For James the only one crazy enough
"Holy shit, I'm on fire!" I thought as I sat bolt upright on my half deflated air mattress in my borrowed tent. That's how I want to start this story, but that's not really the beginning. It's more the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the middle, or something all together different, though still, not the beginning. The beginning I should use should be some kind of homage to the patron saint of weekend benders, astute observation, and a freewheeling over the top blitzkrieg style of writing known as Gonzo. I feel that the right way to start is to come as close to plagiarizing Hunter Thompson as I possibly can without getting sued by whoever was in charge of shooting his dead body out of a canon...as he requested. I feel like I should begin with...
We were somewhere around Murfreesboro on the edge of the festival when the heat began to take hold.
Unfortunately, that's not true. Yeah, it was hot as all hell in Murfreesboro, but that wasn't when the heat began to take hold. Two weeks before we were there, we were sitting on a boat on the Hudson River, that's about a thousand miles North East for those of you that are keeping an eye on the facts here, and on that boat a thousand miles and two weeks away it was very clearly already hot as hell. Murfreesboro was just that heat with a few degrees of bonus heat piled on top for fun.
Yeah, it was hot, but it was Tennessee in June. Notice I didn't say Tennessee in the middle of the summer. It's been a constant source of personal irritation to read and listen to folks speaking about Bonnaroo being the biggest event of the summer. Bonnaroo starts and ends about a week before summer begins. Bonnaroo, is the biggest event of the spring. Write that down. You heard it here first. Hey hippies....smoke a little less pot and learn the seasons. Onwards.
Now, for those of you going, what the hell is Bonnaroo, let's get that out of the way. Oh and while we're at it, let's get this out of the way we're all friends here. What I mean by that is that this here chronicle is meant to amuse, inform, and in general, pass the time in a more or less pleasing fashion. If my propensity to speak in absolutes, and throw around profanity bothers you I apologize in advance and I would do so even if everyone that read the early draft of this, didn't mention that I curse too much .okay, maybe I wouldn't you censorship crazy bastards!
Anyway, back to Bonnaroo. The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival is both the largest annual music festival held in the United States, and the most profitable music festival in the entire world. I read that somewhere, and I'm pretty sure it's the truth. If it's not, it's close enough to the truth that you get the point. Bonnaroo is a big ass music festival. Lots of people go, and it makes ass-loads of money....year after year.
The festival in case you didn't figure it out takes place in Tennessee. Manchester Tennessee, which is about an hour south east of Nashville to put more of a point on it. To put more of a point on that, the festival takes place on a 700 acre farm in Manchester Tennessee. Enough with the point putting, the festival is held in a fucking cow pasture in the middle no where .sorry to the residents of Manchester, but come on guys, take a look around, you live in the middle of no where .I'd bet you knew that without me telling you.
That very middle of nowhereness is why this year's festival, the sixth since its inception, was my first Bonnaroo experience. Over the years I made several attempts to attend, but it just wasn't happening.
In 2002 when the festival debuted, I was completely, and in a way blissfully, unaware of it until several months after the fact when a DVD and CD covering the shows were released, and I knew if it happened again, I needed to be there.
In 2003, the promoters announced that in addition to revisiting the original Bonnaroo, they were going to have an additional festival called Bonnaroo NE which would be held on Long Island in New York.
Bonnaroo NE was perfect for me. The festival was going to be held about an hour from my home instead of dealer's choice a 13 hour drive or a $300 plane ticket from my home. The line up was solid. I had friends that were willing to go. It was just about time to pull the trigger and buy the tickets when out of the sky blue sky the event was cancelled.
It seemed that AC Entertainment/Superfly (the good people responsible for Bonnaroo) did not obtain the correct permit from the town they were going to hold the festival in, and didn't have a shot in hell of getting it at that late stage in the game. I'm not sure exactly what permit you need to import one hundred thousand un-washed drug addicts from around the nation, but I think it has to be filled out in triplicate .which is tough if you're already seeing double.
