Bonnaroo vs. Glyndebourne

Entrance into Bonnaroo, via, photo credit: Adam Macchia

Entrance into Bonnaroo, via, photo credit: Adam Macchia

Bonnaroo and Glyndebourne. Both are music festivals. Both take place in the countryside on farms. Both of them have nothing else in common. And, I believe I am the only person to have gone to both1. If you are unfamiliar with either one of these festivals, let me tell you a little bit about them. Bonnaroo2 is a four day popular music festival nestled in rural Tennessee on a 700 acre farm, where 80,000 people from around the world gather to dance, get wasted, hookup, get a tan, and listen to some of their favorite musicians. Glyndebourne is a four month long opera festival that presents six productions every year in a house that seats 1,200 people that have traveled from all over the world to attend, drink champagne, and wear fancy clothes. It is in the beautiful countryside of Lewes, UK.

Bonnaroo's "The Farm" via, photo credit: Adam Macchia

Bonnaroo’s “The Farm” via, photo credit: Adam Macchia

Both of these festivals are expensive (Bonnaroo ticket runs around 320 dollars and a box seat for Glyndebourne will cost around 116 pounds). There is a dress code at both that if you don’t follow you will be looked at with a sneer and possible eye roll. Both of these festivals pride themselves on being eco-friendly. Glyndebourne even has a wind turbine to prove its commitment to the clean energy. Bonnaroo has recycling bins everywhere you can stumble to.
     Those are the obvious similarities between the two festivals. The similarities end there. During my time at Bonnaroo I met a couple that were counting the number of girls who were only wearing nipple tape and bikini bottoms. On day two of the festival, this couple had already counted seven women who covered their nipples solely in electrical tape4. On my third day at Bonnaroo I met a guy who was “super disappointed about the Skrillex concert” because his Molly didn’t work. Glyndebourne probably has never had audience goers wear electrical tape or had people complain that the second half of Don Giovanni really was lame on account of their E not taking effect3.
Even though they both take place on a farm, Bonnaroo has a strict no pets or animals rule5. Glyndebourne has sheep6! The sheep graze the fields as if they are in a staged postcard and it is charming. Dress

The grounds at Glyndebourne

The grounds at Glyndebourne

codes are apparent at both but only explicit at one. From the Glyndebourne website, “The tradition of wearing evening dress during the Glyndebourne Festival originated with founder John Christie, who felt that it was one of the ways the audience could show its respect for the performers. Formal evening dress is customary for the summer Festival.” Bonnaroo, though it does not advertise a dress code, most certainly has one, which I did not, to my own embarrassment at times, follow. Everyone is expected to wear as little clothing as possible. If you have ever spent three days in Tennessee during June, you will realize that wearing little clothing is more of a defense than an excuse to flaunt your body7 or try out nudism.

Formal Dress Ideas via

Formal Dress Ideas via

      I saw over 17 shows during my time at Bonnaroo. All the musicians showed up on time, played their set up till their designated hour and a half was up and then left. I spent six hours or so at Glyndebourne and saw only one production, Don Giovanni9. Right before the performance was to begin, a woman stepped out on stage to inform the audience that the singer performing the character Leporello was ill and then read from her list the new arrangement of singers. The singer who usually was playing Masetto was now playing Leporello and then someone else (I forget who he played originally) was now playing Masetto. There were gasps and then loud chatter from the audience. So much so that I could not hear the first two measures of music from the orchestra. Even though one of the leads was ill, the show went on. The understudies were pulled. Nothing was canceled, and I doubt very many people were furious that the cast had been rearranged. As far as I know no one demanded that they receive a refund or complained that they had paid the price of a ticket to see the performers that were on the billing. ( I was disappointed, as I had wanted to see the original Leporello! C’est la vie.)
     When I was watching Vampire Weekend at Bonnaroo, my friend was telling me that she was hoping they performed “Holiday” as that was her favorite song. They did. If I remember correctly is was one of their closing songs for their set. But, what if Ezra Koenig was ill and was unable to sing or play guitar? The show would most assuredly be canceled. Ezra Koenig has no understudy to take his place. No chorus member will be pulled from the back to sing “A Punk” or “Oxford Comma”. Ezra Koenig is the only person who can sing Vampire Weekend songs. He is it.
     Rock music has a very real and infinite shelf life. Thus, recordings are paramount to Rock Music. Once the band breaks up or one of the members dies, their music can only be experienced via recordings. Vampire Weekend’s music will only exist as long as they can tour and produce recordings that will exist after they can no longer perform their own music. They do not write music so that one day other people will perform it.
I went to a Walk the Moon concert a few years ago, and they interrupted their set of music to perform David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”. I was so excited to hear my favorite Bowie song, I immediately started dancing and pushing the people around away so that I might have more room for my dance moves, which are few and take up a great deal of space. I wasn’t dancing because I just love Walk the Moon’s version of “Let’s Dance”. No. I was dancing to the reductive performance because it reminded me of David Bowie, whom I love.  Bowie has such a personality that is so recognizable that his songs cannot be sustained outside his persona. Rock music is contained by the personality and performers of the music10.
Vampire Weekend performing at Bonnaroo. Photo Credit: Adam Macchia

Vampire Weekend performing at Bonnaroo. Photo Credit: Adam Macchia

I wonder if this is the ultimate flaw of rock music. The music created by the performers, once made famous and recognizable can never transcend the person who made it famous.

