Bonnaroo 2019 Sells Out With 80K Tickets; Day 1 Takeaways

The Comet Is Coming

The Comet Is Coming, the sensational UK Jazz trio rocked an ecstatic 11 p.m. Bonnaroo set that decimated all comers to the That Stage. (FilmMagic/Getty)

It’s not easy processing a glorious clusterfest like Bonnaroo which is a universe unto itself with some 80K attendees (and the fest’s first sell-out in six years). This is especially true when it’s your first time and you’re trying to absorb so much over-stimulation: incredible performances, delicious comestibles, hidden backstage areas, a universe of camping and ubiquitous cheery Southern charm. Here, with the help of a brilliant veteran ‘Rooer, we break out some of the day’s highlights.

A Sell-Out!
Bonnaroo is, for the first time since 2013 when Sir Paul McCartney headlined (and since Live Nation acquired the fest in 2015), clean sold out with 80K tickets gone. The fest’s seeming strategy to return to its roots and offer more experiential programming in the campgrounds and beyond has paid off wonderfully. The figure is all the more impressive that the fest hit an all-time low of 46K in 2016, according to the Tennessean. Despite long car lines stretching down Route 24 on Thursday to get in (which Roo PR attributed to more car services and security searches), once in the grounds there was ample space for all – though it was a weekday. One bartender said she heard many proclaim it was their first time at the ‘Roo, which may in part explain the attendance rise.

Crawfish Vs. The Skaggs
Sometimes it’s a choice between Ricky Skaggs and a crawfish boil in woods and there is no wrong answer. Though Ricky Skaggs with Steve Earle at the Grand Ol Opry Stage, the Opry’s second year at the fest, is a no brainer for music-heads and reason enough for self-flagellation. The Opry is a national treasure as was its programming of Old Crow Medicine Show, along with fellow Opry members Ricky Skaggs and Riders In The Sky,  Steve Earle and the Dukes, Morgan Evans, Ashley Monroe, Wendy Moten, Molly Tuttle, the Opry Square Dancers, and Opry announcer Bill Cody.

Moten, who sung back-up for Julio Iglesias, Tim + Faith, Vince Gill, has the kind of deep soul lungs you don’t expect to hear on the Opry at Bonnaroo stage. But that’s where the diva-in-waiting threw down a gauntlet during Old Crow Medicine Show’s set. With an Americana album in the can, it’s only a matter of time.

Ricky Scaggs and Steve Earle

The Grand Ol’ Opry Stage was back at Bonnaroo for the second year with a slew of awesome performers including Ricky Skaggs and Steve Earle. (Chris Hollo/Grand Ol’ Opry)

The Comet Is Real
The Comet Is Coming, the sensational UK jazz trio rocked as hard as a metal band with blissful noise.  Led by King Shabaka (saxophone assassin Shabaka Hutchings) Danalogue The Conqueror (noise keyboardist Dan Leavers) and drummer sledge hammer Betamax (Max Hallett) who together decimated the This Tent stage in a high octane late-night set. A nearby fan compared the music to Nine Inch Nails meets Coltrane but it’s so much more than that.

Choices #2
Later in the day, the choice is between Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – a third wave ’80s new wave revival act via Australia) verses Nude Party (sixth or seventh wave of British Invasion via Boone, NC complete with farfisa and Rickenbacker) of which again there is really no wrong answer.

Crawfish at Bonnaroo

Table Manners: Crawfish boil at the Roo’s guest camping in the woods.

Industry Buzz
Nobody in the business we spoke with thinks Woodstock 50 is going to happen as organizers are scrambling to find a venue in New York City (among other options) following the loss of the Watkins Glen Racetrack. Few, however, are willing to cast their lot in with what seems a sinking ship – but never say never. We’re still rooting for it to happen.

AC Knows
Ashley Capps of AC Entertainment, Bonnaroo’s co-promoter, was seen rocking out stage left to The Comet is Coming. The serious music fan and awesome curator said it was the sixth time he’d seen the band, having just come off his Knoxville-based Big Ears Fest. He also said he’s also excited to see Ibeyi, the Afro Cuban  Venezuelan and Tunisian twins. He knows.

A Day’s Work
Superfly co-founder Jonathan Mayers may be co-running the entire complexity that is Bonnaroo, with its massive footprint and millions of interlocking pieces that makes this wonderful festival possible, but when we saw him he was literally moving a table in the backstage area. That’s the essence of being a promoter.  

Freedom Rings:
There is freedom at Bonnaroo that you just don’t find at any other festival. Wanna dress up like a unicorn? A mermaid? A ballerina? And those were just some of the boys! What’s amazing is the expression isn’t just musical, it’s how people present – and engage. There’s a bit of a Burning Man vibe you don’t see at Coachella and that goes well into the wee hours.

Hippie jacket.

The Bad Hippie Jacket
It’s a cool evening in Manchester, Tenn., and the hippie rugs people are wrapped in are selling briskly for the brisk weather at $25 a pop. So you buy the bad hippie rug jacket instead at the same price, not so much to fit in, but because it’s cold at night despite the Southern climes. And then you kind of find you like it.

Snake N Jakes:
Another year, another Christmas party on the Farm! You can see the strings of lights from all over the magic fields. Santa’s sleigh, snowmen abound at the rough hewn wood bar … and there’s still a line to get in at 1:00 a.m.

It’s Easy Being Green At the Roo
Conscious of their footprint, anywhere you can throw out trash, you can also sort your recyclables. Cans, paper, food are all marked on separate garbage containers.

Magic Mushroom Showers:
Rising out of the meadow is a giant – light up at night – mushroom. But rather than trip, it cools down (and cleans up) overheated concert goers with a nonstop mist streaming from underneath the mushroom’s giant cap. Alice in Wonderland, be damned. In the land of the Bonnaroovy, this is the salvation that falls from the sky.