Bonnaroo Dispatch, Part 2




So, I drank a lot on Friday. I didn’t think it was that much, but judging by how I woke up in the middle of a Neutral Milk Hotel show, it was probably a little copious. I don’t mean that I came out of a blackout at that moment. I mean we were hanging out at Janelle Monae, we split up, and next thing I know it was dark and I was standing while sleeping during a NMH song. I woke up — both from my slumber and my memory lapse — and picked up the verse right where it was because I’m a boss.

“I am lisssstennning to heeeaaaar where you aaaaaaaarrrrrre”


Going online, you might see that the crowd was 50/50 split on Kanye West. He has been Bonnaroo’s prime enemy since 2008 when a perfect storm of factors — stage switches, other sets cut short, other sets running long, late appearances, glow in the dark effects made impotent by sunrise — made Kanye ’08 part of Bonnaroo lore. There was “Fuck Kanye” graffiti everywhere, which is pretty damning for a festival that claims to be about radiating positivity.

If you go online, you might think his ranting was pissing everyone off and that he played back “Blood on the Leaves” too much. Don’t listen to them. Most of those people hate Kanye to begin with, or they like his songs but detest him because he likes himself more than they think he should. It’s a weird relationship where they troll Kanye and he trolls back.

Yeah, he said he was the biggest rock star on the planet, sang about not playing the superbowl in auto tune and said he wants to compete with Walt Disney and Henry Ford. If any of that puts you off, I don’t even know why you listen to him. It’s that arrogance — coupled with his insecurity, which is most prominent on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy — that has enabled him to make these songs. You don’t gotta agree with him, but I don’t understand why you want him to reign it in and be another regular ass pop star. We have plenty of those. Let Kanye be Kanye.

I was pretty far and could see only the tiniest Yeezus, but I had fun. Pusha T did not come out for his verses. Chaka Khan did not come out and do “Through The Wire.” I had fun.


Deafheaven was a brief metal epic. Their leadsinger is this dramatic dude that strikes royal stances in between his impossible screeching. It was awe inspiring. He would put one leg up on a monitor, turn up his nose at the crowd like a royal, and extend one hand out as if to say “Come to me, my Deafheavens.” Then he would buckle down and let out a roar while these crazy guitars played a song to end the world.


Chance The Rapper had a 2:30 AM show, which is a special spot that draws loyalists and excitement for something special. It’s crazy when you think that kind of prestige is given to a guy with just a mixtape, but word of mouth is Chance puts on a show, and either way he is beloved.

To call it a cult following makes it seem to small. The Chance loyalists are an army, if you mentioned to someone the day before you were looking forward to Chance, you would get hand slaps and bro excitement galore. The crowd was packed beyond the tent, again, and people started climbing anything they could. People got up on the platform meant for disabled viewers and the sound engineer. Chance could tell this was a big deal, and he could hardly believe it.

“This is my show?” he’d ask, right before shouting with the crowd, “This is my mothafuckin’ show!” He seemed genuinely happy to have such an opportunity and following, all off a mixtape.

He hardly had to rap. He maybe got half the song out and the crowd just filled in the rest.


If there was one star of the festival, it was Skrillex. The guy’s impact was inescapable throughout all 4 days. There was his initial set, which you could not avoid hearing from all over the farm, which I am told felt like it could go on for days. He also manned the SuperJam with Big Gigantic — more on that later — but that was an even wilder party. Then, because he’s a madman, he showed up to do a spontaneous 5 AM to 7 AM set at the outdoor Kalliope stage, which is more or less just the outdoor DJ platform. Every song sounded like it was the last tone, but it kept going, through the night, through sunrise. At the end of it, he said they were the best fucking crowd ever.

I know all of this because I was in my tent having very shallow sleep. I am not enough of a madman to match Skrillex set for set. I didn’t mind though. My neighbors were Bonnaroo vets, the real rock purist types, and they were happy that new artists were really taking to the spirit of Bonnaroo like that. That’s one of the unpredictable things about the fest. Coachella is unpredictable because an A-List star might drop by. Roo is unpredictable because there are no curfews and someone might want to rock out through the morning, I guess.


Skrillex’s Superjam — which featured a jam session with Big Gigantic, Chance the Rapper, Janelle Monae and much more — seemed intense. It had clearly morphed into a main event to the point where it couldn’t support the tent it was originally booked at. They tried to siphon off the crowd by making it compete with the Flaming Lips and Frank Ocean, they tried to accommodate the crowd by moving to a bigger tent, but it was no good. Too many people were too into it.

I was evidently not into it enough because I stayed on the far outside. I was also burned out and exhausted and barely standing. From my perch, it seemed like it would be a great time if you were in the thick of it. But it wasn’t much fun to watch from a distance.

Meanwhile, from across the field, The Flaming Lips started their show and it was impossible to ignore. Their opening was a bright beam of light, cutting across the dark hundreds of acres away. It was an absurd, over the top show full of rainbow props, glittering lights and multicolored background patterns clearly intent on getting the most out of their core base: people on LSD/Acid/Mushrooms. That was fun to watch from a distance. I turned around and did that, instead.


Bonnaroo 2014 asks the question, “Can a festival be too stacked, bruh?” The answer is an emphatic “Totes, bro.”

It is strange to spend all of this time and money on a four-day retreat to rural Tennessee and then come back, different and tan, with a lot of conversations you can’t have. “How was Jack White?” you might ask me, to which I will shrug and say I was recovering from all the stuff I had ingested and James Blake. “Well then what about Frank Ocean?” Well, he was playing against The Flaming Lips and the Superjam, so… “Lauryn Hill? Vampire Weekend? Disclosure?”

Yes, yes, I went to a 4 day festival and didn’t even catch a whiff of any of these major artists that I was super excited to see. I went to Tennessee to not see Lionel Richie and Kaskade. Not from a distance, not from across the farm, didn’t even hear anyone talking about them. They might have cancelled for all I know.

I guess I could have seen 90% of the people I wanted to if I spent 15 minutes at each set and watched everyone from a mile away. But you know how the fake Buddha quote goes: If you want to draw water, you dig one six-foot well, not six one-foot wells. That’s just how things go here.

Justin Pansacola is a writer living in Los Angeles. At the University of California, Riverside he received his degree in Creative Writing, not English, although he has resigned to the fact that no one cares about the difference. You can follow him on Twitter @wordcore. On some nights he looks up at the moon and wonders if you’re looking at the same moon, too.

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