FESTIVAL REVIEW: Highlights from Bonnaroo 2017

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photo by Jorgenson Photography via Bonnaroo Facebook

Four years in the Tennessee heat. Bonnaroo 2017 was my fourth year heading to “The Farm” and despite grumbles over Live Nation buying the fest, Bonnaroo remained true to its core: filthy, socially conscious, and driven by the music.

After flying into Austin, we traveled up to Dallas to pick up the rest of our gang and then made our way to the rolling hills of Tennessee. Every year, we camp with the Reddaroo Groop: like-minded music nerds who know how to use the internet. Our Reddit friends organize elaborate drinking games, a craft beer exchange, and can be found dancing wildly each year to the left-hand side of the main stage.

Four days of non-stop music (the Farm doesn’t shut down at night) may seem intimidating, but Bonnaroo regulars know that it’s all about pacing yourself; it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Naps throughout the day are required if one is planning on dancing back at The Grind in Pod 7 til 6am. Only a novice drinks craft beer all day (coconut water is a must-have). And if you’re not digging the show you’re at? Get up and find another. The lineup this year was dense, with impressive headliners like U2, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Weeknd; the undercards were equally stacked, boasting indie favorites like Cold War Kids and Glass Animals. We had to edit this list several times for length, a sure sign of a successful Roo.

July Talk dished out the sexual tension.

Thursday at Bonnaroo is usually the day to do a quick tour of the grounds, take inventory of the fried food vendors, and make friends with your camping neighbors (when Sunday comes, you may be out of beer, after all). However, our Canadian campmates talked us into trekking out early to see Toronto favorite July Talk. Singer Leah Fay’s borderline saccharine voice battles with guitarist and co-vocalist Peter Dreimanis’s guttural growl; the pair denies any private romance “for personal reasons” but the often physical, “Push + Pull” nature of their onstage interactions make it difficult to think of anything else.

The Strumbellas lifted spirits.

Canada hit it out of the ballpark this year, introducing the Bonnaroo crowd to The Strumbellas on Friday. The band’s 2016 release Hope is full of… well, hope. Despite the Tennessee heat, the audience danced and sang along as though they really needed those lyrics to feel true, the lines “And I don’t want a never ending life / I just want to be alive while I’m here” hitting close to home. The Strumbellas have been vocal about their positive vibes, telling AXS “We get a lot of really awesome messages from people, saying how the lyrics have helped them through hard times, like depression, or anxiety, or PTSD.” With a foot-stomping Americana sound to back it up, it’s no wonder they’re picking up fans south of the border.


In the shade with Michael Kiwanuka

The near-sunset set is always a coveted slot for performers, their audience sitting placid after a day of running around in the heat. After hitting up Tegan And Sara on Saturday, we moved over to the This Tent to watch Michael Kiwanuka perform. Songs like “Black Man In A White World” reflect Kiwanuka’s diverse background, having been raised by Ugandan parents in North London. Kiwanuka doesn’t shy away from the controversial, explaining in a recent interview with The Telegraph that “A lot of people who are way more famous than I am say they don’t feel obligated to speak out on important issues, but I do. One of the cool things about Muhammad Ali or David Bowie is that they always stood for stuff; it wasn’t uncool to believe in something and follow it through.

Dancing is required for Cage The Elephant.

Matt Schultz, the lead singer of Cage The Elephant, danced shirtless on stage, channeling a young Iggy Pop with his spastic, sexual movements. The crowd sang favorites like “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked,” “Cigarette Daydreams,” and “Come A Little Closer” word-for-word, their energy matching Shultz’s. Our group was so taken with their performance it was difficult to leave early for the Chili Peppers; we ended up splitting up (I remained bouncing up and down until my group dragged me away).

The Soul Shakedown makes Bonnaroo unique.

What sets Bonnaroo apart from a festival like Coachella? Many things, but the yearly SuperJam is definitely a gem unique to the fest. Each year, the SuperJam is curated by a specific artist or band. 2017’s SuperJam was presented by the Preservation Jazz Hall Band and featured performances from Chance The Rapper, Margo Price, Tank And The Bangas and more. “Hey Ya,” “Waterfalls,” and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” were just some of the highlights from the horn-infused set.

Umphrey’s McGee Tears It Up (TWICE).

Shpongle was the reason my brother decided to go to Bonnaroo this year. I myself listened to Shpongle for hours in preparation for their late-night Saturday set. Due to visa issues, they couldn’t make it. Devastation. “After 18-plus years of performing more than 100 concerts annually, releasing nine studio albums and selling more than 4.2 million tracks online, Umphrey’s McGee might be forgiven if they chose to rest on their laurels.” Thus read Bonnaroo’s description of the band that would replace them: Umphrey’s McGee. I was not familiar (neither was my brother). Umphrey’s late night jam set made us forget our Shpongle woes (if only for a few brief hours) as we danced with wild abandon next to Bonnaroo’s hippie tribe.

Margo Price brings outlaw country flair.

On certain Sundays, the Reddaroo crowd doesn’t go into the festival grounds til dusk. This year, however, I had made a date with Margo Price. Price was cool as a cucumber, despite the grueling sun. She sprinkled tales of time spent in jail and her struggles as a musician in a male-dominated industry throughout her set. “Tennessee Song,” “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle),” and “Four Years of Chances” got the crowd on their feet and dancing. My attention was only diverted by a man struggling to dance with his scarf despite dropping it every few minutes.

