Okay, so now there's 10,000 or so people on line to get in to a room we just waltzed into like we own the place, it's ninety fucking degrees and we're sitting in the A/C, and one of the funniest men in America is about to take the stage. I gotta say, I was riding pretty high at that particular moment.
Lewis Black walks out and the place goes nuts.
The cool thing about Lewis at Bonnaroo, is that he truly loves the festival. He had performed the previous year in the comedy tent, and had such a great time that he talked about it all year and couldn't wait to come back. At this year's festival, he performed at least four sets, and was seen all over the place throughout the weekend checking out music on various stages. I personally noticed him standing in the wings at last four times.
The not so cool thing about Lewis at Bonnaroo is that he was performing with three of his "friends" of whom none were really that funny.
John Bowman was up first, and while he did have the funniest line of the entire show . "Girlfriend: Why do you love me? Boyfriend: I don't know you're around a lot." he was on for too long and was trying way to hard to be a zany Robin Williams style comic without actually being as funny or naturally zany as Robin. To sum it up quickly, the guy was just trying too hard.
After John, we got the comedy stylings of the lovely Lynne Koplitz. I found her mediocre at best, and when I glanced over at James, he had a look of utter disgust on his face for her entire fifteen to twenty minute set. I'm sure she made me chuckle, but I don't remember why. I'm also sure, if I was a woman, I would have found Lynne much more amusing I couldn't explain why, but I was sure her jokes were y chromosome resistant.
Finesse Mitchell of limited Saturday Night Live fame was on third, and lost me right from the get go. He said something like . "Wow, that's a lot of white people are you the good white people or the other white people?" it was funny but it left a bad taste in my mouth .I imagine if I walked up to him and said something true, yet taboo all the same, like ."hey, Finesse Mitchell you're one of the only black guys I saw all weekend that wasn't in The Roots or selling drugs!" his reaction wouldn't be to laugh he'd probably hit me though maybe I underestimate him he seemed like an okay guy as his act wore on.
Finally after all that, Lewis came out and did his thing for a while he killed the only problem was I was familiar with most of the material, and in my opinion, comedy works in the exact opposite way music does. You see when you hear a song performed live that you don't know, it may sound good but it's never as good as an old favorite. Conversely, when you hear a joke you've already heard, it loses all its pop. In essence, if you take away the element of surprise, you take away all the luster. And while people unfamiliar with Lewis' routine were having a grand old time, I found myself thinking I'd rather be somewhere else.
Twenty minutes later, my thoughts became reality .and that was the last time we set foot in the comedy tent regardless of our fancy wristbands.
We spent the next two hours kinda wandering around, checking out the lay of the land, and popping in and out of various performances in the process. I have a rough idea of what happened in this period because, ever the professional, I took notes.
Granted, a lot actually almost all of the notes are scribbled nonsense that I'll probably need a separate set of notes just to understand. There are things written in an obviously intoxicated, shaky hand such as "We shall see we shall see Alligator Eye Boogaloo." complete with little doodles next to them I tell ya folks, I have no idea what the fuck I was talking about .or what the doodle represents .I suspect we're dealing with a song title, and an alligator respectively, but who the hell knows?
The good news is that mixed in with the documented mental slop, there are a handful of clues as to what the hell was really going on. One such example, is the entry from 8:30 that Thursday night. That was when, according to the notes, we wandered into the Budweiser Troo Music Lounge for the first time.
The Budweiser Troo Music Lounge was one of the smaller venues but it had music going for almost the entire weekend where as a lot of the other smaller spots had more spotty schedules. The lounge had a few things going for it, and a few things not so much. In the plus column, it was in a prominent central location that made it really convenient to pass through and check something out on your way to and from bands well bands you'd actually heard of. Also a plus, they had really short beer lines probably because they were only selling Bud, and very close by there was a magic little place called the Broo'ers Tent where you could get far better beer for believe it or not, less money I'll get to that soon enough but I bet you knew that already.
In the negative column, the Troo Music Lounge was really just a glorified beer tent which featured a mediocre sound system that couldn't quite drown out the much louder, near by Which Stage later in the weekend a table set up that didn't really allow a ton of people to sit and didn't leave much room for other folks to stand and a lighting system that well didn't exist there were no lights on the band aside from the overhead lights in the tent. But honestly, what do you want from a small family owned company like Budweiser ugh, I guess things really are tough all over, no?
Anyway, we wandered into the Troo Music Lounge around 8:30 and bought a couple beers. Behind us, opposite the bar, a band called "Smokin' Dave and the Primo Dopes" were on. I had never heard of them before they were announced as an act on this year's Bonnaroo, but in yet another dazzling display of professionalism, I had downloaded a few of their albums, and did a little research prior to heading down south.
