Journalist Michael Saliba is a longtime writer and music fan. He served as a City Paper contributor and columnist before relocating to Nashville, Tenn., where he currently works as a professional photographer. Saliba attended the big Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tenn., this week with his eyes and ears open. Here are his initial reports and pics.
Thurs. June 9
The 10th annual Bonnaroo Music Festival kicked off on Thurs. June 9 with a bang and signaled a long weekend of great performances to come.
This year, the gates opened a little early on Wednesday night for the 75,000-plus crowd to get in and camp, so my commute on Thursday afternoon was a breeze. I was meeting up with some friends that had set up camp the night before, so I parked in Day Parking and walked. And walked. And walked. After a bit of time (and a lot of walking through 95 degree weather) I gave up trying to rendezvous and saw some music.
Sleigh Bells was at the top of the list on my agenda, and for a lot others as well. The Other Tent was packed to the gills with rabid fans looking to grind to their electro-metal grooves. It was a great performance, with plenty of lights and smoke, but Deerhunter’s set later on at That Tent was definitely the highlight of the night. In contrast to Sleigh Bells’ brash sounds, Deerhunter offered up just the right amount of psychedelia and indie rock for the hippie elite to dance along to and not get their glows sticks revoked.
Once they were done, I finally made it back to the camp and laid down for a restless night to the sounds of faraway drum circles and late-night acts on the side stages. Though my body and mind are tired, this is only the beginning.
Fri. June 10
After going through a night in a tent with very little sleep, I woke up to the searing heat inside it around 8 am. No matter when you went to bed, the blatant swelter you receive first thing in the morning is was so brutal that it’ll make you get up and seek shelter elsewhere. People sitting under canopy tents, with fans and misting bottles, are filled with stories recapping last night’s events. Most shows and events don’t start till later on in the afternoon, so we sat under the shade and tried best to not exert ourselves whatsoever till absolutely necessary.
I headed out to walk the dusty mile and catch Grace Potter and the Nocturnals around 3 p.m. on the What Stage (which is the main stage). Her good looks and natural ability to rock a stage came through in spades, and she put on a terrific performance. Next door at the Which Stage, I caught a little of Warren Haynes’ set. Haynes never seems to disappoint, adding new flavor into the mix each time I’ve seen him. Up next (for me anyway) was Atmosphere in the This Tent. Though he’s known as one of the best hip-hop lyricists today, he was humbled and couldn’t believe the response he got from the hungry crowd. His set was tight, fun and engaging.
Moving on, I had to go check out the “Queen of Rockabilly” Wanda Jackson at the Other Tent. Her distinctive feminine growl has been seen and heard on stages for over 50 years. It’s no wonder Elvis saw something in her. Not long after seeing Mrs. Jackson, I made my way over to the Which Stage again for Ray Lamontagne. I bumped into porn star Ron Jeremy up front, who must be a fan of the soulful singer. I wonder if the feeling is mutual?
After leaving Lamontagne’s set, I had to check out some of Swedish stoner rock group Graveyard’s set at the Sonic Village. I love these guys’ Sabbath/Zeppelin sound and it was a perfect segway towards seeing NOFX at the That Tent. These Warped Tour veterans know a thing or two about festivals, but this one threw them for a loop. They bantered with the crowd, heckled hippies and played a brutal set filled with NOFX classics. It was a great moment in the history of this festival.
In winding down my busy Friday, there were three more acts that I had to catch before the night was over. I saw My Morning Jacket rock the What Stage, then caught Primus blast through their stellar catalog on the Which Stage and finally capped things off with Arcade Fire back at the What Stage. As for me, after seeing nine hours of music and running back and forth between stages, I was spent.