Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bonnaroo (or how I survived the circus and came out the other side to live and tell about it)

Bonnaroo - from the Creole: bonnareux; which means good party, loosely

It was right in my back yard, so to speak. I made my final decision to go a scant 6 days before the event. As I bought my ticket, I saw that I had only 8 hours left to buy one. So I did and the rest, as they say, is history.

Day One: getting in, getting set up, mastering crowd-fu and familiarizing

First off, me and my buddy, Brent woke up about an hour and a half later than we planned to. So we got ready as quickly as we could and hit the road.

Now, we took the back way to Manchester. We're Tennessee boys and we know how to get around. We went East toward Fayetteville and then headed through Lynchburg, past Jack Daniels. We were amazed to have not yet hit any traffic. We continued north to Tullahoma and still encountered no hindrance to our progress.

We were on the phone with a friend from Knoxville who said he was at the entrance waiting for us. The thing is that we had his ticket. He said the traffic there was pretty bad and he was kinda miffed that we got off to a late start. Then 20 minutes later we were at the entrance, looking at a line of traffic as far as we could see down Interstate 24. We had cut through nearly all the traffic to pull right up and cut them all off. We found our friend parked at a little winery on the road to the gates and gave him his ticket.

Maybe two or three hours later, we were at the toll booth. We presented out tickets and started inching forward to the campsites, which take up a large portion of Bonnaroo's 700 acres.

The sky, which had been so sunny on our short trip, had darkened considerably. We knew it was going to rain and pretty soon it did. A lot.

We persevered and made it through to our campsite, named Camp Ed Rooney.

Camp Ed Rooney is just north of Camp Ferris Bueller, west of Camp Rocky Balboa, east of Camp George McFly and south of Camps Jeff Spicolli and Ace Ventura. Most importantly, it was located right off the main road to the festival grounds. Which meant bathrooms. Granted, some people on occasion of emergency, did pee in the campgrounds, but most stuck to the porto-johns, which six months in Iraq greatly prepared me for. We were parked, set up and ready for action at around 11 a.m., hours ahead of most people.

We explored a little, to get familiar with our surroundings. We made sure we knew exactly where our campsite was so as not to get lost later. We did a couple of times, but that's not important.

Being in a crowd of 90,000 people takes a certain finesse, a certain innate ability, to move around. I call this talent crowd-fu. It has to do with seeing the paths through large groups of people and being able to navigate them. It really is an art to be able to move through the masses and not disturb anyone too much. It requires a limber body and quick feet whether you're in sandals, barefooted or in boots. This helped me especially to move from stage to stage in an effort to see as many acts as I could.

So the first day was spent, moving around, catching a couple of shows here and there just to see what was going on. I saw a couple of acts, namely Alberta Cross and the White Rabbits, both of which put on great shows. I drank a lot of beer and tried to turn in fairly early to get a leg up and the next couple of incredible days.

Day Two: Friday, the first big day

I woke up at about 5:15 a.m., because the pump I bought for my air mattress didn't work and I didn't get very good sleep. I walked a longer distance from my tent to the bathroom than I have ever had to walk from my CHU in Baghdad. Much longer. Not only that, I had to wait in line, but not at 5:15 a.m.

We walked inside the festival grounds early, for nothing else than boredom. No acts came on until 12:00, but we were in there at 9:00. Knowing now what I didn't know then has helped me understand how this can be a good thing but I didn't know at the time. I wandered around for an hour or so and walked back to the tent, not really knowing what to do but wait at the campsite and drink beer (plus a healthy offering of water from my camelback). So I went back later and caught the first show on the "Which Stage," (the other, big, stage) Gomez, who put on a good, high energy show. This was to become the norm for the rest of the festival as every band I saw left their very souls on the stage, which left a strange glowing residue lasting several minutes after the performers vacated.

I later saw Animal Collective, which kept surprising me by doing extreme feats of genre hopping. Next came Galactic at the main stage, the "What Stage," which was a particularly badass horn trio from New Orleans, which had a great, meaty, funk and jazz sound. Next, I caught the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which had a great set at around dinner-thirty. Then I caught the light soul sounds of the legendary Al Green, who wowed the main crowd with his incredible voice and smooth flavor. I also caught a little bit of T.V. on The Radio, who had a blistering set.

Then came my big show for the night: The Beastie Boys.

