Day one recap: Bonnaroo begins

The line into the epicenter of the action, Centeroo. © Jessica Coughlin 2006

Bonaroo Arts and Music Festival
Manchester, Tennesee
Day one: June 15, 2006

Once again the population of Manchester, Tennessee will swell from 8000 to 80,000 as the Bonnaroo Arts and Music Festival comes to town this weekend. People are now flocking from far and wide (I saw plates from Hawaii last year- go figure) to the largest musical event in the country. Once again, the hippies have taken over the local Wal-Mart, transforming the parking lot into a veritable Shakedown Street over night. For the fifth year, cars stretch for miles on the high way waiting to get in to their camp.

You can count on a few things every year at Bonnaroo: music, drugs, bare flesh, and corndogs. The stages are named "Which Stage," "What Stage," "That Tent," and "The Other Tent" -- prompting a continuous "Who’s on First?" routine amongst the already dazed and confused campers. There will be mud, sweat, and tears as well as revelation, jubilation, and torrential rain. It is also hot as hell and a serious trial of endurance. I know this much is true. 

There are a few differences from the past. Bonaroo's always been eclectic, but this year marks a tipping point for the inclusion of indie rock. In years gone by, Bonnaroo established itself as the heavyweight champion of jam band festivals, but this year's big-deal headliners are Radiohead, Beck, Death Cab for Cutie, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Though every good story has conflict, I doubt we'll see hippies and hipsters slugging it out in the mud this weekend. The crowd here seems to unanimously agree that music should bring people together, not tear them apart. For a jam-band empathizer like me, the good news is that the lineup still includes that good-good: Phil Lesh and Friends, Mike Gordon and Trey Anastasio of Phish, and Robert Randolph and the Family Band.   

Jurawa Hallen does't let a broken arm interfere with the festivities. © Jessica Coughlin 2006

But Bonnaroo is never just black and white -- or Indie and Jam -- it's also everything in between. From Tom Petty to Bela Fleck to Buddy Guy to Blackalicious, all factions from jazz to funk to reggae are represented. There are so many musicians that everyone is exposed to artists they would not otherwise listen to, and people like what they hear in spite of themselves. Rah, rah.

Last night's shows were a great, showcasing up-and-comers without big-name distractions. The Cat Empire, a group of energetic Aussies playing jazzy funk tunes with whimsical lyrics that set the crowd dancing. The band’s mantra seemed to sum up the general sentiment of the festival as they lustily sang, "Music is the language of us all!" So is Disney the language of us all: the trumpet player busted out the opening African chant from The Lion King, asserting the band’s feline prowess, then proceeded to break into frantic reggae beat-box scat secession. Apparently they are one of the most popular live acts in Australia and rightly so. 

Aki Morimoto, lead vocal and guitar for The Electric Eel Shock. © Jessica Coughlin 2006

For counterbalance there was the Electric Eel Shock, a trio of hard rockers from Japan. Ripping off everyone from Black Sabbath to solo Ozzy, they may not have a lot of range, but they were hilarious to watch, and they appeared to be having as much fun as the audience. The drummer, who wore nothing but a tube sock, may have been having more fun than anyone. 

This is going to be a wonderful weekend of music, so stay tuned for daily updates.

- Jessica

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