Bonnaroo 2012: A Harmonious Vacation With 80000 Of Your Newest Friends

An in-depth view of the festival from the eyes of a first-time general admissions goer.

Ultimate Guitar

10 Must Dos:

01. Go to your favorite headliner and independent music act's shows. (I went to 17 in 4 days. Mostly rock music in nature, some acoustic, just my preference.)

02. Eat a fresh, warm, delicious Amish doughnut. (These made typical donuts from a grocery seem awful. The doughnuts were large and affordable, and extremely tasty.)

03. Catch a comedy show. (I saw the Comedy Mutant and was on the floor laughing, literally.)

04. Camp in a tent, not an RV, and make new friends there. (The friends I met were from West and East Coasts (San Fran, NY) respectively and had a great time with my Midwestern friends and I. Learned a lot from these seasoned Bonnaroovians who have been there many times before. They also said this time was run the best they have seen thus far.)

05. Take your breath away and shower at the Splash-a-Roo. (After two days of no showering, I went to the Splash-a-Roo [a giant fountain area to rinse off in] and used promotional biodegradable Garnier Fructis shampoo to clean myself off in around 40-50 degree water. It wakes you up in a hurry!)

06. Relax and leave your stress at home. (With no cell phone service for most of the time there, it was a perfect time to forget our technology and high speed world and kick back. Sleeping in was also a huge plus!)

07. Get swag from the various vendors: i.e. Adult Swim, Stub Hub, Fuse, and more. (For some of these items there was a bit of a line, but it was well worth it. For the free T-shirt from Adult Swim, they manually stamped your specialized design right in front of you!)

08. Drink your weight in water or sports drink to rehydrate yourself. (This was easy and no hassle. Large, free water dispensaries were setup in easy to find places throughout the festival. Just take an empty water bottle into the main venue and you are set.)

09. SPF 100,000! (Not really, but it was hot and very bright and sunny every day but Sunday when it drizzled slightly.)

10. Get to Bonnaroo early, Wednesday night traffic was minimal around 9 pm. (Lucky for me, I was able to get work off the Wednesday Bonnaroo started and made it from St. Louis to the Manchester, TN farm by 8:30 PM. The gates opened at 7, and we only waited about an hour to an hour and a half from the I-24 exit to getting parked in our campground. We were also only about a tenth of a mile from the main concert venue and vendor area, called Centeroo.)

Overall Festival Ratings:

(All Ratings on a Scale of 1 Being Awful to 10 Being Ideal)

  • Scene/Culture: 9

    The people as a whole there were the most giving and compassionate group one would want at a super music festival. Everyone bought into the idea of being good to one another for the betterment of the entire group's experience. When I needed water, 3 bottles were offered to me. Similarly, food was shared almost at a potluck level amongst new friends. Everyone was simply happy to be there to see their favorite groups perform and get away from the hustle bustle of the normal world; collectively enjoying four days of harmonious vacation. Amazing.

  • Music: 8

    A huge mix of successful underground and independent bands as well as large headliners to appease the music tastes of many different Bonnaroovians. From The Kooks, Flogging Molly, and Danzig to Kenny Rogers, Ludacris, and Skrillex, there really was huge diversity in styles present. Only thing to bring this rating down: scheduling is everything at a huge event such as this. 4 or 5 alt rock acts on Sunday were at the exact same time. Many participants complained about this. Thursday night was not as heavily stocked with more popular bands and could have had more talent dispersed to play on that night.

  • Comedy: 7

    The Comedy Mutant show I attended proved that stand up is alive and well, especially with the up and coming comedians. High Points: Kyle Kinane and Tall Guy. Low Point: Ali Wong driving bad jokes into the ground. This particular tent was air conditioned, a very welcome break from the heat and also had quite comfortable seats. The only drag about this facet of entertainment: if you wanted to see a show, you must wait in line two hours prior to your show's time to get tickets to each comedy show, rather than going to watch another music show. This could be reworked to allow more time to view other types of shows. Aziz Ansari was at Bonnaroo as well, but the lines to get those tickets for him were far too long.

