CL on the Road: Backstage at Bonnaroo, Part One (with photos, video)

Deborah rocks it like a VIP and offers her wrap up of the Tennessee music fest, days 1 and 2, with photos & video

click to enlarge Danny Brown - Deborah Ramos
Deborah Ramos
Danny Brown

click to enlarge Yelawolf - Deborah Ramos
Deborah Ramos

Every year tens of thousands of music fans flood into tiny Manchester, Tenn. for a week that changes their lives and making Manchester, briefly, the third largest city in Tennessee before an abrupt fall back to its sleepy ways. I was unbelievably fortunate that my first journey to Bonnaroo was spent enjoying it in a way that few of those many people get to. [Text and Instagram photos by Deborah, band shots by Mike]

You see, there is a bit of a caste system to the wristbands that provided access to this year's completely sold-out festival. The vast majority of Bonnaroovians have GA wristbands. They stay in tents, rarely shower (if ever), buy food from vendors (often eaten while walking), and spend hours baking in the hot sun to get a glimpse of bands amid thousands of others in a grassy field. Of course, that's if they aren't passed out in one of the plentiful spots of shade, simply too exhausted to carry on to the next show. The next level is VIP, which offers better access to the stages, private campgrounds with showers, or RV rentals. The highest level of wristband is Roll Like a Rockstar, a special package that provides accommodations on a fully stocked tour bus, chauffeured golf carts whisking around on hidden back roads, private viewing areas and restrooms, and hospitality lounges spread throughout the farm.

Our group wasn't just rolling like rockstars, we were rolling as rockstars. We wore the coveted yellow ‘Artist’ wristband, with full access to nearly every area at Bonnaroo one could ever wish to see, and plenty of perks that no paying attendee can experience. I didn't realize before the trip but this is much more access than even press receives, as my experience seems to have been much different from Andrew's. We didn't have a tour bus or golf carts, but none of that nonsense mattered because we had the most superior access to music out of anyone in attendance.

Sometimes, the good things in life are just about knowing the right wonderful people.

click to enlarge Phantogram's Sarah Barthel - Mike Wilson
Mike Wilson
Phantogram's Sarah Barthel

We arrived at artist check-in after a long drive and a stop for a mind-boggling amount of food at Walmart, where the locals seemed completely amused by the chaos that landed upon them. We drove right in to our parking lot with no wait and no bag or body checks, checked in at our RV, and settled in for the weekend. Since getting onto the farm took less than 5 minutes, there was plenty of time before the first show we wanted to see to wander around and experience the calm before the storm. At this point, I hadn't yet accepted the Bonnaroo code of "Be In Here," and was struggling to find wifi and send texts, not comprehending my phone would be little more than a camera and notepad for the rest of the trip. After a quick walk back to the RV to freshen up, our group split apart, with some of us heading to an backstage crawfish boil complete with open-bar and the others towards the music. We were rested and ready to go.

We were instantly sucked in by heavy bass filling the grassy area in front of This Tent, walking right into the private viewing area at the foot of the stage to catch the beginning of Danny Brown's set. His biting delivery and filthy lyrics were nearly overcome by the bass, which up this close twitched the hairs on my arms to the beat. This was the first of several fantastic hip-hop sets we wandered into, and my introduction the the unbelievably enthusiastic Bonnaroo crowds. I've never seen anything like how ballistic the packed tent became when Brown shouted out, "Bonnaroo, y'all some freaky motherfuckers! You gonna be getting dirty up in those titties later?" Brown played a bit of Blondie's "Rapture," dancing around onstage to recapture the crowd's attention before launching directly into the aggressive "Die Like a Rockstar."

click to enlarge Phantogram's Sarah Barthel - Deborah Ramos
Deborah Ramos
Phantogram's Sarah Barthel

I don't know that I've ever left a show in the middle of a set, but had a sense it was going to become a trend as we headed briskly to the front of the Other Tent to see the act we'd originally planned to start with, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.. Their indie-rock seems deceptively simpler live than recorded, as I'd never realized their perfectly harmonized songs are fleshed out by recorded electronic elements. Not only did the band bring a killer cover of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," they also brought a little something special for the crowd. Josh Epstein explained that they were so grossed out by the porta-johns when the band played their last festival that they decided to buy a bottle of Dom Perignon and leave it in one of the 7,500 facilities spread across the Manchester farm. Though Epstein encouraged "whoever finds it, goddamnit, have a good time," I'm pretty sure anything I found in one of those things would be staying there for the next person to enjoy.

From the back of the field we caught the last two songs from Orgone. Their funky R&B had Soul Train written all over it, like a fantastic 70's blaxsploitation soundtrack. Vocalist Niki Crawford encouraged the crowd to get into her vibe, saying "Orgone has been making sweet, sweet love to you for the last hour. Did you feel it? How you gonna make love back to us?" before the crowd enthusiastically responded with a sing-along to "Love Maker" as we started our walk back to This Tent. Stopping briefly by one of the smaller side stages, the Great Taste Lounge Brewed by Miller Lite (one of the thankfully rare visible sponsorships), we enjoyed some psychedelic basement rock from Monstro before continuing on to catch Yelawolf. [MORE photos, video and wraps after the jump.]