Bringing a one-year-old baby to Bonnaroo never seemed like an easy idea – an interesting one, but not an easy one. The average weather at Bonnaroo varies from an intense dust-bowl heat to a chilly, rain-infused swamp mess. Your days are spent trekking from one end of The Farm to the other, pushing past an average of 40 to 80,000 people in order to catch a new act that may perform well (or may bite the dust). So this year, we wandered into the unknown, armed with a #killer stroller, snacks for miles, and grandparents…
We also cheated. Instead of camping with our cohorts over in Reddaroo, we climbed into an RV in Austin, Texas and drove the 13 hours to Manchester, Tennessee. Once on property, we plugged into our power hookup, turned up the AC, and took a look at the lineup. Overall, the experience was a very different one from the last four years we’ve gone. VIP camping definitely had its perks, with special viewing areas for both the main stages. It allowed us to do our usual hustle to the tent stages, while not feeling as rushed for the bigger name acts.
Even with a baby in tow, we didn’t slow down this year: The Grande Ole Opry, Childish Gambino, Maren Morris, The Lonely Island, Phish. It was a packed year, with a wide variety of music from across all genres. We narrowed it down to those stand-outs who really embody the Bonnaroo spirit, radiating positivity with music that speaks to a listener’s soul. Here are our highlights.
The Nude Party
Thursday nights are for new bands, tunes that feel fresh and in step with the times. North Carolina’s The Nude Party is definitely on the pulse of music’s semi-recent psychedelic rock resurgence. From beginning to end, the show felt like a college party, complete with a pickle party totem dance (thank you, The Pickle Crew), fishnet-clad bottoms wagging, and the kind of easy, fun lyrics a whole crowd can sing along to: “Spend half your life in that Chevrolet / Driving up and down the freeway / Someday when you’re too old to play / Yeah, you’ll wish you got a job.”
Magic City Hippies
Miami was in the house this year. Indie funk trio Magic City Hippies was as smooth as Rob Thomas in 1999 (that may read as an insult, but we were seriously into Mr. Thomas in 1999). Lead singer Robby Hunter crooned to the crowd with a sideways smile that said “I know you’re into it.” “Limestone” continues to be one of my favorite MCH tunes, its relaxed sexiness lulling the crowd into a dope-infused stupor.
Nahko And Medicine For The People
In the blistering sunshine, there’s not a lot of wiggle room when it comes to whether you like a band or not. Decisions are made quickly, with little to no regret involved. We came in halfway through Nahko’s Friday set and were immediately transfixed by the Oregon native’s stirring vocals and heartfelt lyrics. If you’re looking for music that will challenge and transform, here’s the ticket; Nahko describes his own spiritual journey with a jubilation that’s infectious: “So, tap me out and tap me into you / Heal my brain / and my body too / Balance my chemistry, hydrate these cells / Cause the body talks and meditation helps / The body talks and meditation helps.”
It’s always a little terrifying to look forward to one band at a festival above all others. For me, the band to see at Bonnaroo was Rubblebucket. For two years, I’ve been wanting to see them live, but with pregnancy and a busy first year, this mama hasn’t been able to see a lot of live music. Rubblebucket had the dreaded first set of The Which Stage on Saturday, but despite the hour and the heat, the band rose to the occasion. Kalmia Traver (vocals, saxophone) and Alex Toth (trumpet, band leader) have an enviable onstage relationship built on balance and play; how they came to work through alcoholism, cancer, and a breakup is a miracle in itself. The band’s music reflects the turmoil they’ve been through and the joy they’ve found through song.
I’ve skipped out on Hozier many times throughout the years. At least three times, maybe more. There’s always been something more juicy, a set rumored to be the talk of the festival. After all, we’re talking about Hozier. This year, there were no conflicts, no reason to skip; I found myself sitting on the mound at sunset, crying, because it turns out Andrew Hozier-Byrne is more than just a beautiful voice. His songs are tightly constructed political messages woven into pop songs. The real intent of Hozier’s message is never more clear than in his live performance, where you can hear him sing about homophobia on “Take Me To Church,” social justice on “Nina Cried Power,” and the end of the world on music from his latest album Wasteland, Baby!
After a few years of rebuilding its image, Bonnaroo 2019 felt more like itself, a solid mixtape of music spanning many genres. Sold out tickets and the sad smiles of festival goers leaving the grounds echoed the positive sentiment of this year. We already can’t wait til next ‘Roo.