Let me paint a picture for you. It is a picture of how the world could be, and I’m not just being idealistic. I know it is possible because I have experienced it. It is a place where the only rule is to be kind to your neighbor.
I’m sitting on the grass in the morning sunlight on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tenn., with about 80,000 of my closest friends. The air is thick with misty mountain drizzle and I’m hearing Gary Clark Jr. sing like Otis and shred like Jimi. After the physical exertion of driving from Houma, sleeping in tents and battling the heat for three days, this was my melting point. All I could do was close my eyes and sway my head to that sticky sweet R&B.
I had misplaced my sunglasses, so when he kicked off “Please Come Home,” there was no hiding the tears. The rain that came the night before washed away all the dust and heat from the previous days. It was perfect; it felt like fall in Louisiana. This was my Sunday morning church and when the mass had ended, we all went forth in peace.
I lost myself and literally found Waldo; I took a photo with him. My new friends, Sid and Molly, introduced us to the glow people. A Buddhist monk hung out at our tent and told us about the way. I’m not talking about Disney Land, The Chocolate Factory or Heaven; I’m talking about the 11th-annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
What started as a modest festival has turned into a mecca of American culture. To swim in a sea of uninhibited bohemian homosapiens bonding through music is an experience like no other. Clothing and sobriety are totally optional, and the endless high-fives are contagious. This is one of the largest gatherings in the country and everyone is smiling; how can that not have a positive effect on a person.
Aside from the spiritual pilgrimage to a magical land and whatever other clichés I can glue to this experience, this festival is flawlessly organized and executed. The signage and branding of the festival is playful, educational and positive. It encourages people to recycle, pick up after themselves, help each other and just be nice. The grounds and even the port-a-potties were always clean, considering that a mini city had formed overnight.
It is stupidly simple or simply stupid trying to navigate between What Stage, Which Stage, This Tent, That Tent and The Other Tent (these are the actual stage names). Good luck with that conversation.
The biggest names in popular music and comedy are stuffed into a lineup year after year and the crowd continues to grow. I feel that I missed more of the bands that I wanted to see than I actually saw just because the schedules of awesomeness conflicted.
I did, however, knock two bands off of my bucket-list of live performances to see: Radio Head and The Shins. Feist, Childish Gambino, Alabama Shakes, The Beach Boys, and The Kooks were some other notable shows. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were solid, and they are great musicians, don’t get me wrong, but their performance felt a bit forced. Some highlights from the comedy tent were Garfunkel and Oates, Ali Wong and front-row seats to see the legendary Steven Wright.
Part of the Bonnaroo code is carry this experience back out into the real world and make it a better place. Jim Dickinson described Bonnaroo as “a state of being” and that seems to be the best way to sum it up. It is a place that only exists for four days of the year, yet there is a strange sense of family amongst all these strangers. Like Plato’s cave, it is something that can’t be fully understood until it is experienced. Quote the Governator, “I’ll be back.”
In addition to providing some of the best in live music, the annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival is a collection of people sharing an altruistic mission.