So with no Bonnaroo NE to attend, and no chance of organizing a thousand plus mile road trip at the last minute, Bonnaroo in 2003 became un-doable once again.
There was a door prize that year though. Out of the tattered remains of the aborted north east incarnation, I was able to hand craft my own mini-festival that weekend as most of the bands scheduled to play picked up a last minute gig in the area.
Bonnaroo MD consisted of three separate concerts. Friday August 8th was Thursday, Sonic Youth and Iggy and the Stooges at Jones Beach. Saturday the 9th was Bob Dylan and Tom Petty at the old Garden State Arts Center. And for the finally, August 10th was back to Jones Beach for three full sets by The Dead.
Nine bands in three days, and showers in between not bad. Sadly however, for the next four years, this would be the closest I would get to Bonnaroo.
"Tennessee, Tennessee, there ain't no place I'd rather be. Baby won't you carry me .back to Tennessee"
After the Bonnaroo NE debacle, the promoters went back to Tennessee and thus far have never made another attempt to leave, at least not publicly. As a matter of fact, this year they even went as far as outright buying the land where the festival is held so that they can make more striking, permanent modifications for future festivals like access roads and plumbing perhaps.
In 2004, I failed to get my buddies motivated enough to hold our old dear friend Dave's bachelor party at Bonnaroo, which would have been brilliant but more than likely would have left us without the ability to tell the old skanky gas station hooker in the limousine hot tub story and damn it I like that story. Some other time folks some other time.
In 2005, I was serving as a freedom fighter in a small town in the south of Rhodesia. Missed Bonnaroo completely, but went lion hunting with a ridgeback named Buster. Pretty intense stuff. Alright maybe I was just broke that summer.
In 2006, I had money .or at least more than usual. To get that money, I was working a job where next to Christmas, Father's Day was the absolute busiest time of the year, and NO ONE was allowed to take ANY time off any where near that weekend. So of course, Bonnaroo 2006 is held on Father's Day weekend.
This was getting ridiculous.
In 2007, I was working the same job and wouldn't you know it, Bonnaroo was once again to be held on Father's Day weekend. At first I thought it was going to be just another mike-less Bonnaroo when all of a sudden an Angel (in the form of an ugly middle aged divorcee with a horrible attitude and equally off-putting nanny-esqe Staten Island accent) appeared to me at work and told me that my branch was closing, and I was considered expendable. I had three days to clear out my stuff before the dumpster arrived.
After the initial shock, I realized that severance pay, unemployment pay, and no job for the summer meant one thing and one thing only ..I was Bonnaroo bound.
When all was said and done, that statement was easier said than done.
I asked all the people I was sure would say no if they'd like to go with me, and wouldn't you know it, they all said no. I asked all the people that I knew where good for a maybe and they happily offered one up. After a dozen or two invites where thrown to the four winds, a total of three yeses came back. They were made up of my girlfriend, a buddy of mine named James and James' girlfriend. After a couple of weeks on the fence, the first of the ladies gracefully bowed out. The next day, after being informed that there where no bathrooms, my girlfriend jumped off the train as well. The following day James ordered a pair of tickets and I started to work on the less exciting yet more important project of getting our asses down to the hills of Tennessee.
A three hundred dollar round trip plane ticket with each leg f the trip on a different carrier and the way home featuring a mystery layover a one hundred and sixty dollar rental car, and assorted begging and pleading with various friends and family members for rides to and from the airport covered most of the journey. This was considerably cheaper than renting an RV which was plan A until the $3,000 price tag floated across my laptop screen at which point it quickly became plan fuck that.
A dozen or so emails landed up a pair of press passes.
Supplies were acquired in two phases. Pre-flight and post flight. Pre-flight, we borrowed John's tent, and I bought cushy insoles for my sneakers, a vat of SPF 4000 sun block and some gold bond medicated powder to keep my balls from sticking to my legs and prevent chaffing.
