My First ‘Roo: Umphrey’s McGee, Dawes, Dispatch, Delta Spirit, ALO, Wyllys
Bonnaroo Classes: ‘02, ‘04, ‘06, ‘08
Wade Wilby has experienced Bonnaroo in all sorts of ways during the past 11 years. He attended the first Bonnaroo as a patron and returned in 2004 a lighting director. After being hired as a member of the Umphrey’s McGee road crew, he worked Bonnaroo two other times in a technical capacity, and now Wilby will make his official debut as a festival performer. Over the past few years, Wilby has performed across the country under the alias Wyllys, mixing DJ gigs with live electronic shows with his groups Space Disco and the NY Hustler Ensemble. Wilby will put a new, silent spin on his Bonnaroo resume when he performs in the festival’s signature Silent Disco at 3:30 AM Friday night (technically Saturday morning). He’ll play an encore set in the Silent Disco at 5 PM Saturday afternoon. Wyllys walks us through his varied experiences at what he calls the “Super Bowl” of music festivals.
What were your expectations prior to your first trip to Bonnaroo?
Phish was on hiatus, so really we were expecting, for all intents and purposes, The Clifford Ball. However, once we arrived we found the land to be rather inhospitable compared to Upstate NY or Maine. Once Umphrey’s hit the stage, we were blown away by their energy and their effect on such a large crowd. We immediately got over the heat and humidity and proceeded to have one of the best weekends of our lives. I’ll never forget when UM dropped “The Triple Wide.” I literally saw that whole tent become UM fans at the touch of a button. Amazing.
Describe your craziest Bonnaroo experience?
Talk about your loaded questions. What I can say about my craziest Bonnaroo experience is that we still talk about it to this day. There is a song written about it (Lyrics: me Music: Adam King), and I hold it very dear to my heart. It was one of those Saturdays that turn to Sundays in the blink of an eye and I literally shot fire from my mouth at sunrise on Sunday. It was also the creation of “Tanuary,” where Wade ceased to exist and Cocoa Crisp was born. Lol.How does Bonnaroo compare to other festivals you have played?
It doesn’t. It is the Super Bowl of festivals, with the best backstage in all of festivaldom. You don’t ever have to go to gen pop for anything. You can do the whole thing from backstage, which is great for sociopathic artists like myself. Amazing VIP bars, coupled with clothing and footwear vendors throwing swag at you make backstage at Bonnaroo the place to be. Plus you get to see the behind the scenes shenanigans a-la Pearl Jam and Kanye’s crew getting INTO IT at changeover.
What was your quintessential Bonnaroo moment from years past?
Sigur Ros. Hands down a transcendent experience. I went with Jake from Umphrey’s as the rest of UM was waiting in a field for Kanye to come on. Joke was on them big time, as we witnessed the extended Sigur Ros with a mini orchestra deliver a jaw dropping performance. Still the greatest encore I’ve ever seen at Bonnaroo. They took the stage and did a group bow and left. No song. HAHAHAHA. That takes some brass Icelandic balls.
What band would you most like to collaborate with at Bonnaroo this year?
I could front and give you the name of some esoteric indie rock band, but obviously the answer is Phish. I talk to so many indie rock bands and DJs that grew up on Phish but it’s taboo to bring them up. Fuck that noise. I owe all my success to the inspiration they gave me at such a young age and feel that the speed of the disco I play (100-110bpm) could be an amazing springboard for their improv. I’d also love to have Ben Folds rage some sarcastic disco vox.
Do you approach a Silent Disco DJ set different than a normal DJ set?
Absolutely not. a party is a party is a party. I never use a setlist, cause that is asinine for a DJ to do. You roll up to the decks to push your own agenda, 9 times out of 10 you’re falling on your face. You’ve got to read the crowd, but more importantly you have to go see other bands at festivals. See what the crowd is reacting to. Do your market research. Get out and rub elbows with the kids, even for just a few hours. However at Bonnaroo, it’s really hard to leave backstage.