The Bonnaroo Diaries – 2012 – Day 2 By Steve Pipps
There is a feeling of pure exhaustion mixed with a calm excitement when the final day of Bonnaroo hits. It’s a crazy mix but it makes sense. You are exhausted from the days prior. You are excited about the day, but it’s a slow experienced excitement since you’ve now made it through the weekend. That experience provides just a slight sense of calm.
It also helps knowing you won’t be in that damn tent another night.
We finished our Bojangles (survival food of champions-ed.note) and headed to our tamest afternoon of concerts. We would be at only two stages throughout the day and enjoy the musical stylings of five fantastic musicians.
Bands of Day 4:
Gary Clark Jr.
The Beach Boys
Ben Folds Five
Gary Clark Jr. kicked off the afternoon with an hour-long set that he closed out with “Bright Lights.” I know I keep saying it, but I wasn’t too familiar with Gary Clark Jr. before Bonnaroo. In my defense there wasn’t too much to know if you weren’t tuned into the blues scene out of Austin. Clark has released three studio albums and a few EPs. His first two albums were released on the label Hotwire Unlimited. It was his third album, Black and Blu, released in 2012 on Warner Bros. that brought his music more to the mainstream and out of just the Blues community.
The best way to describe him playing the guitar is sexy. It’s just smooth and sultry with his decadent voice accompanying it. I’m gushing, but I have become a big fan since Bonnaroo. The people you discover there stick with you for a long time.
Staying at What Stage, we waited for The Beach Boys to woo us with old classics and new songs alike. They did just that. “Good Vibrations,” got the crowd going while “California Girls,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” and “Kokomo,” followed it up to name just a few. I have been a fan of the Beach Boys since I was younger and it was awesome to see them on stage playing classics with a good amount of vitality.
There’s no denying that when musicians get older their music can suffer, like Bob Dylan. I love Dylan but that rasp has just gotten too bad. He’s almost indecipherable. Then there are some like Mick Jagger who just never seem to get old. Somewhere in the middle are The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson was so obviously old physically but his voice was still on point. As a whole they sounded pretty damn good. It was one of the few classic bands at Bonnaroo I was able to fully enjoy and understand the significance of Mike Love and Brian Wilson returning to a stage together.
Right after The Beach Boys, we jumped to Which Stage to see Ben Folds Five. The set had just started as we walked up, but we were able to slide in on the left side of the crowd and have a decent view of the stage. Their set did not include any of the songs from their then up coming album The Sound of the Life of the Mind. They did hit some of my favorites with “Brick,” “Kate,” and “Song for the Dumped.”
This was an awesome show because it was still early on in the reunion of the band. Their first live show together was a week before at the Mountain Jam Festival in New York. They traveled down to Manchester and put on a fun playful show. You could tell that they weren’t worried about much. They were just happy to be back on stage.
Right after Ben Folds, The Shins took the stage to promote their new album, Port of Morrow. They put on a solid 20-song set that included some of their older classics and hits from the new album. Up to this point it had been a pretty perfect Sunday. The music was relaxing in pace and genre. You could sit back and enjoy all of it for what it was without having to fight your way through a sweaty crowd while jumping up and down and rubbing up against your neighbor.
Bonnaroo plans it all so well. Thursday got us going with solid rap sets. Friday kept up the momentum with alternative openers that led to the first headliner and some great late night jams. Saturday was the big hitter day. With huge acts on the main stage and stellar up and coming acts on other stages you are able to keep your energy up throughout based purely on all of the killer acts performing. You feed off of their music and energy.
Then comes Sunday. The day you’re almost ready to call it quits if there weren’t still some great bands to see. But you aren’t ready to jump around and fight for your spot like you have been all weekend; you need more chill music, which is exactly what you get.
Finally, Sunday night was closed out by Phish with a ridiculous four hour set, a set that we stayed for almost none of. We sat far back on the grass to rest our feet, wanting to just catch a little bit. I’d be remiss if I left without seeing some live Phish. It was then I was offered a half eaten pot brownie, which I had to turn down because we had come up with the idea to leave that evening.
Initially we were planning on camping Sunday night and leaving early the next morning to get me to Louisville for my flight back to New York. We couldn’t do it, we needed showers and a real bed so we called it quits.
Around midnight we had our car packed and were on our way out of the grounds behind a long line of people who had the same idea. It’s a sad departure and yet still it feels like a part of the show. We put on music from the weekend and rolled down our windows, sharing high fives with passerby. Once you attend Bonnaroo you are a part of the community forever.
The only things we left behind were our shoes that we had worn all weekend. They were muddy and disgusting and it just felt right.
Once we were out of the campground after a little over an hour of traffic, we had just under four hours before we hit Louisville. With no intentions of making it all the way that night we just drove. Once it hit 4:30 a.m. we were around the corner from the airport. We could wake up late and make my flight with no issues. The hunt was on for a hotel.
There were lights ahead on the left so we took the exit and came across a relatively nice Holiday Inn and Suites. We walked into the lobby, smelling of sweat and whatever else Bonnaroo left on our skin. The clerk raised her eyes until it clicked.
“Bonnaroo?” She asked knowing the answer.
“Yes.” We both uttered together, dropping our shoulders knowing a bed was so close.
“How was it, I’ve always wanted to go?” She leaned forward on her elbows and squinted her eyes.
We ran through a ten-minute glowing account of everything that happened until we must have looked so exhausted she laughed and said she got the idea. It was then that she asked what kind of room we wanted and it was also then that we employed our most masterful move.
“Actually we had a crazy idea to end this crazy weekend,” my friend started. “So we’re kind of broke, obviously, but we need a bed and shower. Is there anyone who might have checked out super early for a flight, or just an empty room that we could shower and crash for like two hours?” We held our breaths.
She squinted her eyes again and turned to the computer. Without a word she slid a key across the counter. “He left at like three to catch an early flight. Just be out by 8:30 a.m. or so and we’ll be good.” She turned back to the computer and that was that. We took the key and proceeded to have the greatest showers and sleep of our lives. Granted it wasn’t enough time to get the sleep we needed, but a free hotel room was pretty damn worth it.
I caught my flight the next day and slept for countless hours. My friends finished his drive to Chicago and did the same. The sounds of the weekend were still ringing in our ears for days after.
Bonnaroo was one of the greatest weekends of my life. I usually have a terrible memory, but this weekend is burned into my mind in the best way and I hope it was as good for you as it was for me looking back on it all.
Steve Pipps is a Chicago-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Step On magazine. He enjoys writing for both the screen and TV. Follow him on Twitter or check out his website. (Steve’s personal Bonnaroo Festival Diary has been shared in a day-by-day diary/tips format) Part 0 here, part 1 here, part 2 here & part 3 here.)