The First Bonnaroo

With Bonnaroo less than a week away, and in honor of this year being the 10th anniversary, I’ve decided to recap my experience at the original Bonnaroo. The year was 2002, when the festival was just an infant. 

The first Bonnaroo was full of energy, excitement, and anticipation. It took place many years ago, in a land far away, at a time when there was no such thing as digital cameras. And if there was, high schoolers didn’t own them. And I was a senior in high school, which means I didn’t have the luxury of photography on-the-go, and pictorial evidence from my first Bonnaroo is sparse at best. But if there were pictures, you would see snapshots of me and four of my girlfriends waiting in the car line for approximately 5 hours to obtain entrance into the festival. Then, you would see me running a mile past the cars in a desperate attempt to catch my then favorite band – The Big Wu – play their set, and that I made it just in time to see them exiting the stage.  Later that weekend, you would see me hugging Jack Johnson. Oh wait, you can:

He was just as sweet as his music is. Wouldn’t even sign the dollar bill in my friend’s pocket because it is illegal to deface U.S. money.

You would also see the festival in its first year, when the crowds weren’t nearly as massive as they are now. That first year, there were roughly 70,000 fans, as opposed to the 200,000 that now flee to Manchester for the annual event. Consider this for comparison purposes: at the first Bonnaroo, there were 47 acts; this year, there are over 175. Back then, it was a lot less organized, and the bands were a lot more jammy. That first year of Bonnaroo, I was watching Widespread Panic, Ben Harper, String Cheese, Bela Fleck, Gov’t Mule, and Phil Lesh. Although you still get a good dose of that, the lineup has gradually shifted from neo-hippie acts to more commercially mainstream headliners and performers. Think Eminem, Jay-Z, and Kanye West.

Though the festival has evolved, the fun factor hasn’t diminished. In fact, the word “bonnaroo” means “a really good time”, and I’d say that’s a pretty accurate definition, changes and all.


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