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A Photographer’s Take On Bonnaroo 2011

05:01 PM Tuesday 6/14/11 |   |

Photographer John Davisson didn’t see (or hear) any of the buzzing cicada bugs at this year’s edition of Bonnaroo but he did snap a slew of bands including Arcade Fire, Buffalo Springfield, Widespread Panic and My Morning Jacket.

  • My Morning Jacket

    Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Manchester, Tenn.
    June 10, 2011

    (John Davisson)

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Bonnaroo celebrated its tenth anniversary this year with a huge line-up. Although rain was a possibility, only a few sprinkles materialized and it was sunny and dry most of the weekend. I saw not a single cicada and for the most part it was business as usual at Bonnaroo.

I arrived early Thursday afternoon to photograph the start of the festivities. Photographing a festival is not the normal way to see a festival. I get to photograph the first three songs of the sets so I general schedule myself to see the first three tunes of as many acts as I can. If I have time I’ll occasionally watch some extra songs between sets. I get a good taste of between 40-50 bands or as I like to call it – a Bonnaroo sampler platter!

Thursday is all about new bands in This Tent, That Tent, and The Other Tent. The Comedy Tent and several other smaller stages and tents have plenty of activities too. I began my journey through Bonnaroo with Hayes Carll, a singer/songwriter in the folk/American vein. I’ve seen him a few times now and I like his style and his songs so his afternoon set was my motivation to get in early. Next up was indie band River City Extension, followed by nu-punk from Wavves. I then went to a set by Karen Elson. (One of the other photographers spotted her soon-to-be ex-husband Jack White backstage.) Elson seemed like a fine alt-country singer but I had to move on to the air-conditioned Comedy Tent for a show with Lewis Black and Eugene Mirman.

  • Karen Elson

    Bonnaroo Music Festival, Manchester, Tenn.
    June 9, 2011

    (John Davisson)

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  • Hayes Carll

    Bonnaroo Music Festival, Manchester, Tenn.
    June 9, 2011

    (John Davisson)

    | 

After cooling off, I circled the main tents a couple of times catching School of Seven Bells, Best Coast, J. Cole, and Sleigh Bells before returning to the Comedy Tent to finish the evening with Cheech Marin, Adam Divine, Jay Pharoah, and Ralphie May. Many of the comedy shows repeat throughout the weekend, but I like to get them early if I can.

My last stop of the night was my hotel room. I tried camping for a few years at Bonnaroo but the electrical needs of photography, coupled with a desire to clean up and work on photos, means I need a hotel room.

Friday is metal day at the Roo so I caught Kylesa, The Sword, and Opeth. Of course Bonnaroo has a very diverse line-up, so I also checked out Ben Sollee’s indie cello music, the Americana songs of Justin Townes Earle, new grass music from Abigail Washburn and Matt and Kim’s dance punk antics. I also spotted the Third Man Rolling Record Store on the grounds.

  • Kylesa

    Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Manchester, Tenn.
    June 10, 2011

    (John Davisson)

    | 

In between circling the three main tents between noon and six, I also stopped by the Sonic Stage. My friend Annabel Lukins Stelling runs Sonic every year, booking acts for short sets on a small stage with limited production. It’s a great place to get a sample of Bonnaroo acts or to catch one of your favorites in a different environment. I caught Freelance Whales playing some nice indie songs acoustically, and a few more songs by Hayes Carll.

Ray Lamontagne, My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire, and Primus provided the evening entertainment on the main stages. After midnight, I caught Lil Wayne on The Which Stage, and Big Boi in The Other Tent. I stopped by the Bassnectar show, which had a huge crowd spilling out far beyond the confines of This Tent. Unfortunately it was impossible to get a decent shot from the photo pit. I was exhausted by now and headed to the hotel for the night.

  • Arcade Fire

    Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Manchester, Tenn.
    June 10, 2011

    (John Davisson)

    | 

  • Primus

    Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Manchester, Tenn.
    June 10, 2011

    (John Davisson)

    | 

Saturday was off to an early start with the first of a few press conferences in the Bonnaroo press compound. Each conference featured between five to six different artists answering questions about their Bonnaroo experiences. I’m more into the live performances but I sometimes drop by the press conferences so I can feel more involved.

The first set I saw that day was a competition between Lelia Broussard and The Sheep Dogs, which was hosted by comedian Jay Pharoah. The winner will land the cover of an upcoming issue of Rolling Stone. I also caught part of a short set by Bobby Long on the Sonic Stage and photographed the Bonnaroo Fountain where fans were escaping the afternoon heat.

I caught Alison Krauss + Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas at the Which Stage, another epic performance by Mumford & Sons on the Which Stage, Wiz Khalifa on the What Stage and the legendary Loretta Lynn in That Tent. I wanted to see Bootsy Collins, but for some reason his set started over an hour late and I missed it as I was elsewhere photographing another act.

  • Bobby Long

    Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Manchester, Tenn.
    June 11, 2011

    (John Davisson)

    | 

Saturday ended with my favorite set of the weekend, Buffalo Springfield. This was one act I had to see from beginning to end. So what if I missed Eminem? I never get tired of seeing Neil Young, whether he is rocking out with Crazy Horse or playing acoustically. It was so great to see Buffalo Springfield back together and hear tunes that were the genesis of country rock and protest music. Young, Richie Furay, and Stephen Stills all seemed happy to be onstage together as they played an epic set of their songs ending with the Young standard “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Young channeled a guitar jam that had the audience waving in unison as he swung his guitar from side to side. After that, there was no point is seeing the late-night performances as nothing could compare.

  • Buffalo Springfield

    Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and Neil Young at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Manchester, Tenn.
    June 11, 2011

    (John Davisson)

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  • Buffalo Springfield

    Richie Furay and Neil Young at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Manchester, Tenn.
    June 11, 2011

    (John Davisson)

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Sunday is the mellow day, with no late night sets as it is time for fans to think about packing up and leaving the campgrounds. I started early with sets by indie rock bands The Head And The Heart and The Smith Westerns. I also caught Nicole Atkins & the Black Sea, Neon Trees, and Fences.

As the evening came, I was able to catch some of the music by noteworthy artists Bruce Hornsby, Daniel Lanois, and Gregg Allman. I also spent a few minutes in the Comedy Tent with John Waters. The day ended with headline performances from Robert Plant & The Band of Joy at the What Stage and The Strokes at the Which Stage. Widespread Panic closed out the festival with a jamband set on the What Stage that kept the hippies twirling into the night.

  • Widespread Panic

    Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Manchester, Tenn.
    June 12, 2011

    (John Davisson)

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So that is how I Roo things. That’s been my tradition for a decade now. Over four days, I photographed 41 bands (one of them twice), eight comedians (including John Waters and Henry Rollins), two press conferences, a giant mushroom fountain, and a record label bus. But for me, Bonnaroo is really about seeing the many friends I’ve made at the festival, both in and out of the photo pits (I couldn’t name ‘em all if I tried). Long Live the Roo!


Comments

  1. Scott Legato wrote:

    03:06 PM, Jun 16, 2011

    Thats my Boy....Great story John..I never shot Bonnaroo...But after reading this, I MIGHT have to shoot it with you next year...See you at Lolla!

  2. PhotosFromTodaydotcom wrote:

    05:17 AM, Jun 15, 2011

    Nice John!

  3. Drummer27 wrote:

    06:46 PM, Jun 14, 2011

    Great article John! Sounds like an epic time!!