Gogol Bordello did something that afternoon that very few bands have done before they stole Bonnaroo! See, they didn't just put on a great show for their audience they put on a great show that slowly but surely became the talk of the festival.
They probably had several thousand people watching them a lot, but nothing even close to what The Police would have later in the day something approaching 80,000...but the thing of it is, after Sting and Co.'s set, I didn't hear anyone talking about it good bad or indifferent however, everywhere you went from Saturday afternoon on, you heard people saying "Oh my God, did you see Gogol Bordello!?" and the responses were always either, "Yeah, they were amazing!" or "Oh man no, but I keep hearing everyone saying how great it was! I wish I was there!" The place was positively buzzing about Eugene's drum surf and the rest of the general craziness they really did steal the show but it was NOT A CRIME!
Sorry I know that was corny but it was between that or something like "how gypsy of them" and that seems offensive, and why would I want to do that when I loved them so much?
Anyway, by the time Gogol finished, I felt like I had been hit by a truck .a hot, dirty, truck that somehow had the ability to make you really really thirsty and want to sit down. James and I needed some drinks, and we needed to mellow out a bit. These needs lent themselves wonderfully to our next little adventure so back to giganto stage we went we grabbed a few drinks on the way.
As we made our way onto the massive field, and headed for the front, Ziggy Marley was not playing his father's "Trenchtown Rock" in fact, he didn't play it at all but as I heard his music drifting over the great plain of the What Stage, I could actually feel my body start to relax, and all I could think was "One good thing bout music when it hits you feel no pain "
Ziggy was the perfect act for where James and I were at both mentally and physically at that point he was like medicine for the soul. He stood there and sang and danced, playing a combination of his own fantastic tunes and the classics his dad was known for and he seemed altogether at peace with the world, his audience, and the fact that he was performing on a stage that was roughly half the size of his native Jamaica.
We walked all the way up to the front, were I snapped some pictures. Ziggy saw me, and started smiling and posing for me it was great. I smiled back, and he nodded and went on doin his thing. After that, I moved back a little and sat down.
Ziggy was like a one man musical MASH unit. First, "Is This Love?" seemed to take away some of the aches and pains. Next, "Jammin" lowered my body temperature. Finally, "Love is My Religion" the second of his two encores, and title of his latest album, did a little sterilization and cleaned off some of the dirt. The period right after his set, around five-ish, was the best I'd felt all day.
Now this was the point in the day where James and I had predetermined that we were going to split up. He really wanted to see a band called Spoon, that I had little interest in .conversely, I really wanted a good spot for The Police, and figured my best bet was to stay at the What Stage through Ben Harper's performance, gradually moving towards the front there was a problem with that plan, but I didn't know that yet. Anyway, we decided, that James would go see Spoon, I'd watch Ben, then we'd watch The Police from out own separate locations and we'd meet up afterwards for late night.
Right up until it was time to split up, I toyed with the idea of just saying fuck it, and sticking with James but the way I was feeling after Ziggy spending the next two or three hours sitting down sounded like heaven. So we recapped the plan and the rough meeting spot, slapped hands, and James went off on his own all he told me later about Spoon was that they were "okay".
My adventure which really was mostly just sitting on my ass for the next few hours, next to this nice couple that were dealing drugs out of a fanny pack started with some irritating news.
I touched on this before, but didn't really explain it. The front section of the What Stage, was set up with these two huge "pits" where people watched the shows from. Pits sounds kinda cool and a little trendy they were really just steel barricade lined holding pens. They ran the entire width of the stage, and extended out I don't know a few hundred feet. It would have been one huge pit, but there was a security walkway running down from center stage, that divided it into two. The area was big enough to fit a few thousand people easily.
This design, which originated at the huge music festivals they have across Europe every summer, is meant to prevent a huge push towards the stage that could result in people in the front being crushed to death. Sadly, at the places where they first started using these things, that was a regular occurrence. But really it seemed a bit of a stretch to imagine the Bonnaroo crowd mainly peace-loving hippies high to all holy hell charging Ziggy Marley and crushing each other to death.
I guess better safe than sorry but it did really seem like overkill.
Anyway, I was in the "pit" when Ziggy finished, and figured I'd move up a little closer for Ben, and when he was done move as close as I could before The Police started. It seemed like a great plan until this gorilla of a security guard came up and told me I had to leave. I asked why, and he said "cause you do". Don't you just love security guards?
What I didn't know, but someone other than that asshole was nice enough to tell me, was that the way Bonnaroo was running things was that after every performance, the pits would be emptied, and folks waiting on lines off to the side during the previous set would be allowed in.
Okay no harm no foul where's the line? HOLY SHIT! That's the line?
It was this huge snaking thing that ran back I'd say twice as far as the barricade itself extended from the stage. I was instantly discouraged but wait a minute
"Excuse me, is this the line for Ben Harper?"
"Where's the line for The Police?"
"Isn't one yet I don't think "
I got on the end of the Ben line, sat there for a while, and then when they opened the gates, I rode it all the way up to the front, and then just sat down again and let people walk past me. When the pen was full, and the gate closed, I was happily seated among the first twenty people or so that would be allowed in for The Police and I could see the stage just fine for Harper to boot. I even had two bottles of water on me that I bought as the line went passed a vendor. I was in excellent shape now I just had to kill forty five minutes til Ben came on, sit through him, and kill another hour between that and The Police seems a bit tedious in retrospect, but at the time I was just happy that I didn't have to move.
It didn't take me long to realize that the woman next to me and her boyfriend were, as I mentioned, drug dealers. They were selling pot, coke, and some little yellow mystery pills, that I assume weren't Nuprin.
Now, I don't know if you're aware of this or not, but drug dealers come in two categories. They're either scary Crips, Bloods, and that guy with the scar running from his forehead to his chin standing by the entrance to the parking lot at the mall, all fall into this category .or .they're ummm not scary you know that fat guy in your English class that's always wearing tie-dye, your cousin, and that dude at the video store that's always watching Half-Baked, and even though it's funny is always laughing way too hard.
My line neighbors happened to be of the "not scary" variety, so I really didn't mind sitting there with them. Plus I was starved for entertainment between bands, and you always hear great conversations hanging around near drug dealers
"Dude, you got any zip?"
"No Zip you know, Z"
"Honey, do we have Z?"
"Nah, we ain't got no Z"
"Sorry man, no Z."
At this point I'm thinking, what the fuck is Z? I made a note to look it up, but on the nifty little website Streetdrugs.org which DOES list things, both street names and real names, that I've never heard of, like Tryptamines, San Pedro Cactus, Benzodiazepeines, and Levo Alphacetylmethadol there is absolutely nothing in their alphabetical listings under the letter Z.
What the fuck was this kid trying to do to himself? Probably the same as the next one some dopey stoner, maybe eighteen, maybe twenty who walked up and said
"What are you guys selling?"
"We got pot, coke and some other stuff."
"Will the other stuff fuck me up?"
"How fucked up you trying to get?"
"I don't wanna remember nothing!" he said with a huge smile on his face.
Ahhh drug people, when will you learn? Why would you pay $240 for a concert ticket and travel god knows how far, only to intentionally get so high that you don't remember any of it? You could do that at home, and use the money you saved to get even higher. That just seems so obvious to me could it really be a concept this guy hadn't thought of? He must have been high when he came up with this plan but unfortunately for his wallet, not high enough that he didn't remember it!
"This shit" the little yellow pills "will take you way past remembering!"
"Really? What would happen if I took two?"
Mental forehead slap!
Ever the salesman, the dealer oh by the way, the way their system worked was that the guy did all the deals, figured out the money, quantity, blah blah blah, and then handed the customer off to the girl, who opened up the fanny pack and actually handed out the drugs anyway, ever the salesman the guy agrees to see the kid not one, not two, but three mystery pills, and some pot to help him come down, for $60. The kid agrees, and the dealer takes his money while offering a warning, "Now don't take all three of those, cause forget about remembering tonight, you might not remember to breath."
The kid's reply "AWESOME!"
Fucking drug people .ugh.
