Bonnaroo Article

“Bonnaroo Superlatives and Overall Festival Wrap-Up”

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

the infamous arch

Well, I survived my first Bonnaroo… something that I wasn’t so sure of going into the weekend… but I came out okay on the other side, and what’s more is that I can honestly say I had the time of my life. I feel comfortable now saying that I was genuinely worried about the lack of sleep and the heat and the sweat and the dirt and the general lack of hygiene and everything else unpleasant that comes with a four-day camping festival in Tennessee in June (and I feel comfortable saying this now because they were in fact real concerns, not just the girly dramatizations of my mind), but no matter how much all of those things affected my experience, I (and I think it’s safe to say that 95% of my Bonnaroo peers would say the same) walked away with a smile and a sunburn and remained otherwise unscathed.

In general, my days (other than the day we actually got there and set up camp, which was slightly different if only in time frames) went like this:

8:00-8:30 — Wake up sweaty and hot as a result of the sun beating down on my tent, creating a tiny makeshift sauna; position myself directly under the oh-so-valuable tent ceiling fan (yes, they have those!!) to try to go back to sleep; wake up five minutes later, still burning up, and exit tent into the bright, dewy morning
8:30-9:30 — Trip to the nearest porta-potties/wash stations; back to the campsite to try to sleep just a few more minutes in a lawn chair; greet fellow campers as they emerge and do the exact same thing; eventually give up on sleep and grab the nearest Gatorade/bottle of water/liquid of any kind; make breakfast, which could range from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to an orange to a beer to instant grits
9:30-10:00 — Turn the car on to charge up my phone; use this precious 30 minutes to also change clothes in the car with the AC blasting

a lovely middle of the scorching day shot

10:00-11:00 — Sit around in lawn chairs and various other minimally physical activities to reduce the chances of sweating, some of which included reading, drinking beer, spraying each other with misty fans, making sandwiches, telling stories and reminiscing about the events of the previous day, cheeseball eating contest, etc.
11:00-11:30 — Get ready to leave the campsite for the day; pack backpack with water, coozie, power bars, flashlight, picnic blanket, wet wipes, toilet paper, sunscreen, schedule, phone, wallet, sunglasses, etc.; apply copious amounts of sunscreen; fill misty fans with melted ice water from coolers; grab road beer; zip up tent; lock car
11:30-12:00 — Walk into Centeroo; set lunch meeting time and place; split up for various shows beginning at noon
12:00-3:00 — Go to shows (approximately three); fill up water bottle (approx. twice); reapply sunscreen (approx. once); eat lunch or snack
3:00-4:00 — Find a shady place (if possible) to lay out picnic blanket and take a nap
4:00-6:00 — Go to more shows (approximately 1.5, depends on the day and the schedule); drink more water; maybe do a little shopping or just walking around (because the heat is somehow more bearable when moving as opposed to just standing or sitting and sweating)
6:00-7:00 — Lay the picnic blanket out again (probably near one of the bigger stages in order to sit and enjoy one of the bigger acts); take turns going to get dinner

a Bonnaroo summer sunset

7:00-10:00 — Rejoice in the setting of the sun and the resulting cooler temperatures; find a place farther up in the crowd for the headlining act; rock out to the headlining act
10:00-11:00 — Leave the headlining show a little early to beat some of the crowd; walk back to the campsite
11:00-12:00 — Spend some quality time at the wash stations with some freezing cold water, a bar of soap, a toothbrush, and some shampoo; lean head over sink to wash dirt, sweat, sunscreen, etc. out of hair; use giant cup to wash/rinse arms and legs; use washcloth to rinse rest of body as well as possible; resist wasting time washing dirty, dirty feet
12:00-1:00 — Sit around at the campsite, drinking beer, wiping dirt off feet with wet wipes, competing in a cheeseball eating contest (again), texting Mom to let her know we’re still alive and well, talking about what late night shows to attend
1:00-2:00 — Take a nap before going back to Centeroo for the late night show
2:00-2:15 — Wake up and realize the late night show is starting right now and also realize that sleep sounds like such a better option
2:15-8:00 — Glorious slumber in the cool, refreshing night

the 20-something people on stage for Mumford's encore

As far as the music goes, there were some good shows and some great shows. With the exception of The Black Keys ending their set 30 minutes early with no encore to follow, I was never disappointed by an act’s performance. It seemed like every artist I watched was throwing him/herself into the performance, despite the heat and the sun and all other circumstances. The best example of that fact was Mumford and Sons’ show. They played as if Bonnaroo 2011 was the last show they’d ever play, which is of course, far from the truth. And their encore consisted of a 7-minute rendition of “Amazing Grace,” sung and played by members of Apache Relay, Mumford and Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Cadillac Sky, as well as the legendary Jerry Douglas himself. Yeah. So the Award for Best Encore goes to Mumford and Sons.

