2012’s Bonnaroo was remarkable in a lot of ways. With Radiohead headlining, it brought me full circle. I first attended Bonnaroo in 2006, when Radiohead played to a sold-out crowd what is generally known as one of their best ever shows.
I didn’t have press passes that year, but spent an hour stepping over and around people to get center-stage so I could shoot them with my smuggled in camera. The show blew me away and I was incredibly stoked to see and shoot them with press passes this year, seven years later.
My title reference to the Alice Cooper song of the same name pretty much sums up my Bonnaroo experience. I find almost every year at Bonnaroo that one band generally makes it all worthwhile, and this year it was Alice Cooper.
He’s touring now in support of his new double vinyl set, “Welcome 2 my Nightmare.”
Alice played “That” tent with his band at 12:00 on Saturday night and blew the roof off. He played all of his hits, including “Eighteen”, “No more Mr. Nice Guy” and “Only Women Bleed”. His stage show is a pounding, frenetic, comical and unrelenting display of metal theatre that reminded me of Iron Maiden circa 1980’s with a bit of Rocky Horror Picture Show thrown in for balance.
He drove the crowd of mostly 20 something’s wild, with constant costume changes, a 10-foot tall Frankenstein puppet, a guillotine with which he chopped his head off and consummate showmanship honed over four decades.
Most importantly, his band was super tight with three guitars singing metal harmony, including super hot, 27 year old Greek – Australian, girl guitarist Orianthi Panagaris.
It’s always great when an artist I’ve not really understood or listened to wins me as a fan and in this case, Alice is the artist.
He closed his set with a blistering rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way.”
Other than being pleasantly surprised by Alice Cooper, my Bonnaroo plans this year were constructed around two artists, Kenny Rogers and Radiohead.
Kenny Rogers playing Bonnaroo seems like a strange fit, but it’s no stranger than Loretta Lynn, or the Staple Singers playing there. I find the majority young people who attend are diverse in their musical tastes and react to artists like Kenny, who is both country, and before their time, in an incredibly positive way.
Kenny did a press conference on Sunday with comedian Steven Wright, Ben Folds, Pete from the band the Antlers, and Sarah Jarosz. He did most of the talking, and the artists on stage with him all seemed a bit star struck. At one point, Kenny said that he was going to “play all 21 of his number one hits” at Bonnaroo. At that point, Ben Folds, who was sitting beside him, leaned in, held up his I-Phone and took a photo of them together, giving everyone a good laugh.
Kenny has a place in my heart. During my teen years outside of Atlanta, my father played in a country band called “Nightshift”. They were in constant motion, and at that time, he turned me onto Kenny Rogers and I can still hear the pauses in the songs, where the 8 track switched tracks.
One thing I love about Bonnaroo, is the “Once in a lifetime” bands you get to see. There were three for me this year, Alice Cooper, The Beach Boys and finally, Kenny Rogers. He played a two hour set, and true to his promise, he played every one of his hits to a packed “Other” tent Sunday evening.
This was a slow Bonnaroo year for me. I decided that I was going to take it easy, and only see the shows that I really wanted to see. I spent a lot of time sleeping in, hanging out with people, playing guitar and enjoying the uncharacteristically mild weather.
The lineup this year was diverse. The other headliners included The Red Hot Chili Peppers, who put on their standard awesome show, The Avett Brothers, Rodrigo Y Gabriela, The Roots, Bon Iver, Umphrey’s McGee and festival closers, Phish, who played a 4 hour set, which included bringing Kenny Rogers on stage to sing “The Gambler.” A variety of lesser known, but great bands filled out the lineup including the Alabama Shakes, Trampled by Turtles, Dawes, Sam Bush, The Infamous Stringdusters, Mogwai, Puscifer, Flogging Molly and Bad Brains.
I really enjoyed Radiohead’s set this year. It was my third time seeing them, and every show has been great. Their light show’s are fanciful, highly technical and change with every tour. They seemed to enjoy being there and at one point singer Thom Yorke asked if everyone was sleeping “with their face in the mud” like they do in the UK.
