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Artists Look Back at Bonnaroos Past (Gogol Bordello, Pretty Lights, Bela Fleck and Many More)

Bela Fleck

Bonnaroo Classes: ‘02, ’03, ’05, ‘06, ’08, ’09

Few artists have performed at Bonnaroo as many times—and in as many settings—as Nashville banjo ace Bela Fleck. At the inaugural Bonnaroo in 2002, Fleck played on the Arena Stage—which was later renamed the Which Stage—with classical bassist Edgar Meyer. He also participated in the festival’s very first Superjam with Meyer, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, DJ Logic, Galactic and members of String Cheese Incident. The next year Fleck appeared with his longtime jam/fusion group the Flecktones and in 2005 he returned with The Bela Fleck Acoustic Trio, a collaboration with fellow string masters Casey Dreissen and Bryan Sutton. The Flecktones returned in 2006 and Fleck pulled double duty in 2008, both performing with Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet and participating in The Bluegrass Allstars set with Luke Bulla, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Edgar Meyer and Bryan Sutton. His most recent appearance at the festival was in 2009 with Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté. Fleck returns to Bonnaroo with the Original Flecktones featuring Howard Levy—touring for the first time since 1992—at 2 PM today on the Which Stage. He will also make an encore appearance on the Sonic Stage at 5:45 PM.

What were your expectations prior to your first trip to Bonnaroo?

I knew it was gonna be big! That’s all I knew for sure.

What were your initial impressions when you arrived that first year?

It was a very exciting event, people were buzzing and having a great experience. Things seemed under control, except the heat which was wearing everyone out.

Describe the music that you found most moving or enjoyable at your first Bonnaroo.

I didn’t hear much, because I was playing—first an afternoon set with Edgar Meyer and then a Community Jam which I remember being the leader of. I tried to get backstage at the main stage, and was turned away by security. I was scared to stand in that huge crowd, so I just went home! In later years, I got comfy with everything and enjoyed being in the crowd—and backstage—and particularly on the stage.

What do you remember most about your own performance?

It was burning hot, and for days apparently. In the middle of our set, the skies opened up, and the audience went crazy. It’s as if they thought Edgar and I were responsible for the rain. They loved us for it! Around the time we were basking in our new status as Bonnaroo Gods, the top of our tent filled with water and it all poured into the onstage monitor board. Smoke started coming out, and it died completely. We kept on playing, eventually realizing we could turn one of the front fill speakers around towards us and then we’d still be able to hear each other and play. An adventure! Luckily Ed’s 18th century bass did not get wet.

How does Bonnaroo compare with other festivals you’ve played?

It is its own deal. It has a great personality.

If you could collaborate with one Bonnaroo artist this year, who would it be?

Neil Young!

Looking back at your initial experience at the festival, what was your quintessential Bonnaroo moment?

Seeing Neil Young (in 2003).

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Alberta Cross’s Terry Wolfers
Bonnaroo Class: ‘09

Alberta Cross bassist Terry Wolfers has a rather unique perspective on Bonnaroo. Growing up across the pond, Wolfers attended many of the European festivals that officially inspired Bonnaroo’s promoters before he relocated to the States. When Alberta Cross made their Bonnaroo debut in 2009 as part of a festival sweep that included appearances at a handful of other summer fests, Wolfers immediately saw parallels between Bonnaroo and his favorite eclectic community festivals, such as Glastonbury. After having played a showcase set on Bonnaroo’s Thursday night in 2009, Alberta Cross will open That Tent at 12:15 this afternoon.

What were your expectations prior to your first trip to Bonnaroo?

My expectations were rather high, as I had heard so many great things from so many people I had met around the U.S. Whenever I would tell people that my favorite festival was Glastonbury, they would tell me that Bonnaroo was the U.S equivalent.

What were your initial impressions when you arrived that first year?

I instantly fell in love with the place! Everyone was in such a great mood and very much up for making it a special weekend. I can’t get enough of that festival spirit!

Describe the music that you found most moving or enjoyable at your first Bonnaroo.

