Back from Bonnaroo 2012

Radiohead puts on a visually-stunning performance

Brad Holtz here, back from Bonnaroo, in what has become an annual summertime tradition of music, mayhem and the occasional hangover.

2012 marks my 8th Bonnaroo experience. Every year, I imagine it will be my last. But I keep going back again and again – with no regrets. If you think back at the early roots of America’s marquee music festival, jam bands ruled. Over 11 years however, Bonnaroo has diversified into a festival experience for fans of all sorts of musical genres. In one weekend, we saw it all. Hip-hop (Childish Gambino), folk (Punch Brothers), the next generation of southern rock (Alabama Shakes), a newcomer who sounds stunningly similar to Bill Withers (Michael Kiwanuka), arguably one of the biggest bands the world has seen in the last 15 years (Radiohead) to arguably America’s greatest rock band today (Red Hot Chili Peppers). Bonnaroo means a little something for everyone.

If you experienced Bonnaroo for the first time this year, you were definitely spoiled by the weather. With daytime highs reaching the low to mid 80s (under low humidity) and nighttime temperatures hovering around 60-65, countless folks who have experienced not-so-favorable-conditions remarked that this was, far and away, the most pleasant Bonnaroo experience, from a weather standpoint. After the first day of my first Bonnaroo weekend (2004), I had never felt filthier, having never experienced the level of MUD we saw. Heat, humidity and dust ruled 2011. This was just about perfect…

Brad and a Beach Boy at Bonnaroo

You never know who you’re gonna run into at Bonnaroo. While watching Santigold on Saturday afternoon, Beach Boy legend Mike Love swung by to catch some of the set and was nice enough to pose for photos with a few fans. Hollywood A-listers Kristen Bell and Dax Shepherd showed up and caught a number of live performances. We even saw Ludacris hanging out in the backstage radio compound. For one weekend in June, a 700-acre field in the middle of nowhere is transformed into the world’s musical epicenter. And people from all walks of life soak it in.

Personal highlights? Hands down, the Red Hot Chili Peppers put on the best performance of the weekend (perhaps I’m a little biased, as I love the band but have never seen them live). Newcomers Alabama Shakes certainly didn’t disappoint (they’ll be playing a sold-out ‘TTS show at the Vogue on July 31). British soul/folk singer Michael Kiwanuka made his Bonnaroo debut and it was eerily reminiscent of Ray Lamontagne’s debut in 2004. (Check out my backstage interview with Michael).

Thanks for hanging out with us over the weekend. We hope we were able to bring some of the excitement of Bonnaroo back to Indiana. For backstage interviews, blogs and photos, be sure to explore more from the Blogaroo.

-Brad Holtz

Toto, We’re not in Indiana anymore…

Friday, Day 2 of Bonnaroo.

When radio people emerge from their slumber, it is like a scene from a zombie movie.  One by one, they slowly come from the buses to the radio lounge area.  This is a tent with couches, music, fans and a bar where we rally in between shows. After roughly 4 hours of sleep, the day began with a quick sip of some sludge coffee that I made (couldn’t find the filters or measuring device) and a mental planning of the day’s activities. As I stretched out in a chair and contemplated my concert selections of the day, I was approached by a man associated with Michael Kiwanuka. He told me that Michael would be playing “backstage Bonnaroo” and wanted to know if I was interested in attending the session. The backstage facility is a trailer with hay bails stacked around it for sound proofing purposes (the same area where I watched The Black Keys 2 years earlier). There is a wonderful set up inside but very small, only equipped to contain 4 or 5 onlookers. Since Michael Kiwanuka is one of my favorite emerging artists, I was thrilled to receive the invite and headed over to the area for entrance. The performance was absolutely beautiful and uplifting.  What a great way to start the day.

Radiohead as seen from the soundboard

As the day continued, I had the opportunity to see Two Door Cinema Club, Trampled By Turtles, Feist, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings. My daytime attendance was cut short by the live broadcast of my afternoon show on 92-3 WTTS. After the broadcast, all thoughts turned to the headliner of the night, Radiohead. Whispers begin while trying to figure out the secret passage to the best seat in the house. I was approached by a man in charge of the media area of Bonnaroo.  He whispered that I should gather in a secret location in 15 minutes and he would usher me to the “pit” to watch Radiohead perform. I was instructed not to tell anyone and to be ready to roll quickly. Feeling at ease that I was about to enjoy a wonderful show from a coveted vantage point, I grabbed some water and readied myself for the mad dash. At that point, I was approached by a man associated with Radiohead management who slipped a special wristband in my hand and whispered the gathering location. He told me that he only had a handful of wrist bands and would usher me to the soundboard to watch Radiohead perform.  Dilemma, do I stand in the pit in the front or head to the soundboard where any great Radiohead fan would want to take in the light display and enjoy the ultimate sonic experience? I chose the latter and began the trek, with 6 others, to the soundboard.  I would guess, there were 50-60,ooo people in attendance for the show. We were ushered from stage left, past the front row of the pit and walked the platform down the middle of the crowd to the soundboard. When we arrived on the soundboard platform, it was apparent that I had made the right choice. I watched the show with about 25 people who had been selected to enjoy the concert from the special perch which included an unlimited supply of beer (when I saw that, I KNEW I made the right choice). We were ushered out of the show the same way we were ushered in which took about 5 minutes. It is an amazing experience to attend a music festival with 80,000 music fans who all appreciate every second of the diversity. It is a fantasy to attend these shows the way I just described and I don’t take one second for granted.

Well, it’s off to plan my day and try to figure out how to get the next great “seat” for Red Hot Chili Peppers tonight. I’ll take you with me wherever I go. Let’s talk at 4 this afternoon. Oh, have I told you lately how much I love my job?

Laura Duncan