We left for the airport at 5AM and landed in Nashville at around 9 local time. We picked up our rental and then
Post-flight we hit a Wal-Mart in Murpheesboro Tennessee it was somewhere around there that the heat would have began to take hold if the heat was inclined to cooperate with my literary sensibilities.
Some details probably aren't called for here, but the sheer size of that Tennessee Wal-Mart seems like it warrants a mention. I've been to many Wal-Marts in many states, but I've never seen anything like this place it was two or three football fields in length large to the point where you actually couldn't see what they were selling at the other end of the aisle you were standing in! It was a touch disconcerting actually, but the large sign hanging in the doorway which read "Welcome Bonnaroo Fans" was settling.
James and I spent about an hour trying to get all the stuff we needed for our weekend. We made a few mistakes. One area of error was the quantity of stuff we bought. As it turned out, we bought four times the beer we would drink, three times the propane we would use, twice the Goldfish and Ruffles that were necessary, and a whole set up for cheeseburgers (patties, buns, cheese) that remained untouched.
Don't worry, we were earth friendly and gave all the unused supplies to our various neighbors that were driving home rather than flying. The teenagers from Alabama that I gave the extra beer to were especially grateful.
In addition to buying in abundance, we made a few extra special genius moves like buying hot dog buns but no hot dogs, buying milk and Special K but not buying any bowls, and buying a knife/fork combo too that clearly didn't allow you to use the knife and the fork at the same time we needed four of these to eat successfully, yet we only bought a pair.
All that aside, I think our most brilliant move, one that in another dimension could easily have burned Bonnaroo to the ground, was that we bought a tabletop gas grill mindless of the fact that we had no table to put it on. This didn't meld well with cooking in a dried out cow pasture in the 90 degree heat of drought stricken Tennessee. Eventually, this slip up would result in the top of our cooler catching on fire and melting but that comes later, or not at all if it manages to slip my mind which as you can see from these recent paragraphs is all too possible.
Moving on, check out at Wal-Mart was notable because the middle aged woman that rang us up said, "Bet y'all are heading to that damn Bonnaroo." When I said yep, she actually snarled, curled lip and all. So much for southern hospitality I thought, and did my best to get out of there as quickly as possible.
One last thing about Wal-Mart and then we'll get on with things the spiffy cowboy hat you all saw me in in the pictures this is where it was purchased. It was an effort to fit in and avoid more snarls as much as it was an effort to stay shaded and un-sunburned. But all that aside, it was only ten bucks and don't ya know, it gave me way more than ten dollars worth of joy. You know I'm wearing it as I type this don't you?
Anyway, with what we proudly thought was the exact right amount of supplies meticulously packed in the back of our bright red rental SUV, we moved on to the next, yet crucial, phase of the getting there phase of our adventure. We had to find the small local radio station where we were told we could pick up our press credentials.
This part of the voyage had me especially nervous. You see, about seven years ago, I got an assignment to photograph John Lee Hooker at a blues festival in Annapolis, Maryland. It was a seven hour drive and required a night in a hotel. I was working on spec, which means "no photos, no money" and the hotel, gas, etc were out of pocket. When I got to the festival, no one had ever heard of me there were no credentials, no tickets, and nothing to do but head home broke and defeated. Hooker died a little while after. I never got to shoot him.
If the press passes at Bonnaroo fell though, it wasn't as big a deal, because we had actually purchased tickets, but the truth of the matter is that James and I were both really excited about having them, and if it didn't work out, it would undoubtedly cast a shadow over at the very least the first couple days of the weekend.
After a short search we found the small station, and when I say small I mean small you could probably get more signal from a cell phone and a car battery. I walked inside, fingers crossed, and after one terrible moment when the nice man behind the counter said I wasn't on the list when he looked me up spelling my name wrong everything was straightened out and hunky dory. James and I both left the building with a purple "Bonnaroo 2007 Media" wristband securely fastened to our left wrists.