I found their albums to be pretty straight forward rock n roll with lots of clever, often humorous lyrics. I had read though, that their live show was usually a super eclectic mix of whatever struck the band's fancy on a given night. They love playing covers, and have actually be known to throw all of their original material by the wayside and perform entire sets of requests .or just play Pink Floyd all night long.
As we walked in on them, they were in the middle of a Beastie Boys cover I got that info straight from the notes which alas, do not indicate which Beastie Boys song it was I'd call James and ask him but it's almost four AM as I'm writing this, and who are we kidding? James wouldn't remember that we saw them let alone what they played .he probably didn't know who they were even as we were standing there more accurately, he probably thought he knew who they were, but had it wrong I'll ask him tomorrow for shits and giggles if he remembers seeing this band, and report back in tomorrow night's pages.
Anyway, after the Beastie Boys, the notes tell me Smokin Dave did either a song called "Such a God Damn Shame" or more likely a song that contained that line. I apparently liked it very much, and thought it sounded like The Minutemen although and by the way, I promise my recollections of the bands I gave a shit about, sorry Smokin Dave, are much sharper the Minutemen comment could have been about the following song.
"Now they sound like The Flaming Lips damn, these guys are all over the place! Awesome." And with that direct note quote Smokin Dave leaves our tale, as James and I headed on to our next discovery.
I'll tell you the truth right now, I'm almost positive my notes are fucking lying. They say where we went next, and where we went after that, and they even have the time next to the entries .but then they make reference to something else that we did and I don't see how it could have gone in that sequence doesn't seem to fit together like that in my admittedly hazy memory. Well .as no one on the entire planet has any reason to give even the slightest fuck if I get this wrong I'll just go with it as the notes describe and try to ignore that nagging tug in the back of my brain that says "You know that's not right you asshole! Fix it!" Yep I'm gonna go ahead and tell my memory to go fuck itself.
Next I'm sure (wink wink) we headed over to the Bonnaroo fountain. The fountain is well it's a fountain, just like the one on Main Street that the old folks and the homeless people congregate around all Summer that's a literal reference in my neck of the woods, but I bet most of you have a similar scene to picture, in whatever little place you call home. Regardless, just picture a big public fountain, and we're pretty much on the same page.
The specifics of the Bonnaroo fountain are thus .it features a twelve foot tall mushroom in the center that constantly has water spilling over it, along with a dozen or so posts around the circumference (Wow look Mrs. Trust, something you taught me sorta actually came in handy in my life granted I could just have said perimeter and your class'd still be useless .but I didn't so score one for you!) which sporadically fire jets of water into the center. Every year the design of the fountain is a little different, and this year the whole thing was covered in black and white checkers although honestly I didn't notice that until I read about it after the fact which does kinda make me feel sorry for the guy that spent all that time painting it.
Anyway, something about the fountain I didn't know as I stood there that night taking a few pictures of it, is that for the most part from day two on, it's always full of people trying to cool off, or clean up, or both after all, a shower was ten bucks walking thought the fountain free.
As we stood there, off to our left there was a band playing in either This Tent or That Tent I can't remember which one was over that way and which one was the other way I do know that The Other Tent, was way over past them both. Confusing stage name aside, the band was like a mile away, but we could kinda see them, and could hear them just fine. Later in the weekend I would be standing in the same spot, thought the fountain would no longer be empty, and the same wind that brought this mystery band to my ears, would carry salvation.
James checked the schedule and told me that we were watching "The Little Ones". I made a note of that, and crossed it out a few minutes later when I discovered that the Little Ones had played an hour or so earlier, and that the band we were watching had to be someone else. I looked it up myself, and found that it was actually, The Black Angels.
The band was very pink or at least the one photo I took of them that didn't really come out very well was very pink. I have no recollection of what the sounded like my brain keeps saying they were heavy not like Pantera heavy like Beatles "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" kinda heavy .there's no notes to turn to, and no solid memory to grasp at all I know is we were there at 8:45...I took one pink picture and we were somewhere else by nine.
That somewhere else was That Tent which I guess means that the above scene was going down at This Tent. Continuing our aimless wanderings, James and I wandered into That Tent, and discovered a band called Sam Roberts Band. I knew very little about them other than that they were Canadian, that Sam Roberts had once claimed he'd "die for rock n roll" and that the Bonnaroo web site said that even critics with "high powered bullshit detectors proclaimed him the real deal." Now folks, I'm a guy with a high powered bullshit detector if ever there was one I'd be the judge of Sam Roberts and co thank you very much.
Back to the notebook "This here Canadian band rocks like a motherfucker!"
Yep, no bullshit detected here, just a fantastic balls out rock band doing their thing kind of a more ballsy Oasis thing that is for a few thousand ravenous fans and new converts alike. James and I were thoroughly into what this band had to offer, and for the first time since the comedy tent where we didn't really have a choice we opted to ditch our spot on the perimeter, which allowed us to move on at a moment's notice, and work our way up close in other words, we decided that we were going to stick around for a while.
