Posted: 12:39 pm Friday, June 10th, 2016
Day 1 at Bonnaroo is, in concept, pretty chill. Slackers like myself who did not arrive on Wednesday are still trickling in, setting up camp, and getting situated. Centeroo – the main festival area on The Farm – is almost completely up and running, though the two biggest stages will not host performers until Day 2 when all things Bonnaroo fire on all cylinders. This is not to say that Centeroo lacks people on its first day, because the massive throng of Bonnaroovians will crown a de facto headliner. And just shy of midnight Thursday, that artist was BØRNS.
Garret Borns’ undulating synth-pop, at times precious and at others pulsating, captivated the with gentle anthems like “10,000 Emerald Pools” and “Electric Love.” That Tent was packed to the gills and the perimeter outside the tent was think was bodies standing, sitting, and passed-out exhausted on the ground making it impossibly difficult to get close. I chose to settle outside the tent towards the rear left, a spot with a decent sound mix and a great view of the jumbotron. Other than my estimate of 15,000 people chanting along with BØRNS memorable choruses, my favorite moment was a note-perfect cover of The Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion (Lies),” its tempo amped-up just enough to make it even more dance-able, but truncated a bit as it seamlessly morphed into David Bowie’s “Heroes”. Five months on since that legend’s death, tributes to him are still coming.
I spent serious time in a lawn chair at the intimate New Music On Tap Lounge, situated near famed ‘Roo features like The Fountain, Silent Disco, and Hamageddon – the giant metal porcine sculpture that spits fire and roasts pork on a spit in its stomach. Sound bleeding over from That Tent overpowered Lael Neale’s gentle, pensive folk. She pushed through like a professional, emblematic of Bonnaroo’s “radiate positivity” credo.
The whole reason I posted up at On Tap for much of my first night was to take advantage of a rare opportunity to support a local artist at a massive destination festival. Saint Petersburg’s own Polyenso grew the crowd under this tent from several dozen to several hundred with their vibrant, groovy pop, gorgeous vocal harmonies, and sweeping keyboard flourishes that invoke artsy Radiohead, the quirky side of Incubus, and the chill, R&B aesthetic of The Neighbourhood.
But my favorite Bonnaroo 2016 moment so far came from Bully. Practically a local set from the Nashville four-piece, Alicia Bognanno filters visceral, riot grrl attitude through early 90’s grunge muscle and punk ferocity. Bognanno also interned with legendary producer Steve Albini at the famed Electrical Audio studios in Chicago, so her punk bona fides are just that. Clearly, it took an incredible live performance at Bonnaroo to motivate me to spend more time with their debut album Feels Like, which I plan to do once I’m back home. Bully’s set could have ended quite satisfyingly with their thrashy original tune “Milkman,” but Alicia announced she would conclude with a couple of covers. She busted out breakneck covers of obscure Welsh punk band McClusky, including one of my all-time favorite songs, “Lightsabre C**ksucking Blues.” Utterly surprising and unexpected, and every bit as ferocious and satisfying as the original, any Bonnaroo 2016 moment looking to compete with the end of Bully’s set in my head and my heart faces a tall order.