For any music fan, there are few things as exciting as finally getting to catch a performance from one of your all time favorite bands. Take that energy and multiply it by the thousands of screaming fans all around you, and you have an unforgettable experience in the making.
I’ve attended, played and worked too many rock shows to count, but to this day the week I spent at Bonnaroo in 2008 stands out as one of the top music experiences of my life so far. Love them or hate them, I’ve been a huge Metallica fan for years, so when I heard they were performing at Bonnaroo along with the other amazing artists who graced the lineup that year, making the drive out to the farm in Manchester, Tennessee was a no-brainer. Granted, it’s a bit unfair to compare such a massive festival to your standard venue or arena concert, but in the end it all boils down to two things: the music and the energy.
The magic of that particular evening began with a building sense of anticipation long before the show started. The band was due to release a new album soon– would they debut a new song? Could they still perform with the same level of intensity they had been known for in years past? Fans wonder about these sort of things, and it only adds to the pre-show mystique. They didn’t play a new song until their next festival, but if there is one thing Metallica does well at every show, they do know how to make an entrance.
The sun had set, and as the overhead lights above the main stage dimmed, the seemingly endless sea of fans let out a collective roar of cheers and whistles, as they knew that their moment had finally arrived. As the band’s long-time intro music “The Ecstasy of Gold” began playing over the PA, that roar settled down to a hushed murmur. Random guitar chugs could be heard from backstage, teasing the crowd as they anxiously awaited the sonic onslaught that was surely coming. Just as the intro music built to it’s final crescendo, comedian Chris Rock, who had done his standup routine just beforehand, came onto the stage to declare that we were about to see the “baddest band in the world”… and then all hell broke loose. Metallica came out strong and heavy, exploding into their classic “Creeping Death” which sent the crowd into an immediate frenzy of banging heads and pumping fists.
One of the most important things for any successful band or artist to remember is that the crowd is a part of the show. This is always the case at a Metallica concert. For the next two hours, that normally peaceful Tennessee farmland was a chaotic mass of people singing, chanting and throwing each other around as the band blasted through over twenty years’ worth of metal hits. I personally managed to maintain pretty well until they got to the intro riff of “Master of Puppets,” at which point I left my friend and disappeared into a mosh pit that had formed around us. I lost a disposable camera and a pair of aviators somewhere in that friendly pit, but it was well worth the fun we had.
After all was said and done, the band had left the stage and the crowd began to disperse, I found myself wandering aimlessly around the festival grounds covered in mud and half deaf as if I was surveying the aftermath of a battle. Being that I was at Bonnaroo, I eventually found a booth with some tasty cajun food to restore my energy, and made my way back to the tents. I’ve seen Metallica live again since then and they haven’t disappointed me, but nothing beats that first time. There is a general rule in life that you only get one chance to make a first impression, and this rule holds especially true with performing bands.
Whatever it is that you do, you have to bring it every time, all the time. That’s what separates the ones who make it from the ones who don’t, and that show was everything I expected from a band as huge as Metallica. As far as the rest of the festival, it was an amazing experience that I would love to have again at any time. It’s pretty hard to beat four days being surrounded by music, food and friends in such a creative and inspiring setting as a festival like Bonnaroo. I guess that’s why they say rock and roll will never die.