With new amenities, the rock festival settles into comfy middle age—along with many of its longtime fans.
As the reunited Beach Boys took the main stage at Bonnaroo, in Manchester, Tennessee this past weekend, the crowd swelled to several tens of thousands strong. And while most people, myself included, weren't even a thought when the band first sang "Surfer Girl," there were plenty in the mix who probably made out to that song when it was released in 1963. Regardless of age, crowd members seemed to be digging the set, from the 20-something in neon-rimmed shades who noodle danced to Mike Love's croon, to my father-in-law, a 60-something Bonnaroo newbie, who gave a happy nod of recognition as the band launched into a set of automotive classics.
It was a scene that encapsulates Bonnaroo's present-day, big-tent sensibility. This was my fourth visit to the festival over its 11-year run; the first was in 2004 when acts jam-band icons like Dave Matthews Band, The (formerly Grateful) Dead, and Trey Anastasio performed. But this year, with a lineup ranging from the Beach Boys, to Radiohead, Phish, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and a host of new amenities on hand, it was clear that, as many others have reported, the producers of the festival were marketing toward a wider—and older—audience. While youth worshippers may scoff at the event's ever-more-mainstream lineup and ever-posher amenities, the festival's transformation over the years has been for the better: Bonnaroo has grown up along with the fans who initially supported it.