It has to be a toss-up between Coachella and Bonnaroo as to which is our most iconic currently active American festival. Growing up in Pennsylvania, I found the earlier years of Bonnaroo somewhat mythic — I had friends who would make summer trips down to the festival, and they talked about it like it was Burning Man or something. Still, even as festivals all start to look a little too similar, Bonnaroo seems to have retained some of its original spirit, and when I finally made it there for the first time this past weekend, I found it to be unique, and in many ways my favorite festival experience. Any festival is predicated on that all-you-can-eat approach — that’s the whole model for its success, really, the ability to have this communal experience and consume as many acts (or substances) as you want, everyone agreeing to sustain this alternate reality for three- or four-day stretches. Bonnaroo is just several degrees more extreme in that regard. With so many people staying on-site, that alternate reality quality got amplified by a few levels, so much so that each night as I drove away I felt as if I was exiting some sort of surreal bubble — and also missing out on all the craziness that’d unravel into the latest hours of the night and the earliest hours of the day.
That all-you-can-eat quality is also heightened there. Not just in the partying sense — though, as the many people I saw passed out on the grass on the festival’s first night can attest, that’s up for grabs, certainly. But rarely have I been to a festival that has such a stacked, expansive lineup. It’s disorienting in a good way, and then utterly frustrating because there’s no way you can schedule it so you get to see all the good stuff. And, inevitably, there’s something shocking that you miss out on. That being said, I saw some things that knocked me right down this weekend. Here’s a list of the stuff that lingered with me on that final drive away from the farm.