Posted Jun 11th, 2012 (9:05 pm) by Bradley Hartsell
Bonnaroo 2012

We didn’t have to wait in lines. It was in the mid 80s instead of the mid 90s. And the first show of the day was among the best shows I’d seen in a long time. Well, all right then!

Day 1 of Bonnaroo 2012 massaged out my anxieties of corresponding a festival for IYS for the first time; getting a press wristband is cool until it isn’t ("did I miss that Alabama Shakes song?" "WHERE THE HELL IS THE WI-FI?"), but Bonnaroo kept sushing me and patting me on the head until I surrendered to how terrific this weekend was going to be.

We left at 5am from my home in Tennessee, stocked with our camping gear and snack food, aiming for an arrival a shade before noon. We went off-site to pick up our press wristbands and got some valuable information on which exit to take, so within ten minutes, we were deep in the heart of the festival, winding through the backroads and edging to our eventual campsite. We ended up in pod 8, (camp Claire Standish!) which was about a twelve minute walk, straight-shot, into Centeroo. We had some time to kill before EMA took the stage at 4:15, so we met our camping neighbors, grilled hot dogs on their grill, and cracked jokes until it was time to stroll.

We got to Centeroo early enough to check out the press area and the photo entries at the stages and to get a good spot for EMA. It was very warm but it certainly wasn't scorching like it was the last time I went in 2009. Centeroo was noticeably grassier than in years past, something the festival boasted about in their guide, but also there was sand put down to corral the dirt that turned into rampant mud pits when the rains came in 2009. Along with the implement of more shade areas, it was pretty evident within ten minutes that Bonnaroo was taking proactive steps to make the behemoth festival cleaner and safer (a couple of people die every year due to heat and substances combining, so Bonnaroo at least threw some shade their way). This was the second year in a row that Bonnaroo's wristbands came with RFID chips in them, which of course people get indignant about even though it affects nobody's experience in any way. The scanning stations as you walk into Centeroo scanned easily every time; you barely had to make any extra effort to walk right in. The RFID chips provided optional scanning at "check ins" outside of the stages and various locations around Centeroo, which uploaded your location to the interwebs, something I bet 75% of the attendees didn't do (including me or my party). These things don't matter by and large to patrons, but Bonnaroo acts like they do, so its worth a mention.

You know what does matter, though? The music.

In particular, EMA killed it on the first day. I went into her show liking her album, Past Life Martyred Saints, well enough, but I wasn't exactly fired up to see her. It turns out she put on one of the best shows I'd been to in a long time. Erika M. Anderson was electric, crackling white hot with raw charisma both with her vocals and interaction between songs. The feedback-drenched violin emitted haunting sounds, swelling The Other Tent into a palpable frenzy. Did the band do a feedback improv jam? Hell yes they did. Was it awesome? Yes, it really, really was.

The rest of the evening was mundane, even without EMA's brilliance in comparison. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. played an upbeat but faceless show, while Moon Taxi started out intriguing but dissipated into an anthem pop jam band. As night stood in full reproach, the weather turned unbearably cold. It was high 50s, but wearing festival clothes, believe me, it was fucking freezing. We heard what we could of Alabama Shakes, which sounded about how you would have expected it to sound, but it was apparent we were gonna have to head back and get in our sleeping bags. Thursday is the bastard half day of the Bonnaroo schedule, aware that the crowd is still rolling in and not nearly at full capacity. The upgrades to the festival looked promising and those too few in attendance for EMA got a steller show. That's all you want out of your Thursday at Bonnaroo, and for us, it was pretty damn great.

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