Things went on like that for the next solid hour or so. I just sat there listening, wondering how the dealers could be so open and not be worried that any of the thousands of people sitting and walking by me for instance were cops. What? Don't look at me like that! I could so be a cop! I'm huge and often times obnoxious what more do you want? Oh a desire to put people in jail for doing something with themselves that doesn't hurt anyone else nah, that's not me I'll need to find a different career path.
See, you may have noticed that a few thousand pages ago I mentioned that I'm not working right now. I'm in the market for something different from how I spent the last ten years, so I'm pretty open minded about looking at someone's gig and thinking about whether or not it would work for me we now know that police officer is out and I decided waiting on that line, that drug dealer was also not a position that I was suited for I'm WAY to paranoid, and I wouldn't be able to help myself from berating the idiots that's purchased my wares.
Oh well ya live ya learn. I saw there thinking about all of this and just watching the folks around me going about their lives I realized that I would probably enjoy, and actually be good at, being the guy that climbs to the top of the sound tower, and works the spotlights during the shows. A nice private spot with a great view seems like a great gig. How does one get into that line of work, I thought?
I was pondering that when I noticed a gigantic, maybe twenty five foot in diameter, smoke ring floating up over some trees off in the distance. I knew instinctively that it was part of "The Art of Such N Such." which was a performance art thing on the other side of the festival grounds that specialized in fire. I had a few fleeting glimpses of this stuff over the weekend, and found it really cool I wish I had more time to check it out but again Bonnaroo there's never enough time. Anyway, when people saw the smoke ring, everyone started cheering I chuckled to my cynical self and thought YAY AIR POLLUTION! Clap it up hippie clap it up just don't blame me later when the penguins can't find a fucking iceberg to waddle on. Eventually, the hour was over, and Ben Harper took the stage.
Now we've already established that I didn't think Ben really held his own during the Superjam the night before, and to be honest, there was no way I would have gone to his set if it wasn't for my ingenious scheme to catch The Police .but believe it or not, I'm more or less always an optimist when it comes to live music. I've been to too many shows that I didn't really want to be at, only to have an amazing time, to ever look at an empty stage and predetermine that the people about to stand on it would have nothing to offer me.
Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals didn't have anything to offer me.
Well, they played one or two songs that I liked "With My Own Two Hands", "Burn One Down" and they did bring Ziggy Marley out for a song, "Get Up Stand Up", which was great. But all in all, I felt the same way about their set as I did about Ben's contribution the night before adequate, but nothing special. This was definitely a minority opinion amongst the audience that day, which is fine by me lots of people like sour cream too I can't even stand looking at it .too each his own. Plus, it's not like Ben was terrible, it just didn't move me
There was one moment in the set that I did find really lame and I'll bet a thousand bucks it was a whole bunch of folks' favorite part. This low point was when Ben brought out his pal, John Paul Jones.
.whoa whoa whoa there Mike
you said John Paul
Jones was amazing last night
why was he lame now? He wasn't. What
they did was. They played just one song
"Dazed and Confused"
they had already done the night before. With so many great Zeppelin
tunes to chose from, why on earth would you do the same one two days
in a row in front of what was surly, at least in part, the same audience?
I feel pretty comfortable saying that for me, Ben Harper on the What Stage, Saturday dusk was the least interesting thing I saw all weekend. Hey, Someone had to take that spot, and let's face facts, Smokin Dave did a smokin Beastie Boys cover, Rx Bandits had a that crazy ass trombone player, and Alexa Ray Joel had a much nicer rack than Ben Harper did. It is what it is on to The Police.
It seems only fair that I mention at this point that I honestly never was a Police fan. In fact, a few years ago I heard a band playing in a barbeque restaurant I know where if you eat their entire two pound pulled pork sandwich they put your picture on "the wall of pigs", do a cover of "So Lonely" which I had never heard before. I went home, and looked up the song, and was instantly annoyed when I found out it was a Police tune. Regardless, I'm no dummy, and I knew that having some photographs of this band that was fetching $5,000 a ticket in some cities like New York was something I should make an effort to do.
So, when they had finished clearing the Harper crowd out of the pit, and opened the gates to allow me and my fellow line dwellers to rush in, I ran up to the front and got a spot that even though there were no "rows" was easily the equivalent of a second row seat, and would have cost $500 at face value, and god knows how much from a scalper, at any of the band's other performances this summer. I was happy with my spot, I just hoped the effort I put into it was worthwhile.
It was and it wasn't.
During the hour or so that I stood around in front of the stage, I watched the guy in front of me go step by step from just another guy, to the highest guy I had ever seen in my life. First, he dropped acid. Then he did some lines of coke off the back of his hand. Next, he smoked some hash and pot mixed together, and then finally, he started chewing on a ball of opium all in literally about forty five minutes. I was amazed that he could stand. I felt like I was going to get high just by standing next to him it was moderately unsettling.
Also unsettling, though funny, where the people a few "rows" behind me that screamed out over the crowd that they were "biting asses all the way to the front". It was two girls that made this announcement, and guess what they literally bent over and started biting people's asses in an attempt to get them to jump out of their way they were making pretty good progress too, but thankfully the guy behind me refused to move whether they bit his behind or not I would have bought him a drink for sparing me the irritation if it were at all possible, be alas, we were thoroughly sardined into the pit, and no where near any sort of beverages.
Anyway, finally after three or four hours of sitting around, The Police took the stage and the crowd, a full 80,000 strong, reacted as if God had just walked out under the lights .hey look at that, tonight's headliner has lights! We're moving on up!
Stewart Copland, the drummer, and hands down most musically respectable member of The Police, hit his gong yeah, a gong I know, I know but apparently, a TON of people don't think that's as ridiculous and unnecessary as you and I do and the band lurched into "Message In A Bottle".. It was good I'll admit that I found myself jumping up and down in place as was everyone around me, and thinking, hey, I know this one as I sang along "Sending out and s-o-s, sending out an s-o-s sending out a blah blah blah "
It was at some point in this, their first tune, that Sting yelled out "Tennessee, how ya doin?" and I instantly realized that he had no idea where he was. I mean clearly he knew what state he was in, but equally clearly, he didn't know what the hell Bonnaroo was, and in his mind was just at "the Tennessee gig" on the tour. This became more than just a theory later in the set when he said something or other about "Bonnaroo, Tennessee" as in, you know, the great, albeit non-existent, city of Bonnaroo. It made the entire thing feel really disingenuous right from the start, and reminded me rather painfully of why I was never into The Police in the first place. I was just glad I hadn't shelled out a grand for two tickets to one of their actual gigs.
"Synchronicity II" was up next which as a guy that never got into The Police, I didn't really recognize just like I didn't know any of the following five songs between that and "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic". I didn't really mind though, as I was getting great photos of the guys, well after the official photographers were cleared out of the photo pit (two songs in), and for me that made up for any complaints I had about the set list.
One thing that was disappointing was the total abandonment of the set Steward Copland had been promising they were going to play via many media outlets including the Bonnaroo website. You see, as a member of the band Oysterhead, which also features Trey Anastasio from Phish and Les Claypool from Primus, Steward had actually played Bonnaroo before. He was in love with the festival, and it's whole improvisational vibe, and promised fans a special "one of a kind" set when The Police played that Saturday night. He went so far as to say that they might just "play five songs for a half hour each!"
Unfortunately, when they took the stage, there was not even a hint of what Stewart was talking about. Of the 18 songs they played, no song ran much over seven minutes only two made it that far...and you could forget about "one of a kind" as seventeen out of eighteen songs they played, are featured in their set, nightly. The songs were even played more or less in the same order that they are every other night .and adding insult to injury, their Bonnaroo set was actually a SHORTER set than what they usually do both in the number of songs played, and in the time it took to play them. So forget about special, this show was actually sub-par!
Guess what happened was, The Police haven't been around in so long, no one told them fans could use this magical thing called "the internet" and see exactly what they did in other cities one of a kind my ass.