  • Flow/Ease of Movement for Festival: 10

    Restrooms were always nearby and cleaned regularly. Paths were wide open enough to allow easy flow of travel for the 80,000+ Bonnaroo participants. Plenty of water refill areas and food stations were in easy walking distance from campgrounds and venues alike. Bring a dust mask or a bandanna to cover one's mouth from the gusts of wind though, it can be a pain.

    All Music Shows Seen / Rated A - B Below: (17 of Them)

    No show was done poorly, and every one of the bands I saw were seasoned professionals. I rated these bands against each other, the A's being the most interactive with the crowd and exciting down to the B's being just a bit less than outstanding.

  • Avett Brothers (A)

    Notes: Sing alongs were common and encouraged, this folk-rock band really knew how to entertain. The brothers were fantastic harmonizers and players and did a bit of a cappella for the crowd. High notes: My Heart is a Kick Drum.

  • Bad Brains (A)

    Notes: This D.C. hardcore band was one of the few heavily rock guitar-based groups. They had amazing rhythm guitars and knew how to get the mosh pit going. High note: The lead singer was charismatic and wore an all-white suit and top hat. Very classy.

  • The Beach Boys (B+)

    Notes: The most famous group on the list, the Beach Boys still sang as well as they did on their records of the past and it was great to hear their classics, especially I Get Around. However, their onstage banter was a bit cheesy and dated, almost like your Dad talking to a new girlfriend of yours. Not really what you need. High note: I Get Around.

  • Ben Folds Five (A)

    Notes: Ben was on fire at Bonnaroo, he was excited to play for a real music festival such as this and he made it known. He also played his Baldwin so roughly that he broke a piano string and threw it to the audience. This was the second gig they had played in over 12 years! He ended the show by chucking his stool he sat on into the piano keys perfectly in time with his two band mates' last note. Wonderful music; wonderful performance. High note: Song for the Dumped.

  • Blind Pilot [acoustic set] (A)

    Notes: This up and coming band bases itself around the lead singer's strong and tasteful voice. The band were very conversational in between songs, quite funny, and were very much enjoying their time together. High note: We are the Tide.

  • Danzig (B)

    Notes: Glenn Danzig has done it all from his insane early days with the Misfits to the brutal Samhain and then on his own in Danzig. This show was super loud, covered in black, gargoyles, and blood. A great departure from the glee of the rest of the festival, the Danzig Legacy was thrash metal, punk, and straight up hard rock at their best, depending on the song they were playing. Glenn's voice and stomach show his age, but his vigor and showmanship were second to none. High note: Seeing the devilock in person, along with Danzig's roar.

  • Flogging Molly (A)

    Notes: A personable and fun band. These Irish rockers shared a Guinness with the crowd (literally) and started the mosh pit in a big way. The hard hitting punk sound was infectious, everyone jumped and pushed a ton. A thrill to sing along to, their ballads were just as endearing as the loud guitars. High note: Salty Dog.

  • Grouplove (A-)

    Notes: This up and coming band was an alt-rock pleasure to hear, aside from a few missteps on the guitar here and there. The vocals were tight, and the unique alt sound was great. High note: Guitar work. Low note: Guitar work.

  • The Kooks (A)

    Notes: These Brits can sing a power pop song. I did not know a word but the melodies were fantastic. Catchiest live show I saw. Great stage presence from the lead vocalist, and also a very fresh guitar tone. High note: Singing to songs I'd never heard.

  • Phantogram (A)

    Notes: Dynamic and enthralling female lead vocal. Best female vocal of the entire festival. The mix of digital electronica and rock guitar was very good. Only way to make this show better? Have a large video screen to view the vocalist better. Fantastic show all around.

