When other music festivals in North America are closing down for the day, Bonnaroo is ready for another launch—the incarnation of late-night bacchanalia and all that comes with it.
The SuperJam and the annual early Sunday morning second-line parade can be traced to New Orleans late night culture, where shows (especially during the wee hours of Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest) often don’t begin until 2 a.m.
A major source for the unduplicated success of the whole Bonnaroo night experience is the farm itself; the sheer size allows for the magnitude of overnight guests who stake their claim in the tent city.
“People don’t have to drive or go home,” says Kerry Black, Superfly Co-Founder. “They are there to be in the moment and experience it, and to go as far as they can. It takes on a life of its own. The costumes come out and it gets pretty wild—heck, my costume comes out.”
The people with the responsibility of making the late nights unforgettable take their party planning seriously as they’re out scouring the world, determining which artists possess the right energy to bring to Manchester in the middle of the night. The formula is pretty simple.
“It’s usually bands I want to party to,” laughs Black. “I’m an eternal music sponge. But I find that after going to all these shows, going to SXSW and Pitchfork and other festivals, I still find most music through my friends. “
Paul Peck, is also entrusted with going out to find the acts who will work best in this slot, which has now become highly-coveted among artists. “We’re very detail-oriented when programming the festival, making sure everything fits and that there are tasty options,” he says. “You can choose where you want to go, to go here for an hour or there for an hour, but first and foremost it’s a dance party. The music must be high-energy, funky, fun, improvisational—something that you don’t know where it’s gonna go.”
Matthew “Chewy” Smith has witnessed the rise of the late night scene since Year One, and what it means today to the artists that cover that shift. “A late night set at Bonnaroo is one the greatest time slots you can get, because you’re guaranteed that every person in the world is going to be there. What started out as, ’Oh, man, I have this 1 a.m. set time’ has turned into ’Holy shit, I have the 1 a.m. set time!’ Now it’s a prized time at the festival.”
Smith breaks it down even further, examining what the late night session means to a band whose fans come from all over to see their favorite act. “A band goes out and draws 1,500-2,500 people in any given city on any given night,” he says. “Then they come to Bonnaroo and they play to 8-9,000. That’s what it means to an artist doing a late night set—it instantly heightens them.”
Of course, it’s another animal entirely determining how to keep your energy up for the late night, and how to engage and be a part of it. For those in the know, it’s pacing, rest, and hydration that lead to victory.
“When you’re at the late night show, it feels like it has exclusivity, because you had to know the right thing to do,” says Peck.”You have to manage your stamina and control your partying to be able to really enjoy it. But having the feeling that where you are is the best place in the world at that moment? That’s very rewarding. It’s fully focused and really intense, the way it’s supposed to be.”
But “Chewy” Smith knows that, most importantly, it’s the energy produced that brings nirvana for both performer and fan. “The band is giving it back to the crowd and the crowd is giving it back to the bands, who give it back to the crowd,” he explains. “It creates this circular energy that cultivates this giant orgasm of people at five in the morning. It’s a pretty phenomenal thing to be a part of.”