May 28, 2020

Wooo-Hooo: Bonnaroo


When my friend Beverly first suggested I take my eldest daughter, Hannah, to Bonnaroo, my first thought was Bonnawhat? I had never heard of this massive music festival held in Manchester, Tennessee, now in its tenth year. What a difference a month makes!


Wooo-Hooo: Bonnaroo

Catherine McClenahan and daughter, Hannah, arrive at the Tenth Annual Bonnaroo Festival, where “Buffalo Springfield’s” last performance joined almost 200 other acts. Their VIP “camp” had showers, nice bathrooms and a large air-conditioned tent with new white couches where they napped and escaped the unrelenting heat.

On June 8 we flew to Nashville and spent a wonderful evening with my friend Lauren, her husband and son.

Hannah and I had never been to “Music City” and we fell in love. All the bars and honkytonks lining the streets have bands in their front windows. You practically trip over incredible street musicians. Shake a tree and a musician will fall out!

The Country Music Awards were happening that night so the town was hopping. Of course we had to buy the mandatory cute short dresses and cowboy boots that the local women favor. When Lauren and I walked over a street grate, the wind from below blew up our new short dresses causing a group of guys across the street to whistle and holler at us.

“Woo hoo! Go back! Do it again!”

We laughed, secretly thrilled because her husband and my teenage daughter had witnessed this.

Hannah and I arrived at Bonnaroo the next morning at 7 a.m., our VIP tickets allowing us to get to our campsite in one hour instead of up to six for regular admission.

Wooo-Hooo: Bonnaroo

In Nashville, Catherine and her friend Lauren play guitar heroes. The Country Music Awards were happening that night so the town was hopping. “Shake a tree and another incredible street musician would fall out!”

The VIP area was a godsend. Besides showers and nice bathrooms, there was a large air-conditioned tent with ping pong tables, a basketball court, a central fountain that you could sit around and cool your feet in, massage tables and several brand new white couches for lounging. These couches would come in very handy over the next few days and we took our first of many naps as we tried to escape the 100-degree heat and unrelenting sun.

Almost 200 acts would be gracing the What Stage, Which Stage, This Tent, That Tent, The Other Tent, The Bonnaroo Comedy Theatre, Café Where, On Tap Lounge and the Sonic Stage. This was confusing. I could never remember which was what and where they were. Thank God Hannah is 19 and knows everything.

We kicked off day one with “Band Of Skulls” (they were great) and “Childish Gambino” featuring Donald Glover—a regular on the TV show “Community,” and a writer for “30 Rock”—where does he find the time?

Wooo-Hooo: Bonnaroo

“I don’t know whether I could camp with 100,000 people in 100 degree heat ever again,” says McClenahan, “but I feel blessed and grateful to have spent this quality bonding time with my daughter while we watched some of the best bands in the world.

We crashed at 2:30 a.m. and by 7 a.m. we were burning awake. It felt like it was already 100 degrees in our tent.

Hannah headed off to see Matt and Kim; I hit the camping store to buy fans and misters while mentally preparing to see five bands in the next few hours.

In the VIP tent, I watched the wonderfully quirky “Decemberists” and the fantastic Grace Potter (while doing some random celebrity watching off stage—Ron Jeremy!).

Hannah and I braved the heat to see Ray LaMontagne although we couldn’t see him. He was hiding behind the scaffolding on the stage! Was he shy? Did he have stage fright? Who cares? He was so boring we left. We were becoming jaded.

Wooo-Hooo: Bonnaroo

Hannah cooled off with hundreds of others in the Mushroom Fountain that spewed cold water bringing welcome relief in hundred-degree heat to thousands of overheated souls.

“Florence and the Machine’s” terrific set featured her haunting voice on tunes like “Cosmic Love,” “Got The Love” and the euphoric “Dog Days Are Over” that got thousands of us jumping ecstatically.

We had the best pepperoni pizza ever before seeing our favorite band, the Grammy-winning Canadian powerhouse “Arcade Fire.” We discovered my fellow Canucks at the Hollywood Bowl in 2007 and they totally rocked our world. The eight members constantly changed instruments and bounced around the stage while thrilling us with hits like “Intervention,” “Rococo,” “Tunnels” and the anthem-like “Let’s Go.”

We saw “Ratatat,” a wonderful electronic music duo from New York at 2:30 a.m. We got to bed at 4 a.m.; the music went ‘til 5 a.m.

Wooo-Hooo: Bonnaroo

Our VIP camp neighbors, and new best friends, Fawn, (far left) and Luke (right center) admiring Hannah's “Jenga” tower.

We lived in the VIP tent most of the following day watching the fantastic “Old Crow Medicine Show,” a six-piece, old-time string band from Nashville. They play a mix of original tunes plus pre-World War II blues and folk songs.

We watched Alison Krauss, Davotchka and Deer Tick while we played many games of Ping-Pong.

We finally headed out into the Bonnaroo dust oven and staggered over to the famous mushroom fountain, a brilliant structure shaped like a giant mushroom that spews forth cold water and brings welcome relief to thousands of overheated souls. We didn’t care that the water became increasingly brown as the days went by. It cooled us down immediately and kept us alive. This fountain, a Bonnaroo mainstay, has had many different incarnations over the years. It is one of our favorite places … It is near the pizza.

We loved the English folk rock band “Mumford and Sons” almost as much as “Arcade Fire.” This brilliant band had the crowd singing along with the fabulous Grammy-nominated “Little Lion Man.”

Wooo-Hooo: Bonnaroo

Catherine relaxing with the crowd awaiting Robert Plant and his “Band of Joy” and the talented Patty Griffin. “Plant was his usual fabulous self,” says McClenahan.

We loved “The Black Keys” and were thrilled to see “Buffalo Springfield’s” last performance. Neil Young is simply fantastic. He totally rocks and shows what aging is all about.

Then it was off to see the fresh-out-of-rehab Eminem perform. Oh, the disappointment. A cheesy drawing of a submachine gun was aimed at the audience and swayed back and forth while “shooting” at us. Lame! I was not impressed. He’s undoubtedly talented, but this was negative, nasty, dark stuff. He encouraged people to tell people on either side of them to f--- off. Not the creative genius I wanted to hear.

The next day we enjoyed “G-Love and Special Sauce,” the “Neon Trees” and then practically fell asleep during the way-too-relaxing “Iron and Wine” set.

Next up: Robert Plant, the only other person I actually knew who would be at Bonnaroo. A few years ago, we went to Amoeba Records for our first time. The only thing better than going to Amoeba Records is going with a rock legend.

Wooo-Hooo: Bonnaroo

Mother and daughter posing with the Planet Roo Sculpture, one of many scattered throughout the grounds.

Sir Robert performed with his “Band of Joy” along with the talented Patty Griffin and was his usual fabulous self. It was a great performance and I especially loved seeing all the 20-something’s rocking out to this wonderful master.

We caught the “Strokes” winding down their set for the adoring masses with lead singer Julian Casablancas wearing lime green sneakers and—surprisingly for the heat—a leather jacket. It’s all about the look!

That night, Hannah and I packed, punch drunk from the heat and exhaustion of the last few days. We laughed ‘til we cried as we imagined saying goodbye to our neighbors by ambushing them with our misters. Somehow cooler heads prevailed.

I don’t know whether I could camp with 100,000 people in 100-degree heat ever again, but I feel blessed and grateful to have spent this quality bonding time with my daughter while we watched some of the best bands in the world.