“If Woodstock had been like this, we would have stayed!”
Stephen Stills said of Bonnaroo in 2011, when he came to perform with his legendary group Buffalo Springfield, featuring original members Neil Young and Richie Furay. It’s a two-way street: The ‘Roo crowd—many not yet born in ‘66 when the Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” detailed those strife-filled days—totally got into the experience of seeing rock & roll history come alive onstage.
In fact, Young was one of the first rock legends to perform at Bonnaroo, at the second ‘Roo, in 2003. He was embraced by the audience, as well as his fellow performers. Ben Harper later said, “Seeing Neil Young and Crazy Horse at Bonnaroo was one of my favorite music moments of my life.” Since then, many venerable figures with whom Young has collaborated—from Pearl Jam to Booker T, from Emmylou Harris to Bob Dylan to Willie Nelson—have also graced the festival’s stages.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse, “Cortez The Killer” 2003
In fact, legends from every genre of popular music – rock, folk, country, jazz, hip-hop, metal, punk, blues, bluegrass, soul, funk, and gospel – have performed at Bonnaroo over the years, treating both fans and artists to the thrill of enjoying some of the world’s most celebrated music down on the Farm. For some artists, like Stills, John Fogerty, and Levon Helm, it takes them back to performing at Woodstock; for fans, seeing such larger-than-life musicians in the surroundings of their own 21st-century spectacular event, camping in the middle of nowhere, is mind-blowing.
As one fan, Mandy Zlotek, recalled, “I don’t think I have ever felt more joy surge through my body than when I sang along with Stevie Wonder.” And even for our biggest stars, like Jay-Z, there’s no thrill like seeing your inspiration onstage, especially when they stick around to see you: “Wait til I tell Mom Stevie Wonder stayed for my set,” Jay-Z gloated during his 2010 set.
This week, on Bric-a-Brac, we’ll look at some of those legendary performers who have played Bonnaroo over the past eleven years. We’re gearing up for the 2013 ‘Roo appearance of rock & roll’s preeminent legend: Sir Paul McCartney!
What’s it like for fans and artists when a legacy artist participates in a young person’s event, in a setting that feels separated from reality? How does that affect your perception of the other bands you see afterwards? How does it change the dynamic of the overall experience?
Maybe, like the Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood, you saw “Bruce Springsteen play one of the most amazing sets I’ve ever seen in my life.” Or like Hannah Williams, a fan from North Carolina, you were blown away by Pearl Jam: “We danced, jammed, and partied with all the people around us…Then the first, unmistakable chords of ‘Better Man’ began. … The chorus came along and Eddie paused and let the crowd take over. I looked back and saw an ocean of people behind us singing the words, and it hit me: there are thousands of people here, of different races, gender, religions, political veiws—but at this one moment we all agree on one thing: that this song is fucking awesome. I truly felt the power of music.”
Pearl Jam “Better Man” 2008
Question: What are your favorite memories of seeing music legends perform at Bonnaroo?