They were incredible, also bringing fellow NYC rapper Nas, to the stage, who performed a song on their upcoming album with them: Too Many Rappers, But Not Enough MC's. Great Stuff. They closed their set with the hit, Sabotage and I was ultimately happy. Unfortunately, I was also thoroughly exhausted and sleep deprived. I passed out in my tent, listening to Flavor Flav talk craziness in the Public Enemy set, which was the only thing I could hear from my tent.

Day Three: Saturday, the next big day

I woke up again earlier in the day. But this time, my crowd-fu was seasoned. I walked into the main grounds early, but instead of trudging around all day, I found a nice tree to lay under and nap a little bit. It was exactly what I needed: a nice energy recharge with a little less sunburn, as long as I kept moving with the shade. I slept behind the "This Tent," which allowed me a halfass listening of Robyn Hitchcock and The Venus 3, and Bon Iver. I could also hear John Oliver, of the Daily Show, rant in the comedy tent. But I payed little attention and just snoozed.

The day picked up later, as I came to and started walking around. I caught a little bit of Rodrigo and Gabriela, no, not a Cuban cigar, a great Spanish sounding band, cutting a lot of great flamenco licks. Then came Wilco, who my friend Brent is really crazy about, good show.

Then there was the Boss. Ah yes, Bruce Springsteen, a living legend, who I was very excited about seeing. The show started out with incredible energy, especially given the Boss's age and his last tour date in Finland. The Boss delivered, giving song after of song of great material, giving ample coverage of his new album. Then all of a sudden, the mood changed.

Out of the blue, Springsteen screamed out over the crowd "It;s not too *^#$in hot for Santa." Granted, I was at the very back, sitting against the back wall, chatting with an 18-year-old photographer student chick from Rhode Island named Beck, but we turned our heads and both said "what?" He repeated it. We were still puzzled when he jammed into his version of "Santa Claus is Coming To Town." We were shocked and more than a little bummed out. The rest of the crowd shared the sentiment, leaving in droves. I saw a friend of mine from my hometown who was leaving because Springsteen had bummed him out. We found it very depressing. But after awhile, I decided that my time to act was now. I got up from the back and walked straight to the front, where I managed to get in the very front row, where I was a little stage right, but nonetheless in the front row. There I witnessed the legend perform Born To Run, Tenth Avenue Freezeout and Glory Days. It was epic. Scratch another legend I have to see before I die off the list.

Then came the late night shows. I was pumped about three of them going on at the same time, so I hopped between them. I started out at Ben Harper and the Relentless Seven, but the new sound soon bored me and I soon moved on. Then I caught a little of Moe. and while that impressed me, I had bigger fish to fry. From there I could hear the beginning of Nine Inch Nails, one of my favorite bands from the 90s. I checked it out and the blew me away, playing beautiful renditions of my favorite songs, including I'm Afraid of Americans and Head Like A Hole. Later I learned that Trent Reznor announced his retirement an that the show would be the last ever played in the U.S. Epic, anyone? I caught that show.

I later went to bed and slept till the last day.

Day Four: Sunday and the grand finale

Sunday was a great day. I woke up a little late and due to the overcast, cloud-covered sky, there was no extreme heat. Yay!

Sunday was another busy, see as many bands as I can, day. I caught the first performance at the "That Tent," Cage The Elephant, who put on a great show. I sang along with their hit: "Ain't No Rest For The Wicked" with particular glee. I got that free on ITunes about a month ago. Great stuff.

Next, I caught a little bit of the Lovell Sisters, a great little bluegrass outfit, a precursor to one of my favorite shows: Todd Snider. I was in about third row center for Snider, who gave a great performance of bare bones acoustic songs. I was moved and I sang along.

After that, I caught a little Robert Earle Keene, Merle Haggard and Erykah Badu. Then I packed up my campsite in a preemptive strike on leaving and went back to catch the last two shows on my list.

Snoop Dogg impressed me much more than I expected him to. He was so entertaining I was taken by surprise. It was impressive to watch 80 thousand people dance to Snoop Dogg.

Then came the last show of the festival: Phish part two. I danced the entire time, breaking into hysterics when Springsteen joined the stage and ran off into a spirited rendition of Mustang Sally among others. Later I sang in joy to Prince Caspian, feeling more pure unadulterated happiness than I have felt in a long time. Phish played until 12:30. We were joyous and exhausted.

We wandered back to the campsite only to find that we were very much still blocked in. We finally got out the next morning around 7:30. Amazing time. I want to do it again next year.

And now to satisfy everybody, here is some pictures of art and hot chicks!