Knoxville musician/writer/Vol fan Wil Wright was our man on the scene for Bonnaroo 2014, taking notes of all that he witnessed. Here his diary of the madness:
Day 1: Thursday, June 12
As usual, the first day of FarmLife was without acts on the big stage, so Thursday acts as a soft introduction to the madness. Here were Thursday's major characteristics:
* Animal-print "hammer pants" are making a strong showing, joining festival fashion staples like Native American head dresses, confessional "I love (insert deadly sin)" T-shirts, and (for better or worse, sickness, and health) nudity.
* Grim weather predictions didn't come to much fruition, except to beat the heat. If the sky doesn't crack open (cue the Mastodon), this will be one of the most comfortable summer fests I've ever been to.
* Pusha-T had an enormous crowd for his 12:30 set, during which he played the Kanye songs that feature him. Crowd seems very primed for Yeezus season, which approaches (10:30 p.m. tonight).
* Have seen some "F*ck Kanye" bracelets. Lame. Move on. Let's just get it right this time.
* Lots of folks passed out on Thursday. Your party dedication is real, guys. But don't die.
Day 2: Friday, June 13
The first proper day, of Bonnaroo happened! For a while, the skies looked grim, but real rain never fell, so we stayed dry though temperatures remained pretty dank (cool festival slang).
Here's what we took away from day 2:
* Less passing out but MORE FIGHTS!
* The Miller Light "on tap" stage saw some drama when many fans of the Orwells climbed onto the canopy structure during what amounted to a little baby riot. Scary for a minute, but ultimately without incident.
* Six years later, Kanye West showed up on time (well, 9 mins late). He delivered about 90 minutes of hits, though fans grew restless with his usual rant during the 15-minute "Runaway." Yeezus took timeout, twice, to remind the world what happened in 2008, and also to scream at the press for "trying to make him look crazy" but never enough to really disrupt the flow of the career-spanning set. There were tense moments, but no incidents. A high point was Kanye telling a story about simultaneously feeling humbled AND how he's the new Henry Ford. Love him or hate him, Kanye West is a strange, unique phenomenon.
* Strong sets from Danny Brown, Janelle Monae, Disclosure, and Vampire Weekend. Skrillex was shaking the media trailer, so I guess that's a success, too.
* FASHION ALERT: Saw a bro dressed full-body as a Dalmatian, but was also wearing daisy dukes. Inspired.
Day 3: Saturday, June 14
Saturday at Bonnaroo was not unlike Friday, save the fact that I saw more blacked-out people than fights, which was a downer.
Saturday's strong showings came from festival mainstays The Flaming Lips, '90s faves Cake, Skrillex's star-studded super jam (featuring everyone from A$AP Ferg to Damien Marley, Janelle Monae to The Doors' Robbie Krieger, and a powerful appearance by Lauryn Hill), and fiery/blurry late night sets from Glitch Mob and Kascade.
But, for me, there was a clear OMG moment.
When I saw that he was playing--playing the main stage, and playing immediately before Jack White--I was both confused and intrigued. Like everybody, I can rattle off some of Richie's hits, but like most everybody, I've never even thought of seeing him live. Lionel Richie was as on point, charming, engaging, and exciting as anyone I've seen at this festival. Looking around, there was a general look of excited shock at how fantastic he was, delivering hit after hit from his solo career. Then came the Commodores hits. Each bit of banter balanced self-awareness of his place in pop culture with full self-confidence. After a headliner-calibre set, he returned to close out with a "song he wrote with a good friend."
The friend was Michael Jackson. And the song, of course, was "We Are The World."
There's no reason Lionel Richie couldn't be actually headlining major festivals. At all. And that's weird, but true.