Now, over the course of the weekend there were great moments, tiring moments, mediocre moments, surprising moments, and every other kind of moments you can imagine .however, there were only a very very small handful of truly annoying moments. The next moment, and the long three hour moment that followed it, where genuinely irritating. The next moment was when we followed the directions from the radio station to the festival grounds, made one turn five hundred feet away from the station's front door, and found ourselves face to face with a monstrous traffic jam which as stated ended up lasting just over three hours.
Press passes be damned. There was no press entrance to Bonnaroo, and no entrance at all, barring private helicopter, that would get you inside without waiting in either the massive traffic jam that we were facing, or some other incarnation of it a mile or two away. We had thought for a second about trying to find an alternate entrance, but nixed the idea fearing that after we drove around for an hour looking for another entrance, we'd just end up on an equally long line. Later, once we were inside, we'd talk to assorted other people that came in assorted other ways, and everyone reported the same un-godly waiting.
I mentioned earlier that the folks that run Bonnaroo had recently bought the land that the festival is held on in order to make some improvements to the festival grounds. One the only things that they intend to do that they've actually disclosed to the public, is to create additional access roads to ease the entrance traffic. Brilliant. Really guys .it took you six years to come up with the fact that this thing needs more entrances Jesus Christ, I hope you never put your minds to something like curing cancer, it'd take you a decade to figure out you needed to hire a fucking scientist!
Anyway, there we were, James and I, sitting in the car in the hot ass early summer Tennessee sun, with no end in sight to the traffic that has stopped our progress. It was at this moment when James came up with the first of several ideas that over the course of the weekend made me begin to wonder if he wasn't slightly retarded.
Without saying a word to me, James reached out, turned off the air conditioning, and then used his driver's side controls to open both his and my windows.
"What the fuck are you doing?" I asked.
And he said now get ready for this, it's good and he said
"Well I figure we may as well try to start getting used to the heat now."
"We gotta get used to the heat sometime, we may as well start now."
For a second, I thought maybe I didn't understand what he was trying to say, or maybe though doubtful that I was the idiot sitting in that car who wasn't being rational. Then my mind cleared.
"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. You don't get used to heat. It's either hot or it isn't. Being hot for an hour before you're hot doesn't make it less hot it just makes it hot longer. Plus, who gets used to inconvenience by practicing? Fifty years from now I probably won't be able to control my bowels, I'm not gonna shit myself today just to get a feel for it. Turn the fucking air conditioner back on."
One of James' greatest virtues, is that he's inherently not a fighter. At my outburst, he rolled up the windows and turned on the air, and later admitted while laughing, that his line of thought was rather well rather un-thought out.
The next three hours were for the most part, uneventful. We tuned into Radio Bonnaroo which was playing live cuts from Bonnaroo's past, and that was rather enjoyable. The only other thing worth mentioning was a pair of local yahoos riding in the lane next to us that periodically shot the people around them with a super soaker. They seemed to be aiming mostly for people with open windows or sunroofs, but a little stray water landed on our windshield. It had totally evaporated just five minutes later.
An hour or so in, the water gun guys shot a ticket scalper that was walking on the shoulder next to their car. He stopped for a second, and I instantly envisioned what would happen next in New York. A gun would be drawn, the water gun guys would be removed from their car and beaten by Scalper Man's friends who were no where to be seen but would spring up out of nowhere the second there was violence to be dealt out. Five minutes later, the water gun guys having long been disposed of, their car would be gone, but their assorted food and drink would be being sold roadside by one of Scalper Man's friends along with "last minute camping gear". Scalper Man would of course have two extra tickets in his inventory.
But that's in New York.
In Tennessee, on line for Bonnaroo, Scalper Man just laughed, shook his head and kept walking, shouting catchy slogans about how cheap his marked up tickets were versus the next guy's. I thought to myself, maybe there's something to all this southern hospitality stuff after all.
Finally, after months of anticipation, planning, and the wait from hell, we reached Bonnaroo. It looked less like the utopia I had imagined, and more like a border crossing although come to think of it, it was actually much more pleasant, and less time consuming, to drive into Canada.
