The Brief History of Bonnaroo s Crown Jewel: The Super Jam


Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic 

 In the year 2002, in a quiet, seemingly inconspicuous field in Manchester, Tennessee, a peculiar and extraordinary tradition was born – one that would reverberate through the annals of music history. This field, fondly christened ‘The Farm’, would host the birth of a phenomenon that embodied the spirit of spontaneous collaboration and anarchy of genre. They called it the SuperJam. As I take you on this wild trip down memory lane, let’s first understand what this SuperJam is all about. It’s not your typical music gig or a premeditated, choreographed concert. No, my friends. The SuperJam is a dizzying, unpredictable whirlwind of music, a melting pot of genre, style, and talent that refuses to be contained or defined.

Born of a simple yet audacious idea from Pete Shapiro, Kerry Black, Jonathan Mayers, and Rick Farman this unique collaborative set was intended to be a space for the meeting of musical minds, a platform for experimentation, and a love letter to the pure, unadulterated joy of music. What if, they pondered, you could gather a motley crew of musicians – virtuosos, prodigies, and living legends – and let them jam, let them weave their disparate musical threads into a singular, mesmerizing tapestry of sound?

And thus, on June 23, 2002, the final day of the inaugural Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, the first-ever SuperJam took to the stage. A veritable “who’s who” of the jam scene, it was a musical cocktail that mixed Michael Kang of The String Cheese Incident on violin and electric mandolin, Bela Fleck on banjo, Jeff Raines on acoustic guitar, and Robert Randolph on pedal steel guitar. The crowd was treated to an eclectic and electric set, from Fleck’s ‘Bigfoot’ to The Temptations’ hit ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’. It was a euphoric, transcendent celebration of music, and the crowd knew they had witnessed something truly special.

Over the years, the SuperJam has evolved into an entity that’s as unpredictable as it is exciting. It’s the musical equivalent of a psychedelic trip, a space where anything is possible, where boundaries blur and genres meld. One moment you’re seeing Questlove sharing the stage with D’Angelo for the first time in 12 years and next it’s the unlikely alliance of Skrillex with Janelle Monae, Chance the Rapper and The Doors’ Robby Krieger  


This is what makes SuperJam the pulsating heart of Bonnaroo, a tradition that amplifies the festival’s ethos of unity, creativity, and spontaneity. It’s a one-night-only experience, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spectacle that defies repetition. It’s the pursuit of the elusive ‘moment’, a fleeting, ephemeral instance of music nirvana that can’t be replicated or reproduced.

From its humble, heady beginnings to the present day iteration, the SuperJam continues to dazzle and delight. The lineups may change, the music may vary, but the essence remains the same: a celebration of the raw, untamed, and thrilling spirit of music. It’s the culmination of Bonnaroo’s reverence for the unpredictable, the chaotic, the beautiful alchemy of sounds and souls.


As the dust settles on the field post-SuperJam, the music fades, and the crowd disperses, the memory lingers. It’s the shared secret of the thousands who bore witness to the magic, a spectral echo of an experience that can only be summed up in two words – SuperJam awaits. And as long as music continues to inspire, unite and transcend, it always will.


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