Bonnaroo, Manchester

By John Bohannon

When our caravan lugged across exit 111 into Manchester, the feeling of Bonnaroo crept up inside my bones, although I did not get to truly be subjected to it until about 6 hours of traffic jams. Watching the neo-hippie culture load out of Dodge Caravans and Honda Accords speaks for our generation, but the spirit of the times of yore was still aboard.

After getting settled in, the map became overwhelming, as I apprehend there were about a hundred different camp names that signified just about every piece of pop culture in the past five decades. Almost as overwhelming as asking a hippie which tent a band was playing at after realizing he was smoking something other than tobacco - in which the tents were called which, what and that tent. Finding who was playing where was a task in itself, but finding things along the way such as the Silent Disco, strips of market vendors and a catastrophe called the "Sonic Forest" - a cluster of poles that lit up and made sounds of nature, as if its sole purpose were for a bad acid trip.

Day 1: Old Crow Medicine Show, Allison Krauss and Union Station, John Prine, Ray Lamontagne, Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, Benevento/Russo Duo, Mars Volta.

Choices, choices and more choices. OCMS was the perfect medicine to stir things up in a hurry. Although not the conventional bluegrass band - what I like to call the bluegrass for the indie geeks. What a way to counteract the unconventional with the conventional by moving along to Allison Krauss and Union Station. I arrived just in time to see singer/guitarist Dan Tyminski break into O Brother Where Art Thou's lead track "Man of Constant Sorrow," which, surprisingly enough, was just about the only substantial crowd reaction the band got during the entire set. Kentucky's own John Prine performed a set comprised mainly of songs of his new album, as well as some classics. Two notable performances of the weekend came from newcomers to the scene, Ray Lamontagne and the Benevento/Russo Duo. Lamontagne had the aura of a circa 1960s soul singer, while the Duo (accompanied by Phish bassist Mike Gordon) demonstrated some of the greatest musicianship of the weekend.

After skipping the Dave Matthews Band set to catch some downtime, I decided to head over to see the much-hyped Mars Volta. In a way, this band shouldn't have been playing at Bonnaroo, because as I stood in place, the only thing I could feel were bad vibes from the "evil" rock coming out of the speakers - not the greatest idea when playing in front of thousands of people drugged out of their mind. But as a performance, disregarding the vibe, these guys dressed to impress.

Day 2: Assembly of Dust, M Ward, Gov't Mule, Particle, Iron and Wine, Widespread Panic, Perceptionists, RJD2, De La Soul

Making the 45-minute hike from our tent, my legs had completely disagreed with listening to another day of music. I gotten up early to catch Assembly of Dust but had almost wished I stayed in the tent. It seemed like a group that you would catch playing Gerstle's every Tuesday night (not that this is a bad thing - but for Bonnaroo, it was.) M Ward was joined on stage by Jim James to produce an exhilarating mix of vocals - almost as powerful as Warren Haynes' Southern howl with Gov't Mule. The Mule hasn't been the same since bassist Allen Woody died, but this is just because of the lack of material played live. Particle was joined by a gospel choir to perform Sly and the Family Stone's "Higher." Iron and Wine was one of the highlights of the weekend, but his quiet whisper didn't work as well with the band setting. The crowd obviously felt the same, for his largest crowd reaction was given when he was accompanied solely by the acoustic.

Jamband veterans took the headlining slot that night, but in my opinion fell short. I don't know if it's my imagination, but there are better-orchestrated and likeable shows then the ones WP puts on. So I wondered over to the hip-hop tent to get a good spot for De La Soul. Not being too experienced with the Perceptionists or RJD2, I found they were the perfect accompaniment to De La Soul. The legends took the stage and blew the roof off the place, creating the most energetic experience of the weekend. After heading out to my tent - I looked back to see some 30,000 people with their hands in the air.

Day 3: Matisyahu, My Morning Jacket, Modest Mouse

The third day, I took it upon myself to just venture around the area and catch a few performances, which ended up being some of the best of the weekend. Matisyahu's hip-hop/reggae could be the revival Marley fans have been looking for over the past few decades. My Morning Jacket presented the Louisville Puppeteers on stage along with new material that was, for the lack of a better word, breathtaking. And indie vets Modest Mouse seemed a little nervous to be playing in front of such a large crowd, after playing club stints over their decade long career.

In the end - we skipped the Panic to catch a late drive home - and begin our countdown for next year's festival.