As it turned out, we ended up staying for the entire set, and we ended up working our way all the way up to the front where I noticed people standing backstage wearing .the same purple wristbands we were wearing! I pulled James off to the side, and in the blink of an eye, we were backstage, watching the band from a special press viewing area off to stage right.
I was feeling pretty good about myself for obtaining the press passes at that particular moment. So far they'd gotten us into the comedy tent which absolutely would not have happened without them, and now they had gotten us backstage, out of the crowd-surfing un-washed masses, with an excellent view of the band. In a littlewhile, the press passes would pull of their greatest feat of the entire weekend, but we had a quick stop to make first.
After Sam Roberts, we had a specific destination in mind, but we also had some time to kill. We grabbed some food I had an excellent vegetarian burrito, James had a Gyro I think and we decided that we needed a drink. For that drink, we walked over to the Broo'ers tent that I mentioned before.
The Broo'ers tent was home to about two dozen different stands each featuring a different Microbrew. The way it worked was that when you entered the tent, you got on line and bought tickets for a dollar a piece. There was a decent line for this, but if you were smart like us you bought enough tickets the first time and you never had to get on the line again. After you had your tickets, you headed over to the stands where for one ticket, you could get a shot of beer, or for six tickets you could get a full one.
After a few dollar shots, I settled on a full sized Magic Hat #9 which I had had before, but had never found so fantastic as I did that night it would become something of an obsession that germinated that weekend, was incubated on a subsequent trip to Vermont a couple weeks later, and in the end resulted in my declaring Magic Hat my official Summer beer the only beer I'll drink this summer if I have a say in the matter it's a very prestigious honor, at least in my head I'm drinking one now actually .cheers!
At some point, I put my Magic Hat down, and scribbled in my notebook "I officially think I'm in heaven." Things were about to get even better our next stop truly was something else
The Somethin' Else tent was a new addition to Bonnaroo in 2007. The idea behind this tent which was sponsored by the famous jazz label Blue Note Records, was that it would not only replicate a real down town New York City jazz club, but that it would feature it's own line-up of top notch A-list jazz performers. I kid you not people, if you took the line up from Somethin Else, didn't change a thing, and dropped it into any large public park in the country, it could easily have been it's own festival. They weren't playing around.
Before we go inside Somethin' Else, I want to mention something really quickly. When Bonnaroo began, it was a three day festival. Over the next few years, it became a three day festival where you could show up the Thursday beforehand, just to get set up, and they would have a band or two to amuse you some people took advantage of this, others just ignored it and showed up early Friday morning. In 2007, without making a public announcement, although they did mention it at a press conference they held AT the festival, Bonnaroo officially made the jump to being a full fledged four day festival. What I'm getting at, is that some of the stuff we saw on the throw away Thursday, was some of the best stuff we saw all weekend .which leads me to
When I saw the line up for Somethin Else, the one thing that jumped out at me more than anything, was that Dr. Lonnie Smith probably the greatest jazz organist alive since Jimmie Smith passed a few years ago and the incredible saxophonist Lou Donaldson were playing together with a quartet that they'd formed. This was the one set I wanted to see in the jazz tent no matter when it was going down it happened to be going down on throw away Thursday .I was so there.
What I didn't realize about the jazz tent, was that it only held 310 people per set in case you forgot, there were about 100,000 people on that farm that weekend to be among the 310 that got into Somethin Else at any given time really was something special .you'll never guess how we pulled it off if you said press passes actually, they didn't work it was all finesse baby all finesse.
"My man Dustin!" I said to James as we waited for the show to start.
Dustin, was the house manager of Somethin Else. Also, he was the guy that brought us inside, once again ahead of the massive crowd waiting on line, after the security woman at the door told us that we had to wait on line like everyone else, and that our press passes didn't mean anything at that tent.
Ten years ago when I was first starting out down this rocky road of music journalism if you can call this that I would have slinked away and stood at the back of the line, probably only to get turned away when I got to the front after the security guard told me that my press pass didn't mean shit.
Fast forward to today the older, wiser, and admittedly more devious me, instantly replied that I worked for a major jazz publication .bullshit and that I had been in touch with the label sponsoring the tent sorta bullshit (I had an e-mail conversation about an unrelated topic) and that they told me that not only would I not have to wait on line, but that I would have a reserved table inside for this set .TOTAL ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT.
Upon hearing this, the lady got her boss Dustin I had the balls to repeat myself to him a guy who by very the nature of his job really should have known I was full of shit but didn't and voi-la James and I had a front row table at the most exclusive spot in all of Bonnaroo. For the sake of pushing it all the way .hey, buy the ticket, take the ride. Right? I even told Dustin that we'd be back again the following night .he said just to ask for him and he'd get us the same table. As it turned out, this would be our only trip to Somethin Else but hey, once again, it's nice to have options no?