It was very special to see Al Green. He is one of those artists that I never thought I would be able to see live in a festival setting. Just to watch him up on stage and hear his beautiful voice was amazing. He seemed to be enjoying the performance as much as we enjoyed having him there.

What do you remember most about your own performance?

We were all amazed at how many people were watching our set and how much love we were getting from the crowd. I just remember looking up at one point and seeing that the tent was packed, which made me get into the show even more. The people watching were fantastic! It was an absolutely amazing show, but I actually got sunstroke after, since I wasn’t used to playing in such heat. I will be drinking a lot more water this year for sure…

How does Bonnaroo compare with other festivals you’ve played?

It’s very much in a world of its own compared to other festivals in the states. It’s a lot more like the festivals we have back home in Europe. There’s a very strong sense of people being completely free to just enjoy themselves. What more could you ask for!

If you could collaborate with one Bonnaroo artist this year, who would it be?

Probably Daniel Lanois. I am in love with how that man makes everything work and sound so beautiful.

Looking back at your initial experience at the festival, what was your quintessential Bonnaroo moment?

It has to be when I watched the Beastie Boys. I bumped into a friend who knew people running the festival, so after walking through the whole crowd from the stage, we managed to stand at the sound desk and watch the show. I had wanted to see them for so long, and they put on an amazing performance. The whole weekend was fantastic, and I’m very excited to be going back to play again this year.

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Cold War Kids’ Matt Maust
Bonnaroo Class: ‘07

Cold War Kids was a young band with a big blogger buzz when they made their Bonnaroo debut in 2007. While Bonnaroo was one of the group’s first major festival plays, the members of Cold War Kids formed their own mini-scene at the festival with friends Elvis Perkins, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Dr. Dog. Members of the four bands collaborated both on and off the stage, including a memorable troubadour session in Bonnaroo’s Press Tent. Now veterans of the festival circuit, Cold War Kids return to Bonnaroo with the new album Mine Is Yours to perform in This Tent at 5:00 PM today.

What were your expectations prior to your first trip to Bonnaroo?

Bonnaroo was one of the first festivals we ever played. I imagined not a lot of deodorant, but a lot of tents, incense and people looking like the guys in Dr. Dog or the Cave Singers. Turns out I was right. We got there just in time that day to watch Elvis Perkins’ performance.

What were your initial impressions when you arrived that first year?

I probably started complaining right away that it was too hot, and that rock music shouldn’t be played in the sun like that. Since then, I’ve warmed up to festivals a little more. I used to really not like them very much and I’ve stopped being such a debbie downer about them. But I do plan on having a headache after we play. It happens at those hot festivals every single time like clock work.

Describe the music that you found most moving or enjoyable at your first Bonnaroo.

Easy one. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. I don’t want to describe them though, I’m sorry.

What do you remember most about your own performance?

We were in a tent. I had forgotten to eat lunch, and had forgotten to put sunscreen on. I came off the stage with a terrible headache but had a great time playing. I don’t know how those singers do it. We didn’t have a nice air conditioned bus, and I remember Alec from CYHSY telling me to go lie down in their bus and I ended up sleeping the rest of the day away. Haha. The crowd was amazing. It was a great show and a great memory and I have no idea what songs we played. I bet we played our entire first record because that’s all we had at the time. I think we did a cover of “Uncomplicated” by Elvis Costello.

How does Bonnaroo compare with other festivals you’ve played?

I’m not sure. I think ill enjoy it this year especially because we made our record in Tennessee. We’ve been back a few times to Tennessee since recording, and every show has brought on a nice new feeling and memory of that time. I really hope that we’ll play “Goodnight Tennessee. It’s a b side that didn’t make it on the record, but it seems fitting that we play it, don’t you think?

If you could collaborate with one Bonnaroo artist this year, who would it be?

Big Boi or Man Man.

Looking back at your initial experience at the festival, what was your quintessential Bonnaroo moment?

It was a long time ago, and there’s been many shows since, but I would say buying Lily Allen a drink in the catering tent.

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