Woo Hoo Bonnaroo

Woo Hoo Bonnaroo

When my friend Beverly first suggested I take my eldest daughter Hannah to Bonnaroo, my first thought was Bonnawhat?

I had never heard of this massive music festival held annually in Manchester Tennessee, then in its 10th year.

What a difference a month makes!

On June 8th in 2011 we flew to Nashville and spent a wonderful evening with my friend Lauren and her husband and son.

Hannah and I had never been to “Music City” and we instantly fell in love. Bands and musicians are everywhere. All the bars and honky-tonks lining the streets have bands in their front windows. You practically trip over the incredible street musicians. Shake a tree and a musician will fall out!

The Country Music Awards were happening that night so the town was hopping. Of course we had to buy the mandatory cute short dresses and cowboy boots that the local women favor.

When Lauren and I walked over a street grate, the wind from below blew up our new short dresses causing a group of guys across the street to whistle and holler at us.

“Woo hoo! Go back! Do it again!”

We laughed, secretly thrilled because her husband and my teenage daughter had witnessed this.

Hannah and I arrived at Bonnaroo the next morning at 7 AM, our VIP tickets allowing us to get to our campsite in 1 hour instead of up to 6 for regular admission.

The VIP area was a Godsend. Besides showers and nice bathrooms, there was a large central air conditioned tent with ping pong tables, a basketball game, a central fountain that you could sit around and cool your feet in, massage tables and several brand new white couches for lounging. These couches would come in very handy over the next few days and we took our first of many naps as we tried to escape the 100 degree heat and unrelenting sun.

Almost 200 acts would be gracing the What Stage, Which Stage, This Tent, That Tent, The Other Tent, The Bonnaroo Comedy Theatre, Café Where, On Tap Lounge and the Sonic Stage.

This was confusing for me. I could never remember which was what and where they were. Thank God Hannah was 19 and knows everything.

We kicked off day one with Band Of Skulls (they were great) and Childish Gambino featuring Donald Glover- a regular on the TV show Community and a writer for 30 Rock -where does he find the time?

We crashed at 2:30 AM and by 7 AM we were burning awake. It felt like it was already 100 degrees in our tent.

While Hannah headed off to see Matt and Kim, I hit the nearby camping store to buy fans and misters while mentally preparing to see 5 bands in the next few hours.

I watched the wonderfully quirky Decemberists and the fantastic Grace Potter (random celebrity watching off stage-Ron Jeremy!) whilst in the VIP tent.

Hannah and I braved the heat to see Ray LaMontagne although we couldn’t see him. He was hiding behind the scaffolding on the stage!

Was he shy? Did he have stage fright? Who cares? He was so boring we left. We were becoming jaded.

Florence and the Machine’s terrific set featured her haunting voice on tunes like “Cosmic Love”, “Got The Love” and the euphoric “Dog Days Are Over” that got thousands of us jumping ecstatically.

We had the best pepperoni pizza ever before seeing our favorite band, the Grammy winning Canadian powerhouse Arcade Fire. We discovered my fellow Canucks at the Hollywood Bowl in 2007 and they totally rocked our world. The 8 members constantly changed instruments and bounced around the stage while thrilling us with hits like “Intervention”, “Rococo”, “Tunnels” and the anthem-like “Let’s Go.”

We saw Ratatat, a wonderful electronic music duo from New York at 2:30 AM.

We got to bed at 4- the music went til 5.

We lived in the VIP tent most of the following day, watching the fantastic Old Crow Medicine Show, a 6 piece old time string band from Nashville. They play a mix of original tunes plus pre World War 2 blues and folk songs.

We watched Alison Krauss, Davotchka and Deer Tick while we played many games of Ping Pong.

We finally headed out into the Bonnaroo dust oven and staggered over to the famous mushroom fountain, a brilliant structure shaped like a giant mushroom that spews forth cold water and brings welcome relief to thousands of overheated souls. We didn’t care that the water became increasingly brown as the days went by. It cooled us down immediately and kept us alive. This fountain- a Bonnaroo mainstay- has had many different incarnations over the years. It was one of our favorite places. It was near the pizza.

We loved English folk rock band Mumford and Sons- almost as much as Arcade Fire if that’s possible. This brilliant band had the crowd singing along with the especially fabulous Grammy nominated “Little Lion Man”.

We loved The Black Keys and were thrilled to see Buffalo Springfield’s last performance. Neil Young is simply fantastic. He totally rocks and shows how cool growing older can be.

Then it was off to see the fresh out of rehab Eminem perform.

Oh the disappointment. A cheesy drawing of a sub machine gun was aimed at the audience and swayed back and forth while “shooting” at us-lame! I know I am not his target audience (pun intended) but I was not impressed. He’s undoubtedly talented, but this was negative, nasty, dark stuff. He encouraged people to tell people on either side of them to f-off. Not the creative genius I wanted to hear.

The next day we enjoyed G-Love and Special Sauce, the Neon Trees and then practically fell asleep during the way too relaxing Iron and Wine set.

Next up- Robert Plant – the only other person I actually knew that would be at Bonnaroo. We have a mutual friend and a few years ago the 3 of us went to Amoeba records for our first time. The only thing better than going to Amoeba records is going with a rock legend. But I digress…

Sir Robert performed with his Band of Joy along with the talented Patty Griffin and was his usual fabulous self. It was a great performance and I especially loved seeing all the 20 something’s rocking out to this wonderful master.

We caught the Strokes winding down their set for the adoring masses with lead singer Julian Casablancas wearing lime green sneakers and -surprisingly for the heat-a leather jacket. It’s all about the look!

That night Hannah and I packed and were punch drunk from the heat and exhaustion of the last few days. We laughed til we cried as we imagined ourselves saying goodbye to our neighbors and then suddenly attacking them with our misters. We were this close to actually doing it-but somehow cooler heads prevailed.

I don’t know whether I could camp with 100,000 people in 100 degree heat ever again, but I feel blessed and grateful to have spent this quality bonding time with my daughter while we watched some of the best bands in the world. I feel especially blessed that we had the VIP passes. And the best pizza in the world.

Catherine McClenahan