Honesty, in a perfect world, I absolutely would have spent more time in Somethin Else it was awesome but just by the nature of Bonnaroo, I never made it back there was always something else I needed to see.
Inside the tent, it really did look like a jazz club you couldn't tell at all that you were in a field in rural Tennessee. There were these red velvet curtains all around, photos of musicians on the "walls" tables with black linen table cloths and candles on them and even waitress service. The illusion was perfect. Somethin Else really was something else!
I felt it was kind of a waste to put so much energy into something that so few people would get to see, but in a way the fact that everyone inside that room was so excited just to have gotten in, added even more to the mystique and excellent vibe that the place had. You could just reach out and grab the positive energy instead, I reached out and grabbed another beer guess what, Somethin Else served Magic Hat! I told the waitress to keep em coming she did.
At around a quarter to eleven, the band took the stage which by the way was perfectly lit, and had absolutely excellent sound. They were an interesting group of guys to look at Lou is an 80 something year old black guy, the guitar player was a significantly younger white dude, the drummer was Asian, and Lonnie well Lonnie was once described as "An enigma wrapped in a question wrapped in a turban!" and there he was, turban and all.
If memory serves, they opened with "Blues Walk". When they were done, and everyone's minds were already blown even though they were just getting started, Lou told us that that was their theme song and added "Buy sure to buy it I need the money!"
You have to be one cool cat to walk into a festival known as the biggest jam band festival around and say what Lou said next but then, Lou is one cooool cat . "This next song is pure jazz, not recommended for fusion and con-fusion musicians. We gotta practice to play this stuff!" And BAM they ripped into a tune that I recognized immediately as one by Charlie Parker but I couldn't grab the name of it out of the ether might have been "Marmaduke" on the other hand, I may just be thinking that because later I got a recording of Lou and Lonnie playing that particular song whatever, they played a Parker tune and it was SMOKING!
The musicianship of these four guys was absolutely top notch. Lou played sweet and slow and then picked up the pace like the be-bop master that he truly is. Lonnie is a madman behind his Hammond B-3 organ, playing amazing licks at times with his elbows and at others, with his teeth! But, aside from the two headliners fronting the group, the guitar player, Peter Bernstein, was brilliant, and late in the set when drummer Fukushi Tainaka who Lou introduced by saying "with a name like that you can tell he's from Mississippi or Alabama or somewhere like that" took an extended solo my jaw literally dropped no kidding folks, it was the single greatest drum solo I've ever seen in my life nothing else even comes close.
The cherry on top was the handful of songs where Lou sang to us. One was introduced as being by the greatest jazz musician of all time, and was "Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong. The other stand out was "Whiskey Drinkin Woman" which whipped the audience into a clapping, hootin and hollering frenzy, myself included not to mention got a few laughs I mean come on "She puts whiskey in her coffee, she puts whiskey in her tea she puts whiskey in her whiskey and puts the rest of it into me!" Classic.
After an all too short hour or so, the set was over and as everyone shuffled out of the tent, there wasn't a face to be seen without a huge smile plastered on it.
The quartet was going to be playing a second set, to a new audience, in a half hour or so, and James and I strongly considered getting a hold of Dustin and heading back inside. I fought off that impulse, reminding myself that if I just watched what I liked over and over again I wouldn't be here in the first place and explained to James that there was something else going on across the festival grounds that I thought would be just as good he clearly didn't believe me shit, why would he, I didn't even really believe me but he followed my lead regardless.
Okay now, when I first saw the schedule for Bonnaroo, I was pretty sure that my late night set of choice for Thursday, by the way anytime I say "late night" I mean midnight or later, was going to be a band called Tea Leaf Green. I had never seen them before, but with my ear ever-present on the ground of the jam band scene, I had heard lots of good things about them, especially their live show, and had downloaded some of their stuff in preparation. But then, almost like a bolt of lightning, I got hit with Rodrigo y Gabriela.
Rodrigo y Gabriela pronounced Rodrigo "E" Gabriela with a pained look on my face that says I know I sound like an idiot when I try to say Spanish words even if they're only one letter long are Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero, a Mexican born duo that now call Dublin, Ireland their home. Apparently, they met in Mexico while playing in a speed metal band called Tierra Acida, but got tired of the local scene and split for Europe to make new music that isn't metal, but at the same time kinda is See, the thing is, there's just the two of them no drummer no bassist no keys no freaking singer just a girl, a guy and a pair of .here's the kicker acoustic guitars. Does that not seem a little headbanger-ly challenged to you?
