohorts on stage, as well as members of the crowd. “That American Flag is weird,” he remarks, “we’ve never played to someone holding an American Flag before. That’s weird.”
Sonic Stage: Walk the Moon, 7:15p
Game: Rabbits, Birds
We took a brief detour in the middle of NOFX’s set to the Sonic Stage, to check in on some of the smaller festival acts. For a little-known, up-and-coming band, Walk the Moon sure packed a punch. The mostly-female crowd swooned to the band’s poppy tunes, punctuated by set-closer “Anna Sun.” This may be a band to keep an eye on.
What Stage: My Morning Jacket (above), 8p
My Morning Jacket are the perfect fit for the main stage for any rock ‘n’ roll festival. Not only do their songs lend well to expansive festival audiences, but the sound really good really loud. And, they brought guests: friends from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band provided horns and extra percussion, which brought the chorus of “Holdin’ On To Black Metal” to new heights. And you bet their energetic riffage on their encore, “One Big Holiday,” completely brought the house down.
What Stage: Arcade Fire (above), 11p
Our battle with the elements finally starts to take a turn for the worse. The caravan’s grueling pace leads to both Fritz and Josh succumbing to exhaustion and dehydration. Fritz’s cell phone battery has died (of cholera, probably). We manage to scrape together a few shots of Arcade Fire up-close, then withdraw to calmer grounds to rest, heal up, and prepare for the game later on.
Which Stage: Lil’ Wayne, 1:30a
No, this isn’t a Birdman reference. In Weezy’s defense, it’s hard to make a hip-hop show super interesting to those who aren’t within 20 feet of the stage. His performance was energetic, and he gunned through his verses which are ubiquitous in the current rap scene. However, the set wasn’t totally engaging – certain hits brought us back in (like “Go DJ,” etc.), but at times, we just felt too far away from the action.
The Other Tent: Ratatat, 3:00a
This was a strange nightcap – instead of toning things down, they were completely ramped up. By the time we arrived at Ratatat, we we’re lost in the masses at the back of the tent, and had trouble seeing the action up on stage. However, it almost didn’t matter – Ratatat’s signature, 80s synthy-guitar and dance floor beats kept us all moving, and the audio quality at The Other Tent was top notch. But, even Ratatat’s high-octane guitar effects wizardry couldn’t drive away the onset of exhaustion. Centaroo (the festival grounds) and the surrounding Tent City were still alive with activity, but we choose to find a tree and take a nap before making our way back to camp.
Also, we found this guy, who is really taking it easy: