Music: DJ Laura Checks Out Bonnaroo


By Laura Goldfarb

Photos by Laura Goldfarb.

BTR’s own DJ Laura spent the weekend at Bonnaroo catching the hot rays from the sun and soaking up some great Jam Session-style music.

Day One:

My cherry-popping Bonnaroo adventure began in the back of a van among stacks of newspapers. The kind dudes at Relix picked me up from my hotel in Manchester on Thursday morning and drove me into the backstage guest parking area along with copies of the Bonnaroo Beacon, which they write and distribute on site. (FYI: Jam Session reports to the Relix/Jambands Radio Chart, and I write a “Flying Solo” column that runs on their website.)

The first day at Bonnaroo was very much about getting my bearings. I’m pretty sure I got lost at least five times. Somehow I eventually stumbled into my home base for the weekend–the backstage radio compound, located behind the second main stage (the Which Stage). The radio compound consisted of five broadcast studios and production workstations in an enclosed (and air conditioned, ahhhh!) tent, the Hay Bale recording studio, three tour buses, and a hospitality lounge.

As the sun began to set I ventured out into Centeroo to catch Dopapod’s set at That Tent. That’s when I discovered that if you want to actually see an artist rather than just watch them on a jumbo screen, you need to arrive at least 20 minutes early! Live and learn though and Dopapod’s set was still electric and pulsating, regardless of where you stood.

Now hip to the tricks of Roo, I was sure to arrive at the Who Stage well before Jam Session-favorite Rubblebucket went on. After working out some sound issues, the band delivered a heartfelt, honest performance complete with crowd surfing (trombone in hand) and sing-along (during which the entire crowd was crouched on the ground by request of the band).

One of the radio guys that first day had told me, “You’ll never see a show quite like one at Bonnaroo.” He cited the magic of the farm, saying the biggest artist to the smallest will almost always perform one for the books. Rubblebucket did just that. They reminded me that live music can truly be an experience. And, even if you’re flying solo like myself, you’re far from alone–you’re a part of something massive, a shared collection of wavelengths, a train of emotions riding the track together.

Day Two:

On Friday I learned how to hide from the sun. I spent most of the day in the radio compound, where I knocked out some writing while eavesdropping on other stations’ interviews with artists (all of them were awesome).

As the temperature dropped around 5pm, I picnicked on the giant lawn in front of the main stage (the What Stage) for Dawes. At one point lead singer Taylor Goldsmith said, “This is our third time playing Bonnaroo but our first playing this main stage. And I gotta be honest, it’s a totally different experience.”

His joy and gratitude was palpable; I had chills for most of their performance, and, admittedly, at times felt like I might cry. There’s something really special about the space here. I definitely prefer to be closer to the stage to truly engage, but there’s nothing disconnected about being a quarter of a mile from it.

After Dawes’ set I caught a ton of music, including Guster, whose songs I was stoked to remember the lyrics to, and Kendrick Lamar who impressed me–I now totally get the buzz. Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals provided a moment of LA familiarity, and Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood’s entire set easily proved they were among the greatest musicians at the festival.

After a refueling with an IPA courtesy of the most badass microbrew tent ever, plus some mini cider doughnuts, I was ready to dive in to some serious dancing during STS9 at 1 am. If I was tripping, I might think that their lighting is God herself.

Day Three:

School was in session on Saturday in Planet Roo at the Solar Stage for hop vaping and beer tasting with Lagunitas. Using volcano vapes, reps from the Petaluma brewery walked around the crowd allowing everyone to smell specific hops, then distributed samples of the beers that use those hops. They shared some fun insider stories as well, and overall it was a cool little way to start the day.

All hopped up, I spent the rest of the day/night devouring music from five separate types of locations–under a tent (Tycho, Woods, D’Angelo), backstage (Childish Gambino), whist picnicking under a tree (Rhiannon Giddens), on a TV from the radio compound (Bahamas), and a few yards from the stage amidst the largest crowd I’ve ever stood in (My Morning Jacket, Gary Clark Jr, Bassnectar).

My Morning Jacket was epic, but my favorite performance of the day was definitely from Tycho. I’ve been listening to Tycho for over a year and always thought it was a very skilled one-man kind of electronic act. I was so happy to get under that tent and discover they’re an actual band! Aside from feeling like an idiot, my mind was totally blown. The music, combined with some delicious Alabama microbrews as well as some incredibly kind and fun people around me, offered an unbelievably positive and feel-good vibe for the hour-long set. That experience alone made me a lifelong fan of both Tycho and Bonnaroo.

Day Four:

By Sunday I was completely exhausted, but totally geeked out on some incredible performances by Punch Brothers, Brandi Carlile, AWOLNATION, and Robert Plant. I also finally started to “get it.” Maybe it was the extreme heat and humidity, or lack of sleep, or pretty shiny things to look at everywhere, but hippie life lessons from Bonnaroo began to reveal themselves.

For starters, there’s the Bonnaroo motto, “Radiate Positivity.” I’ve never been around so many people who really seem to lead their lives with that idea. Sure, it’s hard not to be positive and put out positive energy when you’re in this crazy 24/7 overload of incredible music, art, expression and FUN! But it was hot as balls, grossly humid, seriously dusty and dirty, incredibly exhausting, overwhelming, confusing, and even frustrating at times.

There were conflicts and decisions to be made, everyone was responsible for themselves, and for us media kids there was even legit work to be done. There were first impressions, professional and personal, emotions and battles of the ego, desires and impulse. And when I publicly let it all get to me for a moment, a man I was walking by stopped me and said, “Excuse me, Miss. I believe you dropped your smile back there.” I turned around, as though to look for my smile, and in that moment felt like I saw my entire past. I smiled and thanked him, and we high-fived before going our separate ways. In that moment I realized my “god” could be positivity.

My second life lesson learned at Bonnaroo stems from “Radiate Positivity,” and that’s giving yourself permission to feel and express joy. Media work aside, your only job at Bonnaroo is to take care of yourself and enjoy yourself. Hydrate, wear sunscreen, seek shade and rest your feet when you need it, remember to eat and sleep a little, and do whatever the hell you want (within reason).

I found myself at some shows feeling a little self-conscious at times, and would ask myself, “What are my options right now?” Usually the answer was to continue to feel self-conscious and therefore have a miserable time, or choose to let go and feel the joy of the moment. With every smile and/or step of my feet in dance, I felt joyous, which allowed me to radiate positivity in a completely natural way.

My third life lesson is about accepting and surrendering to things as they are right now. In doing so, and in applying the other two lessons, resistance is no longer an option and everything is okay and has the potential for greatness. The best example of this for me is in being sweaty, dirty, smelly, exhausted, and wearing zero makeup, which exposes gnarly dark circles and major breakouts, all while in a professional environment, trying to present myself in the best light possible. No one seemed to take me any less seriously in this state. In fact, I made some solid connections and new friends. Turns out the best “light” possible is what’s real right now. It’s acceptance, fearlessness, and confidence in letting go.

Thanks for the life lessons, Bonnaroo, and for the good vibes, music, beer, and doughnuts. Shout out to Mason Jar Media, the entire Radio Roo crew, and the Relix family for the love and laughs, and for taking such good care of me. Thank you! Stay tuned to Jam Session in the coming weeks for interviews with artists from Bonnaroo!

Check out DJ Laura’s most recent episode of Jam Session.