We arrived at the gates of Bonnaroo at about 5:30 am on Thursday. The four of us in the car I was driving were a bizarre mix of delusionally tired, immeasurably excited, and in various bizarre states of energy-drink ridden confusion. After an exceptionally painless 20 minute wait, we got through, got our maps and schedules, and parked, ready to set up camp with our other carload of friends.
Setting up was also reasonably painless, particularly because a kind Bonnaroo employee allowed us to use what was essentially an extra parking spot worth of space to get our tents up. Once we had our tents up, our shade created, our beers in the cooler, and our sleeping situations worked out, we decided it was nap-time. That was derailed more or less instantaneously, as even though we’d all more or less been up all night, there were people to meet! Things to see! Bonnaroo!
So we wandered, met some neighbors, who were incredibly well-prepared, having been there multiple times before, and who let us lounge in their super nifty shaded area, where we drank a breakfast beer or two and discussed what we were all most excited to see. After a bit of this, our group (all 8 of us) decided it was time to go exploring.
Our adventures around the rambling expanse of the Bonnaroo camps (or pods, as they’re called there) involved about 40,000 smiling faces, a group of guys who insisted that we drink from their bag of wine, and an overwhelming vibe of joy, excitement, and the belief that everything was absolutely awesome, and only getting better.
We returned to camp, lounged for a bit, and then made our first trek into Centeroo for what Bonnaroo is all about, the music! We stuck together early, making our way over to The Other Tent to see:
I had heard a bit about EMA, had listened to her a bit before hand, and was pretty happy to start my Bonnaroo off with her. Her distinct brand of lo-fi, grungy, sexy indie rock felt just right with the sun pounding down and the grass between our toes. Nothing about this show was incredibly memorable, but it deserves mention for setting a great tone for Day 1, as well as leading me to believe she’d definitely be worth seeing again in the small clubs she’s accustomed to playing.
EMA – Bonnaroo 2012
Our intention was to hang around for The Cave Singers, but decided that exploring the rest of Centeroo, getting some food, and seeing the sights. After a delicious food trip trek, and a jaunt around the various amazing vendors and different makeshift shops there, we wandered over to That Tent to catch the last half of:
2. Moon Taxi
I had never heard of this band, and didn’t really have any expectations. While most of their music was relatively non-descript, albeit danceable, they did do an absolutely killer cover of Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name of, which was an awesome burst of an energy for all of us.
A few of us decided to wander from Moon Taxi over to:
We wandered all the way into the tent area for this show, as we got there early enough and there wasn’t much of a crowd. However, as it started to fill in, and become more and more jam packed, I realized that considering how low I was on energy, it was in my best interest to separate from the friends I was with and make my way out to the grassy area, which was much less crowded. At this point it was entirely dark, and the glowsticks, light up hula-hoops, and other assorted light producing objects. I found myself wandering, the bass and dynamic melody lines of Phantogram’s dream-pop washing over me while I watched beautiful people dance, laugh, and relax, inviting me into their revelry at every turn. This show was magical, and my first real taste of the Bonnaroo spirit.
After Phantogram, our entire group reconvened for:
4. Alabama Shakes
I was incredibly excited about this show. The buzz around this southern-rock revival indie band, fronted by the powerful (23 year old!) Brittany Howard, had been getting bigger and bigger all year. We found ourselves with a reasonably good view from the back of This Tent, and with very little wait the band made it’s way on stage. Their first song was plagued by sound problems, which was unfortunate. However, they kicked it into overdrive with their second song, “Hold On”, the big single off of their debut album, “Boys & GIrls”. If their entire performance had been that song, I would have been blown away. However, with that song out of the way, there really was no wind left in their sails, particularly with the intermittent sound problems. We stayed for a few more songs, and then decided sleep seemed more prudent than staying for the rest of the set.
Kind of a let down.
Alabama Shakes (Photo Credit: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
However, the decision to leave early resulted in what was unquestionably the most magical moment of our first day at Bonnaroo. As we made our way back to our tents, exhausted, we were wandering through a wooded area when we stumbled upon a small stage we hadn’t even noticed before, well outside the bounds of Centeroo. I looked at the placard to see who was about to play, and it was none other than:
5. Hey Rosetta!
I had seen them in Chicago in fall of 2011 and had been absolutely blown away. This was a whole different level. As soon as the sextet climbed onto the tiny stage, it was obvious something special was about to happen in this tiny area that felt more like a backyard than something at a major music festival. Even the most exhausted people in our group, after hearing the opening chords and felling the amazing energy decided they had to stay. We danced, laughed, and sang along well past 2 a.m. I can hardly imagine a more perfect way to end my first night at my first Bonnaroo.
We finally stumbled our way to our tents, many of us getting our first real sleep in almost 48 hours.
Day 2 to come!