Regardless, the people that were there to see The Police, ate it up. I enjoyed it to a point, as I always like to add big name bands to my "yeah I've seen them" list, and I was getting off on photographing a band that's in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame but for me, it really was just a novelty. I stuck around until they started playing "Roxanne" and then began making my way out of the densely packed crowd on my way to the Which Stage for late night. As it turned out, "Roxanne" was the last song of the main set, and I was able to hear the four song encore, including "So Lonely", as I made my way out, and even after I left the What Stage field and made my way to the next venue.
As I heard, and saw via a giant screen visible over some trees, the Police come to a close, I pulled out my phone as it was now time to meet up with James. There were actually a lot of people waiting around the Which stage already, so I text messaged him, "Hey, get over here they are a few thousand people around already I have a good spot for us." It took a half hour for him to reply.
While I was waiting for his response, I had bought us around of drinks as his response didn't come, I drank said round, bought another, and drank that too.
His reply when it finally came was "I'll never find you!"
I wrote back, "I'll leave the crowd. Meet me by the backstage entrance, and we'll find a better spot." I figured the backstage area would be easy to find, and even though I was giving up a great spot, I would rather watch the show with James. I left the spot I had staked out, bought a third round for us and went to the meeting spot. By the time I got the message "Fuck it, just go wherever I'll call you later" I had already finished the sixth beer.
I was pissed off. I don't deny it. I had a great spot and I gave it up to meet my friend he knew this, and wasn't going to meet me. I bought another beer, and started making my way back into the crowd drunk and annoyed this was probably a mistake.
I guess it was clear that I was angry, because this group of people, three girls and two guys, that called themselves Team Ramrod, started asking me what was wrong and telling me that I should smile which only made me want to punch each of the five of them right in the fucking mouth...can you tell I came up in the punk scene? I managed to repress my rage, and one of the Ramrods told me it was important to forgive a few minutes later as I made my way away from them, she was screaming at her boyfriend about something I was feeling confrontational, and almost told her to remember to forgive but I thought better of it and made my way deeper into the crowd again, not the best plan.
Now seems like a good time to mention that the crowd was insanity incarnate. See, the band coming up next was The Flaming Lips and man oh man do the Flaming Lips fans sure like their drugs! Remember the high guy at the Police .the one simultaneously on acid, coke, hash, pot, and opium these people made him look like a lightweight. The kid that was excited that he might take enough drugs that night that he'd stop breathing he was hardcore enough to be a junior member of this crowd. I suspect they were all on Z.
Once again, I, am not a drug person and just to reiterate, while I was surrounded by all these drug people, I was pretty much ummm both angry and drunk as hell .this is not a good match .angry drunks don't mesh well with acid freaks that have duct taped glow-sticks to their entire bodies and are dancing, to no music whatsoever, as if they have no bones beneath their skin. I wondered if their hallucinogenics allowed them to see the steam coming off of my head.
Rewinding just a touch, The Police had played for about an hour and forty five minutes they were scheduled for two and a half as they were the headliners, and thus the only band playing during that time period, this left a significant hole in the action. Never fear, The Flaming Lips have to do a soundcheck and since there's no one else on any stage any where they might as well just come out early and play a full song, lights and all, to the good people waiting for them! They played Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" and kicked off a trend of Sabbath covers that would carry over into the next evening it was really cool.
When they were done with the soundcheck, they played the incomparable Wesley Willis' tune "The Flaming Lips" over the PA and that was equally cool. If you're unfamiliar with Wesley you should go get one of his records you really only need one but you really do NEED one.
Before he passed away a few years ago Wesley, a 300 plus pound clinically diagnosed schizophrenic who was know for gently head-butting his fans as a greeting, recorded over a thousand songs both with his various bands, and alone with his trusty keyboard. Often his songs were completely offensive "Casper the Homosexual Friendly Ghost" or "Suck A Pitbull's Dick" but more often than not, they were just about what he wanted for lunch "Your Way Right Away" or whatever band he was listening to at the time "The Flaming Lips" Regardless of subject matter, his songs ALWAYS put a smile on my face, and I truly was deeply saddened when leukemia took Wesley, at just forty years old, before I could personally get a head-butt.
It was really great, almost touching, to hear Wesley Willis at Bonnaroo a place where he surly would have been welcomed all I can say is Rock over London Rock on Chicago!
Back to the action .it's just about midnight, I'm dirty, tired, drunk, and alone, and everyone around me is higher than the Sears Tower on acid .I don't mean that they were all on acid, though many were, I mean they were higher than if the Sears, tallest fucking building in America, Tower would be if it actually dropped acid! Let's just dive right into the weird
There were people as I mentioned covered head to toe in glow-sticks that they'd adhered to themselves through various means the most interesting where gigantic ten foot tall glow-people that seemed to walk over the crowd they were actually attached to shoulder harnesses and had sticks coming off of them so the guys wearing them could control their arms they didn't look like they were easy to build or to control.
Aside from the glow people, there were people just walking around carrying glow-sticks by the hundreds one girl actually had two buckets full and sporadically, they would just fling them into the air mindless of the fact that there was no where for them to land other than ON PEOPLE! This happened at another show later in the weekend, and I got hit so hard by one glow-stick that I actually had a bruise for a week! It fucking hurt!
Also flying through the air, though considerably less painful, were hundreds, literally hundreds, of beach balls along with various other blown up etcetera ranging from a two foot tall Incredible Hulk to a full sized blow-up Killer Whale! Of course there were also inflated condoms and blow-up sex dolls floating in the atmosphere above the rapidly expanding crowd.
There were folks all over the place in costumes that ranged from homemade pirates and ninjas to very fancy full body costumes, mostly of very furry animals. There was one guy wearing a kayak that he'd cut leg holes into .I found myself wondering how one gets something like that through the security checkpoint at the arch, and wasn't sure I wanted to know oh by the way, the Kayak guy was himself dressed as his own oar.
There were also naked people in two varieties the ones that had stripped and been painted various colors throughout the day which I had seen before not just at Bonnaroo and the ones that just said...ahhhh fuck clothes and threw their clothing, all of it, up amongst the balloons and glow-sticks, to be tossed to the end of the world.
Lastly, there were the lasers.
See, The Flaming Lips are known for putting on a completely over the top, unique, live show that's as crazy as the audience I've just described would suggest. For their Bonnaroo show, or maybe all their shows for all I know the band thought maybe it would be fun to toss hundreds of laser pointers into the crowd before they came on. As you'd expect, this resulted in every solid surface in sight being covered in little red dots. At any given moment, anyone within five hundred feet of the stage, where the lasers had been distributed, would have anywhere from one to twenty laser pinpoints crawling over their body.
At one point in a rather impressive organic display, everyone decided to shine their lasers in unison at the giant "Which" sign atop the stage the gigantic word almost disappeared under the electronic swarm.
You should know now, that there was nothing overtly ominous about the scene unfolding around me, in fact on the surface there was a childish innocence about it all but something maybe the obvious, massive chemical intake was making the whole thing seem very heavy. I couldn't shake the feeling that the cutesy costumes were disguising a much darker reality, and as I got packed in tighter and tighter with this technicolor neon mob, I felt more and more uncomfortable then the spaceship landed.
No really a fucking spaceship landed!
One a scale of one to ten, I'd say that the Flaming Lips concert was functioning at about a seven on the craz-ometer, before they even came on stage and within one minute of their arrival, we were already at a ten full blown, get the straight jacket, call Bellevue, fucking insanity.
It all started, as I've already mentioned twice, when the house lights on the stage went down, and the spaceship showed up. It was, I'd guess, forty feet in diameter, and had more lights on it than you've ever seen on any stage, anywhere. It descended from the ceiling of the Which stage slowly as a loud robotic pulsing came out of the PA, and a smoke machine kicked into high gear. The drug people were in awe.
Once the ship had landed, after a minute and a half of sure-fire epileptic fun, a huge bubble inflated out of its roof and Wayne Coyne, the singer of the Flaming Lips was standing inside. He raised his hands in triumph, as the crowd approached rapture at the coming of their bubble-clad savior.
