Bonnaroo 2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the Tennessee music fest, which features a surreal roundup of influential artists—from hallowed hit-makers to old-school royalty, and everything in between. However, the antics onstage hardly compare to the madness off—the grounds have become synonymous with sex, drugs, and hippie shuffling. Complex City Guide reporter Lauren Otis will be forgoing sleep and hygiene to go live on the ground and blog from the bonna-fied event. Come on feel the noise.
Saturday, June 11 & Sunday, June 12, 2011
The Black Keys at What Stage, 8 p.m.
It was a tough decision to skip Bootsy Collins (where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar apparently made a cameo), but getting a decent spot for the Black Keys was imperative. If you aren’t familiar with the smoky blues rock duo, do yourself a favor now and download anything you can get your hands on. Their sexy standards are probably one of the best things to come out of Ohio since…who knows.
After a brief intro from Aziz Ansari, who joked that the Keys were standing in for the Black Eyed Peas (who’d “perished in a flight accident”), the two rockers stepped out on stage and dominated. They looked noticeably small on that enormous performance space, which had been occupied by the likes of Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, and other larger groups—but they produced just as much power, which had fans all the way in the back of the packed field thrusting their fists passionately in the air during numbers like “I’ve Got Mine” and “Tighten Up.”
Eminem at What Stage, 11 p.m.
After a quick interlude to catch a rainy glimpse of legendary Buffalo Springfield (whose sound unfortunately seemed to be a little low—as my friend pointed out, “We shouldn’t be able to have a conversation without screaming right now”), we ran back over to the main stage to try and secure spots for the fest headliner. The crowds were huddled together a bit too tightly to attempt to make our way forward without causing a few fights, so we instead decided to make a play for the bleachers off to the right of the stage. Fortunately for us, the security guard regulating the seating seemed to be in a charitable mood, so we managed to snatch the last few seats. Even better, a red and white-clad guy sitting to my left seemed to be in an equally giving mood, happily plucking beers and other “refreshments” from his backpack for us to share after we’d neglected to bring ours over from the site. I dubbed him “Bleacher Clause.”
I was a combination of amped and nervous for Eminem’s big appearance. I’d been an on-again, off-again fan since middle school, but had never seen him live and couldn’t remember the last time I’d caught one of his performances on TV. Just as Bonnaroo had turned me on to a plethora of new artists, it had also regrettably tainted a few whose albums I loved, with the artists dropping the ball when it came to performing in front of an audience.
Eminem, I thankfully discovered, was far from one of those acts. He unleashed a combination of songs both old and new with such showmanship that you wouldn’t have suspected he’d been performing some of them for years. The crowd was putty in his hands, more than happy to oblige anytime he asked anything of them, be it grabbing their junk or telling neighboring fans to “fuck themselves,” or simply waving their lighters in the air before “Sing for the Moment.” When he did, the entire field lit up, making it look like one was descending upon a new city from high up above in a plane—its citizens entranced below.
Costume Party, 1:49 a.m.
With a combination of work, sleep, and String Cheese Incident pulling my party in different directions, I was soon left to my own devices. The first move I made: Scissor Sisters. (There were only so many shitty renditions of “Take Your Mama” I could attempt on my friends to convince them they knew who they were before I finally gave up.) The decision paid off. Though I was way too far in the back to catch so much as a glimpse of the actual band, the tent was another all-out dance party, with every last spectator getting down—and getting down completely unselfconsciously. For this reason, I had no qualms about backing it up for the duration of the performance, more often than not with neighbors rocking outfits similar to these. It was like the Halloween I wish I’d had.
Click to the next page to read about the best dancing you've ever seen.
King of the Dancehall, 2:22 a.m.
Speaking of backing it up, this guy in the bikini bottoms brought the heat at the Silent Disco.
Fried Oreos, 1:46 p.m.
How do you recover from a night of little to no sleep, spent running around between laser shows, mash-up DJs, and guitar-wielding Gypsy punk sensations? With fried Oreos, of course.
Hate all you want. They might look foul, but they’re absolutely delicious. I scratch the days off my calendar until it’s time for the San Gennaro fair at home in NYC, which is the only other place I’ve ever seen them. Imagine a zeppole (that sugar-covered dough you’ll find at most pizza shops) with an Oreo baked in, then topped with powdered sugar. Those clogged arteries are totally worth it.
Fond Farewell, 8 p.m.
It was just about time to get back on the road, but we had enough time to squeeze in one last show. After an eclectic morning of options old and new, including Mavis Staples, the Smith Westerns, Iron and Wine, Robyn, and Gregg Allman, we decided to cap off our day with a set from the Strokes. They might catch a fair amount of flak (and yes, Julian Casablancas could, you know, be a little more engaging), but they put on a damn good live show. Beach balls flew, girls screamed, temporarily tatted song lyrics ran freely across spectator bodies, and just about every head in the crowd as far as I could see nodded involuntarily, mine included. That last rush of energy was the perfect way to end our long weekend packed with dirt and discos, killer artists and killer sunburns, good meals and drug deals, and new acquaintances both awesome and eccentric (sometimes both). Heading back to the real world would be tough, but it was time. After all, we needed to start recharging for next year.