Photo by Kevin Yatarola
“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”
When it comes to summer music festivals, Twain’s quote rings quite true. Come rain, come shine, fans are committed to a weekend of seeing music in any conditions thrown at them. After Wednesday’s intense storm and more anxious glances at the forecast, weather-based “what ifs” pervaded fans making their way into Centeroo for the first time this weekend, tip-toeing around the occasional flip-flop gobbling mud patch as they surveyed the slightly redesigned layout. Yet as much as weather becomes a narrative for these types of communal events, the music always trumps it.
When 19-year-old Joe Robinson opened the festival on solo acoustic guitar at 1pm at the Troo Music Lounge, sun blazing overhead, meteorological concerns began to evaporate. Slowly as the music wafted over the vendors in Centeroo, the crowd gathered to watch the Australian virtuoso tackle a variety of covers and originals before inviting the Nashville-based Elmwood up to help him switch it up as an electric four-piece.
“This festival has a reputation even as far as Australia,” Robinson says. “I had heard of it when I was younger- it’s amazing being here and just seeing it.” No surprise the young guitarist is most excited for Jeff Beck’s set tomorrow.
And, in a sign that all was going as planned at the festival, the ubiquitous Beatle Bob Matonis was standing at the front rail for Robinson’s set, shaking and shimming in a full suit and button-down. Self-described as the “world’s most obsessive music fan,” Beatle Bob has not missed a Bonnaroo yet.
“I was always tell people to get here early,” he says of some of the bands playing earlier in the day at the festival’s smaller stages. “I’ve seen and discovered so many great acts at the Tru Music stage that I would never have known about before. I always tell people to get away from the big crowds, get real close to the bands and can even talk to them after if you dig ‘em.”
Opening the festival’s bigger tents—the main stages did not see action until today—the New York-based Postelles brought its stripped down, garage rock to Manchester for the first time, even indulging the crowd in a cover of The Ramones with “Beat on the Brat.” “This is the best crowd we’ve ever played to,” informed lead singer Daniel Balk.
Los Angeles’ psychedelic power trio, The Entrance Band, delivered a blistering set of guitar-driven songs that swayed and vamped with a sweaty confidence. “We haven’t done that many festivals and this is definitely the most prestigious and coolest in my opinion,” said lead singer and guitarist Guy Blakeslee after the set. “Coachella is like a Hollywood vibe and people are jaded, they’re not necessarily there to discover anything. It seems like everyone here is really open-minded and that’s really different.”
To that end, metal band Baroness brought the first of the weekend’s heavier sounds (GWAR, Isis and The Melvins will help round it out tomorrow). Purveyors of a melodic brand of metal, the quartet bombarded the crowd with punishing rhythms and vamps, even teasing Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” at one point.
Fans pinballed around between a variety of indie rock acts thereafter. There was the sharp and rhythmic Local Natives, the electronic leaning Swedish outfit Miike Snow that stretched out its self-titled album’s more rigid song structures, the noisy and exploratory Dodos, the raw and visceral Manchester Orchestra and the emo-laden rock of South Carolina’s popular NeedToBreathe.
“We’ve been hearing about Bonnaroo since we started the band about ten years ago,” says NeedToBreathe guitarist Bo Reinhart. “We were nervous if anybody was going to show up but it was crazy—totally packed,” he says of the band’s set. “The vibe couldn’t have been better. There definitely seems like there’s a lot more excitement here—I think people look forward to this for a really, really long time. I think we converted some people tonight, it felt like a win.”
That wasn’t the only win of the night as a substantial crowd gathered at the new Lunar Stage, between The Other Tent and This Tent, to watch the Boston Celtics beat Los Angeles Lakers 96 to 89 to tie the championship series at 2-2.
Temper Trap began the 10 o’clock hour with its brand of Hall & Oates meets Roland Gift with an indie rock sensibility. Before breaking into the jangly dance pop of “Fader,” the lights were turned toward the crowd. “Holy shit there’s a lot of you!” exclaimed lead singer Dougy Mandagi.
The austere and at times minimalist electronic-tinged rock of The XX played relatively well to the crowd while the drum-and-bass DJ Dieselboy had fans running toward the mass of light and sound.
The livetronica group Lotus, rapper Wale, comedian Margaret Cho and singer/songwriter closed Joshua James closed out the night, though as of press time the Lunar Stage was still moving.
“I feel the energy among the people being psychedelic in a good way—being open-minded, open-hearted, experimental—whether they’re on anything or not,” says The Entrance Band’s Blakeslee. “It’s more about a state of mind.”
Good weather doesn’t hurt, either.