At this point, I knew what was coming next hey, I've got You Tube and a lot of free time but I was still excited to watch Wayne begin to roll his bubble down the front slope of the spaceship, over the waiting heads of some of his on stage disciples, and into the crowd .who with great anticipation stuck their arms out over their bodies, and virtually begged Wayne to walk over their heads in his bubble which he did. Those who passed beneath him instantly fell to the ground and began convulsing and speaking the gospel of the holy church of the Flaming Lips. I'd call it cult-like but that doesn't really come close to the right level of frenzy and madness that I was standing in the middle of.
Once Wayne made it back to the stage and shed the bubble, the giant onstage confetti canons roared into action, and the band kicked things off with "Race For The Prize" At this point, the spaceship descended on an angle, and blasted the crowd with the hundreds, if not thousands of lights lodged in its underbelly and at that exact moment, 99.99% of the crowd was gyrating, bouncing, and spinning along with various other forms of frolic in outer space.
The other 0.01% of the audience, consisted of .me.
Somehow I'd managed to miss the trip to outer space completely, and instead was standing back on Earth getting pelted in the head with glow-sticks, an inflatable Wonder Woman, and about fifty pounds of confetti. I was also in the middle of a full blown, 'this is too god damn weird DON'T FUCKING TOUCH ME!' panic attack .and someone was pushing me.
I was trying to calm down and get my head around the whole situation, but the constant shove about once every two seconds wore me down pretty quickly. I really didn't want to be the guy the one guy out of all these thousands and thousands of care free happy people, to turn around and start a brawl. I also knew the guy pushing me was probably high, and didn't have the slightest clue of what he was doing.
Still as I've tried to explain, I was no where near at peace at that particular moment...in fact, I really was having something of a mini nervous breakdown and after push number five or six, it was confrontation time. I spun around, fist-balled up, snarl on my face, and was about to growl "Stop fucking pushing me" in my most menacing tone the idea was to be intimidating enough that it ended right there with no actual violence but the second I spun around the whole plan went to hell the guy pushing me was dressed head to toe in a gigantic yellow duck suit.
I gotta tell ya folks from experience, that I doubt you've had it is impossible to look intimidating when you're facing an eight foot tall plush duck in fact, it's impossible to do anything other than just stand there gaping, jaw dropped to the floor, wondering just where the fuck you are and how you get back home.
The duck pushed me again this time while I was facing him and I realized to my great horror that this was not unintentional behavior this giant duck was trying to pick a fight with me!
Now I'm no stranger to strange confrontations I once had a den mother instruct her troop of cub scouts to attack me if I stepped outside the store I was working in at the time but in that instance, I just called mall security and laughed it off as anyone would when they just had a "responsible adult" instruct a gang of eight year olds to beat somebody up. But seriously, what the fuck do you do when you're in the middle of a field with ten thousand people tripping their balls off and a giant duck is threatening to kick your ass? I had no frame of reference for this nothing to build a plan around I was god damn terrified!
The duck tilted its head and held its huge orange webbed hands out to its sides as if to say "well?"
I did the only thing I could think of .loudly said "Fuck this!" turned my back, and began making my way OUT of the flaming madness that was the Flaming Lips. As I was walking away, I got hit in the back with a glow-stick which I thought at first was the first salvo of the Duck's attack I spun around ready to .Jesus Christ ready to throw down with a Duck but he was nowhere to be seen. I couldn't get out of there fast enough I'll never know why the Duck hated me.
By the time I got out, I was shaken. That's the only way to put it. The Flaming Lips or more accurately, the combination of The Flaming Lips, their audience, a little over a half a dozen beers, god knows how much second hand hash in the air, and the fact that I was completely irritated with the only person I knew within a thousand miles truly did a number on me. Add into the equation that I was near exhausted not in a figure of speech way but in a "the possibility of mental and physical collapse was now very real" kind of way .and you get one freaked out Mike. I was totally losing it. I was so upset, that I actually wanted to call it a night right there I wanted to quit Bonnaroo!
Buuuuut James had the car keys, and without them, I'd be forced to get into the tent covered in filth which I'd then have to sleep in not just that night but the next as well. You could count me out for that slice of heaven ..sooooo I was trapped, alone and miserable wondering the fields of Bonnaroo aimlessly trying in vain to calm down. I was feeling mentally Ben Harper as in, I had hit my low point.
Then I'm near the fountain, close to the spot where James and I had been two nights earlier when we watched that heavy pink band from a mile away, and all of a sudden, the wind picks up a bit, and carries a familiar voice to my ears. Some great magnet pulls me towards this sound, and I'm helpless to resist it, like a moth to a flame. As the voice, and the now audible band accompanying it grow louder, and it becomes clearer that it's not just some strange auditory hallucination, I feel a strange peace wash over my body. My muscles relax. My mind slows to it's normal rate. The panic attack is over, along with the desire to end my night early I've found my center. I've found salvation, in Gov't Mule.
I had intentionally skipped Gov't Mule's set that night because I had already seen them more than fifteen times. The thought process was hey, I didn't fly a thousand miles to see something I've seen a thousand times back in New York but the thought process didn't take into account that I'd be alone in the middle of the night desperately needing something familiar to bring me down from a truly unsettling trip to the bizarre dark side of drug soaked counter culture. I suppose most people wouldn't find Mule's music soothing at that moment, to me, it was mother's milk .I guess my guardian angel wears a hard hat.
As I got closer and closer to the stage, which had a huge crowd around it, but somehow had a nice open space for me to stand in right near the front, a smile played across my lips, and I knew I was going to be okay .as it turned out, the next three hours were better than okay they were magnificent.
I hadn't been in my spot for two minutes when Warren Haynes, Mule's singer and guitarist who whether you know it or not happens to be the GREATEST guitar player in the world today, and possibly of all time brought a special guest out on stage with the band Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. They played the opening notes of The Dead's "Sugaree" and I passed straight through calm and into bliss. There was no doubt in my mind that I was where I belonged and this was a great welcome home present.
I found out later that Bobby wasn't the first guest that Mule had brought out with them. Michael Franti of Spearhead had already come and gone, presumably while I was dealing with the duck.
While I was blissfully unaware that I had missed Franti, I was especially happy to be seeing Weir, because I already knew I was going to miss his band, Ratdog, when they did their thing over on the main stage the next afternoon. What I didn't know at the time was that Bob Weir wouldn't, be the last musician Gov't Mule brought out that night, that I'd missed or would miss elsewhere at Bonnaroo not by a long shot. In fact, their set became so guest laden that it was almost like the Bonnaroo Cliff Notes!
Now, a while back, I nicknamed Gov't Mule "the band that can play anything" as part of my theory that although their original's are great their true magic lies in the fact that they're the worlds greatest cover band. I've heard them do everything from the Rolling Stones to Radiohead and back and no matter what they're taking on, nine times out of ten their version is better than the original! Following Bob Weir's thirty minute guest spot, the band went even further towards proving that they can do anything live and now for something completely different Gov't Mule goes comedy?
After Bob left the stage the band began playing an instrumental jam. This had been going on for a few minutes when all of a sudden, an angry little man stormed out on to the stage waving his arms and screaming "Stop stop stop stop the music!" The man, was none other than Lewis Black!
The band stopped what they were doing in faux surprise, and Lewis said "This song has no fucking lyrics? How am I supposed to sing the fucking song? Son of a bitch!" The crowd was laughing at this surrealistic little piece of choreographed humor when all of a sudden it went off in a whole new direction .reality.
While the crowd was still chuckling at Lewis' entrance, one fan who clearly wasn't a fan at all, threw a bottle up at the stage, and hit Mr. Black right in the head! The entire crowed gasped, then booed, and both Lewis and Warren simply said, "Wow!?"
Haynes, the more idealistic of the pair, said almost pleadingly, "I thought this was Bonnaroo man "
Lewis took a different approach he started calm enough buuuut before long he lost it
"Well guys, just to explain, it was called a joke. It was gonna be thirty seconds long and now whoever that prick was is gonna pay for this! Okay? Here's the deal cocksucker .you don't throw shit at people performing on stage! I DON'T GIVE A FUCK IF YOU DON'T LIKE EM! You know what I should do to punish you fucking sing! You fuck!"
