There’s something truly ethereal about jamming in a muddy field with too many BO-tinged brahs, a warm case of Bud Ice, a sack full of mysterious plants and your days-old, wilting flower crown.
Outdoor entertainment is nothing new — from the gods of antiquity to Medieval peasants, humans have gathered al fresco to be entertained. But it wasn’t until the mid-20th century when outdoor entertainment got a shot in the arm: the ‘50s delivered Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals and the late-’60s gave us ragers like Woodstock in the States and Glastonbury across the pond. Thanks, Boomers!
The ‘90s saw the rise of traveling gigs like Lollapalooza, which celebrated its 30th anniversary earlier this month, and its feminist counterpart Lilith Fair, whose all-female lineup was revolutionary. Now it seems you can’t swing a cat without hitting a music festival, from hipster mecca Coachella (whose Valley itself is much more artistically rich than the wook-wannabes make it seem) to Austin City Limits, which aims to keep Austin weird.
However, one festival rules them all, its roots firmly planted in jam band lore: Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Rolling Stone Magazine called its founding in 2002 one of the “50 Moments That Changed Rock & Roll”. But now this papa is its own rolling stone — cue yuppie infestations, over-the-top glamping, bigshots devouring the headline bookings, and ticket prices that’ll make your ears bleed.
The festival scene is absolutely a scene, but one that continues to evolve. OG improvisers like Phish, Blues Traveler, The String Cheese Incident, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, and Widespread Panic now rule the daytime sets. Glow sticks and pacifiers are the new festival swag. Music is much more electronic than acoustic. But who gives a rip? Let’s get loose.
Pro Tip: keep scrolling to get a whiff of Roo’s most gnarly jam seshes ever.
The Burning Man / These Jammin’ Workouts are Marathons, Not Sprints
Dead Heads in Denim / Levi’s Delivers A Touch of Grey
All You Can Eat Phish / Swim in an Unforgettable 22-Show [Live]stream
Summer of Soul / This Untelevised Harlem Festival Bested Woodstock ‘69
The Cherry on Top / A Sweet Tale of Jerry Garcia’s Legacy
Back in the USSR / That Time Wozniak Beamed His Festival to the Soviets
A Dave Matthews Band Incident / Dancin’ So Hard, it Hurts
B-and-Bee / Hivelike Homes for Festival Homies
This Is Pop / Episode 6 is a Festival of Festivals
Fanny Packs In the Clear / Can’t Hide Mushrooms in this Style Icon
Our pals behind moviewise (another totally awesome film-loving blog) brought the heat of the night with this curated watchlist. Dig deep into this collection, find yourself, find the bigger meaning in life, you got this.
Phish Goes Hard / Watch Their Complete 3+ Hour Set at Bonnaroo 2019
In 1991 jam band legends Phish invited fans to a 255-acre horse farm in Maine dubbed Amy’s Farm. Several thousand fans showed up. It’s said that these massive outdoor shows eventually led to the hunger for something like Bonnaroo. Phish has since headlined Bonnaroo three times, including playing a 3+ hour set in 2019.
Dead Heads Have Friends / Watch Phil Lesh and Friends at Bonnaroo 2006
The very first Phil Lesh and Friends show was on September 24, 1994 at the Berkeley Community Theatre, and Jerry Garcia even played with the band. After his death it would not reform until 1998, and since then the line-up has shifted so much it needs its own Wikipedia. Their 2006 set at Bonnaroo is a must watch for jam band fans.
We’re Giving You The Run-Around / Watch Blues Traveler play Bonnaroo 2010
The minute you hear the harmonica riff that opens “Round-Around” (AKA Blues Traveler’s biggest hit to date) you are immediately transported back to 1994. That is just science. This hard-working jam band has played Bonnaroo many times and often ends their set with lead singer John Popper throwing his harmonica into the crowd.
Widespread Panic Sells Out / Live at Red Rocks June 25, 2016
Formed in Athens, Georgia, in 1986, Widespread Panic has been pounding the pavement to critical acclaim for their energetic live shows ever since. In fact, they hold the record for number of sold-out performances at Red Rocks Amphitheater at 60 shows.
The Boss Goes Phishing / Live at Bonnaroo 2009
Because you really cannot get enough Phish, you absolutely owe it to yourself to watch their set with co-headliner of Bonnaroo in 2009, Bruce Springsteen himself. Talk about epic.