Cars were being removed one at a time from the traffic line and placed in smaller lines that led to security stations where "your car and person may be searched". Off to the left five men in blue shirts that read Sheriff's Department on the back, were tearing some poor bastard's RV apart looking for god knows what. On top of everything else, these moments were out first of the weekend, of what would become standard but was new to us then massive amount of dust which was being kicked up by the traffic driving over the water starved farmland.. Our car was instantly covered to the point that we needed to turn on the windshield wipers to see enough to avoid running over the teenager directing us with those gigantic orange sticks that they use to park planes.
My only thought at that moment was, "ugh".
We had no glass, no drugs, no fireworks, no pets, no people without tickets, no professional video equipment, no more than the four allowed gallons of hard liquor (we actually had none, but I'm making a point here) and in a nutshell, no things that were on the official list of things that you weren't allowed to bring in.
Well, for the sake of total honesty, we had one single solitary glass bottle. It seems they don't sell Worchester Sauce in plastic containers. But before we were anywhere near the checkpoint, we had already dumped the sauce into an empty plastic water bottle and were fully prepared to turn over the empty glass bottle when the time was right.
The point is, search away searcher guy, you ain't gonna find shit on us. Insert triumphant ha-ha here.
After about another fifteen minutes in the coral, we were guided up to our dedicated security professional. I was ready for anything. The guy, a kid about nineteen or twenty, walked up to the passenger side, my side that is, and stuck his head in.
"How you guys doing?" he asked.
"Fine." I said. "How about you?"
"I'm okay. Just a little hot."
"I can imagine."
"Yeah. So ahh, you guys been to Bonnaroo before?"
"Nope. First time."
"Yeah me too. I can't wait to get in there."
"Same here." I said trying not to let any of the 'if you'd shut the fuck up and move us along we'd be there already' that I was thinking enter into my tone.
"Well, y'all got any glass in there?"
"Just this empty Worchester Sauce bottle," I said handing the bottle out the window. "And you can have it."
He looked at it for a second, clearly confused, and said, "Oh well, you coulda kept this." He threw it over his shoulder into a giant metal trash can where I heard it shatter.
"So that's the only glass you had?"
"If I look in your cooler am I gonna find anymore?"
"Nope, that was it."
"Okay. Do you have any drugs or fireworks?"
"If I search am I gonna find any?"
"Alright then, y'all have a great time."
With that, he waved us through. In my side-view mirror, I could see a car in the lane next to ours being emptied out on the side of the road while a different teenage kid in the same volunteer uniform as the one we'd just spoken to supervised and pointed out other areas of the car he wanted to look at. It was clear that the Bonnaroo website wasn't kidding when it said cars would be searched "at random". Score one for us and on to the next obstacle.
At this point, we were dangerously close to being done with the tremendous amount of bullshit that one has to deal with to merely enter the grounds of Bonnaroo and play refugee camp style homemaker. Course we didn't know that at the time, so I was about ready to pull my hair out, as was James.
We found ourselves on yet another line, but thankfully this one was moving fairly quickly. We pulled up to a makeshift toll booth and a guy asked us for our tickets. We handed them to him, and after he scanned them, he gave us each a second bracelet (remember we already had the media ones) along with a small guidebook.
There was nothing on the other side of the tollbooth that indicated where we should go next. We asked where to go, and the guy just said, "that way" while pointing inside. After seeing our confusion, or more accurately my hot and cranky total dissatisfaction with his snide cutesy reply, he added "Follow that guy over there." And pointed to a truck about five hundred feet off to our left.
We took off after the guy.
It was the first time in three and a half hours that we were moving more than twenty miles per hour. We moved at that pace for about fifty nine seconds, I'm not sure of the exact time span but I'm positive it was less than a minute. Then we found some more traffic to sit in.
This would be the last of our traffic, and possible the most frustrating. The reason it was frustrating was that this particular traffic was entirely the result of people that had already gotten into the festival and gotten their shit set up walking around and dancing in the fucking road and blocking the rest of us from moving in at any kind of steady pace I found myself wondering where those damn Kent State national guardsmen where when you needed them someone needed to handle these god damn hippies. Their rampant free spiritedness was fucking up my day. I screamed as much in the car, and James commented with a nervous smile that he was happy we'd closed the windows at that particular moment.