  • Puscifer (A)

    Notes: Artistic, devoted, and passionate: Puscifer delivered the goods with the pulsing grooves and hard rock mixture as well as enriching viewers with peanuts from Vagina Airlines. Our pilot Maynard and his flight attendant and crew rocked the stage hard. The costumes were great, our flight attendant was seductive and sexy the entire show. The crowd danced the entire time and enjoyed live art performance care of two LCD screens and specially rigged cameras behind them. A fantastic true live music video experience, to say the least. His views on certain political and cultural hot points were displayed on LCD screens on both left and right stage sides. High point: Maynard is a top notch, world class vocalist and live performer.

  • Radiohead (A)

    Notes: With an arrogant swagger and a quirky, fun dance, Thom Yorke amazed me in several ways. He balances the artful beauty of Radiohead's music with the mainstream success they have achieved effortlessly. The way he replies to cries of joy and thunderous applause: Aww shucks! Thanks. And for the encore: You guys want some more?!? (Tennessean/hillbilly accent and playful jabs) I loved it. The multimedia side of the performance was not only beautiful but disorienting at times.. You find yourself entranced by the wonderfully intermixed bits of color and images (some live camera shots, some not) and caught up in it that I had to make myself stare at the band more. Incredible. High point: Paranoid Android. The last song played, the multimedia visuals matched up perfectly with the movement changes in the song and left me speechless.

  • Red Hot Chili Peppers (A)

    Notes: Difficult to rate this particular show. One of my personal favorites, I was thrilled to see them for my first time. That being said, my guitar idol John Frusciante was also not present, which most other RHCP fans were less than thrilled about. The thing was, I had not seen John play in person, so it was hard to be negative about Josh Klinghoffer. The band was tight and every song I knew by heart was spot on. The newer songs even sounded great, mostly because this was where Klinghoffer was in his element, having wrote these songs himself and having that pride in tow. Overall, Anthony and Flea were amazing and crazy as expected. Chad was rock steady on the drums and Josh did well, I felt. High point: Each member's respective stage presence and fervor.

  • Rodrigo y Gabriela with C.U.B.A. (A-)

    Notes: Wonderful instrumental guitar playing with a diverse and extremely talented rhythm and horn section to back them up. The amount of time devoted to this show was well used on their part. They showcased their diversity of styles and technical guitar competencies they have to display. Phenomenal job. That being said, being slotted between Avett Brothers and Radiohead meant that viewers like me, which stayed the entire length of the three shows, had two shows with fantastic vocal talent and sing-alongs, with an hour and a half or more of perceived elevator music in between. I love guitar, I play guitar, but the casual listener was irked. People were not into their show and felt they should have been put in an area where their talents would be better appreciated, perhaps an instrumental tent along with other bands of technical proficiency. High point: Both Rodrigo and Gabriela rocked their acoustic (and electric) guitars beyond the traditional brink and floored me.

  • The Roots (A)

    Notes: This band had so many colors and infusions of differing types of music that the only way to describe it is danceable and exciting. The band as a whole was tasteful and soulful simultaneously on every song. The tuba player danced and bounced around the entire show. Could not believe it, it takes a lot of lung capacity already! The guitarist was playing the best blues arena rock I heard at the entire festival. High point: Infectious grooves made everyone dance. Everyone.

  • The Shins (A)

    Notes: The most traditional alt-rock band on the lineup, the Seattle-based group did a wonderful job of keeping the crowd going through their must-play songs and also their new album's songs. The female guitarist was particularly impressive in her usage of her effects pedals and nonchalant stage demeanor. The entire band looked fresh and excited to play, and their songs were bright and pleasant. The vocals were a distinct and fantastic tenor without falter or waver. Songs were catchy and a bit more laid back than most other groups, which was a welcome change. The crowd swayed, not jumped. High point: Their ending jam which resulted in a fantastic way to end the show by blending it into their last song.

