Back in 2002, on a farmland in Manchester, Tenn., a new American tradition was born. In the years that followed, thousands and thousands would flock to it, hundreds would perform at it, the press would fawn over it. Almost everyone would wonder, what the hell does the name mean?
This new American tradition is the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Originally meant to showcase mostly jam bands and folk acts, Bonnaroo has grown and considerably expanded its war chest. The festival now delivers fans massively diverse lineups consisting of practically every musical genre there is, falling just short at Pirate Metal. Paul McCartney, Kanye West, Jay Z, The Strokes, Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam have all played the festival. My Morning Jacket has played Bonnaroo so many times (seven, including this year) that they might as well look to buy property on the festival grounds. Lucky for them, they would know the owners. The festival’s organizers, Superfly Productions, bought a substantial chunk of the land where the festival takes place in 2007, snagging all of the performance areas and a good majority of the camping and parking locations. A main stage was permanently installed in 2010.
Bonnaroo has seen attendance rise every year, from roughly 70,000 people in 2002 to more than 90,000 in 2014. This year’s festival features Billy Joel, Kendrick Lamar, Mumford and Sons, Florence + The Machine, Alabama Shakes, Deadmau5, Spoon, Hozier, and many more. A lot of this year’s big guns are making return appearances to Manchester, having started out at one of the tent stages and now taking on the main stage.
But what does the word Bonnaroo actually mean?
“Bonnaroo” was a word made famous by New Orleans’ singer, Dr. John, when he released his album Desitively Bonnaroo in 1974. It’s Ninth Ward slang for “a really good time.”
The festival’s 14th incarnation kicks off this weekend, and with that in mind, we look back at the festival’s history and some of its best moments.