The Award for Most Eclectic Crowd goes to Primus.

The Award for Best Frontman goes to Robert Plant and Band of Joy.

The Award for the Best Sit Down and Chill While Listening Act is a tie between Amos Lee and Iron and Wine.

Bela and his banjo

The Award for Best Spot in the Crowd goes to Bela Fleck, not really for anything he did, except for the fact that I knew I could only enjoy a portion of the performance from far away, only being able to hear the music. To truly get the full experience at a Bela Fleck and the Flecktones performance, I knew I would have to be so close that I could see how fast and nimbly their fingers were moving. It was incredible, and well worth the elbowing and the extra sweat factor involved in standing among thousands of other hot, sweaty people. And I can now officially say that I’ve seen the original lineup of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, which is quite something in and of itself.

The Award for Best Main Stage Act is a tie between The Decemberists and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.

The Award for Best Big Name, Daytime Act is a tie between Alison Krauss and Union Station and Old Crow Medicine Show.

The Award for Best Act that Piqued My Curiosity and I Now Need to Look Up goes to Beirut.

David Mayfield and sister Jessica Lea

The Award for Most Surprising Act goes to The David Mayfield Parade. I had heard of the band before, mostly in relation or conjunction with Mayfield’s also musical sister Jessica Lea Mayfield, but knew very little about them beyond that. I went to their Thursday night show because friends of mine dragged me along. And wow! They are fantastic! We were right up front for all the action on stage, which included corny jokes and unbelievable guitar solos from the larger-than-life, boisterous bearded man that is David Mayfield himself, a tiny yet impressively adroit little fiddle player, a female bass player whose long blonde hair hung directly in front of her face 80% of the show, a ginger lead guitar player, and an equally as epicly bearded drummer with an unexpected but lovely singing voice. The band blew me away and in doing so, registered themselves as by far my favorite show of Thursday’s line up. I bought their album immediately after returning home (well, immediately after a shower, that is).

The Award for Best Up and Coming Act goes to The Head and the Heart.

The Award for Most Unexpectedly Large Crowd is a tie between Florence and the Machine, Neon Trees, and Sleigh Bells.

The Award for Oldest Crowd is a tie between Gregg Allman and Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers.

the six-piece from Music City

The Award for Best Local Act goes to Apache Relay, who just killed an all-too-short Sunday evening set. Theirs was the last show I attended before leaving Manchester forever (read: until next year), and it was one hell of a way to close out the festival. The six piece band had all the instruments for a bluegrass or Americana band, but these guys played nothing if not straight up rock. I actually have the privilege of being able to say that I know most of the members of Apache Relay, each of them being former Belmont students like myself, but even fully understanding how talented each of these guys is did not prepare me for their exceptional stage presence and raging, fiery, exciting set. Nashville can be so, so proud.

The Award for Best Introduction goes to The Black Keys for having Aziz Ansari.

The Award for Best Dance Show goes to Walk the Moon.

And the Award for Best Headliner goes to My Morning Jacket.

I could go on and on about Crazy Things That Happened at Bonnaroo, or Awesome and Unexpected Collaborations on Stage, or How I Managed to Get In on Thursday and Out on Sunday in Under an Hour Each, but truly, truly, the festival called Bonnaroo is an experience that you can only fully understand after having experienced it for yourself. And everyone’s Bonnaroo is completely unique. So, my final words on the subject are simply these: I will see you there next year.


Mumford & Sons Review

“Devils with Strings: Mumford & Sons at War Memorial”

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

War Memorial, ablaze

It seems like the majority of the English-speaking world could at least tap a foot along to “Little Lion Man” these days. Beyond that, I’d be willing to wager that the majority of that majority’s opinion is that Mumford & Sons are some fierce musicians, the melancholy heroes of the British folk world. And how could they not be? Their lyrics are simple and poetic, their music rollicking and complex. I like to think of them as a sort of 2nd cousin to The Avett Brothers, trading the raw bluegrass overtones that makes the Avetts so compelling to listen to for the fuller, heavier feel of Celtic banjo and folk mandolin.

The young quartet put out their major label debut Sigh No More in February of this year and have since been accumulating some serious industry chops. They were the talk of Bonnaroo over the summer, and their US tour has grown organically into sold out show after sold out show. The band’s passionate energy and collective musical virtuoso is driving and contagious. Frankly, they overwhelm me. But after finally experiencing one of the most powerful live shows of the year, I’m convinced that Mumford & Sons are possessed: only demons can blaze as they did that night – radiating brilliance and passion without consequence, instruments or not.

Banjo extraordinaire

Their show at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville was a highly anticipated one anyway: tickets sold out in a matter of weeks, a rare occurrence in Music City. November 1st also marked the band’s second performance in Tennessee ever. Mumford & Sons later added a limited performance (set for just hours before the concert) at Grimey’s, the old record store. It sold out before it was even officially announced. Nashville’s Internet presence dubbed the day “Mumford Monday,” in honor.