Well, don't tell them that, cause Rod and Gab as they're affectionately know, show absolutely no fucking mercy when they play. Strings are being plucked faster than it seems like they possibly could be, and Gabriela's right hand .and sometimes the left one too is constantly beating the hell out of the hollow body of her guitar providing percussion that's more innovative and for that matter intense than anything Metallica's Lars Ulrich has played in damn near two decades!!!
Now, it may have seemed random that I singled out Lars there perhaps because I personally think he's a prick but it wasn't. Rod and Gab, two musicians playing classical style acoustic guitar, regularly name Metallica as their biggest influence so it seemed appropriate to call him out.
Anyway, when I got my ears around Rod and Gab's CD, I knew pretty much instantly that Tea Leaf Green had just been bumped from my itinerary. I figured I would check out Rodrigo y Gabriela for a while, and then head over for the second half of Tea Leaf. James supported this plan even though he'd never heard either band. We grabbed a few drinks, and headed over to the same stage we'd seen Sam Roberts on earlier anyone remember where that was? I'm not backtracking for such a silly detail ONWARDS.
When Rod and Gab took the stage, they were greeted by loudest ovation we'd heard thus far .I looked over to James, who was still sulking a little that we'd opted not to see Lou and Lonnie again the look I shot his said see trust me. A second later, we were treated to a double acoustic guitar rendition of Metallica's "For Whom The Bell Tolls" the place went nuts, and a quick glace revealed that James was already grinning ear to ear.
From what I've heard, Rod and Gab don't work with a set list they just feed off of each other with someone following someone's lead I imagine they alternate and off they go into a crazy eclectic mix of their own songs along with great covers of Metallica, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and more every once in a while they stop for a second, Gabriela takes a break from head banging away to her own righteous beat, shoots a two fingered devil sign straight up over her head and they're right back at it playing something else that initially makes you mumble under your breath "no way" and seconds later has you screaming HELL YEAH!!!
At one point, Rodrigo introduced a new tune that they were going to play. He told a quick story about how they had to cancel a few gigs Austin and Philly I believe because of a problem with his work visa that wouldn't let him cross over from Mexico and then told us that the new song was titled "Fuck the U.S. Visa Department" If you didn't get it already, this isn't your everyday classical guitar group
Something like two hours after they began, all thoughts of Tea Leaf Green were completely vanquished from my head I was too busy providing vocals for Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" along with the overjoyed crowd while simultaneously trying to count how many Metallica songs they'd touched on. It was at least three "For Whom the Bell Tolls", "Fade to Black", and "One" which lasted around fifteen minutes and had various other covers intertwined throughout including a little bit of "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes and a little bit of west coast Jazz legend, Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" as well.
When the music stopped, James and I screamed our approval and headed back to camp there was still music going on somewhere or other, but we'd been up for almost 22 hours at that point, and had a lot more to do before any real rest would be available.
We had two small arguments in the ten minutes it took us to get from Rod and Gab to the Arch. First, I got us lost I admit that much but the argument came when James kept pointing to a point on the map, claiming it was the way out, a point which was clearly visible from where we were standing and clearly was A FUCKING WALL then, we went in a totally different direction from where he was pointing and he said, "See I told you this was the way out!"
James still maintains that the way we went was the way he was pointing, but lets look at argument number two first, and then you can judge how well he knew what the hell was going on.
"So what'd you think of Rod and Gab?"
"The band we just saw ."
"Oh, they were fucking awesome. This whole thing is awesome. First we saw that great band, and then the jazz was amazing and you talked me into going to this and I didn't think it could possibly be better than the jazz but I think it might have been actually. Plus, we were five minutes in a five hour waiting line."
"What you just said wasn't a sentence at least not in English."
"I'm making perfect sense! I'm not that fucked up!"
"Say it again."
"We were five minutes in five hour waiting line."
"You really think that makes sense? I mean I know what you're driving at, but that's only because I already know what you're talking about."
"It makes perfect sense! Hey what are you doing?"
"I'm writing it down so that we can see how much sense you think it makes in the morning."
"It's gonna make sense fine."
"We'll see asshole."
It's important that you all know that while yes, we were arguing, these were not the kind of arguments that would cause any kind of problems .these were the kind of arguments where you argue, call each other assholes, and then laugh about it for the next twenty minutes .which is exactly what we did while we stumbled around in the night trying to find our campsite.
We followed the main road, past the Hare Krishna guy that didn't seen to stop chanting or playing his tambourine for the entire weekend, and onto the other main road. We followed that second main road as long as we could and then headed off the trail into a sea of sleepy tents and dormant cars with only a small flashlight to guide us. At some point, James insisted that we needed to jump a barbed wire fence that we were facing .which clearly we didn't and at the last second before he attempted this, I spotted the large Sponge Bob balloon that one of our neighbors had floating above their tent it guided us home.
After a quick change and various highly primitive grooming and (un)hygienic functions IE urinating into an empty water bottle rather than backtracking a mile in the dark to the wonders of the porta-potty or pissing on the ground, where someone else was bound to be walking barefoot the next day we climbed into the tent it was close to three in the morning.
