Story by Christina Montford
“My best friend who I’ve known forever came out to me after Bonnaroo,” Alex Rose told me throwing back a beer in the cramped space of a 2005 Nissan Xterra. “He just said he was tired of not being himself and Bonnaroo showed him that. See, that’s the magic of Bonnaroo. There’s so much love and acceptance going around that you can’t help but be yourself.” I hadn’t even made it onto the grounds of the festival and already the magic of “Roo” was proceeding itself. I’d heard stories; tales of life-changing moments to the backdrops of heavy-hitting headliners, people finding themselves and losing themselves all at once. I’d heard. But, I wanted to see for myself.
After a string of unfortunate events, including but not limited to lost tickets, dead car batteries and sleeping in the car at a Walmart parking lot, we finally made it to the campgrounds in Manchester, Tenn. on Friday afternoon, only missing one day of the festival.
First on our set list of must-sees was British artist Sam Smith. His soulful lyrics and angelic voice did not disappoint, and even as the rain started lightly falling the audience stayed entranced. Ben Howard came on with the same gusto, followed by the Naked and Famous.
Friday’s daytime acts were amazing on their own, but they were really a musical pregame for the night acts, which included Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, Die Antwoord, Disclosure, Skrillex and Ice Cube.
Kanye West and Bonnaroo have a long and sordid past, one the diehard “Bonnaroovians” haven’t forgotten about. In 2008, Kanye was originally scheduled to play as a pre-headliner act at 8 p.m., a time that was unacceptable to Mr.West. Bonnaroo complied and rescheduled his performance for 2:30 a.m. Unfortunately for Yeezus, Pearl Jam, the band slated to perform right before him, played a mind-blowing set that ran 45 minutes over.
Throwing a fit and not wanting to perform while any other bands were still on, Kanye made fans wait until 4:30 a.m. to see him. The crowd didn’t tolerate his lateness vey well and greeted him with a chorus of boos, thrown water bottles and “Fuck Kanye” chants.
On his first year back at the festival since the shit-show, I was eager to see how the crowd would react. For some reason the graffiti peppered throughout the walls of the festival reading “Fuck Kanye” and “Kanye Sucks” didn’t give me the highest of hopes.
As the night fell and it became time for the self-proclaimed god to go on stage, a sizeable crowd had gathered. He started on time and launched right into his set with his typical fervor. The crowd ate it up. You could hear fans singing along to his hits as if all had been forgiven. A few times a wayward fan would start a “down with Kanye” chant only to be eventually drowned out by people shouting his lyrics. So, the wound is still there, Kanye, it's just not as deep.
Over the next few days amazing artists lit up the stage and made the $285 tickets more than worth it. Janelle Monae, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Arctic Monkeys, Frank Ocean and Lionel Richie all donned their respective stages and didn’t disappoint.
The festival closed with Elton John performing for the first time ever at an American festival. Everyone who hadn’t passed out from the weekend’s festivities showed up and filled the main stage area with hoops and hollers and tearful screams of joy as Elton began striking his piano keys. His performance was pure magic as people set off fire sparklers and threw glow sticks into the air. It was the perfect end to an amazing weekend.
If you’ve never had a Bonnaroo experience then you are selling yourself short. The sweltering heat, the uncomfortable nights of sleep and the one or two days without a shower are nothing compared to the love and unity that is spread around. Everyone is there to help. Everyone is there to love. Everyone is there to just be. And above all everyone is there to wish you a Happy ‘Roo.