He suggested I look at our newly acquired guidebook for a while to calm down, and I did just that. When I say guidebook, I mean just that this thing was a BOOK. I don't have it in front of me, but if I had to guess I would say that it was probably around one hundred pages long, maybe longer. It had articles, and maps, and schedules, and all the info you could ever want .I didn't have anywhere near enough time to read it all which got me thinking why the hell didn't they send someone out to someplace further back in the like I don't know, say two hours back and hand these things out so that people A. could actually read them, and B. could kill a little of the boredom that everyone was experiencing. Then I remembered took six years to figure out, "traffic bad maybe more ways in solve problem?" God damn it
Anyway, a half hour later, after one guy yelled at us to park, another yelled at us to keep moving, and we took off to greener pastures (literally) while they fought about it we were directed into a spot (read random section of grass with no visible indication that it was a place to park) and told to kill the engine, wait til the guy next to us parked, and then feel free to set up our campsite in front of our car.
Seemed good enough to me. We killed the engine. We waited for the guy next to us to park. We opened the doors to start setting up .and then we smelled the horse shit.
It was at that moment, that I noticed that we were parked literally right next to a small penned in area that was home to about fifteen or twenty horses. They seemed like decent neighbors .there's a pun in there if you look for it and honestly didn't seem to give a damn about all the ruckus going on around them. The smell was a bit much, but even after a few minutes I began to notice it less. Four days later, when ever living thing in sight smelled like sweat and shit, I didn't notice our equine neighbors even the slightest bit.
It took about a half hour to turn our little section of the farm into something like a campsite. We set up the tent, pumped up the inflatable beds, set up the battery powered fans, designated an area for garbage you get the idea, we spent a while, and got our shit together.
At some point during that period, two men that didn't look like the rest of the Bonnaroo crowd at all walked over to us.
"What you need?" one of them asked me.
Don't know if you knew this about me or not but I'm 100% clean, though I've spent a fair amount of time around various shit. On the other hand, I'm far from sober, but I had plenty of beer in the car. So, truthfully, I answered, "I don't need anything."
"How bout you?" he said to James.
"What do you have?" James asked.
"I said what you need motherfucker! I meant, what you need. We got what you need." the dealer said smiling.
I walked away at that point. I didn't feel like being super close to this conversation if it turned out to be some kind of weird ass sting operation. I got the feeling it wasn't when out of the corner of my eye I saw the guy who wasn't talking put a suitcase on the hood of our car and open it up only to reveal a collection of pills, powders, and assorted etcetera that was unlike anything I had ever seen in real life think end of Scarface quantities of drugs, or better still .think that suitcase full of drugs at the beginning of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Like I said, this wasn't a "real life" amount of drugs that was sitting ten feet away from me at that moment in my life.
The funny thing was that there was no discretion what-so-ever, and when the case of drugs opened up, stoners started flocking in from all directions like kids running up to the Good Humor Ice Cream man when he tooted his silly ass horn. I wasn't happy about it, but it didn't last long.
After a few minutes, the dealers took their business to a shadier place...wow, more puns. James walked over to me empty handed. I gave him the "what happened" look, and he said "Believe it or not, they didn't have pot."
"Yeah really. He said 'Hash and up only' I didn't know what he meant at first and I almost bought some. I figured out at the last minute that it wasn't pot."
I shook my head, laughed, and thought, thank god for small favors.
That was my first experience with drugs at Bonnaroo. When all was said and done, I can say without a doubt that even after going to over 1,000 concerts in my life including 21 Allman Brothers shows at The Beacon if you know what I mean I've NEVER seen drug use/sales like what I saw that weekend. I'm not complaining I really don't care what YOU do for fun if it doesn't effect me I'm just making an observation .trying to set the tone for the rest of the adventure .got me?