Bonnaroo 2017 was chock full of outlandish characters, outstanding performances, and motivating messages. As I roamed the festival grounds, I couldn’t help but be moved by sentiments of love and community. “Some people may think [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Martin Luther King Jr.’s] dream is dead, but not at Bonnaroo tonight. Maybe the dream is just telling us to wake up,” Bono said passionately during Friday’s performance. As the Weeknd closed down the festival Sunday night, I looked around at the large crowd, singing at full voice into the darkness, and thought: We’re awake.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Highlights of Coachella 2017

The first time I went to Coachella, it was reminiscent of a first date to adult Disneyland. My husband and I ran like milk-drunk toddlers through the festival grounds. We stumbled upon bands as we went along, making no must-see lists whatsoever. We bought expensive sweaters the first night, not knowing how cold the valley gets. Our budget was quickly blown as beers and gourmet tacos stacked up throughout the weekend.

This year, we bought beer and grilled cheese makings at Costco. In the weeks leading up to the festival, we co-ordinated with our camping buddies via an ever-beeping Facebook messenger group. Our conversations routinely turned back to an epic Hans Zimmer vs Tove Lo vs DJ Khaled debate. On the first day, our bellies were full of beer and our minds were full of scheduling conflicts.

It was a weekend of eye-brow raising performances. Radiohead’s silent disco. Lady Gaga’s disappointing iTunes plug. DJ Snake’s…performance. For three days, the campgrounds blared “Humble” in preparation for The King’s Sunday performance (and Kendrick didn’t disappoint). As usual, however, the undercards stole the show.

Preservation Jazz Hall Band beat the heat.

The Heineken Tent on the left-hand side of Main Stage is always a good area to pop a squat early on. As we sauntered past the phallic Dr Seuss garden, I was fairly stunned to hear that the Preservation Jazz Hall Band hadn’t read the heat index. Once called “more EDM than EDM“, the band didn’t hold back, attacking the heat with the kind of rhythm and style only jazz can bring. They actually got my group to chug their beers and dance in the heat near the stage for the last few songs. Hats off to those band members wearing suits at four in the afternoon.

Sunset with Two Door Cinema Club

Saturday saw many hours soaking up the water gun stream inside the DoLab. After a few of Trejo’s jackfruit tacos, we ventured back out into the sun to catch Two Door Cinema Club. “What You Know” is one of my “keep it on repeat” jams, so seeing them live was a dream. The crowd shook off it’s sweaty, sunburnt vibes and danced with wild abandon on the crisp green grass.


Move over, Lady Gaga. Nicolas Jaar is on. 

Around 10:00pm on Saturday, we wandered. It’s my personal belief that every time an artist incorporates fire into their performance, Coachella is leading the flies away from something better. So when DJ Snake lit the stage up (literally), we quickly dispersed to Gucci Mane. Two songs in, I was pretty satiated. The crowd was thick and pumped for Gucci. I was dead tired and looking for dance space. We raced over to catch some of Nicolas Jaar. His latest album Sirens is a departure from his usual “Mi Mujer”, more “turned up” fair; the music builds slowly with ambient beats and delicate textures. In a live context, however, the album is dark, foreboding, and definitely “turned up”.

Our zero, Ezra Furman. 

For weeks leading up to Coachella, my husband would casually mention, “I can’t wait to see Ezra Furman,” or “Just as long as [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][seeing some other band] doesn’t conflict with Ezra Furman.” By the time we sat down in the grass to watch, I was pretty pumped to see what all the fuss was about. “We’ve got money enough to be here. How you use your money that lines billionaires’ pockets, you have a say in that,” Ezra Furman spoke with a gentle fervor, quick and concise. His set was tightly wound, with the crowd responding vocally to upbeat favorites like “Restless Year,” “My Zero,” and “Lousy Connection.” In a year where EDM ruled, it was refreshing to hear Ezra’s nasal voice rise up to great us.

Bustin’ a move with Sofi Tukker.

The last time I saw Sofi Tukker perform, I knew they were gonna be big by the next tour. Yet, both Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern seemed genuinely surprised at the large crowd gathered at 3:45 on a Sunday. The EDM crowd was in fine form as they danced in time to “Drinkee.” Hawley-Weld was resplendent in the afternoon sun, dressed all in white; Halpern had his signature coif spray-painted pink and blue for the occasion. The performance featured a few surprises, including Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears joining the duo on stage for a several songs, and an aggressive rendition of “Greed,” a dance protest song that zeros in on Trump’s hair.

Don’t you remember Grouplove?

Honne was the place to be. Yet a few songs into their Mojave set, we were itching to get over to Grouplove. It’s the eternal festival question of “new hotness” vs “old standby.” We shuffle-danced for a bit before running to the main stage just in time to hear “Ways To Go,” which they followed up with “Tongue-tied,” “Let Me In,” and “Colours.” I had completely forgotten my old love of Grouplove. I even found myself singing along to newer tracks like “Good Morning” with wild abandon. Sometimes you just need a little pop-rock in your day.

Hans Zimmer Tears.

Would people show up for Hans Zimmer? It was the question in the back of my mind all weekend. We got to the stage a bit early to get a good spot and already the signs were good: the crowd was amped and had brought along glow-in-the-dark props. There were moments of confusion throughout the show (especially when it came to how to dance), but Zimmer’s 10 minute mashup of the Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, The Thin Red Line and Gladiator soundtracks was the highlight of many people’s weekend (including my own). Oh…and I totally cried when they played “Circle of Life.”


By the time “Kung-Fu Kenny” (a.k.a. Kendrick) hit the stage Sunday night, our group was beat. The sun was so rough that day I’d nearly gotten sick at 2pm. We were worn from dancing in the DoLab to Space Jesus, our skin was burnt despite layers of sun block, and Justice had gotten the last of my sweet, sweet dance moves. But Kendrick didn’t need hype in order to get the crowd on his side. He stood on stage with a giant screen looming and twisting above him, commanding our attention, demanding feedback from us, but didn’t punish us too much. Later, as we sat together in the campground drinking a beer, we blasted “Humble” one more time.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]