I thought about Radiohead’s phenomenal light show when I heard the news today of the stage collapse during setup for their show in Toronto, which killed Radiohead drum tech, Scott Johnson, of the UK. That same lighting hangs suspended from the overhead girders which I’m sure they will find were either faulty or improperly constructed to handle the weight of the lights.
On a more positive note, it seems that no one died this year at Bonnaroo. With 80,000 people there, it’s not uncommon for someone to succumb to the heat or the festivities, but this year, no one did, which is a blessing.
The weather was much milder than in years past, which I’m sure helped, but the organizers also took the time this year to cover the property with signs encouraging people to stay hydrated, to take care of each other, and to work as teams. It shows that the people at Big Hassle and AC Entertainment really care, and I found it gratifying.
Two local bands graced Bonnaroo this year. Machines are People Too, who also played last month’s Hangout Fest, played Café Where, right before Phish closed the festival, and Strung Like a Horse played the Solar stage every night with guest belly dancer and Zanzibar studio owner, Lacy Jo Dickerson. Both bands were excellent. Machines are People too played to a packed tent and drew a lot of locals and Strung Like a horse, played their energetic blend of bluegrass rock to an enthusiastic crowd.
All in all, Bonnaroo 2012 was an overwhelming success. My celebrity moment came when I was standing in front of the What stage, waiting on Radiohead to start. I stood up on the barrier to take a shot of the crowd when I realized actor and comedian JB Smoove, star of one of my favorite TV shows, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” was standing right in front of me with his beautiful wife, singer Shahidah Omar who was there in support of her new album, “Freedom.”
My moment of Zen came late Friday night. As always, Bonnaroo provided a constant stream of channels for all the senses, the sound of rain, sodium lights in the dark, the smell of horses, sweat and sun screen, the sound of guitar and thousands of screaming voices in the distance. Late Saturday night, I laid down to sleep in my tent as a light rain began to fall and listened to Umphrey’s McGee, a little regrettably, delight the crowd, as I drifted off into the slumber of total exhaustion.
God willing, see you next year, Bonnaroo. Peace.
~Fil “San” Manley
Special thanks to my father, Lance Manley, the best musician I know, for turning me on to music, reading and photography. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
“And playing the role of Alice Cooper, ME!” ~Alice Cooper
“You’ve got one tiny moment, in time, for life, to shine, to shine, to burn away the darkness” ~ Matisyahu
Here are two videos from Bonnaroo:
The first is a highlights reel, shot by my friend Jessica Leigh Harris. It includes shots of a lot of local people and the sound track is the freely available and legal audience recording of Kenny Rogers singing “The Gambler” with Phish. http://youtu.be/KC3SNtwdzLk
The second is Alice Cooper doing “Brutal Planet.” It’s an intense and dramatic song, and really brings across the fantastic weight of his show. The song itself is a screed against violence and carries a very positive message. http://youtu.be/r50_BwxJPAk
