Bonnaroo 2009: The Female Festival

***Note From The Editor: Our newest guest contributor, Hannah Palmer, decided to do a little something experimental in her Bonnaroo experience this year and share it with us. If you are one our many Atlanta readers, I highly suggest checking out her blog Slumptown, Ga. Enjoy:

The Experiment:

I’m always whining about the lack of women performers included at big festivals. I attended Bonnaroo in 2007 and 2008 and I think the only chicks I saw onstage were Cat Power and Feist.

As soon as I saw the 2009 Bonnaroo lineup it occured to me: this could be an All Girl Bonnaroo. It seemed possible to curate my own personal Lilith Fair, in part thanks to David Byrne‘s practically “all estrogen” stage. As I planned a 4-day itinerary including as many girlie acts as possible, I wondered… would this be really lame? would it feel one-sided and sexist? what difference do female performers make anyways?

Field Observations:

So apparently there’s no more day parking on Thursday. I found this out the hard way and spent the first few precious hours of Bonnaroo driving around Manchester backroads and waiting in lines while Atlanta darling Janelle Monae took the stage. We got to Centeroo in time to catch Those Darlins (from Murfreesboro, TN) in the nicely upgraded Troo Music Lounge. My spirits lifted at the sight of 3 honky tonk babes taking turns doing punky covers of Wanda Jackson while spitting beer on the crowd. Then the tornado warning rain started pelting us and I missed Chairlift (with Solange Knowles??) while trying to track down one of those free XBox ponchos. So I had a sorry first night– whether that was bad planning or overplanning, I don’t know.

St. Vincent

Friday restored my faith in girls with guitars with back-to-back scary-good performances by Kaki King and St. Vincent. From there, I found myself torn between some killer women performers – sacrificing the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for Santigold, Ani DiFranco for Lucinda Williams. As my friends split to see Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear, I felt somewhat relieved to have my little assignment, otherwise the decisions would’ve been even tougher.

I was later tempted to ditch the experiment as I heard strains of TVOTR‘s “Wolf Like Me” floating over into the Lucinda Williams‘ tent. I snuck over for a few songs and regretted it. The sea of beer-buzzed, cargo short clad, bare chested dudes was such a weird sight compared to the mellow sing-a-long in Lucinda‘s tent.


Saturday, I discovered the Sonic Stage. This is a tiny stage where most artists perform a short acoustic set before they do a signing. I guess I always knew it was there, but never took advantage… I was too busy running off to see the latest boy band. So thanks to this little oasis, I was able to catch intimate, 30 minute blowouts by Chairlift (dreamy Brooklyn pop) and Katzenjammer (wild women of Oslo) before we headed over to the Which stage to see the Heartless Bastards. I love Erika Wennerstrom’s vocals and their songs have a grinding energy, but god that was a boring show.

Next was a boy interlude with Bon Iver. I climbed up on a bag of recyclables and balanced there, blissed out, for the entire show. I cannot stand Jenny Lewis, but I dutifully attended her performance, and was rewarded when Elvis Costello created a little Bonnaroo moment by coming onstage for a duet.

I made it back over to my friends in time to see Of Montreal destroying This Tent, both figuratively and literally. Next to Katzenjammer, the best girlie performance of the day was a surprise– The Decemberists closed out their show with a near-perfect cover of Heart‘s “Crazy on You.” If they let the women do all the vocals, I might actually like that band.

Jessica Lea Mayfield

By Sunday, the all-girl experiment drew us out to the Where Stage, a mud-soaked outpost where Jessica Lea Mayfield played to a devoted crowd. This 19-year old’s drawling, dissonant love songs had me hooked from the beginning. (Incidentally, we discovered a local BBQ vendor whose $5 pulled pork sandwiches were the best meal of the weekend.)

Later I tried to cram in The Lovell Sisters and Erykah Badu and still sneak in some Okkervil River, but Mayfield set the tone for the sour last day of Bonnaroo. By Sunday afternoon, you cannot process any more talent, heat or corndogs. I ended the festival with Neko Case and Triumph, which was overkill.


So here’s some stuff I learned during All Girl Bonnaroo 2009:

It was too easy. I guess I thought it would be a challenge or a drag. I saw over 20 women performers and most of them were astonishing. In fact, I would say that the all-boy band is becoming an endangered species.

Early Days. The schedule was packed with women in early in the day, with very few late night or headliners, so my days were kind of lopsided.

Girlie Crowds. Having spent 4 days with female performers, I have to admit that they draw slightly girlier crowds. This is what makes Bonnaroo so different from seeing shows at the Drunken Unicorn, which is invariably a snakepit. More women rocking onstage mean more women in the audience. And happy, empowered crowds of girls feel inspired to frolic around topless. It’s a win/win.

Order in the chaos. I wasn’t the only one experimenting with a theme this year. In addition to David Byrne‘s lineup, there were several curated stages– The Other Tent showcased African and Tennessee artists and I think there was a metal flavor at That Tent on Sunday. The all-girl theme was a fun, somewhat arbitrary way to filter the 100-something stellar options and see some artists that I might never notice in Atlanta. In the future, I might try other themes. I could see all international bands. or all instrumental music. At this point, I trust Bonnaroo to deliver.

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3 Responses to “Bonnaroo 2009: The Female Festival”
  1. Clint Miller Says: June 18th, 2009 at 10:37 am

    what no Girl Talk? lol. Thanks for the great first article and welcome to ohmpark. It was awesome that we managed to run into you and your crew there.

  2. Hannah Palmer Says: June 22nd, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Just want to point out that Lilith Fair is staging a comeback in 2010. be careful what you wish for…

  3. BH Says: June 23rd, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    Love the Darlins! Seeing them at the Drunken Unicorn on Thursday and Ath Fest on Friday.

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