Point is, at that point, I didn't realize what a huge drug scene I was in the middle of. I suppose the fact that the drug dealers had a philosophy that pot wasn't strong enough for them to sell to this crowd should have been some indication of what was to come .but at that point, I just didn't quite get the picture. Forrest for the trees or some such nonsense next.
So with everything set up, James and I reached into the cooler, pulled out a pair of Pabst Blue Ribbon beers and toasted each other. We set my camera up on the hood of the car and used the self timer to take a "before" picture of ourselves. With that, we chugged the beers, grabbed two more, and headed off into the action for the first time.
On the way, we saw our second example of Bonnaroo drug use a guy dressed as Jesus, cross and all, selling "Jehovah's Whip-its". The sight of Jesus, nailed to a cross .with a handful of multi-colored balloons, was enough to destroy all the negative energy that the three hours of traffic had built up in my soul. I laughed my ass off, and Bonnaroo began working its magic on me.
Now, I don't know if you knew this or not .I for one thought I understood it beforehand, but realized very quickly that I had underestimated it Bonnaroo, is fucking gigantic!!! The phrase 700 acre farm didn't really sink in with me maybe because I still don't know exactly how big an acre is for some odd reason I know that the term was derived from how much land a single mule could work in a single day, but have no idea at all just how much land that is would you believe it, I've never owned a fucking mule. Anyway, the thing is big really, really big.
I had spent a considerable amount of time before leaving for Bonnaroo on a very fun, even though it takes itself way too seriously at times, bulletin board called Inforoo. A phrase I learned on that site was BFE camping. It was clear before I even knew what the phrase meant, that no one wanted to be camped there. There where entire threads dedicated to specific times to arrive and entrances to use in order to avoid BFE. Initially, I thought that BFE was an official camping section, and from what I guessed was some kind of auxiliary site that was really far away from the action. I found out later that BFE stands for Bum Fuck Egypt, and is an unofficial term for the many..I repeat...many camping areas that are far away from the action.
it turned out, our lovely little slice of horse pasture heaven, was
very much BFE. The walk from out front door
front flap to the arch (definition to follow shortly) was if I had to
guess, about a mile and a half. It took twenty minutes to make this
trek in broad daylight and for the most part sober. At five in the morning
with no light, drunk, the walk was about forty five minutes
that was when we didn't get lost.
On to the aforementioned Arch. There are two main halves to the Bonnaroo site; the campsites and the concert fields. The concert fields section, which encompass much more than just the stages of which there are about a dozen by the way is known as Centeroo. The Arch reminder, this is a mile and a half from our tent is the entrance to Centeroo. Once you pass under it, you may need to walk another mile or so depending on what stage you're heading for.
Are you getting a feel for the general giganticness yet?
I'll jump ahead of myself for just a second, just to hammer this size point home. The stage known as The What Stage, which is the largest venue within Centeroo, is as I mentioned one of about a dozen different stages at Bonnaroo that area alone is designed to hold all 80,000 festival goes at once when the nightly headliners are performing. The field at Giants Stadium holds roughly 5,000 people when they have a concert there .that means that just ONE of the TWELVE venues at Bonnaroo is SIXTEEN TIMES THE SIZE OF A FUCKING FOOTBALL FIELD!!!
The funny thing is I promise, no matter how much you think you get it, you still don't get how big the damn thing was. Anyway, James and I were in the middle of the action, walking down one of the main thoroughfares through the campsites, and heading for the Arch.
The main avenues through the campgrounds, were lined with food vendors of both the sanctioned and random hippie with a hot plate variety, along with porta-potties and various vendors selling mostly clothing, stickers and you'll never guess drug paraphernalia.
Overhearing other folks talking about it confirmed that I wasn't the only one that found it humorous that the two main prohibited items for the festival grounds were drugs and glass and then when you get in, there's a licensed vendor selling nothing but glass pot pipes .and he's got THOUSANDS of them on display! Guess he didn't get the thorough sheriff orchestrated search on the way in.
