June 12-15 • Manchester, TN
June 6-14 • 21st Century Waterfront, Chattanooga, TN
MANCHESTER, Tenn. — Walking the 700 acres that make up the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival is all that most people need to understand how big the festival site is, but the iconic Ferris wheel offers a different perspective.
It's on the edges of Centeroo, the festival's main area of activity and general camping, where most of the 80,000 ticket buyers are camped. Riders get a bird's-eye view of just how deep into the Tennessee farmland the tents, campers and RVs go.
"It's massive," said Al Eckford, 49.
Eckford and his wife, Sally, 47, were taking their first spin on the ride. This is his third festival and her first. He brought his teenage daughters the last two years, but now that they are older they are camping on their own with friends.
"I'm enjoying it," Sally Eckford said. "I'm not into crowds, but I like it."
Fans aren't the only ones impressed by the size of the festival, not just the acreage but the quality and quantity of the performers here.
Guitar hero Derek Trucks played the late-night SuperJam Friday night along with wife Susan Tedeschi, Chaka Khan, Taj Mahal, Willie Weeks, Ben Folds, Karl Denson and more than a dozen others. He said on Saturday it was a wild 36 hours of rehearsal, "but it all came together."
Wayne Coyne, lead singer of The Flaming Lips, said during an afternoon news conference that Bonnaroo has always been about the music.
"For the first couple of years it was this hippie festival, but it's really just about good music," he said.
Cake frontman John McCrea said American festivals used to be among his least favorite places to play because they were dirty and money grabbing. He said in the last decade they have become more like European festivals, giving more consideration to the fans, and that Bonnaroo has led the change.
The members of Desert Noises, a four-piece group out of Utah, are playing their first Bonnaroo, and they are camping with friends from North Carolina who put them up when they tour there.
"We've been here since Thursday, and we have this nice little van village with tarp tunnels running between," band member Kyle Henderson said.
He is joined in the band by Brennan Allen, Patrick Boyer and Tyler Osmond. While new to Bonnaroo, they've played Chattanooga twice and remember their shows at Riverfront Nights and JJ's Bohemia fondly.
"JJ's was crazy," Allen said. "We played till like 6:30 in the morning and just let everyone who was there play."
Osmond, the son of Alan Osmond of the Osmond family singers, said part of this past week has been talking to fans and fellow musicians, just taking in the whole scene.
"It's crazy how big it all is. There are so many great bands here," he said.
Osmond said he planned to see Saturday night's SuperJam, scheduled to include Robby Krieger of the Doors.
"You don't often get to see a Door," he said.
When reminded that those of us in this part of the country don't often get to meet an Osmond, he laughed and said, "There's hundreds of us."
He said his father, the oldest brother of the family singers, provides a lot of advice for him and the other band members.
One of the most important lessons he's taught them, according to Boyer, is to be nice to everyone. It's the same thing they are hearing from the bands hanging out backstage.
"Just be nice to people and be happy," Boyer said.
The festival ends tonight with Sir Elton John finishing around midnight.
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 ...