Glastonbury UK V Bonnaroo USA


As Glastonbury festival takes a well-earned break (every four years it puts its feet up dontchyaknow) festival fiends like myself have been wondering how and where to get an adequate festie fix.

I went to my first Glastonbury before I could spell my own name and I’m yet to find anything to rival the luxurious lunacy and universal eccentricity of the UK’s biggest and most beloved festival. This year’s break was a good excuse to look further afield in search for a contender and my hunt landed me with a visit to Bonnaroo festival in the US of A.

Bonnaroo is in it’s 11th year and is growing in size and success with each birthday.

Every year, 80,000 people make a farm in Manchester, Tennessee their home for one long hot weekend. Like all good and grubby field-based gatherings, Bonnaroo embraces the traditionally hippy elements of festivals – there’s a brick thick slaver of arts, music, rave ups and come downs as well as, in their own words, ‘Hyperbolic verbiage, Bonnaroovian dancing and Holy Cow(!) moments.’ And it’s not just for ravers. Restorative yoga, drum making and a cinema tent, hosting Q&As, this year with the likes of Alice Cooper and Kirsten Bell, are all available for your enjoyment. There’s even a giant fountain to play in.

But how did the experience compare to our beloved Glasto?

The line up

Bonnaroo is a strong contender for Glastonbury as its eclectic group of acts doesn’t skew too far towards a Now 84 CD nor a death metal convention. The less well-informed may presume that the location of the south lends this festival to Elvis imposters or country and western music but thankfully, not one Suspicious Minds song was heard.

Any gig with Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Radiohead, Phish and the remaining Beachboys as headline acts of 2012 is definitely playing some serious ball.

Michael K

Of course the traditional dollop of guitar-wielding rockers showered the four day schedule and satisfied the indie fiends. Foster The People, Fun., the Two Door Cinema Club and Battles top just some of the exhaustive list.

The ‘Dirty South’ is home to some of the USA’s hip-hop heavyweights including Ludacris and Yelawolf who both ripped apart their stage sets with growling bass and erratic elegance. The Roots, Das Racist, Kendrick Lemar and Black Star, Danny Brown and Childish Gambino were just some of the acts to weigh down the robust roll call for the hip hop sect.

Aside from Radiohead and Ben Howard, Bonnaroo didn’t forget us Brits. East London producer SBTRKT sent the ‘This Tent’ trembling with their deep bassy dub-step inspired beats, fast rising young bohemian blues singer Michael Kinwanuka swayed the swelling afternoon crowds, and The Kooks, dodgy American accents aside, provided an apt soundtrack to a blazing sunny Saturday. Impressive, but does it beat our UK contender?


As much as anyone loves Beyonce and Blur, who headlined Glasto 2011, Radiohead and Red Hot Chilli Peppers are pretty big names to playout on. But, it’s not just the main stage that this battle should be based on.

Where Bonnaroo excels in hosting record breaking acts, it’s the undercurrent of new music, experimental sounds, DJs and producers that keep the raves warm throughout the damp nights of Glasto. Anything and everything goes – and all night too, it’s the New York of festivals: It never sleeps.

To strengthen the argument, Radiohead, who named as the best Glasto perfomance ever beating the mighty Jay-Z and the favourable Sir Paul Mcartney, seized the Somerset stage in 1997 meaning we got there first. So there. Besides, any festival that can put Rolf Harris and Wu Tang Clan on in the same vicinity is certainly doing something right.

Score: Bonnaroo: 0 Glasto: 1

The cleanliness

This was spooky. Bonnaroo, at times, looked no less untidy than a teenager’s bedroom. In comparison, Glasto’s mess looks like an apocalypse in a cat litter tray. Once, I saw a discarded cup but before I had the chance to go ‘ah ha! Some rubbish!’ a volunteer needled through the crowd and swooped it up. Just like that.

Even the loos were always stocked with a bog roll so no improvisations were needed with stray napkins or rizla sheets. Even showers with complimentary shampoo and conditioner (thanks to Fructis’s clever marketing skills) were provided.

Bonnaroo wins, clean and hygienic hands down.

Score: Bonnaroo: 1 Glasto: 1

The crowd


The crowd’s personality shifted dramatically as the weekdays batoned to the weekend. The population of ‘Bonnaroovians’ exploded come Saturday morning. Thursday and Friday was a chilled mix of people who wouldn’t look lost in a garden centre yet Saturday was like waking up In Hoxton – talent was higher, age was lower but the eclectic mix was still prominent for everyone to play nicely together.

Unlike Glasto, there were no kids. I counted one but that might have been the heat… Glastonbury, however, does have the advantage of being completely universal. A teetotal 80 year old wheeling a glowstick-clad wheelchair wouldn’t feel out of place. For that reason – Glastonbury wins.

Score: Bonnaroo: 1 Glasto: 2

The foodbonnaroo-pizza

You would think, due to Glastonbury’s holistic roots, the cuisine would be an abundance of tofu and raisin flapjacks, but sadly there’s too many grubby burger vans and grave lack of falafel. Sure the aftermath of a night on the muddy tiles craves grease butties, but it’s a lazy choice and if there’s one thing a festival-goer is not, and that’s lazy.

Sure you can get some amazing grub at – just not as frequently as the places that resemble a grease-splattered chippie.

Bonnaroo prided themselves on quality food housed in the ‘Food Truck Oasis.’ Fresh pizza and smoky BBQ grills fuelled the fatigued ravers from sunup to sundown. Being a tourist probably helped as the novelty of a corn dog, the exotic enjoyment of proper fish tacos and the fun, filling and fresh ‘pizza roulette’ wooed my palate.

Score: Bonnaroo: 2 Glasto: 2

The drink (I’m a Brit. So this is important)

Within ‘Centerroo’ (the main park) the only alcohol you can guzzle is beer. You’re allowed to bring your own booze (sorry, liquor) but you need to keep it to tent-side tipple as you’re not allowed to bring it into the main grounds. Due to the tanning temperatures of Tennessee, it’s probably a good idea to stick to the low alcohol percentages of pints but what if you don’t like beer? With Glasto’s drink rules being less prohibition-esque, it’s a point to the UK.

Score: Bonnaroo: 2 Glasto: 3

We have a winner!

Overall score: Glasto: 3 Bonnaroo: 2

Despite Bonnaroo’s loss, the festival was simply brilliant. It provided all the traditional antics of the festies we know and love – a mega line-up, dancing until dusk and the incomprehensible randomness that comes when thousands of adults yank themselves from the real world and let loose in a modern-day playground, plus as an added bonus there was actual sun, imagine!

The Bonnaroo fix was more than an adequate substitute for the void left by Glasto’s absence and next time it decides to put its feet up, another trip to Tennessee may well be in order.

More details on Bonnaroo music and arts festival

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