June 12-15 • Manchester, TN
June 6-14 • 21st Century Waterfront, Chattanooga, TN
MANCHESTER, Tenn. — Playing in the inaugural Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in 2002 was the musical equivalent of competing in the biggest football game of them all, says Umphrey's McGee band member Jake Cinninger.
"It was the Super Bowl for us," he said 90 minutes before band members were to take the stage for their eighth Bonnaroo appearance. They are one of more than 110 acts who will play the four-day festival in Manchester, Tenn., before Sir Elton John wraps things up Sunday night.
Cinninger said the crowd who watched them perform equaled their usual audience many times over.
"It was like doing 500 shows at one time. It took us to the next plateau."
The crowd that saw their performance Friday on the What stage dwarfed that original crowd. The venue holds more than 80,000 people.
A little while later, Paul Hoffman of bluegrass stars Greensky Bluegrass was reveling in the band's performance on the What stage.
It was the first show there of the weekend, and Hoffman said his band was proud to be the first of the weekend.
"What an honor to open that stage. All those people that are back there camping had to walk all that way. I know it's a lot of work to be here. It's the biggest party in the world, but it comes at a cost. I know that, and it's inspiring."
Most of the 80,000 ticket buyers for Bonnaroo camp on site and walk -- sometimes as much as an hour -- around the 700-acre farm to see their favorite acts, and that fact is not lost on the bands that play here.
Joel Cummins of Umphrey's McGee said the band camped here that first year, and it gives them an understanding of the fan experience.
"The fans have made a commitment coming here and camping in all kinds of weather," he said. "We know what people are going through just to see their favorite acts, so our attitude is let's go out there and crush it."
Umphrey's McGee is now one of the most popular jam bands in the world -- in large part because of Bonnaroo, Cummins said.
"This festival helped make us," he said.
The band did an epic four-hour show here several years ago that ended at 6 a.m.
Hoffman said just playing here is a big boost for a band. Scoring big with fans makes it even better.
"This festival is so big, beyond the size," Hoffman said. "The image nationally and internationally is huge because of how passionate the fans are about the music."
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or 423-757-6354.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...