Saturday was definitely my favorite day.
I headed into Centeroo early to catch Old Crow Medicine Show on the Which Stage. Yes, you know “Wagon Wheel.” At least, you do if you live in the South. Seriously, more people here know all the words to that song than the national anthem, I’m sure of it. You need to know “Hard to Love” and “Tell It To Me,” a lovely song about a cocaine addiction. No, seriously, it’s a fantastic song.
Just after Old Crow on the same stage was Alison Krauss and Union Station. I listened for a song, and loved what I heard. I left after a bit, though, to find shade (remember the part earlier, where it was hot?). But what I found was something better: air conditioning! Wheat Thins, of all people, was a sponsor, and had an enclosed tent/structure thingy with a legit door and air conditioning.
I unashamedly sat on the floor for a half hour, snacking on their free wheaty squares of deliciousness.
Eventually, I left the tent to rejoin the crowd who was loving Ms. Krauss. Together for 21 years, Alison and her Station are clearly a winning team. She introduced her guitar player, who was the singing voice of George Clooney in that little-known film “O, Brother Where Art Thou.” She went on to mention that he wrote the infamous “Man of Constant Sorrow,” and then they basically just led a huge sing-a-long of the hit.
Besides obviously wanting to catch the amazing set, my second reason for leaving the air conditioning was to worm my way up through the crowd. Forty-five minutes after Krauss & Co. left the stage, my raison de Bonnaroo was up. I knew it was going to be a kickass show, and I wanted to be as close as I could.
What was that show? None other than British folk-rockers, Mumford & Sons. I’d seen them just over a year before, when they played to a measly 200 people on the Ohio State University campus. (Yes, I drove to Ohio to see them. Don’t judge.)
I knew this set was going to be huge — since their energetic Grammy performance months earlier, they’ve been building popularity with the general public. I didn’t imagine how many they would draw, though; I read somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 people watched the set — quite a jump from that teeny Ohio show…
It gets extra amazing around the 2:20 mark, but all throughout the video you can hear the crowd singing along almost as loudly as Mr. Mumford himself. Their encore was amazing- they brought out members of Old Crow, The Apache Relay, Cadillac Sky, and famed dobro player Jerry Douglass to play a 10-minute rendition of “Amazing Grace.” It was beautiful, and another great sing-a-long.
Trying to leave the Mumford show was insane. The Black Keys were due to play the main stage 15 minutes later, and it was a mass exodus from one stage to the other. We felt like cattle being herded, and once we got to the What Stage lawn, there was nowhere to go.
People had already begun sitting down and claiming their spot, but more people continued to push in from behind us. Not really feeling like dying in the mob, I pushed my way back out and found a nice spot on the other side of Centeroo to listen.
Not feeling the Eminem headlining show, I headed over to watch Matthew and the Atlas, another smaller British act. I definitely made the right choice. As they were playing the same time as Em as well as Buffalo Springfield, the crowd for M&TA was small, but energetic for midnight on Saturday.
Remember how I said earlier that our tent was amazing for late-night Which Stage performances? Yeah, I went back to camp after Matthew and the Atlas, while Eminem was still going strong. With my earplugs in, I could still hear “Lose Yourself” loudly enough to sing along.
Luckily, I am a Conrad, and as such can sleep anywhere, anytime. I had no trouble catching my zzz’s.
Sunday, the festival’s final day, was shorter for me than I’d expected. After packing up my stuff, I headed into Centeroo for the last time to catch Seattle’s The Head and the Heart. I’ve been pushing them this spring like I pushed Mumford last year. I love love love this album, and I’d been looking forward to this set all weekend.
All six members seemed a bit cramped on the stage of The Other Tent (which was also over-crowded and spilling onto the lawn outside) but they still put on an amazing show. Check out “Lost In My Mind,” “Ghosts,” and crowd favorite “Rivers and Roads.”
I’m not gonna lie — that last one brought some tears to my eyes. Whether it’s the fact that I could relate to the lyrics (my family does live in another state), Charity’s amazingly powerful voice, or just the exhaustion of the weekend catching up to me, I don’t know. Regardless, “Rivers and Roads” just strikes a chord with me.
I’d intended to stay for Amos Lee, then Robert Plant and the Band of Joy, but I was beat. The hot days, greasy food and the ridiculous sunburn I’d received on the first day were all catching up to me, and I was exhausted. Also, wanting to beat the majority of cars out to avoid sitting in traffic, I bailed to get back to Nashville and wash the four days’ worth of dirt and grime off me.
All in all, Bonnaroo 2011 was more than I’d hoped. As a first-timer to the festival (or any festival for that matter) I had no idea what to expect, but I had an amazing time. I cannot wait for them to release the lineup for next year in February, so I can start planning my trip back to that farm in Manchester.Tweet