Bonnaroo 2023: Korn, Foo Fighters & More Deliver A ‘Happy Roo’ (Live Review)

Foo Fighters by Roger Ho for Bonnaroo 2023 RH103371
Foo Fighters by Roger Ho for Bonnaroo 2023

Shortly after organizers opened Bonnaroo’s Centeroo, aka the heart of the festival, a lightning storm rolled into Manchester, Tennessee. Those who had made their way to see the first band of the June 15-18 event play were told to leave the area and shelter in place, all of those hoping to get their weekend started instead passing the time while sitting in their cars.

CVC, a Welsh band currently on their first trip to North America, had to exit the stage just moments after beginning their set. 

But, the storm passed quickly, and within the hour fans were back in the This Tent to catch CVC’s performance. Their team wandered around the crowd, noting the powers of mother nature (the band’s first time performing in New York City happened to be on the same day smoke from the Canadian wildfires descended onto the city, turning the sky a light orange. But their team knew they would still deliver, the band taking the stage as AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” played over the speakers and encouraging the crowd to scream “Fuck the lightning!” to the heavens. And with that, Bonnaroo’s festivities began. 

Fans were still trickling in on the first day of the festival, The Other Stage serving as the main stage of the night. There, bass music thudded throughout the grounds in a lineup stacked with Elephant Heart, Daily Bread, Mersiv, Liquid Stranger and Zeds Dead.

Backstage, artists and teams moved between The Other Stage and Where In The Woods over in the campground. Fans were packed so tightly it was a near impossibility to weave one’s way toward the front. The crowd headbanged and swayed, bass vibrating across the farm and through each body. 

Zeds Dead at Where in the Woods by Josh Brasted for Bonnaroo 2023 JB406277
Zeds Dead at Where in the Woods by Josh Brasted for Bonnaroo

At three in the morning, Where in the Woods was filled to capacity. A chill swept over the farm, fog and mist clinging to tents as Zeds Dead took the stage for their second set of the night. A crowd estimated to reach 10,000 fans stretched packed into the forest, the Canadian bass music duo kicking things off with deeper dubstep tunes for a set reminiscent of their Bassmentality parties up in Canada during the earlier days of their career, while the second half of their show served up more house music.

Fans stumbled back to their tents as the sun began to rise once again, able to find just a few hours of sleep before the humidity began settling in.

The second day of the festival brought weather more like what was expected for Tennessee in mid-June. Temperatures sat in the mid-’80s and the humidity clung to everyone.

The What stage opened up, fans camping on the rail for hours to get a good view of Kendrick Lamar. The set before his saw Baby Keem, Lamar’s cousin, take on the main stage.

Lamar’s set went through all his classics with tracks from Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and To Pimp a Butterfly woven in with hits from DAMN. and Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. As the clock struck midnight on July 17, the crowd began singing “Happy Birthday” to Lamar, who turned 36 onstage. A band sat on the side of the stage, dancers popping out from time to time. But Lamar remained the main star of the show, his even flow dancing through his vast catalog.

Walking through the festival fields throughout the weekend, attendees high fived one another and wished a “Happy Roo.” The campgrounds offer plenty of activities throughout the weekend (yoga, astrology, collaging, book readings and more all take place inside the grounds), while the festival itself stretches on with markets, water slides and a Ferris wheel in addition to its numerous stages. All ages enjoyed the festival, from young children tagging along with their parents to those 65+, the celebrations endless.

Bonnaroo also served as a major networking event for those in the industry. Major industry players including C3’s Charlie Walker and Charles Attal (who are responsible for putting together the festival), Red Light Management founder Coran Capshaw and numerous agents from Wasserman, UTA, WME and CAA all met up with one another while attending the festival.

This year saw higher production and featured newly-paved production roads (in the past, most of the roads around Bonnaroo were made of dirt). The festival reportedly sold-out with 85K tickets sold.

Korn by Pooneh Ghana for Bonnaroo 2023 DSC01182
Korn by Pooneh Ghana for Bonnaroo 2023

Korn delivered one of the biggest surprises of the weekend, the band’s set one of the best throughout the whole weekend. Between songs, Jonathan Davis took hits from an oxygen mask before stepping back onstage and diving into the next song. The band brought out bag pipes, the entire crowd dancing, moshing and feeding off one another’s energy. Escorts walked back and forth in front of the stage, pulling fans over the railing as they surfed toward the front of the crowd, escorting them off to the side so they could run out and do it all over again. Those walking by with intentions to pop in for just one song wound up sticking around until the end.

They took the stage the same time as Bonnaroo mainstays My Morning Jacket (whose set extended an hour past their original end time) performing on the Which Stage. Fans poured out of This Tent, stretching out nearly as long as the Which Stage and just as loud.

Dust didn’t settle into the fields until the fourth day. The steady wind that provided a nice breeze in the morning, bringing relief from the days of constant humidity, soon swirled up all that was on the ground and seeped into lungs. 

Sunday’s lineup featured Paramore, Pixies and wrapped up with Foo Fighters. Pixies performed classics from Doolittle, kicking things off with “Gouge Away.” Their set ended the same time Foo Fighters were scheduled to go onstage, with fans mad-dashing after their set ended to the What stage for Foo Fighters. The conflict proved difficult, with Foo Fighters acknowledging how they wouldn’t exist as a band without Pixies. Drummer Josh Freese sported a tank top listing the names of all Pixies’ members, and Grohl provided them a shoutout onstage, sharing how he and others have all been influenced by them.

Dave Grohl invited several special guests on stage with the Foo Fighters throughout the night. Following Paramore’s set, frontwoman Hayley Williams joined the Foos for a performance of “My Hero,” the singer (who had rainbow glitter dripping down her face in celebration of Pride) bounding out and dancing with Grohl. Later on in the evening, Violet Grohl appeared with her father to sing “Shame Shame” and “Show Me How,” the second in dedication to Dave Grohl’s mother, who passed away last year, in addition to drummer Taylor Hawkins.

Josh Freese now sits behind the drum kit, he and the band still acknowledging the loss of Hawkins and dedicating his favorite song, “Aurora,” to him each night. The band played through their greatest hits, including “All My Life,” “No Son Of Mine,” “Learn To Fly,” “Breakout” and more before closing out with “Everlong.”

After Foo Fighters’ buses pulled out and left the festival grounds, the crowd made their way back to their tents. Zipped up nice and tight, the thunderclouds rolled in once again, rain pouring down to saturate the dust.