We travelled to the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee for the third year in a row. It was an exhaustive – and exhausting – journey into music, merchandise, and a sea of humanity.

The Bonnaroo site is geographically located on the 600 acre McAllister Farm in Manchester, Tennessee adjacent to Interstate 24. Interestingly, the site is within 500 miles of 80% of the population of the United States.  It is also rumored to be the new site of the Tennessee State Fair -- more to follow on that.

You can find out more an buy tickets at

While it is difficult to provide a “bottom line”, I will say that it was enjoyable and incredibly interesting. Here are some observations:

- It seems like there were a lot more people there this year.

- Unlike the overtly political festival of 2008, there were no political statements seen or heard except for a swipe at the Tea Party by Stevie Wonder. Shockingly, there was no talk of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by the conspicuously green, environmentally-active crowd. It was also interesting to see how much trash these “greenies” left behind!

- While I normally shy away from political talk, I find it interesting that those “Tea Party Nuts” are portrayed as being a bigger threat to US national security than Iran, North Korea, and Al Queada put together.


Damian Marley & Nas were playing on the Main Stage as we setup our campsite Friday afternoon. It was peace, love, and reggae from these cats, and it sounded pretty familiar. I’ve never really gotten into reggae, but that is OK. Those who like it really live it – kind of like metal!

Tenacious D was up next. Conan O’Brian came out and introduced the band. The show was interesting and very musical, but it was one non-stop F-Bomb. They played all of the music from their movie, and did a cover of several songs from Tommy by The Who. It was Jack Black and Kyle, plus a drummer, bassist, and guitarist. The guitarist was playing a BC Rich Mockingbird, and looks like he stepped straight out of 1976 with his long hair and cool moustache. The drummer and bassist played together very, very well. Would we go see these guys again? Maybe for free.

Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers – Yes, the “wild and crazy guy” played a set, and his is an amazing musician. We caught part of his set, and he sounded pretty cool. It is strange to see Steve Martin at Bonnaroo playing a banjo…very well, I might add.

Kings of Leon played in the “prime time” slot on Friday. I have to say that they were not bad and played a very energetic two-hour set. We didn’t realize how diverse their music can be and their drums and “beats” were very interesting. Yes, lots of very unique beats. However, the stage banter with the crowd was forced and not very professional. The lead singer spoke a great deal about “getting drunk”. Overall, it seemed like they were a really great garage band from Mount Juliet. The lead singer talked about how he and the band had worked up to the main stage from a small stage in 2004. He attributed it to hard work and perseverance. I’m not sure that is very realistic, “positive”, or “inclusive” message for 2010.

Later Friday night we saw The Flaming Lips featuring Star Death & White Dwarfs. I’m not exactly sure what happened here. It was an incredible visual experience, and there were about 30 people on stage, including comedienne Margaret Cho. We couldn’t take too much of the sound effects and odd music, and the lights did freak us out. This was billed as a “Dark Side of the Moon” tribute, but the songs didn’t sound like Pink Floyd from where we were standing. A very trippy, cosmic experience.

The Black Keys. The two man band with a bass player and keyboardist added. Still dig the guitar tones. Very cool throwback band from Akron, Ohio. I remember when Akron was a big manufacturing town. Seems like those kinds of towns produced gritty, kick-ass bands like this one. Remember the great Detroit bands?  KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERxxxxxS!


It was really hot outside on Saturday, and we took our time easing into the music. We headed out about noon and had a look around. Here are some highlights:

Mexican Institute of Sound. Three Mexican dudes - one each playing drums and bass guitar over loops with one guy rapping/screaming in Spanish. Not bad, but it was tough to take with it being so hot outside. Made us want to take a “siesta”. It was interesting to hear a “Latino” pronunciation of “Bonnaroo”.

Elmwood – saw these dudes + one girl at the super tiny Budweiser stage. Killer. Guitarist rocked. Very jazzy, but there was also an element of Dream Theater in their music. It was smoking hot outside, and they still rocked. This band should have been on one of the bigger stages.

Norah Jones. She has a great voice which would be much more at home in a small jazz club. She was playing on the second stage, and it was just too hot outside and her set was just to mellow to get us fired up. She actually played some guitar. When she started the mix was all of her voice. It sounded like the band was really hanging back on playing and you really couldn’t hear them. Very odd.

Jimmy Cliff. Reggae legend/Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. He played about 10 covers, four originals, and did all of the obligatory reggae things like “One Love.” Shockingly, he actually played “Forever Young”, that sappy ‘80s ballad. We really didn’t dig it. Again, for me – how exactly did he get into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame?

Jeff Beck. Yes, that Jeff Beck. The first time I’ve seen one of my true guitar heroes. He was unbelievably good, playing on a small stage in a tent. Sort of a place for the truly second-tier! His tone and touch was just incredible, and I really enjoyed his set. Go see him play. My son went to see Weezer instead. Too bad they were double-slotted. Jeff was wearing a cool white vest, black shades, and black jeans. The Strat was white with a rosewood board. He had two little Champ amps behind him. Once was tweed, and the other was painted surf green. He also had a Marshall – It looked like a JCM 900. The band was smoking with Narada Michael Walden on drums, Rhonda Smith, a Prince alumnus, was on bass, and Jason Rebello was on keys. I would love to play with a band like this!

Later on we saw Stevie Wonder on the Main Stage. Not much to talk about here. A legend. Killer band and great backup singers. A very pro show.


The weather was incredibly hot. We wound up sitting around in the shade trying to stay cool. We watched about 15 minutes of Blues Traveler and had to get out of the sun. The temperature was about 94 F, and the heat index was over 100 F. Safety Tip: Stay inside when it is that hot!

We took a break from Bonnaroo and drove around for a while with the air conditioning blasting. We returned in time to see the Zac Brown Band late in the afternoon. His set was pretty good – kind of a cross between Charlie Daniels and Jimmy Buffett. While they were good, it was disappointing to see him on the main stage while Jeff Beck was in a tent. Another note – I believe Zac Brown tuned his guitar more than anyone I’ve ever seen. I think he needs to get a tech and let the hired help take care of the guitars.

Dave Matthews Band. Two and a half hours of pure jams. Incredible band and incredible show. One memorable moment -- during “All Along the Watchtower” they played the entire solo from “Stairway to Heaven”. The musicianship was above anything we had seen with the exception of Jeff Beck and his band.  DMB is a must-see if you get the chance.

Some things to remember about the ‘Roo:

1. You can’t see everything. You have to pace yourself and stay hydrated.

2.  Pick the bands you want to see before you arrive -- look it up online -- and avoid all of the wondering around.

3.  It is hard to get a ride from the “grounds” to the Walmart in Manchester. Wear walking shoes and forget the flip flops.

4.  The food was awesome. Enjoyed a curry chicken pita, the New York pizza, monster corndogs, and even a Middle Eastern Falafel served up by some Lebanese dudes.  There are ATMs available -- you will use them!

5.  They are going to have to figure out an alternative to those awful porta-potties. Inventors? Where are you?

Lots of inventive Vendors.  There are some really talented people in the United States, and we need to keep encouraging them to invent things and make money.  A couple of trends -

1.  The Utilikilt. Yes, a kilt for the 21st century.  Google it if you think we're kidding.

2.  Hemp clothing. I think this is a great idea for the former tobacco belt in the United States.

3,  Lots of hippie clothing and accessories.  I guess it never goes out of style.

4.  Some really great photographs and art.

Overall a great experience.  Next year is the 10th Anniversary -- see you there!


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