MANCHESTER, Tenn. - Playing at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival doesn't guarantee success for a band, but some of the musicians playing this weekend say it has become a major milestone.
Andy Hall with The Infamous Stringdusters, Michael Jenkins with the Dirty Guv'nahs and Arleigh Kincheloe of Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, all pointed to similar factors in private interviews with the Times Free Press. In fact, they all used the same word to describe both the festival and what it means to be here: huge.
"We do a lot of festivals," said Hall, "and they are generally smaller than this. The size and scope make this unique in the true sense of the word. The exposure you get and the cross-pollination of musical acts and fans is amazing."
Jenkins echoed those sentiments.
"It's just a different vibe. I love Bonnaroo," he said.
He said the Guv'nahs played Bonnaroo in 2009 on the smaller Troo Music Lounge stage to about 200 people.
"It was an out-of-body experience just to be here," he said. "It was the moment when we left we said, 'We can do this. I don't want to do anything else but make a living playing music.'"
On Thursday, the band kicked off the live music with a 12:15 p.m. show on the much larger This Tent stage.
"That was to about 10,000 people all singing along. I'm going to from now on call that my all-time favorite moment."
This year, Kincheloe and her band, which includes her brother Jackson and cousin Bram, are playing three shows on the smaller Cafe Where stage. It's the Brooklyn-based band's first Bonnaroo gig.
"I don't know a lot about it, but in festival-land everyone says you have to play Bonnaroo. It seems to have the most clout," she said.
"We were not even sure we would make the cut and when we did, it was like 'howdy-doody,' we made it, and now we are doing three shows."
Kincheloe said the exposure to new fans is important, but she also likes meeting other musicians. Before the interview, she was talking to the guys in The Punch Brothers, who had just finished a short show for special guests.
"That was so amazing to see and talk to them," she said.
"We are the dorks," she said. "We are new at this and being here doesn't guarantee anything, but we can see that we are on the path to being one of the cool kids. We are here and going to play. And not in the parking lot."