In a world where Hurricane Ida and other horrific storms hadn’t battered America over the past couple of weeks, Bonnaroo would be kicking off tonight with an evening of music by the Grand Ole Opry and special guests. Foo Fighters and Megan Thee Stallion were booked for tomorrow, with Lizzo, Tame Impala, Lana Del Rey, and several others playing on Saturday and Sunday.
In our world, the festival was called off on Tuesday. “We have done everything in our power to try to keep the show moving forward,” organizers said in a statement, “but Mother Nature has dealt us a tremendous amount of rain over the past 24 hours, and we have run out of options to try to make the event happen safely and in a way that lives up to the Bonnaroo experience.”
Bonnaroo has had some very wet years in the past, most notably in 2004 when downpours lasted through much of the weekend, creating oceans of mud. Bob Dylan was one of the headliners that year and he played a thrilling set that skipped nearly all of his big hits in favor of covers like “You Win Again” by Hank Williams, “Sing Me Back Home” by Merle Haggard, the traditional folk song “Samson and Delilah,” and “Pancho and Lefty” by Townes Van Zandt.
This is before the camera-phone era and there’s no good video of his set, but pristine bootlegs emerged. Here’s a recording of “Poncho and Lefty.” He’s only played the song six times, and this was the first once since 1991. He hasn’t touched it since.
Dylan hasn’t played a public event since December 2019. There’s no official word about upcoming dates, but there’s compelling evidence that he’s playing the Buddy Holly Hall in Lubbock, Texas, on October 14th. If that’s a legitimate gig, it’s likely several more will follow.
In the meantime, Bonnaroo is dealing with the devastating blow of a last-minute cancellation the year after the pandemic forced them to call off the 2020 edition. Some festivals might not be able to bounce back from such bad luck, but the Bonnaroo brand is strong and they’ll surely be back next year. Hopefully they’ll book Dylan again. He hasn’t played there since that rainy night in 2004 and is way overdue for a return appearance.