By: Stacy Smith Segovia
For the Leaf-Chronicle
Bonnaroo sold out — all 80,000 tickets — in just 18 days last spring. And judging from the happy, friendly people populating the 600-acre festival site this weekend, there is nowhere in the world ticket holders would rather be.
The festival, held on a pristine farm in Manchester, brings 70 bands to five stages over a three-day period, concluding tomorrow with performances by G. Love and Special Sauce, James Brown and The Dead. Festival-goers have been camping out since Thursday in sites adjacent to the concert fields. The sites are named for various hairstyles, such as Camp Bowl Cut, Camp Bee Hive, Camp Afro and Camp Supermullet.
Sarah Chorley, 24, Pete Jorgensen, 28, Chelsea Bragg, 25, and Jenny Fredette, 25, came to Bonnaroo from Portland, Maine. Chorley and Jorgensen flew to Nashville then rented a car, while Bragg and Fredette drove the entire way — a 24-hour trek.
“We waited 11 1/2 hours to get to our campsite” which was nine miles away, Bragg said. “But it was worth it.”
Using cell phones, the four friends managed to meet and set up camp together. Although they had to call a locksmith Saturday afternoon after locking the keys in the trunk of one of their cars, by Saturday evening that hassle was a distant memory. They sat together on a blanket taking in The Roots, one of the bands they had most looked forward to seeing.
“Nobody’s trying to start any trouble,” Chorley said. “All in all, I’ve been to a lot of festivals, and this one feels very calm. You feel safe. Everyone’s here for the same reasons.”
The friends said they have been taken in by the lovely green hills and fields of the area.
“Tennessee is beautiful,” Bragg said.
Jorgensen said, in addition to seeing great bands, they enjoyed just hanging out in the laid-back atmosphere of camp.
“In all of my travels across the country, Tennessee has the nicest people,” said Chorley.
The weather defied predictions Saturday, and the sun shone all day. A five-minute mid-afternoon sprinkle brought smiles from people who appreciated a moment of cool during the hottest part of the day.
Among Saturday’s highlights was a set by the Allman Brothers Band, a captivating early-afternoon show by bluegrass band Nickel Creek, and the evening’s headliner — a marathon three-hour show by Widespread Panic.
Mike Gordon, bassist for popular jam band Phish, performed Saturday evening with roots guitarist Leo Kottke. Asked his opinion about electronic piracy of music and transmission through the Internet, Gordon said, “The one thing that’s hard to steal is the live music experience. You can’t download it.”
Many of the bands at Bonnaroo are considered jam bands, meaning they value the creative force of collaboration onstage. Ben Harper said he would prefer for the genre to be called “Soulternative.”
Regardless of the label, the musicians were uniformly enthusiastic about the scene at Bonnaroo.
“Southern people are a groove,” Greg Allman said. “Pardon me if I’m partial, but I’m from the great state of Tennessee. I was born here.”
From legends like Allman to 9-year-old Rachel Trachtenburg, drummer for the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, the musicians have a spirit of mutual appreciation.
Rachel said John Bonham and Ringo Starr are her primary influences as a drummer.
Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile said people at Bonnaroo are enthusiastic music listeners.
“This crowd seems like a really nice, inflated concert hall crowd,” he said. “It didn’t seem like we had to be Cirque du Soleil to get people’s attention. They were really focused on the music.”
Stacy Smith Segovia may be reached at 245-0237 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Originally published Sunday, June 15, 2003