ROCKING IN THE CAMPGROUND WITH MMJ’S PATRICK HALLAHAN

If any one performer could personify Bonnaroo, it just might be Patrick Hallahan, co-founder and drummer of My Morning Jacket. His affable demeanor, quick wit, monster talent, and down-home modesty make him a prime choice to hang with Late Night at Bonnaroo. What’s funny is that he wants to hang with you as well — and chances are he has.
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“The very first year we played, I was fascinated by this mobile city that is the festival camping scene,” says Hallahan. “I feel that there’s actually another festival going out there, but a lot of people, the performers, don’t get to see it. I now make it a point every year to go out to the campgrounds and walk around. It’s very much part of the festival for me.”

Patrick Hallahan is one of us. He’s played everywhere there is to play at Bonnaroo; to my knowledge, he’s the only person to ever play the campground, the tents, and the main stage.

“In 2006, after we played late night, I went out to the campgrounds, struck up some conversations, and just hung out,” he says on the phone from his Louisville home. “There was a band playing, and they asked me to sit in with them. It was so fun to play with people that I’d never met, never mind played with, before. That year in particular, I embraced that other world. It’s such a fond memory for me.”

 

He’s a rare bird, that Hallahan. At that point in the night, he’d rather hang with you in the campground than see more music (though he does count seeing Ween as his favorite late night musical moment.) “I’m sure I could have gone to see David Byrne or whoever was playing— and I’m sure that David Byrne was great — but that would have been easy. I gravitate more towards the campgrounds then the late night sets, because I find a lot of adventure out there.”

As a repeat performer at Bonnaroo, he’s played in the middle of the day and the middle of the night, and feels the difference once the darkness comes.“There’s an energy shift. The sun going down is a turning of a page for the whole day, and it becomes a completely different festival.”
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This energy fosters a sense of being involved in something greater than yourself, and it allows the artists to tap into something that is not available anywhere else, at any other time. “From a performer’s standpoint, it feels like I’m playing in my living room for a bunch of friends that I invited over,” he says. “A performer feels that sense of comfort, and they open up a lot more. The more interesting moments happen in those settings, versus the ones in which you’re being judged or being seen to be seen.

“There’s just something about it—everyone, artists and fans, we all have a distinct ownership of our involvement, how we conduct ourselves the entire weekend. It’s just beautiful.”

—Tim Donnelly