The crowd went wild! Everyone was howling and laughing again .and somewhere some guy was trying desperately to get the fuck out of there before it was discovered that he was the one that threw the bottle.
Lewis went on, "But I'm a better person than that. You're lucky to be here tonight, you're in the presence of God." he gestured to Haynes.
"Take care you little pricks!" And with that he stormed off the stage, the band picked up the jam where they'd left off, and the crowd screamed in a fashion that clearly represented both their approval, and their apology for the one idiot amongst them.
When the jam wound down a few minutes later, the band played a cut from their new album High & Mighty. It's worth mentioning that the song, "Unring the Bell" was one of only seven Gov't Mule originals that the band played in their twenty one song performance see, I told you the boys liked cover songs! Of the seven originals, four were from the new record and of the three remaining originals, two were played before I arrived at the show.
"Unring The Bell" led into a wicked Matt Abts extended drum solo and then the opening drum roll of "Moby Dick" by Led Zeppelin and then you know what's coming don't you .John Paul Jones!
After "Moby Dick" the band then jumped into a blistering "Livin Lovin Maid"! It rocked! It was heavy and fast and made you want to jam your fist into the sky and scream YEESSSSSSSSSSS!!!!! In other words, it moved you exactly the way a Led Zeppelin song is supposed to. and I'm gonna come right out and say it .FUCK BEN HARPER this was the John Paul Jones performance that everyone wanted to see and wouldn't you know it they didn't play any of the songs twice!
Next up in this Gov't Zeppelin mini-set, John Paul Jones switched from bass to keyboard, and the band headed off into the slow blues of "Since I've Been Loving You" which slithered along in it's lazy groove until at just the right moment, it EXPLODED! Nine minutes later when the utter abundance of ROCK was under control and the jam had wound down, Warren looked to the crowd, looked to his left and as if he was in awe himself just said, "John Paul Jones, huh?" and shook his head.
Now before I get to the finale of this Zeppelin love fest, which also capped off the first of Mule's two sets, let me tell you something about John Paul Jones. This guy clearly LOVED Bonnaroo! At a festival known for everyone sitting in with everyone else John Paul Jones showed up on more stages with more bands, on more instruments, than anyone else did all weekend.
He played with Superjam (guitar and bass) as announced, along with both Ben (bass) and Mule (bass and keyboards) as I've told you. But he also sat in on mandolin with Uncle Earl and Gillian Welch during their sets and get ready, this is classic he even sat in on a jam at one of the campsites with some fans! The man was freakin everywhere!
Of course the rumors that JPJ will return to Bonnaroo next year to headline the main stage with a re-united Led Zeppelin are already spreading like wildfire all I can say is that if it happens, I hope Warren Haynes, or as Lewis Black referred to him, God, is available to return the sit-in favor I mean c'mon Jimmie Page and Warren Haynes gimmie a break people would lose their minds!
Also, I know it's Jason (the late John Bonham's son) Bonham's gig to lose if this Zeppelin thing ever goes down .but hey, how about ?uestlove on the skins that would work just fine for me .just fine indeed.
On the flip side of the rumor mill we heard that at some point later in the weekend, someone stole John Paul Jones' bass and that just sucks .I mean really who steals a bass? I hope this doesn't fuck up my fantasy Zeppelin show for next year!
Anyway, to close out their first set, which had already been truly amazing and unique, Gov't Mule along with John Paul Jones gave the audience an equally amazing song that many thought, only to be disappointed, they'd hear Tool play their version of the night before. The song was, "No Quarter" and from the opening keyboard lines it was already utterly clear that it was about to steal the show.
For twelve minutes, it was just pure raw musical ability, almost bottomless talent, being pushed to it's limits in the confines, or lack there of, of a fantastic song. It was extraordinary. It was awe-inspiring. It was in all honesty mythic and believe it or not they didn't need a gong to pull it off .or a spaceship for that matter.
it was all over, and the hurricane of screams and cheers downgraded
to a tropical storm of cheers and screams, Warren said, "We're
gonna take a really short break. We've got a lot more guests in the
house. Don't go anywhere." After what they had just seen, I don't
think you could have dragged that audience away from that stage
was it this stage
with all the wild, or penned up near my tent,
horses you could find! I just sat down where I stood.
This time it was Jorma Kaukonen, Barry Mitterhoff and Jack Cassady from the band Hot Tuna. They stuck around for about twenty minutes to play two songs, "Come Back Baby" and "Death Don't Have No Mercy" The later of which had an evil thick as molasses delta blues feel to it, which while totally different from the bombast of the earlier Zeppelin covers, was every bit as great in it's own way .specially when Mule's keyboard player, Danny Louis, whipped out a trumpet, and really hammered home that ol' New Orleans feel. Great stuff.
Back to back originals at this point in the set provided a brief reprieve from the barrage of special guests, but not a terribly long one. Warren announced that he'd like to welcome Luther Dickenson from The North Mississippi All-Stars to the stage, and then added "It just wouldn't be Bonnaroo if we didn't share the stage with all of our friends!"
They led off with a very funky "That's What Love Will Make You Do" which got the whole crowd clapping and dancing, and then hit the old blues standard "32-20 Blues" as hard as they could! It was somewhere during this thirty minute mini-set with Luther that I got the first text message from James.
It's a very rare occurrence when you can actually tell that someone is high just from reading a text message that they've sent but the syntax and spelling of "am I were you r? flamin liss?" provided just such an occasion. Oh boy this should be fun I thought, and tried to figure out the simplest reply I could sent to explain where I was.
"I'm at "This Tent" watching Gov't Mule. Where should we meet?"
Now I fully expected the whole "Who's On First" thing to go down
"No, This Tent!"
But it didn't. Instead James just wrote back, "I'll come to you." and fifteen minutes later, wrote "I'm here."
Sigh. "Where here?"
This wasn't terribly helpful information. You see every stage at Bonnaroo was being recorded by a professional film crew, and therefore every stage at Bonnaroo had multiple cameras spread around it plus everyone in the audience also had a camera in hand. So to describe where you were simply by saying "Camera" .was completely fucking pointless!
"What camera?" I txt-ed back wondering just how long this reunion would take to actually pull off probably all night.
His reply came quickly though and was surprisingly detailed. "Camera by the soundboard right if you're facing the stage."
Now we're getting somewhere I thought "I'm on my way."
It took me five minutes to get to the location James had described and you'll never guess what I found there a bunch of people that weren't him!
"I'm here, where the fuck are you?"
"Exactly where I said I was!"
"I'm standing right there! Camera by the soundboard, right side facing the stage! You're not here!"
"I am so wait are gov't mule playing rap?"
"Ahhh fuck I'll be there in a few minutes."
Apparently, James had walked to That Tent, instead of This Tent and was watching Galactic, a New Orleans based funk group that just released an album of duets with various rappers. So far, it's an honest mistake that anyone could've made .but when you take into account that he stayed at the rap show for fifteen minutes, the whole time thinking he was at the hard rock/blues show, you realize he was just fucked up!
Read this like I'm Jeff Foxworthy If you confuse a skinny black guy rapping, and an overweight white guy playing a guitar you may have just seen the Flaming Lips!
Anyway, a few minutes later, James wandered into view. I walked over to him, and without either of us saying a word, we both started laughing. "You're retarded." I said after a while.
"Yeah. I am!" was his reply.
He showed up at Gov't Mule in time to see a little bit of Luther's appearance, which turned out to be the end of the second set. The encore, was just another chapter in this special performance though this time the band took the stage with no guests, and stretched their legs a bit on their own.
They started with "War Pigs" which as I mentioned, The Flaming Lips had played earlier and I found it amazing how these two bands with totally different sounds and audiences both turned to Black Sabbath, and both made it work. Mule took the tribute a little further and went from "War Pigs" straight into a second Sabbath classic, "Sweet Leaf".
James looked at me wide-eyed and asked, "Has the whole set been like this?"
"Yeah, it's been awesome they brought out like half the festival!"
I told James all the guests I could think of, and all he said was "Holy shit!"