James said one last thing before he instantly dropped off to sleep
"Jesus Christ, I feel like I have hooves!"
I'm sure he was sure that that too would make sense in the morning.
I laid awake for a few minutes trying to get comfortable, and finally drifted off I woke up a short while later, and believe it or not, found that I was freezing! I went out to the car, got my sweatshirt that I had packed thinking there was no chance in hell I would actually need it, and curled back up trying to fall back asleep even though I was literally shivering. Next thing I knew
"Holy shit, I'm on fire!" I thought as I sat bolt upright on my ..now this is where that sentence belongs!
I'm not kidding people, for a split second when I first woke up I really did think that I was literally on fire! It was only seven thirty in the morning, and even though I had been lying awake shivering less than four hours earlier, the temperature in our tent was already well over one hundred degrees.
When I got my head around the situation, all I could do was groan James, who I hadn't even realized was awake added "Yeah no shit!" We both lay there for a while, not speaking, trying to fall back asleep .but we both knew it was just too damn hot, and it was never going to happen. I wasn't thrilled with the idea of facing day two, a day that was, music wise, about forty percent longer than day one, on less than four hours sleep but there was nothing we could do about it so what could we do.
We realized our neighbors were awake when a voice floated through one nylon wall, then another, and into our tent. It said, "No no dude, the acid's in the first aid kit!" With that, I decided it was time for some Special K breakfast that is and climbed out of the tent.
Five minutes later after I discovered that as I mentioned, we hadn't bought any bowls, I set to work on cooking the Italian sausages we'd bought as they were the only thing that even sorta resembled breakfast food. Also, by that point I knew there was no way in hell we were EVER gonna make that monster hike to and from the music just to eat so all the food we bought for lunch and dinner would go to waste if we didn't turn it into breakfast. You won't hear me complaining mmmm sausage.
While I was cooking, I got into a conversation with one of the guys next door I didn't know if he was the one looking for the acid or not, and I didn't really care. He was telling me that he had seen Clutch the night before, and they were excellent. I didn't mention that I'd seen them a decade ago and they were horrible what would be the point? I did tell him what we'd seen the night before, and we discovered that we didn't have a single performance in common.
That's as good an example as any of what I was talking about before regarding just how much stuff is going on at once. Here were two guys camped next to each other, who both had seen a full night of music but we had no overlap whatsoever! I imagine, we could have easily found a third guy and probably with a little effort, even a fourth guy that also had totally different experiences.
James and I had seen four full sets, and parts of two or three more .
Here's what we didn't see The Little Ones, The National, Mute Math, Clutch, Ryan Shaw, The New Orleans Klezmer Allstars, Apollo Sunshine, Tea Leaf Green, Lionel Loueke, Stanton Moore Trio, David Cross, Langhorne Slim, Dubconscious, Yard Dogs Road Show, The Westside Daredevils, Jescoe, Huab Kru Break Dancers, Tenderhooks, and The Whigs (who I think we actually did see for a few minutes while we were ,ost after Rod and Gab.
So we saw six acts, and missed eighteen and that was with four of the stages (Which, What, Sonic, and Blue Room) not hosting performances yet! When everything was in full swing, you could probably come up with at least a half dozen completely unique paths to take except, when the headliners were on.
I haven't mentioned this yet, because it didn't apply to Thursday night. Here's the deal for each of the next three nights, at some time around eight or nine, The What Stage that's the ginormous one became home to one of the festival's "headliners". When that happened, all the music everywhere else ceased the big boys were the only game in town musically but if you really couldn't stand one of them, you could still go check out a movie, ride the Ferris wheel, or god forbid, take a nap!
The headliners for the 2007 festival where Tool, The Police, and Widespread Panic.
A lot of die hard Bonnaroo people were upset that only one of the three was actually a jam band .but more than that, A LOT of people were upset that Tool, a prog-metal band, was there at all. Admittedly, they didn't really fit the mold of traditional Bonnaroo headliner..a mold created by folks like Dave Matthews, The Dead, and Trey Anastasio of Phish but Bonnaroo is nothing if it's not eclectic, and I for one was really looking forward to watching Tool rock such a large audience .for the sake of full disclosure though, I should mention that I had already seen them before twice and knew first hand how bad ass they are live, so it wasn't too hard to get amped up for their set.
And whoa .speaking of being amped up for Tool, the guy that I had been talking to from the tent next door, had a gigantic Tool tattoo covering his lower back .and get this, it's pretty wild even by my "anything goes in order to see a good band" standards at eight thirty in the morning, he headed off to camp out for a good spot for Tool's nine PM performance! Now that's dedication I mean shit, these Deadheads that were upset about Tool being around weren't even awake yet, and this dude was standing in the Tennessee sun staking a claim for his spot almost thirteen hours ahead of time!! In my book, any band that creates fans that loyal, is a perfect fit for Bonnaroo bands that don't have something truly special about them, don't get that kind of reaction .know what I mean?
