Last week, Bonus Cut writers Justin Cook and Victor Anderson experienced Bonnaroo 2013. This is what they had to say.
How R. Kelly Saved the World
By: Justin Cook
I look forward to the Bonnaroo experience every year; I first attended in 2009, and it’s been a tradition ever since. The people, the atmosphere, the love: something is so magical about that hot-ass farm in the middle of fucking nowhere Tennessee. I also enjoy the variety of music Bonnaroo has to offer every year. They cater to everyone’s musical tastes, and you get a little bit of everything—even hip-hop! In the past, I have seen acts such as Al Green, Jay Electronica, The Beastie Boys (who performed their last show at Bonnaroo 2009), Eminem, Jay-Z, Raphael Saadiq, Big Boi and Danny Brown, just to name a few.
This year was quite a crazy year though, but not for reasons one would commonly associate with Bonnaroo. It was just strange; wonderful, but strange. I went with a large caravan of people (about 20 in all), and by the end of the weekend, most of us had purged the demons out of us. Like for real, this shit was a purge; I puked up straight guts for 8 hours on Friday afternoon. I was slightly disappointed because my sickness prevented me from seeing Earl Sweatshirt, but later I came to realize, that even Earl got sick, and did not perform all weekend. But besides all the fucking chaos and vomiting, I had an otherworldly time—here are some of my highlights of Bonnaroo 2013:
1.) Paul McCartney
Now, I know Sir Paul McCartney isn’t hip-hop, but this motherfucker was in the Beatles. He came, he saw, he rocked (I’m pretty sure he was super stoned too). His performance felt like an intimate night with Paul McCartney, which is weird because about 80,000 people watched him perform at the What Stage (Bonnaroo’s largest stage). He laughed, told stories about hanging with Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. We laughed as well, singing along to some classic Beatles tunes, and the love was all around. It was a great way to really kick the festival into a higher consciousness. Also, I’m pretty sure his beautiful voice cured my sickness; after those words of wisdom, my body was radiating.
2.) Hip-Hop Superjam
Every year, Bonnaroo has a Superjam, which features artists from different bands, and brings them together to form a jam band. This year they decided to do a hip-hop Superjam featuring the likes of Schoolboy Q, DJ Jazzy Jeff, the electronic group Lettuce, and some other secret MC’s. Earl was supposed to be in this too, but he couldn’t perform. But I watched a majority of the set, and that shit was funky as fuck. I really didn’t know what was going on, who was performing, or really what song I was even listening to, but I remember the music being ridiculously awesome; my body was stuck hard in the groove. I mean, this was the one of the first late-night sets at Bonnaroo, which tend to get really weird (the drugs, I mean freaks come out at night). I remember Schoolboy coming out, the horns got hazy, and I got lost.
3.) Animal Collective
The stage was alive. Everyone was out of their fucking minds. I swear to god the universe imploded in on itself. I was so terrified with happiness. I really can’t explain this show. Trying to capture it with words is nearly impossible. If you know Animal Collective, you know they laid it down. They began the madness at two in the morning and didn’t stop until everyone was sufficiently mind-fucked.
This show was probably the highlight of my entire weekend. I did not expect this dude to be THAT fucking amazing; R. Kelly can sing, can perform, all while saving the world from apocalyptic destruction. The beautiful thing about R. Kelly: you had bros, hoes, hippies, hipsters, old people, teens, gay, straight, people from all around the globe, coming together, bumpin’ and grindin’, and having the absolute best time of their lives. I seriously thought Bonnaroo was going to turn into a huge orgy orchestrated by R. Kelly—I was actually really close to trying to start it, no joke. Everyone was smoking that herb, passing it to strangers, that lovin’ and huggin’ going all around. And it hit me: this is what humanity needs. Just a little bit of R. Kelly and a little bit of that love making—it makes the world go round! I have never felt so much positive energy radiating from one place. All around was carefree smiles, and people just enjoyed every piece of every little second.
I left the show on a high note, literally. So I’m leaving, and one of my buddies was like, “no dude, he’s bringing out the choir!” I turn, and this motherfucker has a FULL CHOIR, in straight gospel threads, and they go into a soaring rendition of “I Believe I Can Fly”. And motherfucker, I was FLYING!!! You got a crowd of a bunch of drugged-out people singing along to the theme from Space Jam, with fucking balloons and confetti poppin’ off everyone. Holy fuck, I’m pretty in those moments, I died like 7,000 times, went to Heaven, R. Kelly performed, and then I was shot back to Earth, reborn like never before. Oh, and maybe I am mistaken, but when R. Kelly hit that last note of “I Believe I Can Fly,” he opened his chest, split his ribcage—and I swear to Jesus—fucking doves flew out of his heart and flooded the sky. And I knew from that very moment, though times are hard now, every little thing gonna’ be alright my dudes.