Holy shit is right. I should have known something was up when I realized that the band was on tour in Europe immediately before and after Bonnaroo but had scheduled a trip home just to play the festival. The schedule was literally Sweden, Germany, TENNESSEE, Spain, Poland and so on. Gov't Mule CLEARLY felt that they had something to prove at Bonnaroo this year .and with their amazing line-up of guests and their fantastic song selection they clearly did nothing beats a good dose of the Mule!
For their final encore, they played what has become their most popular original; a song penned by Warren Haynes before he formed Gov't Mule, called "Soulshine". The audience went wild, and this amazing performance faded into land of memory, legend, and officially sanctioned downloads.
James and I walked back to camp raving about what we each had seen throughout the day though his recollections were harder to understand. There's a note in my book from around this time that says "James has stopped speaking English"
We laughed at our similar observations of Sting's disingenuousness, we pondered if the Hare Krishna guy we'd passed every time we'd walked that road, had ever stopped dancing and chanting at any point of the weekend, and I told the Duck story .at which point, James almost pissed himself laughing.
When I told him that I'd left the Lips for Mule, he gave the semi-coherent reply "Yeah well it's Bonnaroo ya gotta be like well it's either this, or the exact opposite of this at all times! Know what I mean?"
Oddly enough, I did.
We got back to camp, and I was hungry but in no mood to set up the grill in the dark. So, I invented a new form of heat-free, cheese-less nachos by putting Cheeze-It crackers on top of Tostitios chips delicious beyond words you should try it in a pinch.
I fell asleep with both bags lying next to me again, it was after four am.
"Motherfucker!" .must be morning .7:15 to be precise .and it was hot enough in our tent that I could have made real nachos if I only had some cheese. I looked over at James, and he just shook his head.
As was routine by that point, we spent an hour or so trying to ignore the obvious fact that it was now officially too hot to sleep. Then one of us, James I believe, got up and started to set up the grill for breakfast. We'd already decided that this would be our final campsite meal. Even though we would be waking up on the farm again the next day, we intended to leave without eating, and go somewhere for some food that, you know, came on a plate. With that in mind, we cooked as much of our remaining food as we could stomach, and then began handing out the rest to anyone near by that wanted it.
Perhaps because we had cooked a little longer that fourth day, or perhaps because James didn't quite have it set up right the table-top grill that we had transformed into a cooler-top grill set the cooler on fire, and melted through the hard plastic top, along with a decent amount of the insulation underneath I kinda don't think it'll function as a "5-Day" cooler anymore. As it was Sunday, not Thursday, and we didn't really need to keep anything cool anymore, I found this latest development to be hilarious especially since we had already decided that I'd be keeping the grill while James would get the cooler. Our neighbors were also amused .after they were sure we had it under control and weren't about to burn their tent down!
While we ate, James and I discussed our plan for that night and the following morning. There was no late night on day four of Bonnaroo. After Widespread Panic wrapped up their headlining stint on the main stage, that was it. There were two schools of though amongst festival goes one, was that after Panic, it was time to go the other, was to wait until the next morning to leave. Because we didn't want to sit in traffic, did want to be sober while driving out, and didn't have a flight to get on until five o'clock Monday afternoon, James and I had decided to stay the extra night. We had made that call before we had even set foot on the farm.
However after seeing the haphazard way that people poured into Bonnaroo, and now having a pretty thorough grasp on how fucked up people were willing to get we didn't really think it was the best idea to be in a tent, sleeping on the floor, as these people poured out of Bonnaroo seemed like that was just asking to get run over. So we decided that we would breakdown the tent, pack up all of our shit, and sleep that final night IN the car which might have been more comfortable in the first place. The only question was, do we pack up everything before heading to Centeroo or late that night after Widespread Panic.
What we came up with was that since we had hours to kill until the day's music got rolling, we might as well pack up early. We set to work on that, and within an hour, we had the tent broken down and everything packed nicely in the car. At the time it seemed like we'd just gone with the practical choice as the day wore on, it became clear that we'd made the only choice.
By the time we got back from Panic, James wouldn't have been able to tie his shoes let alone break down and pack up a tent, in the dark and I wasn't much better. It wasn't that we were drunk or high .it was that we were completely and totally spent.
The last day at Bonnaroo was brutal. Aside from the fact that it was no doubt about it, the HOTTEST day we spent in hot ass Tennessee all the wear and tear, lack of sleep, excess beer, sweat, dirt, lack of showers, toilets, beds, and food along with constantly being surrounded by cow shit and people that smelled like they'd spent four days without a shower, in the sun surrounded by cow shit made the day more or less UNBEARABLE!
At one point I remarked to James, "Gold Bond may have saved my balls, but my soul is thoroughly chaffed!"
All of that resulted in my becoming just a little bit crankier and a little bit meaner, with every day four second that passed. James and I decided that I was becoming what we called "Fourth Day Hostile" a condition that I had pretty much no control over which resulted in me more or less hating every human being that passed before my eyes. There were moments of remission but for the most part all that hippie idealism of "hey, we're all here having a good time brother" had been replaced with "GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY WAY!!!"
Anyway, after we were all packed up, James and I headed in to Centeroo for the final time, a little later than we had the previous few days. As a result, we got to watch some of the John Butler Trio's performance on the main stage as we walked.
Don't let anyone tell you it's a small world folks it's really a very big world. In one part of it far far away from Tennessee, the John Bulter Trio is a BIG fucking deal! In that part of the world which by the way, is Australia John's had top ten albums and singles and had at least one record go platinum .five times over! He's been called the Dave Matthews of Australia. The guy's huge but in this part of the world no one fucking cares, and more people watched John on the walk in than did standing in front of him at the What Stage.
He wasn't bad great walking in music actually but you just got the since that more people were going "who?" than were going "Oh my God! I have to see John Butler!" Again big world.
Now making a point for the other side of the same coin as James and I walked past John Butler, we were actually on our way to see a different Australian group who were having big time success here in the US. This band was actually the one band I wanted to see going into Bonnaroo more than any other. Their name? Wolfmother.
Even if you don't know Wolfmother, you've probably heard them. Their music has been all over the place this past year or so. Aside from being virtually unavoidable on rock radio, their songs have been including in films as far apart on the audience scale as the sequels to Jackass and Shrek...plus they had new song in Spiderman 3...which more people went to see in it's first weekend than any movie ever. So like I said lots of people have heard this band and don't even know it.
When I got their CD, I was blown away. Imagine Led Zeppelin with Ozzy on lead vocals or the second coming of AC/DC or basically anything you can come up with that calls to mind hard and fast, balls to the wall seventies style hard rock. You know, anthem-ic, fist pumping rock, where the singer wails like a banshee and then the drums land on you like an anvil. Throw in a dash if mysticism you know, elves and the devil and shit and you've got the whole picture. THIS is the music blaring out of the van with the big fucking wizard painted on the side. They must love this shit in San Bernadino!
Anyway James and I were really pumped up about seeing the band, and though I would have enjoyed seeing Mavis Staples first thing Sunday morning you know kind of a Bonnaroo Gospel Brunch thing we decided that we'd head over to the Which Stage early and try to see Wolfmother up close. We got there early enough to get a good spot, and watch a singer/songwriter from New Jersey named Pete Yorn wrap up his set.
Pete does what all singer/songwriters do spends his days wishing he was as talented as Bob Dylan, and spends his nights playing Dylan-esque tunes that may be more pleasing to the ear than Bob's rasp, but don't quite touch the soul of the listener in the same way. It's not an insult, it just is what it is. Pete Yorn, Willie Nile, Jessie Malin, Ryan Adams they're all just "the next Bob Dylan" without ever quite becoming the next Bob Dylan. Sorry.
On to the ROCK!!! Sorta
While waiting for Wolfmother to take the stage, it became really clear that contrary to all logic and sense of what should be allowed in the universe it was in fact HOTTER than it had been all weekend thus far. It had to be pushing a hundred degrees if it hadn't already jumped that hurdle. And as an added bonus, Which Stage offered zero shade unless you trekked back hundreds of feet from the action to the lone tree in the field .which had enough people huddled under it that it was just as fucking hot.