King Charles opened the show with a husky foreign accent and conductor’s jacket. The crowd’s initial reaction was one of mild confusion mixed with stout curiosity and rightfully so. It takes a certain amount of bravado to stand onstage alone, sporting curls longer than any girl’s and wearing naught but a pink unitard (an outfit that belonged in the Nutcracker ballet rather than a folk rock opener). However, for all his ridiculousness, King Charles’ lyrics were subtle but earnest, his guitar muted but intricate, his voice throaty but clear, and he had won us over by the end.

The only thing I knew about the next act was that the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach produced their album, which is build up enough. All the same, you’d think maybe the band officially on tour with Mumford & Sons might be a little bit nervous about playing the same stage, but for Cadillac Sky, it was just another day they got to play their instruments and miraculously get paid to do so. Highlights of the C-Sky set included “Human Cannonball” and “Insomniac Blues,” both alive with fervor, lightning fast fingers, and coarse harmonies. The band itself was clever without being gimmicky, sharp without being overly technical.

After the openers, the audience is positively buzzing with the knowledge that there are now mere moments between them and Mumford & Sons. With time to stretch, jot down a few notes, and eavesdrop, I finally take a look around and notice my place among the masses. I have somehow managed to squeeze myself into the exact middle of this tightly packed, flannel-clad crowd: Nashville represented itself well.

Mumford himself

At long last, Mumford & Sons takes the stage to raucous applause. Marcus Mumford, Country Winston, Ben Lovett, and Ted Dwane are casually dressed in jeans and white cotton shirts, crumpled button-ups and old vests, exuding effortlessness and humility mingled with raw talent. One of them murmurs a low “Good evening” into the mic, and all goes quiet. They start off like the album, playing “Sigh No More,” “The Cave,” and “Winter Winds” in succession, with hardly a moment in between. Already we are beginning to sink into the world they have created for us – gentle, churning, acoustic, and unbridled. The set continues with “White Blank Page,” a fan favorite. Half the audience is singing every word, the other half stomping the tune’s hastening beat.

The band steps back from the gathering maelstrom, letting the energy gather and eddy through the crowd. Mumford himself introduces the next song as a new one called “Keep the Earth Beneath My Feet,” which was followed by sweet, symphonic “Timshel.” Next, “I Gave You All,” a rapturous and stirring tempest, builds into a gilded fury. Incandescent bulbs electrify the stage as the band begins their infamous “Little Lion Man.” Blazing and crackling, the lights strung across the space below the ceiling recall an ancient Italian restaurant; those lighting them from behind create old-fashioned silhouettes reminiscent of 20s Broadway.

By this time, Mumford & Sons fingers are moving at a blistering rate; the audience itself is roiling. People are cheering before, during, and after each tune. The band is now changing instruments here and there – Marshall adding dobro and slide guitar to the mix, Mumford switching to drums for a song or two, Dwane alternating between string and electric bass. The next few songs are a vehement, glowing blur. New “Lover of the Light,” stormy “Thistle and Weeds,” smoldering “After the Storm,” and dynamic “Awake My Soul.”

As for the last song, a scorching “Dustbowl Dance,” Mumford practically snarls the lyrics. The ground is shaking; the lights are flashing; Lovett and Winston are bellowing the chorus; and the crowd is roaring back. The four Brits – sweaty, wide-eyed, and beaming – bow together and leave the stage, but the crowd is practically riotous, chanting and cheering and stomping wildly.

A few teeming minutes pass, the crowd anxiously eying the backstage. Then with a deafening rise in applause, Mumford & Sons reappear with the boys of Cadillac Sky close on their heels. Each of the bands takes a moment to thank the fans, then nine guys on nine instruments start in on a fiery rendition of “Try to Turn the Tide.” Halfway through the number, the people around me are pointing excitedly; whispers ripple through the crowd: there are more figures with instruments in the backstage doorway. “No way,” I overhear, “DUDE, it’s Old Crow!”

And so it is. Nashville’s own Old Crow Medicine Show emerges, instruments in hand, making a total of 22 people on stage. This is a story that audience will be telling for some time to come. Together, Mumford & Sons, Cadillac Sky, and OCMS play Old Crow’s “Cocaine Habit” and all-time favorite “Wagon Wheel.” They finish with a sweltering performance of “Roll Away Your Stone” – a show for the books, from beginning to swelling, tumultuous end.


Mumford & Sons is the kind of show that gets in your blood and heats you up until you’re feverish and delirious, raucous and mad for all the world. The music infects you like a sickness, takes over until you give in to it. It’s fearsome and extraordinary, and I wouldn’t dare miss it.

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