The 11th annual Bonnaroo music festival is off and running, and Xpress is here to bake in the sun and navigate the endless crowds so you don’t have to. But it’s not all misery and exhaustion. Aside from the dozens of stellar shows, standup comedians, cinema tent, dance parties and general reckless abandon that are inherent to the festival, this year stands to be one of the coolest (temperature wise) Bonnaroos on record. Organizers have also added new shaded areas, planted think bermuda grass and given the entire experience a comfort-minded overhaul. But with more than 90,000 in attendance, the four-day camping extravaganza is destined to remain crowded and dirty.
It began early Thursday morning with a modest line outside guest camping. After an hour’s wait, we entered the festival grounds and were directed to a shaded campsite surrounded by thin maple and pine trees. In six years at the festival, this is hands down the best spot I’ve ever landed. Shade in the campgrounds? Trees? Unheard of.
After a few hours of setup, we headed in to catch Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. at The Other Tent. The absurdly-named indie, electronic pop outfit writes effortless, irresistible vocal harmonies and some of the catchiest hooks around. The set was casual and bouncy, with plenty of affectionate bater from the band (affection that was certainly reciprocated). Midway through, singer/multi-instrumentalist Joshua Epstein expressed empathy for everyone who had to use porta-potties all weekend and claimed he would leave a bottle of Don Perigon in one as a peace offering. It was a surprisingly packed show, with fans spilling out of the tent and into the road. I’ve been a huge fan of these guys for a while, but it seemed like I was in the minority. Apparently not.
Next, we headed across the grounds for Yelawolf. Seated in the grass, we surrendered to exhaustion and zoned out as thousands of campers filtered past. The Alabama native’s set was one of the most energetic and lively sets I saw Thursday (an evening that featured three hip-hop shows back to back), but after a hectic day that began at 5:30 a.m., there was no second wind coming.
Out of water, energy and will, we headed back to camp for some much-needed rest. If I’ve learned anything in my years at Bonnaroo, it’s not to overdo it on Thursday.
Check back all weekend for photos, video and updates from the festival.