This was not the proper environment for music that inspired jumping around and slamming into each other. My most anticipated performance was fast becoming something I wasn't looking forward to at all and it wasn't just me. The huge crowd amassing in front of the stage was NOT buzzing with excitement, but rather dreading the tedious experience that was about to occur.
Seconds before the band took the stage, someone from their camp came out and tried to get the audience to howl literally you know like a wolf. A few people responded but most just kinda stood there going can we get on with this?
The band walked out, and when I saw the singer with his big curly afro, black eye make-up, and leather vest I just knew, this wasn't gonna work. These guys need stage lighting, and smoke machines, and an audience ready to explode rather than one ready to collapse and of course, I was right.
Wolfmother rocked their hearts out and the vast majority of the crowd just stood there, at most nodding their heads. Occasionally, someone would try to crowd surf, but would be dropped almost immediately since no one had the energy or desire to pass someone covered in crap over their heads.
One such crowd surfer landed on me and I snapped, "Oh Jesus! Can we pass his ass to Jenny Craig!?", which got a laugh from some bystanders and a smile from James that said, "You're an asshole!" I shrugged my shoulders and said "Eh, fourth day hostile. What can you do?"
Aside from the heat and overall poor atmosphere for the show, it didn't help that every time I looked up and saw something like a white double necked guitar, or a special microphone used only for certain words I couldn't help but think, "But these go to eleven!"
I came to the conclusion that Wolfmother should never perform in daylight again. They need to look like rock GODS to pull off what they're attempting and blue skies, sunshine, and some lovely green trees gently waving around behind them, greatly diminishes the effect.
About three quarters of the way through their set, when they announced they were going to jam a little, James and I gave up, and went of to find something else. I told myself that I would give the band another chance sometime, when they were in their element, but to be honest, I couldn't stop listening to their CD before Bonnaroo and haven't played it once in the month that's gone by since. Ouch.
Our next stop was a trip to one of the "mist tents" for something of a bootleg shower got you wet, but not clean. We took turns going in while the person outside held onto all the electronics and paper goods cameras, phones, money and maps.
While it was my turn to sit outside, I caught a little of a country act called David Bromberg and Angel Band, who were playing off in the distance. It was much more low key than Wolfmother, and fit perfectly with the state we were in. It also inspired our next move, which turned out to be about as perfect a choice as we could make.
When James popped out of the fake shower, I said, "You feel like seeing something a little different, that might be more relaxing?"
"Hell yeah. What'd'ya got?"
"An old time bluegrass musician playing in twenty minutes."
"Let's do it."
With that we walked over to The Other Tent, and got a spot up near the front for the upcoming performance of Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys.
As we waited for Dr. Ralph, I got another taste of the magic of Bonnaroo. There was a guy standing behind us, I'd say in his late thirties, early forties, talking in a deep southern accent, on the phone with his wife.
"Honey, I'm having the time of m'life! This morning' I saw Charlie Louvin, and now I'm right up front for Ralph Stanley! What? No Old Crow and Hot Tuna was yesterday. They were fantastic. I miss you too I'll tell you all about it when I get home."
What's so magical about that? Well this this guy had looked at Bonnaroo, and made his own personal country and bluegrass festival out of it. He'd spent the whole weekend seeing shows that James and I hadn't ventured near, experiencing a totally different style of music than we did. Thinking about this guy, who I really did find endearing even though I was deep in my fourth day rage, and the guy that camped out all day for a good Tool spot, I was once again awestruck at the number of ways to make your way through the weekend .and after Ralph Stanley, I kinda wished we'd seen some more bluegrass!
When Dr. Ralph came on, along with something like six other musicians armed with banjos, fiddles, and various other tools of the trade, The Other Tent was instantly transformed into some kind of gigantic hoe down! James and I stood there, clapping and stomping our feet for a while and then moved back to sit under a near by tree and watch the show.
The mix of country, bluegrass and gospel tunes that were performed was fantastic. The way the show works for the most part, is that Dr. Ralph comes up, introduces the song, and then the other guys play and sing. He's kinda like the bandleader. Add into that that every so often Dr. Ralph himself sings a little or picks up a banjo, and you've got a first-rate performance.
I tell ya friends, if you ever get the chance to sit under a tree on a beautiful afternoon and watch Dr. Ralph Stanley do his thing, I highly recommend you take it. For me, it was the quintessential Tennessee afternoon I know Dr. Ralph's from Virginia, but he was actually awarded his doctorate from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, so there! Semantics aside, it was an incredibly relaxing experience that did as much for recharging our batteries as Ziggy Marley had done the day before.
The highlight of the show was a kind of a touching moment, especially since it was Father's Day, when Dr. Ralph announced that one member of his band was in fact his son, and another member was his fourteen year old grandson! It was cool to see them up there together and I found myself wishing that my Dad, who shares a birthday with Dr. Ralph, was sitting under the tree with me watching it. He would have dug Bonnaroo but the lack of toilets and showers would have driven him nuts, so it's probably better he didn't tag along.
When Dr. Ralph finished up, James and I gave some thought to staying right where we were to catch the improvisational jazz great, Ornette Coleman's performance but decided that we were in fact rested enough and ready to brave the shade-less Which Stage for one final time.
We didn't know it at the time, but it turned out that Ornette's performance would be pretty memorable as he passed out on stage from heat stroke and had to be rushed to the hospital!! This was on the shady stage!! Ugh! HOT!!! If you were wondering he's okay.
Anyway, on the way back to the Which Stage, James and I made a quick stop at what was called The Silent Disco. What this was, was a club, with a real DJ spinning when we were there it was DJ Quicky-Mart but the catch is that you can only hear the music through a pair of wireless headphones that are handed to you on the way in!
When I first heard about this, I thought that the idea was to have something to do late at night that wouldn't disturb the sleeping campers but since it was no where near the campsites, and the music that could be heard in the campsites .even ours that was a mile away didn't stop until five or six a.m .I kinda doubt that was the intention. I think the idea was more of a look at this weird kooky thing we came up with kind of thing.
James and I had walked past the Silent Disco several times at night when it was really jumpin, and it was kinda fun just to watch all these people dancing their asses off to as far as we could tell no sound. I thought it would be cool to pump in two different songs and have people try to figure out who was listening to what based on how they were dancing .might be a little spastic but fun all the same.
Silly ideas aside, James and I both thought it would be cool to experience the Silent Disco from the inside, but when we had previously passed it, it was always too crowded, and we were always in too much of a hurry to get where we were going. On Sunday afternoon, there were only a handful of people milling about, so we gave it a shot.
"GIRLS GRAB YA TITTIES!" was the first thing that roared through my headphones. I looked up and saw girls standing around grabbing themselves as commanded by the voices in their heads. It was pretty funny but I honestly wish I hadn't had the headphones on cause then it would have been hilarious.
It was a pretty cool experience, but as I've mentioned, James and I aren't dancers and this wasn't the hypnotic sounds of Manu Chao this was a novelty tent pumping straight up neo-disco club music we lasted about ten stationary minutes and handed back our headphones.
A quick stop by the Broo'ers Tent for a Ninja Porter Magic Hat was changing out their keg and we were back at the Which Stage just in time to see The Decemberists bring out none other than Mavis Staples for a cover of The Band's "The Weight" Nice!
James was adamant that we didn't see The Decemberists' set in its entirety because he doesn't like them but the cover with Mavis, and a few additional songs that we saw including one where the singer Colin Meloy tried to convince the entire audience to lie down and fake sleeping were rather enjoyable.
"Rather enjoyable" now that's the rest talking what really happened at the time was fourth day hostile reared its head during the lie down and go to sleep gimmick I stood up straight, stuck my arms up over my head and jumped up and down ."fuck you dude, I'm dirty enough get off the stage."
Hey I was broke and hungry, ragged and dirty too not an easy person to impress by any means. Although the next band impressed me a great deal.
Now in a perfect world, we would have spent the next hour watching Wilco on the What Stage but we were way too tired to walk over there and back, and I for one was pretty psyched to be as close as we were for the next and final act, on the Which Stage. So we just kinda hung around where we were, chatted it up with the people around us, and watched men in red suits slowly cover everything on the stage the floor, the instruments, the monitors, everything in either red or white .you see, The White Stripes understand stage presence.
