Musical Juggernaut

Three days of outdoor-camping fun on a 700-acre plot in the American heartland surrounded by video arcades, cafes, dance parties, beer, a state-of-the-art cinema, arts and crafts from around the world, exotic foods, a first-class comedy club and an environmental-friendly atmosphere only describes half of the experience 80,000 people will have this weekend in Manchester, Tenn.

The fifth-annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, beginning June 16, showcases dozens of the top acts in music over a three-day weekend every year in June. This year’s lineup ranges from modern legends like Radiohead (named the “world’s greatest live band” by Rolling Stone) and Beck to classic artists like Tom Petty and Elvis Costello. But anyone who has ever been to the uniquely-named festival knows that the experience is about more than just the music.

The variety of entertainment options at Bonnaroo is perhaps its greatest draw. If one isn’t excited by a performance by Death Cab for Cutie or Ben Folds, the festival is also showcasing comedians such as Lewis Black and the Upright Citizens Brigade this year. And if comedy isn’t your thing, and you aren’t jamrockin’ to Damien “Jr. Gong” Marley Saturday afternoon, there is a panel discussion on Global Warming with special guest speakers. Later that night there’s even a Masquerade Ball costume-party to attend, costume required.

Unlike many of the other major music festivals in America (Coachella, Austin City Limits, etc.) Bonnaroo is still a camping event. The majority of the 80,000 attendees sleep and eat on site in the campgrounds surrounding the many entertainment stages and tents. Apart from the adventure of outdoor living, this allows for a social environment that encourages interaction at all times. With the variety of musical acts increasing every year, it is no longer easy to classify your typical Bonnaroo fan.

What began as a jam-band event five years ago has grown into a diversified juggernaut of musical entertainment. This year’s line-up is the most diversified in Bonnaroo’s five-year history. Fans of Bright Eyes and folk artist Devendra Banhart will walk amongst those looking to see hip-hop star Common and up-and-coming rockers My Morning Jacket. Blues Traveler travelers will hang out with “Radioheads,” and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah groupies will be camped next to followers of R & B legends The Neville Brothers. Supporters of British rapper The Streets will brush shoulders with fans of Jewish rapper Matisyahu. Those fans salivating over the legendary underground heroes Stephen Malkmus and Sonic Youth will stand frozen next to those transfixed by the legendary jam-band hero, Phil Lesh (of Grateful Dead fame).

There’s something for everyone at this year’s festival. And while the great majority of people are attending just to check out a myriad of their favorite bands, it’s nice to know that included in the hefty price of the admission ticket is the opportunity to experience a costumed party listening to techno, trance and hip-hop next to dancing fans of Nickel Creek and Umphrey’s McGee. It gives one a warm fuzzy feeling inside that can only be described as, Bonnaroo, which literally means, “a really good time.”

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