The Bonnaroo 2012 lineup included…
RADIOHEAD, RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS, PHISH THE BEACH BOYS (BRIAN WILSON, MIKE LOVE, AL JARDINE, BRUCE JOHNSTON AND DAVID MARKS), BON IVER THE AVETT BROTHERS, THE SHINS, FOSTER THE PEOPLE, SKRILLEX, AZIZ ANSARI, DISPATCH RODRIGO Y GABRIELA AND C.U.B.A, FEIST, THE ROOTS, ALICE COOPER, SUPERJAM FT. ?UESTLOVE AND VERY SPECIAL GUESTS KENNY ROGERS, BLACK STAR DANZIG LEGACY – FEATURING MUSIC BY DANZIG, SAMHAIN AND DANZIG/DOYLE PERFORMING THE MISFITS, STEVEN WRIGHT THE WORD (JOHN MEDESKI, ROBERT RANDOLPH AND NORTH MISSISSIPPI ALLSTARS), LUDACRIS, BEN FOLDS FIVE FLOGGING MOLLY, MARC MARON, PUSCIFER, MAC MILLER, BRIAN POSEHN, SANTIGOLD, CHILDISH GAMBINO REGGIE WATTS, THE TEMPER TRAP, MAJOR LAZER, WORLD CHAMPION JUDAH FRIEDLANDER, TUNE-YARDS SHARON JONES AND THE DAP-KINGS, AFROCUBISM, FLYING LOTUS, UMPHREY’S MCGEE, LITTLE DRAGON, BLIND PILOT RHYS DARBY, ST. VINCENT, CITY AND COLOUR, THE CIVIL WARS, YOUNG THE GIANT, PEDRITO MARTINEZ GROUP TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB, FUN., GZA PERFORMING "LIQUID SWORDS" BACKED BY GRUPO FANTASMA, PUNCH BROTHERS SPECTRUM ROAD (CINDY BLACKMAN SANTANA, JACK BRUCE, JOHN MEDESKI, AND VERNON REID), NEEDTOBREATHE FITZ & THE TANTRUMS, COLIN HAY, BAD BRAINS, YELAWOLF, DAWES, BATTLES, DANNY BROWN, THE BLACK LIPS SBTRKT, PHANTOGRAM, BIG GIGANTIC, GARFUNKEL & OATES, KENDRICK LAMAR CHARLES BRADLEY AND HIS EXTRAORDINAIRES, THE INFAMOUS STRINGDUSTERS, THE KOOKS, THE JOY FORMIDABLE THE ANTLERS, SAM BUSH BAND, KATHLEEN EDWARDS, MIMOSA, KURT VILE & THE VIOLATORS, ALABAMA SHAKES, SOJA DAS RACIST, THE DIRTY GUV'NAHS, DELTA SPIRIT, RED BARAAT, GARY CLARK JR., PELICAN, LA-33 IVAN NEVILLE'S DUMPSTAPHUNK, LAURA MARLING, TRAMPLED BY TURTLES, MOGWAI, THE WAR ON DRUGS, BEN HOWARD GROUPLOVE, AMY SCHUMER, ALO, THE DEVIL MAKES THREE, MATT BESSER, WHITE DENIM, EMA, MICHAEL KIWANUKA DOUG BENSON, HERE WE GO MAGIC, THE CHRIS GETHARD SHOW, ELECTRIC GUEST,
FRUIT BATS, KHAIRA ARBY & HER BAND PETE HOLMES, THE CAVE SINGERS, RORY SCOVEL, K-FLAY, THE LONELY FOREST, MARIACHI EL BRONX, DEBO BAND MIKE O'CONNELL, BIG FREEDIA, DALE EARNHARDT JR. JR., THE SOUL REBELS, UNCHAINED "THE MIGHTY VAN HALEN TRIBUTE" ALI WONG, STEVEN BERNSTEIN'S MTO PLAYS SLY, SARAH JAROSZ, ORGONE, DARONDO, JANKA NABAY & THE BUBU GANG MOON TAXI, BLACK BOX REVELATION, KYLE KINANE, BODY LANGUAGE (DJ SET), BRENTON DUVALL, DJ EQUAL, DJ XSV JARED DIETCH, PENGUIN PRISON (DJ SET), QUICKIE MART (DJ SET), WYLLYS, ART VS. SCIENCE, BETHESDA, BHI BHIMAN BY LIGHTNING!, CAITLIN ROSE, CHAPPO, CHUCK MEAD, CLARE AND THE REASONS, CHERUB, COSMIC SUCKERPUNCH THE DEEP DARK WOODS, FORT ATLANTIC, FLY GOLDEN EAGLE, GLOSSARY, HEY ROSETTA!, HONEY ISLAND SWAMP BAND HUDOST, JAMES WALLACE & THE NAKED LIGHT, JUKEBOX THE GHOST, KATIE HERZIG, LP, MACHINES ARE PEOPLE TOO MATT SUCICH, MARINA ORCHESTRA, MONSTRO, OBERHOFER, PALADINO, PUJOL, ROBERT ELLIS, ROBERT FRANCIS ROLLIN' IN THE HAY, RUBBLEBUCKET, SARA WATKINS, SISTER SPARROW & THE DIRTY BIRDS, SHAHIDAH OMAR, TAUK THE CASEY DRIESSEN SINGULARITY, THE MAIN SQUEEZE, THE STAVES, THE SILENT COMEDY, TRIXIE WHITLEY, VALIENT THORR WATER KNOT, WE ARE AUGUSTINES, WILD CUB, YUNA.