But wait wait wait slow down Mike it's way too early to talk about Tool James and I had twelve hours of other stuff to see first!
Our first full day at Bonnaroo started out a little different than most other people's did I can say with certainty, that only about a hundred people did what we did cause umm there were only about a hundred people there. Our first event of the day was the "mandatory" press orientation, which was to take place backstage between Which and What.
I didn't know how truly mandatory it was, it didn't seem like there was anything they could do to us if we didn't show up, buy hey it was scheduled before any music was going on, and maybe we'd learn something cool like press have their own bathrooms which as it turned out, we did. So around eleven, after we'd cleaned up from breakfast, and changed into new clothes that already seemed dirty, we headed towards Centerroo to see what the meeting was all about.
On the way in we invented okay okay I invented a new people watching game called "pregnant or fat?" James told me I was going to hell and then played along for the long walk in. At some point, I looked down and noticed that the words on my media pass were about halfway through the process of MELTING off I made a mental note to try to get a replacement at the press shindig.
Said shindig was thoroughly uneventful. We learned that we could get free water, though every time I tried after that meeting, the free water cooler was always empty. We learned that there were in fact "Press Bathrooms" but they were really just additional Porta-potties sitting out in the sun like all the rest, that you needed a cool purple wristband to be grossed out by .I suppose they were slightly less disgusting but disgusting is a term that I usually don't find works on a relative scale stuff is either disgusting or not know what I mean?
Some other info we got was that there would be a series of mass interviews throughout the weekend, where a few bands would get on stage, backstage, and a hundred people at once could fire off questions I had no use for this if a band had no time to sit down with me, I have no time for them especially when there are fifteen concerts going on around me. I'd rather experience Bonnaroo than experience a bunch of people telling me what a great experience Bonnaroo is.
Lastly we learned that Tool had announced that NO ONE, press included, was allowed to photograph them. Now, this didn't really effect me as I didn't have a photo pass to begin with but man it was funny to watch all the "real" press freak the fuck out when they learned the headliner of the night had essentially told them, their editors back in East or wherever, and their deadline, to go fuck themselves.
Now you say "Wait wait wait did he just say he didn't have a photo pass? How the hell can that be, I saw over a hundred of his pictures on his damn myspace page "
Folks, for me an independent music photographer that has to fight and claw for every bit of access I get, THIS was the greatest thing about Bonnaroo anyone there was more than welcome to bring a camera and fire away at whatever they happened to be standing in front of .cept Tool of course, but fuck them, I've got bigger fish to fry!
Yes, my press pass did get me a little closer than most folks at times, and did get me into things that others might not have seen but as for the photos, the vast majority of them were taken from common areas that I would have been standing in with no credentials at all. So, if you're a person that likes to shoot bands and if you're not, don't start, it's a pain in the ass more often than not Bonnaroo is a fantastic place to add all kinds of different acts to your portfolio. I shot over 1,500 frames in four days!!!
At the end of the meeting, I talked to the head honcho, who for some reason didn't shake my hand when I offered it. Hopefully it was a Monk kind of thing and not a hey look at me I'm a big powerful prick kinda thing. Offering a third theory, James seems to think the guy just didn't notice. Regardless, he did give me a shiny new media pass and I was thankful for that until it too melted away later on in the weekend. Did I mention it was really fucking hot yet?
Anyway, big fancy pointless media meeting out of the way, it was time to check out some music. It was a little after noon, and everything was just getting started for the day. James and I didn't have anything that we definitely wanted to see until four thirty so it was time to just submit to the wanderlust and see what we could see.
Right as we walked out of the backstage area, we noticed a fairly large crowd milling about in front of Which Stage. A quick check with the guidebook revealed that a band called Rx Bandits were coming on in fifteen minutes seemed like as good a start to the day as any so we walked over.
I had heard of the RX Bandits, and even owned a song or two or theirs on various compilations. In my head, which means a lot to me and probably less to you, I had them categorized as a punk rock band that occasionally flirted with ska. After watching them perform though, that's not really right. Yeah, they have some punky elements, but they sound more like I don't know The Meat Puppets with a trombone player or something like that it's hard to explain though it's not necessarily unique. There are a lot of bands around right now doing this weird rocky, not-quite weird enough to be avant-garde but weird enough that you think it's weird, kind of music though they don't all have an ultra skinny shirtless trombone player, who's sun block isn't quite rubbed in enough, jumping around all over the stage that, was unique.
