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My First ‘Roo: Artists Reflect On Their Past Bonnaroo Experiences (St. Paul & Broken Bones, Mastodon, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, White Denim)

by Mike Greenhaus on June 14, 2014

A selection of this year’s artists reflect on their past trips to The Farm as fans, performers and the muddy spaces in between


St. Paul & The Broken Bones’ Paul Janeway

Bonnaroo Classes: ‘05,‘07, ‘09,‘10

In certain ways, St. Paul & The Broken Bones’ Paul Janeway sees Bonnaroo as an important stop on both his musical and his spiritual quests. Janeway grew up in the small town of Chelsea, Ala., raised on gospel music in a Pentecostal-leaning local church. For much of his life, he was banned fromlisting to non-religious music in his devout home, and his goal was to be a preacher until he was around 18 years old. After discovering a world of music outside the church, Janeway made the pilgrimage to Bonnaroo in 2005 and remained a regular at the festival for many years. In 2010, he even scored a pass to the fest by working security. Janeway’s Bonnaroo experiences not only introduced him to an entirely new scope of music, but also helped inform the modern soul-and-gospel blend embedded into The Broken Bones’ breakthrough full-length debut, Half the City. Produced by another Bonnaroo breakout artist, Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes, and recorded and mixed in the storied R&B Mecca of Muscle Shoals, Ala., Half The City catapulted St. Paul & The Broken Bones from aspiring musicians to international attractions before Janeway even left the country. The album and the band’s spirited live show also helped lead the band back to Bonnaroo, and St. Paul & The Broken Bones will play their first-ever Bonnaroo set in The Other Tent at 12:30pm today. Since Janeway’s original performance aspirations were to play Bonnaroo and The Ryman, two bucket-list items he recently checked off, he jokes that it is finally time for him to figure out some new goals.

What were your expectations of Bonnaroo before your first trip to the festival?

I had never been to a music festival until Bonnaroo. I thought it would be full of hippies and debauchery everywhere. Actually, everyone was just really cool and the music blared all night long. This is my first year ever performing. As a fan I came in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009. I also worked security in 2010. [I wish] my flux capacitor wasn’t broken so I could talk more about my own performance.

Describe your craziest Bonnaroo experience.

When I was working security in 2010 I got off just in time to see Stevie Wonder and Jay-Z. Stevie played and next up was Jay-Z. I start moving my way closer to the stage. I get a good spot and as I am settling in my spot I feel warm liquid running down the back of my shirt. I turn around and a tall fella is staring at me with a blank stare and his hands holding something below his waist. I am horrified because this tall ‘fella just urinated on me. He ran off and I lost him in the crowd. I don’t know what I would have done had I caught him.

How does Bonnaroo compare to other festivals you have played?

Well, Bonnaroo is my dream gig. So there is not another festival as close to my heart as Bonnaroo is. Festivals are a ton of fun, but Bonnaroo is just so special and unique.

What was your quintessential Bonnaroo moment from years past?

In 2009, I waited all day in line to get in the pit for Bruce Springsteen. It was hot all day but the people I met in line were just as excited as I was to see The Boss. I got front row for Springsteen, and I will never forget it. That 2009 ticket was the best use of my unemployment benefits I could ever think of.

What band would you most like to collaborate with at Bonnaroo this year?

This year would be Janelle Monáe or Kanye West. Both of those folks are incredible performers. If I had a choice of just anyone ever it would be Prince.

Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher

Bonnaroo Class: ‘08

Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher was admittedly a little surprised when his band was asked to play Bonnaroo in 2008 but the progressive metal titans quickly won over the festival’s always open-eared audience. One of the most internationally recognized metal bands to play The Farm during the past 13 years, Mastodon used their 2008 That Tent slot to preview three songs off their forthcoming album Crack The Skye. The songs went viral and hyped the album long before its release. (Mastodon shied away from playing live for over six months after the gig to keep their songs fresh for the album’s release.)

Along with so-called Dark Side of the ‘Roo appearances by TOOL, Metallica and GWAR, Mastodon’s set remains one of the most memorable heavy performances in the festival’s history. As they gear up for their first Bonnaroo set in six years, Mastodon is also preparing to release Once More ‘Round the Sun, their sixth studio album, on June 24. While it remains to be seen if they will unveil another batch of new tunes during their coveted late-night set in This Tent at 11:30pm tonight, they will likely at least offer up their current single “High Road.” And if Kelliher has it his way, he may even rub elbows with Oklahoma’s most prominent freaks.

What were your expectations of Bonnaroo before your first trip to the festival?

I always thought it was more of a hippie festival, so I didn’t have many expectations. I never thought we would be asked to play.

What do you remember most about your own performance?

We played songs off of Crack The Skye that had not come out yet and the songs leaked all over the internet on [not good] flipfone quality audio.

Describe your craziest Bonnaroo experience.

Getting to the parking lot! No one that worked there knew where to direct us, we kept turning around and around for two hours trying to park.

How does Bonnaroo compare to other festivals you have played?

Pretty good, probably one of the closest to a European fest that the USA has to offer.

What band would you most like to collaborate with at Bonnaroo this year?

The Flaming lips.