  • Tune-Yards (B)

    Notes: A group to go to if you want to dance. The crowd danced to every song, and for the most part the music was exceptional. The lead vocal leaned toward a yodel on some songs and could be borderline annoying, being off-key. The energy was there but the execution was a bit sloppy. Guitars were very good although. Trying to balance a digital percussion, digital synthesizer, and guitar setup at the same time for the lead female had to be daunting. She did well for the most part, but there were bound to be missteps. High point: Seeing her perform those tasks fluently, it was amazing.

  • Two Door Cinema Club (A)

    Notes: Fuse together the catchiest guitar hooks of the entire festival and the best dance beats of the entire festival and you have the perfect marriage in Two Door Cinema Club. My biggest surprise of the festival, these fellows knew how to rock and how to get the crowd jumping. Each song was catchier than the last, and I highly recommend checking this act out for that reason alone. The performance was passionate and they had a great set. High point: Best dance-rock of the entire Bonnaroo. Have to see them again soon.

    In Closing: Please consider going to the next Bonnaroo, it was fantastic in many ways. Hope to see you there next year!!!

    Your friend, Eric

  • 3 comments sorted by best / new / date

      Hey dude, looks like you had a lotta fun, but how could you not at Bonnaroo? (unless you're one of the poor saps who were careless with their drugs ) But I thought I'd share my lineup for the weekend for shits... Thursday - Mariachi El Bronx (awesome mariachi/rock outfit) Orgone Soja Alabama Shakes Friday - tUnE-yArDs Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings Rodrigo y Gabriela Radiohead Black Star (surprisingly awful...) Saturday - Charles Bradley Debo Band Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds The Roots Dispatch Chili Peppers Skrillex Sunday - ALO The Black Lips (one of the better shows there) The Beach Boys The Shins Phish (the entire 4+ hour set. my god... ) I saw a lot of other partial shows, i.e. stopping at phantogram, superjam, and seeing if they actually, for real booked a Van Halen tribute band (they did....). We seriously thought it was like a cover for Jack White or another special guest...
      I seriously feel bad for the article poster for not catching any of Foster The People, Young the Giant, or Phish. Foster The People - Amazing band that is nearly perfect live. Two Door Cinema Club's monotonous "low power-chord, high fretted hook" combo of fast-paced "rock" was far from as dance-able as Foster The People's set. Feist right before Foster was incredible as well! Young The Giant - Terrific young band! I was at The Shins with a friend who was a HUGE fan. He knew the words to almost every Shins song, but the band's "too cool for this" demeanor and inability to rock out the songs left him unimpressed by a half hour in. We decided to head on over to Young The Giant, immediately started dancing, and didn't stop! They played "Ignition" by R. Kelly and it was easily one of my top ten favorite moments of Bonnaroo. Phish - Seriously?... you sat through that MOB of a crowd at Radiohead and didn't catch Phish? And I just realized that you didn't see Dispatch either... Yeah, no offense, but I really don't think that you're the person to be writing an article about "how to enjoy Bonnaroo". First Rule to Enjoy Bonnaroo: Literally see as many different bands as humanly possible (despite what idea you may already have about them)!
      MJones, great stuff. Glad to hear your contribution. Skinny, as you know, scheduling is a problem. I have my preferences, as does everyone there. I am more than disgusted at the scheduling of Foster the People, Dispatch, and Young the Giant. I really do wish I could have made those shows. However, given the timetables I had set up, I saw the most shows I cared about and was also close for all of them, within 50 feet. Hard to say how close I would have been if I skipped around a bunch, but I know most people don't care as much about that. Phish was a good act to ride out of Bonnaroo to, but not one of my favorites. If they had a different time slot (and day) I probably would have seen them though. I'm not as much on hip hop and most of that was junk, which I heard second hand from my friends, so I am not an authority. I saw the most I could without scheduling conflicts. You also did not write the article, enough with the negativity. Thanks for letting me know about Young the Giant, that's great. I will certainly see them soon.