The singer, looked like that guy that always ends up camping near-by when you head to the woods with your friends for a weekend excursion you know, the hairy stranger that wanders over to your campsite with his mangy dog and explains that he's here for five days, but didn't bring any food and when you reluctantly give him a hot dog all he says is, "Karma.". That guy
The guitar player was an Asian guy that looked kinda fat but probably just needed a shirt that was one size bigger someone should buy him one, cause aside from his awkward look, he was pretty awesome.
We watched four or five songs one of them which had a line something like "Hey girl, come with me and let yourself go " was especially good anyone know what that tune's called I googled the lyric but got nothing back. Then we moved on I'm not saying they were bad by any means but five songs was enough. Like I said, at Bonnaroo if it's not moving you you just move.
Next we found a band called Cold War Kids, we watched one song which was actually really good and got stuck in my head for most of the weekend problem was it was way too crowded to get a good spot in the front and the dildo working the backstage entrance let me in, and then immediately told James it was full she was just being a douche bag so we said fuck it, and moved on there was tons of stuff to see.
That was however the moment when I got nervous that the very size of Bonnaroo was going to make it a pain in the ass to see anything I mean if the Cold War Kids drew such a crowd that even the press area was full, where were we gonna end up watching The Police from somewhere in Alabama. As it turned out though, this was the ONLY instance of the entire weekend where James and I couldn't get a decent spot without a ton of effort so much for Sting, I guess the Cold War Kids should be the ones charging $500 a ticket at Madison Square Garden somehow I doubt it
We walked away and I was singing under my breath about how I'd never touch another drink as long as I lived that's a line from the one song we'd heard. We went straight to the Troo Music Lounge remember, that's the tent that would be better named Budweiseroo got a couple beers, and watched our third artist in less than two hours.
Just before the performer took the stage, we were treated to an impromptu performance by a lets say pissed to the gills, drunk guy. He jumped out of his chair and at the top of his lungs started singing and original song, set to the tune of Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All" you know, I believe the children are our future and so on his version went "IF I FAILLLL .IF I SUCCEEEEED .FUCK ALL Y'ALL I'M JUST BEIN ME!" aaaand then he fell down. I was gonna see if I could hire him to write me an official theme song but alas, the show started before I could make my way over.
Now, if I was the manager of this next act, the name would be "Billy Joel's Kid" .because well she's Billy Joel's kid, and that name would fill the seats more than just going by Alexa Ray Joel as she does maybe if she listened to me, she'd be out of the beer tent. By the way, just for the record, Carlos Santana's kid who also insists on having a band name other than "Santana's Kid" was also at Bonnaroo and was also relegated to the beer tent.
Anyway, there she was, Alexa Ray Joel that is, low cut blue dress, big bulging eyes, and a voice to match you know, loud and flashy.
She was doing the whole chick singer thing don't play coy with me .you know what I mean that whole look at me, I'm beautiful AND talented bit that Jewel, Alayna Myles, and current darling (who was actually playing at some point somewhere at Bonnaroo) Regina Spektor have milked or are currently milking for all its worth.
Usually, these acts really do have the beautiful part down but their music isn't brilliant it's more of a 'not awful to the point that you don't want to look at the pretty girl anymore.' Billy Joel's Kid I'm just gonna call her that from here on out had a similar thing going but it was more of a 'whatever she's saying isn't interesting enough for me to care or annoying enough for me to stop trying to figure out if she's actually attractive.' It was a confusion tactic felt like trickery after a little while, we moved on again.
What that wasn't enough on her? Come on she was playing in a fucking beer tent let's go, I'll tell you all about the burrito I had for lunch!
It wasn't a terribly exciting burrito just black beans and cheese but, I had been on a cleanse for the previous month, and it was the first cheese I had eaten in that time fuckin thing gave me chills up until that point, it was the highlight of my day I'll go on the record right now and say that I will take a bean and cheese burrito over an Alexa Ray Joel concert any day of the week and I say that knowing full well that I'll probably meet her in a bar one day, she'll fall madly in love with me, and just days before we wed and I become an heir to the Joel fortune, one of her bitchy socialite friends will find this writing on the internet somewhere, and I'll watch the whole thing float away .ah fuck it, the truth is the truth, it was a damn good burrito besides, I have a girlfriend, and she'd look better in the low cut blue dress.
So there I am, eating my burrito, standing in the massive field in front of the What Stage, which at that point was pretty much empty, because no one was on, and all of a sudden, I realize I hear music .but as far as I know, there's no stage anywhere near me other than the empty main stage silly me there's stages fucking everywhere! Tucked away, totally off the beaten path, in the back left corner of the What Stage concert field, was the AT&T Blue Room Café who knew not me and apparently not many other folks either there was nobody there but that didn't stop Dave Barnes who I didn't know was Dave Barnes until just now when I looked up who was playing when I was standing there from playing a bunch of songs I honestly don't remember. I just know it was good burrito eatin music thanks Dave 'preciate it.