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Locals flock to Tennessee for Bonnaroo activities

BY EMMA MCCLATCHEY | JUNE 24, 2013 5:00 AM

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Imagine the capacity of Kinnick Stadium — plus five or so thousand more — pitching tents and planting RVs on a patch of beaten farmland for a weekend, clad in bikinis, flowing skirts, handmade sandals, grisly beards, and body paint.

Welcome to Bonnaroo 2013, the 12th incarnation of the four-day music festival based in Manchester, Tenn. From June 13 to 16, 80,000 people hailing from California to Canada to Iowa City gathered to see more than 125 different musical artists and comedians, including Paul McCartney, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Wu-Tang Clan, the Lumineers, Daniel Tosh, and Jack Johnson (who replaced Mumford and Sons while its bass player recovered from surgery).

I was one of these thousands of so-called Bonnaroovians, road-tripping more than 34 hours for my first music festival in the pursuit of a literal dream of mine: seeing McCartney in the flesh. My $300 ticket seemed reasonable enough for this achievement.

I didn’t grasp at the time that the journey would entail more than the price of a general admission ticket. Bonnaroo is an experience in itself — a dusty, sunny, bustling hippie-fest that tests your ability to effectively mill through a crowd, interpret vegan food menus, keep a straight face no matter what clothing — or lack thereof — passersby might wear, and tolerate heat, mud, and absence of plumbing.

But Coralville native Rachel Egerton, who went to Bonnaroo with her boyfriend, Ryan Orr, said the sum of the festival was greater than its not-so-glamorous parts.

“It could have been awful because it was hot, it was uncomfortable, we smelled, [and] oh my goodness, the Port-a-Potties,” she said. “But I don’t know; it was just a feel-good place. We’re all roughing it, but everyone’s in such a great mood. And the music of course was fantastic, there were some amazing performances.”

Inspired to attend Bonnaroo for the first time by the presence of the Local Natives, among other performers, Orr said the festival contrasted with his previous concert experiences, including Chicago’s Lollapalooza.

“Bonnaroo’s on a different level,” he said. “At Lollapalooza, it’s restrained a little bit, and everything’s kind of kept in check, but at Bonnaroo, it’s a free-for-all, sort of. There’s so much to take in … It’s a good feeling from everyone.”

It’s hard to talk about Bonnaroo without at least mentioning the pervasive illicit drug use — it is often praised as a Woodstock-equivalent show, after all. Rather than restricting drugs, Bonnaroo staff spend more time encouraging festival-goers to avoid dehydration, a legitimate cause when patrons — intoxicated or not — are waiting on their feet for Paul McCartney for approximately four hours, or Macklemore and Ryan Lewis in stark 90-degree sunlight for two and a half like me.

Egerton, a Kirkwood College student and West High graduate, said she found the music scene at Bonnaroo to be reminiscent of Iowa City’s, especially considering a dozen or so of the festival’s acts — such as Kendrick Lamar, the Tallest Man on Earth, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band — have performed in Iowa City within the last few months.

“I think the genres and the tastes are really similar [between Bonnaroo and Iowa City],” Egerton said. “Especially for our age group, I feel like people are really in touch with what good music is.”

UI junior Julia Cartwright, my “partner in crime” at Bonnaroo, said the festival was an ideal venue for discovering new musicians, whether they’re hip-hop, rock, folk, or alternative artists.

“So many bands that play at Bonnaroo are little known or up-and coming,” she said. “And most of them are really talented musicians even if you don't like their music. It’s a great way to learn about new bands, and in turn for bands and artists to reach out to new people.”

Cartwright said she found she was able to relate to her fellow festival-goers more than she had anticipated.

“The audiences were really eclectic,” she said. “You would get students like us, people who took time off from their day job, kids, or people in their 70s. It was a really fun mix.”

The environment of Bonnaroo had its physical effects, but the emotional ones were truly memorable. The excitement of seeing Macklemore perform “Thrift Shop” in a fur coat in Tennessee humidity, the heartwarming sight of a leukemia survivor being brought onstage with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, and, of course, the three heart-stopping, gut-wrenchingly perfect hours of McCartney, singing, rocking, and smiling along to the music I thought I would only ever hear from a stereo. I regret not a single exhausted, elated tear — for which there were many.

I now eagerly await the announcement of next summer’s lineup this winter. But no matter the headliners, Orr and Egerton said you will find them at Bonnaroo 2014.

“I don’t even question what [the lineup] will be because, like it or not, I’m pretty sure it’ll be a good time,” Orr said.

“It was so worth it,” Egerton concurred. “I already want to go back.”


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