The 11th annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival rocked the small town of Manchester, Tennessee, last weekend, with tens of thousands of people flocking to a 700-acre farm for the four-day event. More than 150 acts performed across the fest's 10 stages from Thursday through Sunday. With a vast variety of entertainment options — from the all-day/all-night live music, comedy performances, and movie screenings to the Splash-A-Roo mini water park — surely no two Bonnaroo experiences were the same. Here are a few highlights from mine, in no particular order.
1) Headliner Radiohead played the main stage Friday night to a bursting-at-the-seams crowd. The set list mostly consisted of songs from In Rainbows and The King of Limbs and sadly lacked the inclusion of older songs with the exception of "Karma Police." Thom Yorke's vocals were on point as always, though, and despite the sprawling outdoor venue, the intricacies of his eerily melancholic harmonies held true. They showcased a shimmering light show, and a set of hovering screens displayed the band members' faces and instruments, so even fans in back, deep in the sea of people, could indulge in the visual accompaniments to the songs.
2) Powerhouse vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark, who is better known by her stage name St. Vincent, performed a rocking set on Friday. During the closing song, Clark hurled herself into the crowd, still singing, while fans held her up on her knees before nearly dropping her. From my vantage point, all I could see were Clark's feet and legs, tangled in her microphone cord, sticking straight up in the air. Even upside-down, she didn't miss a note. A truly intense end to a wonderfully moving performance.
3) On Sunday, Ben Folds Five surprised the crowd by announcing they'd only be performing songs from their old repertoire, which included fan favorites "Brick" and "Song for the Dumped." Folds encouraged fans who would like to hear something new to email him at email@example.com for a link to a free download of a song from their next album. During the performance of "Kate" from Whatever and Ever Amen, Folds paused to grab his phone and take video of the massive crowd chanting the chorus while he continued to play his piano one-handed.
4) Following the Ben Folds Five performance, the Shins took the same stage for an hour-and-a-half set, which opened with the upbeat tune "Kissing the Lipless" from Chutes Too Narrow. They performed a slew of newer songs from the recently released Port of Morrow but sprinkled in classic tracks like the hit made famous from its inclusion on the Garden State soundtrack, "Caring Is Creepy." Fans were treated to a danceable set that spanned the band's four studio albums.
5) Beyond the incredible music, the people who attend Bonnaroo are themselves a highlight. The friendly freaks make the sometimes grueling experience much better. If a festgoer was passed out in the middle of the crowd or slouched over hurling from too much beer or whatever else they may have ingested, strangers offered aid and water. Bonnaroo officials released the "Bonnaroovian Code" this year, which they say no one wrote: "It just always was and now it is." The code summarizes the sense of community, sharing, and positivity that's always obvious at the fest. An excerpt from the code states, "Bonnaroo is the antidote to the common life, a real community built on helping each other, learning from each other and, yes, loving each other. Share your heart and also your stuff to contribute to a healthy ecosystem thriving on an economy of generosity."