Just as the overall experience at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival results in the type of repeat customers who made this year’s event, June 13-16, another sellout, it also creates a lasting impression on the musicians who perform there.
Count Matt Johnson of the pop punk duo Matt and Kim in that category. He and his musical partner, Kim Schifino, played the fest in 2011.
“That was fantastic. Someone showed me pictures that were taken from a helicopter and I could not believe how far people spread out on all sides. They said that was the biggest crowd at that tent over the festival.”
He recalled his thoughts before going onstage and the enthusiastic reality that occurred.
“We knew it was going to be hot and we play such an active show where everyone is typically dancing. It’s not about looking at your feet. It’s about jumping around. ‘Well, it’s going to be so hot, are people going to be in a daze?’ But it didn’t seem to faze the audience. They still were being completely wild in 100 degree weather.
“We did see some people pass out and have to get handed over the barricade with eyes rolled back. I remember seeing that happening right in front of me. ‘What do I do? I guess we just keep playing.’ Then, a medic splashed some water on their face, gave ‘em water to drink and they started fist pumping immediately after coming back into consciousness.”
This year Matt and Kim take part in a program on Friday where they’ll give live commentary on their popular music videos at the Cinema Tent and then perform what should be another memorable set on Saturday.
They are one of 150 acts performing at the 12th annual festival. The lineup includes headliners Paul McCartney, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Mumford & Sons as well as Wilco, Wu-Tang Clan, Glen Hansard, Jim James, Bjork, the National, David Byrne & St. Vincent, the Lumineers, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, ZZ Top, Billy Idol, R Kelly, Gov’t Mule, Nas, John McLaughlin & the Fourth Dimension, Pretty Lights, Cat Power, Dwight Yoakam, “Weird” Al Yankovic, John Oates, Sam Bush & Del McCoury, Swans, Tame Impala and Divine Fits.
There is also a Comedy Theatre that features sets by Mike Birbiglia, Reggie Watts, Daniel Tosh, Ed Helms and Maria Bamford.
Johnson admits that his group’s songwriting approach of keeping it simple works to their benefit when playing in front of thousands of festivarians who may only know the band’s name.
“We love doing festivals a lot because we’re able to gain people on a first listen. There are some bands that are fantastic but they play such complex, dissonant music that it might be hard to get in on a first listen.
“I take pride in that we’re very simple. We put beat and melody ahead. It’s really important for us that you get into the show on the first time when you come and are listening.”
For those who want to catch many of Bonnaroo’s performances at home, the festival has partnered with Ustream for live webcasts beginning Friday. Visit Bonnaroo.com or Ustream.tv/Bonnaroo. S