Big Sam’s Funky Nation’s Big Sam Williams

Bonnaroo Classes: ‘02, ‘06, ‘08, ‘10

New Orleans trombonist Big Sam has been a steady Bonnaroo presence since the festival’s beginning, but that doesn’t mean he’s played the same show every year or even returned with the same band. In 2002, at the very first Bonnaroo, Big Sam helped open the festival’s first day as a member of the legendary New Orleans crew Dirty Dozen Brass Band. (The Big Wu officially opened the festival around the same time.) A few years later, Williams returned to Manchester, Tenn. for a performance as part of Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint’s River in Reverse Tour featuring members of Costello’s The Impostors and The Crescent City Horns. Launched shortly after the devastating Hurricane Katrina, the tour and accompanying album helped raise awareness for The Big Easy in the city’s time of need. Big Sam returned with his own band Funky Nation in 2008 for a show on one of that year’s specialty stages, the New Orleans-themed Somethin’ Else, and Big Sam’s Funky Nation ascended to the main What Stage for an early afternoon set in 2010. Not content with that marquee performance, Williams performed a record number of shows at the festival that year, ranging from a Sonic Stage bonus set to sit ins with Robert Randolph andOzomatli, and an impromptu gig while moving across Centeroo on a golf cart. Big Sam’s Funky Nation will return to the What Stage for a 1:45pm set tomorrow afternoon in support of their new, uber-funky album Evolution.

What were your expectations of Bonnaroo before your first trip to the festival?

I actually played the very first year with The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the last time I played was about four years ago. I didn’t really know what to expect before my first year. I just knew it was going to be hot, both the weather and the acts! I saw the lineup and couldn’t believe it! I was about 20 or 21 at the time and couldn’t wait to rage the festival with all of the bands performing.

What do you remember most about your own performance?

Once I had the opportunity to perform with my own group, I remember saying to myself, “You better kill it if you wanna come back!” It was about 90 degrees and people were passing out from dancing so hard in that heat! We have a part of our show when we get low, then lay flat on the ground. I remember being beaucoup sweaty that you could see straight through my shirt, then we got on the floor and I burnt the hell out of my back! It was cool though! The show must go on! I think I poured water over my head afterward.

Describe your craziest Bonnaroo experience.

Man, my craziest moment at Bonnaroo is when I actually stayed the entire weekend! We raged so hard! No one went to sleep at all! Not even a nap—three days straight! I jumped up and played with a lot of cats that year and even got to see Pearl Jam’s entire set. SICK!

How does Bonnaroo compare to other festivals you have played?

I love Bonnaroo! Every moment of it! Each festival has their own thing. My favorite thing about Bonnaroo is the artist compound. We all have our trailers on the day that we're performing, but everyone is in the artist area at one point or another. You get to meet and connect with other cats who you probably wouldn't have had the chance of meeting. It’s cool when you can run into the likes of M.I.A and Steve Martin in the same place.

What was your quintessential Bonnaroo moment from years past?

I would say the year that I didn’t sleep during Bonnaroo. I performed with my group, played both with Ozomatli and Robert Randolph, and even did a set at the Sonic Stage. I checked out a lot of great bands, killed the dance floor at the Silent Disco and more! It was Desitively Bonnaroo!

What band would you most like to collaborate with this year?

This year... I would love to hook-up with Derek Trucks for the Super Jam! The lineup for that group is off da’ chain! Also, for some extra fun, I would wanna hookup with Craig Robinson & The Nasty Delicious. I heard he was at my Jazz Fest set in Nola. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him yet unfortunately. I have to leave right after my set to perform at Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA. I wish that I could rage the entire weekend this year and teleport to my other shows, but I can’t—duty calls.

White Denim’s Steve Terebecki

Bonnaroo Class: ’12


Austin rockers White Denim had the Bonnaroo spirit long before they stepped on The Other Tent in 2012. A unique blend of prog-rock guitar licks, rootsy Southern-rock charm, jamband energy, jazzy psychedelic segues, garage rock bite and soulful hipster swagger, the quartet have always been a melting pot of Bonnaroo’s trademark styles. Five years on the road after officially coming today, the group finally had a chance to win over the Bonnaroo themselves when they made their Farm debut in The Other Tent during a Thursday night showcase spot. The timing was perfect: A year earlier, White Denim issued their breakthrough album D, the first album to feature second guitarist Austin Jenkins and an important stepping stone into the world of big-name live gigs.

The album’s support tour led White Denim to marquee clubs and festival stages around the country and cemented their reputation as one of the few bands with equal footing on either side of the hippie/hipster divide. White Denim brought the spirit of their live show back into the studio when it came time to record their next album, Corsicana Lemonade, which was recorded outside Austin and Chicago in 2013 under the guidance of Bonnaroo icon Jeff Tweedy. The group ran through a number of Corsicana Lemonade tracks and other choice tunes when they performed on That Tent at 12am this morning.

What were your expectations of Bonnaroo before your first trip to the festival?

I sorta expected it to be like Super Mario World but with live music.

What do you remember most about your own performance?

I believe McLovin’ was crowd surfing during one of our ballads. One of the most surreal things I’ve ever seen.

Describe your craziest Bonnaroo experience.

I ran into a group of gypsies that were really into chicken fighting (wrestling atop each others shoulders not actual chickens). I agreed to get involved and I was up against a girl with purple cornrows and she kept hissing at me and I was afraid I was going to get something from her fingernails so I purposefully fell off.

How does Bonnaroo compare to other festivals you have played?

Overall, it is the most rock-and-roll festival I think we’ve played.

What was your quintessential Bonnaroo moment from years past?

Unfortunately, I’ve only been in 2012 but I think passing out naked in a Ford Flex embodies my Bonnaroo experience. I only hope I can get close to that standard this year.

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