      December 2013, “Carmina Catulli” was recorded by Edwin Crossley-Mercer and Jason Paul Peterson. This was the first recording of the song cycle and it was followed by two performances, one a small private performance, and the other at Carnegie Hall. The performance Crossley-Mercer and Peterson give on the CD is not the performance that was given at Carnegie Hall. At Carnegie Hall, their tempi, inflection, and interpretation was wildly different from what I can listen to any time on my CD player. This isn’t because they decided that what they did on the recording is less than. Aboslutely not. Classical music coupled with live performing allows for experimentation.
       During a comedy routine, David Spade talked about going to a Lynyrd Skyrnyd concert and yelling at the band to, “make it sound like it does on the album, no tricks!” Rock lovers want their concerts to be heightened listening experiences with light shows, confetti, etc, but also making sure that the music is the same as what they know from listening to the music on their iPods. Rock music, once it is written and produced, is not allowed to change. Once a song is famous, the performers of it can’t decide ‘Well maybe we should make this into a polka? Or, perhaps, this is better suited with a much slower tempo.” Nope. Rock music doesn’t work that way. Rock musicians must always work within the confines of what their audience is used to11.

Glyndebourne Opera House via

Glyndebourne Opera House via

      Whenever Crossley-Mercer and Peterson perform the “Carmina Catulli” again, it will be a new performance of the piece. And, whenever it is recorded again by different performers, it will be a new piece. This is why classical music allows for Glenn Gould to have two recordings of the “Goldberg Variations” but not for the Rolling Stones to rerecord “Beggars Banquet”.
      Mozart died over 200 years ago but his “Don Giovanni” continues to have new stagings every year across the globe. And, whilst I was sad that I could not see original cast of “Don Giovanni”, it is a testament that classical music doesn’t shut down when a performer is sick. The music is always greater than the performer, the orchestra, and even the composer. “Hey Jude” will always be a Paul McCarntey song. It is a great song. I think it is even beautiful. So sad and so sweet. But, I don’t want to hear other people sing it. Leporello can and will be sung by many different baritones on the same night, and yet it doesn’t cheapen the music. It only illuminates the fact that classical music is meant for as many people who are willing and able to participate in the music to do so, and they won’t be confined by the fact that others have sung the role before them and will do so after them.
1. Maybe I am not the only person who went to both but, I have a strong feeling that I am. If you went to both, let me know in the comments section.
2. You can read my initial review about Bonnaroo here.
4. It is really hard not to look at these women out of sheer horror. I kept wondering about the moment that they take off the electrical tape. THE PAIN! That’s horror I am talking about.
4. But I could be very wrong!
5. I watched as an RV pulled up into the campgrounds at Bonnaroo and was asked to move to the side. A group of security guards and other Bonnarro workers rushed over when they saw the Bonnaroovians bring out their dogs. Dogs are verboten. It was around 11 at night in Manchester. There is no open dog clinic. The lonely hotel is fully booked. All the Bonnaroo workers had their heads hung so low in total irritation at these festival goers and in sadness because the dogs trotted from person to person licking their knees. I don’t know what happened to the dogs are those Bonnaroovians.
6. I love sheep!
7. It’s too hot to flaunt your body. Indeed, I saw some people who were surely celebrating their attractiness and they quickly were taken down by heat stroke and dehydration8.
8. Some chemicals could also be involved as to why they passed out but I never investigated.
9. This is where I inform you that I am not writing a review of the Don Giovanni production. Here are some reviews of the production. They are not my opinion nor am I endorsing their reviews. They are here for your own curiosity. Here, Here, and Here.
10. Yes there are cover bands who make a living and sometimes even a following by playing other famous people’s music but, I doubt anyone goes to a cover band concert because the singer is so amazing. Cover bands are either anchored in nostalgia or humor.
11. These are troubles famous rock musicians have. If you are unknown, then you can experiment with your songs daily.

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One Response to Bonnaroo vs. Glyndebourne

  1. Jonny Gowow September 2, 2014 at 6:31 am #

    Lovely. This is right on point, but I would add that the REASON rock music is so heavily dependent upon its performers is that it is first and foremost a RECORDED artform. It borrows heavily from musical theatre in order to put itself up to live audiences, but the original and preferred medium for experiencing rock music is through the studio recording. Classical music – and I would say that this is an essential characteristic for that ambiguous and often misused term – prides itself in its ability to transcend time and place by being capable of being performed anywhere and anytime – that is, if the budget is there.

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