It was a great year. I didn’t really catch too much hip-hop though. I saw Kendrick for a few songs, but I wasn’t really feeling it. Last year, he performed on a small stage later in the night, and it was off the chain. This year they had him at the biggest stage, and he could barely finish his bars, running around on that big mother fucker; he was out of breath and just seemed out of his element. I really hope his newly-found fame won’t ruin his artistic abilities. I left to see The Swans, who shook the core of my soul and wiped the dirt clean. All you hip-hop heads should go listen to The Seer by The Swans—it’ll make you rethink your own existence. Anyway, Bonnaroo is always a pleasure, but this being my fifth year in a row, I think it’s finally time for a break. I just thank God for R. Kelly. That’s one show I will never forget, because that man did save the world. One day, you’ll understand.
By: Victor Anderson
“It amazes me that people are willing to spend this much money so that they can live like people from third world countries,” was a cynically paraphrased statement from an Oklahoma City insomniac who went by the name of Bryan. I met him in the early morning of the last day at Bonnaroo after purchasing and devouring an $8 breakfast burrito. I kind of agreed with Bryan but I didn’t see it in such a negative context.
Before Bonnaroo I had never been to a music festival but something about them always appealed to me. I try to apply the “live with no expectations” method to things in life and I wanted to go about my first music festival experience by applying that exact method. So, that’s what I did and I had an amazing time.
I went with a rather large bunch of familiar, semi-familiar and unfamiliar peeps and left there feeling pretty happy about all of the wonderful people that I got to spend time with while visiting this magical land.
The daily routine was simple: The sun would serve as your alarm clock, forcing you to leave your humid tent early in the morning. You’d pick your poison; whether it was instant coffee, water, liquor, wine or beer. The food vendors offered ridiculous prices so apples, oranges and strawberry cream cheese, jelly and strawberry sandwiches often filled my tummy. I heard great stories about the legendary Wonder Waffle but sadly I didn’t get the chance to try it. Some people came prepared with grills and dry ice for bacon, hot dogs, eggs, etc. Some people packed canned goods like peas and corn.
Overall, the place was its own tiny city. From the Ferris wheel you could see tent after tent for miles and clusters upon clusters of individuals all over Centeroo (where the stages were) and The Farm (where the tent plots were.) But it was a total libertarian city; it was like Portugal. The lackadaisical patrol officers rode stubby horses and were most likely paid to look as if they are doing something, which sat well with me. “I’ll arrest you if you’re not having fun!” They actually said that. So, people roamed The Farm with beer in hand, joint in mouth passing countless faces, port-a-potties and golf cart taxis and nobody batted an eye. For the first part of the day you almost forget that you were at a music festival. Pre-gaming commenced until the time came to enter Centeroo. Once the threshold level for “fucked-up-ness” had been reached, it was time to begin the musical adventure.
Single file lines of tens of thousands of people constantly poured in beneath the grand arch and side entrances. Half-assed pat-downs and backpack checks allowed us to smuggle in beers, water bottles full of liquor, smokeables and edibles. After passing through the beeping wristband detector which registered the trusty accessory, you were free to roam the land.
This Tent, That Tent, The Other Tent, What Stage and Which Stage showcased the great performances that we came to see. But if you were there to see Mumford & Sons or Earl Sweatshirt, you were shit-out-of-luck. Jack Johnson saved the day and provided posivibes for nearly 60,000 people with their heads in the sky. A very spectacular firework display followed his performance and if you were under the influence of something like LSD, you would have loved it. Oh, and the world famous Paul McCartney graced the same stage the night before and played a damn-near 3 hour set and nobody complained. He even told a rare tale about how he witnessed Hendrix asking Clapton to tune his guitar halfway during a gig.
Many others performed but unfortunately conflictions occurred and you soon realized that seeing absolutely everyone that you planned to see was not possible.
Check out the line-up here: http://lineup.bonnaroo.com/
It was pretty surreal to see these artists with your own two eyeballs. Not to mention constantly being surrounded by such a large crowd of people. Traveling from stage to stage was a task because you had to correlate agendas and schedules; you also had to struggle not to get lost and detached from your group. Cellphones were almost always dead and you were forced to revert back to good ole fashion verbal communication. But by belonging to such a large group, separation was inevitable. Sometimes individuals had to roam around on solo missions to check out acts at other stages. Some factions came prepared with huge flags or unique objects attached to tall poles. These served as location indicators.
I really enjoyed the overall community because even if you were all alone, people were friendly and willing to speak to just about anyone. So many characters, young and old, living free, having an exhilarating time.
Regardless of what happened, everything was a part of the experience; whether it be the terrible hygiene, warm air, port-a-johns, jacked food prices, tents, drug pushers or the book peddling monks. For four days you checked out of the real world and were granted time to experience potential utopia. No online social networks, no phones, no internet, just raw human interaction and freedom. And music, you can’t forget the music. It was the main factor that brought us all together.
But when the final day came, I realized that I’d been living in a sort of time warp where time was on my side because it knew that I wanted to savor the moment for as long as possible so that I could truly live with no worries, only pleasure.
That last day was dreary and damp and our camp site reflected our tiredness and past recklessness. We all experienced something special and that something special was unique to every individual. But as the vacation to a far-away beautiful land faced our backs, an overwhelming sensation smothered us. It could have been the fear of returning to a normal life or it could be the joy of realizing that you want more for your mundane existence. Whatever it was, I knew that I left that place with a new revelatory experience and great memories that I would cherish and always reflect upon.