While we were waiting, a woman behind me told me that I had to take my hat the cowboy hat that I'd been wearing all weekend off when the band started. She didn't ask, she didn't say please she just demanded clearly, she wasn't familiar with FDH fourth day hostile!
"Excuse me?" I asked.
"You have to take that hat off!"
"And what are you taking off?" I asked in a snotty tone, which garnered a few laughs.
"That's not funny! You need to take it off."
"Ah no I don't lady, and I'm not going to, so you should probably just leave this alone."
"I won't be able to see!"
"You're five feet tall, you won't be able to see anyway maybe you should have gotten here earlier."
"How does it feel to be a dick?"
"It's actually really liberating. You should try it." This got a huge laugh, and thankfully shut the woman up as well.
Later, when a crowd surfer came crashing down on her head and she fled the area which had quickly become utter chaos I asked James if I should take my hat off so she could see. He asked me, smiling, how much I charge for asshole lessons
Anyway, The White Stripes
The White Stripes are Jack and Meg White a duo that some say are married, some (including the themselves) say are brother and sister, and some say are really none of the above. Jack plays guitar and sings most of the songs. Meg plays drums, and sings a few numbers herself. Both of them occasionally hit the piano. That's it, two people, three instruments .and they have the biggest fucking sound you're ever heard! It's sounds like there's six guys playing with at least one of them playing a bass.
I for one thought that their CDs, which feature a good deal of overdubbing, would not be able to be reproduced live unless they added a few musicians and guess what I was wrong!
Jack and Meg came out and THUNDERED into "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" and the crowd erupted! None of that laziness and "oh god it's too hot" that came with Wolfmother this was full on people jumping around slaming into each other, bodies flying through the air, rock n roll madness and the hippies were terrified! I'm sure it didn't help when I screamed at the top of my lungs "Fuck glow-sticks! Let's throw people!" and plunged into the fray cowboy hat and all!
The set was amazing both musically and atmospherically. The audience reacted to the band like they had been saving up, or holding back, one last little bit of energy all weekend just for this moment. Everyone was amped.
The band tore through "Icky Thump" their new single, and "Hotel Yorba" an old hit back to back and all anyone could do was scream for more. They played "Blue Orchid", Rag & Bone", "Ball & Biscuit" and a bunch of others with the set coming in at around twenty songs all together.
One especially interesting aspect of the set was how it ran through old country and blues covers like "Jolene", "Motherless Children" and "Death Letter" with incredible gusto. The main thing to understand about these tunes was that they seemed to be incredibly natural selections for the band. It wasn't forced at all. It shows that The White Stripes are a band that's clearly in touch with the music that lies at the root of their own songs and therefore they can integrate these old classics with the greatest of ease.
Can you think of another band that seamlessly fused huge mainstream hits with traditional blues and country songs at the height of their fame I can The Rolling Stones and during the White Stripes, I couldn't help but feel that I was watching the first band of the 21st century that truly were going to be legendary when all was said and done! They're just too damn good, and too damn in touch with the pulse of American music not to be.
By the way I also would've accepted The Allman Bothers Band as an answer to the trivia question.
After an hour and change of absolute greatness, the band did a nine song encore yeah, nine ended with their biggest hit to date, "Seven Nation Army" and split. It took a few minutes for everyone to catch their breath, and for the dozens of bodies being passed over the crowd to return to solid ground.
The whole time, I was thinking one thing and one thing only how the hell were The White Stripes not the big closer of the festival? I had never seen Widespread Panic before but I had severe doubts that they could even come close to the intensity or crowd response that the White Stripes had just delivered. It seemed like someone had jammed (no pun intended) a jam band into the final headlining spot just for the sake of keeping in touch with Bonnaroo's past unfortunately, it didn't seem like the piece was gonna fit the puzzle.
This became even more obvious when we got to the point in the path between Which and What where one way led to the stage, and the other led out to the campgrounds and the foot traffic was split about fifty/fifty in each direction.
When we got into the What field, it was easy to see that there were no where near as many people watching the band, who were already on stage, as there had been for either of the previous headliners. There were tens of thousands of people there don't get me wrong but remember, 40,000 people is still only half the capacity of the venue.
It looked to me like the front third of the field was packed in tight with Panic's true fans the second third, where James and I ended up, was made up of people who were either only curious about the band, or just had nothing else to do since all the other music was over .and the back third was more or less empty which definitely had not been the case for Tool or The Police.
I personally have never been able to get into Panic even though I am a fan of many other jambands but in the mindset of 'what the hell, there's nothing else to do' I settled in to watch their set.
There's a note in my book that's very telling about what the experience was like. "Widespread Panic are easily the most talented musicians to have a headlining spot and simultaneously the least attended, and the least enjoyable of the three."
They just weren't moving me. Yeah it was cool when they played "Chilly Water" and all the die-hards in the front started waving their open water bottles over their heads on cue and you can never have enough Sabbath so their cover of "Faries Wear Boots" was a nice touch but all in all .there was no spark. There was nothing that made me want to get in closer. There was nothing that would have held me there if even Smokin Dave in the beer tent was an alternative .it was just flat I was there because it was better than sitting in the car.
I managed to personally get comfortable with this kinda disappointing finale by considering, in my head only, The White Stripes to be the finale and Widespread to just be some strange over-attended after-party .which was probably actually pretty close to reality.
At some point, I told James I'd be back in a while, and took a final walk around Centeroo. It was kinda sad walking around actually. Everything was more or less deserted and already being closed down and torn down at full speed.
For some reason, it reminded me of something that I had seen as a kid when my family would vacation in Wildwood, New Jersey I could tell you all about Wildwood, but that seems like a whole separate book the specific memory I had at Bonnaroo was of an old amusement pier, down by the end of the boardwalk, that had caught fire one summer. It closed, but for a while, they didn't tear it down. It just stood there, in an eerie silence, overlooking the rest of the piers that were still full of people having a grand old time. It always seemed heartbreaking to me and watching the Which Stage be dismantled while Panic noodled away in the distance felt the same.
I tried to buy a t-shirt, but the stand was already closed. I walked over to the fountain, and stuck my head under one more time. I went for one last burrito but they were gone too. After a final trip to the Broo'ers tent, I double fisted my way back to James, who was asleep when I found him, and watched what was left of Panic's set.
They played for four hours straight with no break, which would have been great if it wasn't so boring and just as they started their encore, James and I snapped a photo together, and walked out to the campgrounds. The band finished their encore about a half hour later just as we reached the car.
I said to James, "There's something cool about the fact that we saw the very first major act of the weekend (Lewis Black) and the last notes of the last band no?"
He was already asleep upright in the driver's seat.
I chuckled to myself and reached into the cooler which was now full of luke warm water rather than ice for two Pabst Blue Ribbons. I climbed up onto the roof of our SUV, and sat cross legged, drinking my beers, and watching the final gasps of Bonnaroo 2007.
I wrote the following: Good times here in Tennessee. Good people, good music, and good times. Don't let the talk of impeaching the president, ending a war or greening initiatives fool you these people aren't here to change the world they're here trying to forget it. They're here to watch spaceships land, and dress like ducks, and throw glow-sticks and people through the air. They're here to watch their favorite band, and to watch a band they've never heard of become a favorite band. They're here for gypsies climbing on bass drums, and turban clad organ players. They're here cause they like their music loud .and their disco silent. They're here for reggae, and bluegrass, and comedy, and Manu Chao. They're here for Tool, and The Police, and some of them are even here for Widespread Panic. They're here for the Magic Hat and the burritos, and the flaming coolers and the giant smoke rings. They're here because school's out or cause their parents let them skip. They're here cause they missed Woodstock some in the 69, some in 94, and some in 99....and some more than once. They're here because $200 for the Police doesn't get them going but $200 for The Police and a hundred and fifty other bands surly does! They're here because they need a job, or cause they have a job they don't like. They're here because here, is the place to be. They're here for a million reasons I'll never know and a handful that I do. They're here cause it's Bonnaroo.