Anyway, James and I are walking around checking all this shit out, and randomly, he starts laughing.
"What the hell are you laughing at?"
"Care to elaborate?"
"You see where we are?"
At which point I realized that we were now the annoying people walking in the middle of the road blocking folks from coming in while we looked at all the stuff around us. I couldn't help but laugh. But seriously, on an organizational note maybe having the main artery for cars going one direction and foot traffic going the opposite direction be the same artery is a STUPID FUCKING IDEA!
Generally, after the first day this was no longer an issue but aside from being annoying, isn't it kinda dangerous? I'd hate to see Bonnaroo go under because some high asshole in the road gets run over by some impatient fuck in his car then high assholes uptight family sues the shit out of everyone and the party's over just a thought.
We made it to the Arch, and after a short line, and an even shorter frisk by a security guard that said "Don't worry folks, if I find your stash I'll only take a little for myself!" we were finally REALLY at Bonnaroo. I couldn't stop smiling.
The only thing I can compare that initial feeling after passing under the arch to, is the way I felt as a seven year old kid after I walked under the railway station, turned the corner and found myself staring down Main Street USA at the castle in Walt Disney World.
Everywhere I looked, I saw something I wanted to investigate, and behind everything I saw, there was something else to see. It was totally overwhelming, and that first night, it literally took a few hours to calm down and actually start seeing things without being so damn jittery and excited that I couldn't help moving on to something else prematurely. You see, your first few hours at Bonnaroo, even though you knew going into it that everything goes on at once, and you absolutely cannot see everything, or even most of the things for that matter you still want to try.
James was better at this initially than I was. He insisted that we pick something and go to it. We looked at the schedule and realized that we should be able to make the first performance by a big name act of the whole weekend 6:30 PM, at "Yet Another Tent", Lewis Black and Friends.
This seems like as good a time as any, to quickly run over the names of the various venues at Bonnaroo. I've already mentioned two of them and maybe you're noticing a theme. Let's run down the list.
What Stage, and Which Stage are the biggest venues. What Stage, as mentioned is designed to hold everyone that's 80,000 plus. Which Stage is set up for 30,000, but has no real boundaries so to speak, so I'm sure at the more high profile performances, more people wandered over.
Then there's This Tent, That Tent, and The Other Tent. This and That are about the same size I'd guess 10,000 to 15,000 spilling out the sides of these open air tents. The Other Tent had the same design, but was about half the size.
Yet Another Tent was the comedy tent. It was an enclosed tent, with seats, air conditioning, and a cut off limit for how many folks could go inside for each show I don't know for sure, but it looked like about 1,500 people.
Something Else, was another enclosed tent which I'll get to later.
Those seven venues, with their similar, maddeningly confusing when intoxicated names, where the main ones. But spread out all over the place, you'd also find performances going all day long at all of the following: The Troo Music Lounge, The Sonic Stage, The Blue Room Café, The Arcade Disco, The Silent Disco, The Solar Stage, and Bonna Rouge.
If you didn't take the time for yourself to count, that makes fourteen different places to see a performance at any given second of your four days at Bonnaroo and that makes no mention of the performance art, shops, rides, food, drink, and various unexplainable insanity you could spent your time on instead.
Oh and there was a 24 hour a day movie theater tent as well. It featured, non stop movies including the daily "Four A.M. Fellini Freak Out" as well as lectures by some of the filmmakers whose works were being shown. We're not talking students here though we're talking legends like independent film maker Jim Jarmusch (Ghost Dog, Broken Flowers, Night on Earth) and documentary film maker D.A. Pennebaker (Don't Look Back, Monterey Pop).
the past, without having been there, I've always thought that Bonnaroo's
major flaw was that too much was happening at once. I thought it sucked,
and even had this opinion published, that fans paid to see all this
stuff and missed so much of it. I didn't get it
as strange as it
sounds, the fact that for everything you see in its entirety at Bonnaroo
you miss a dozen other things, is exactly what makes Bonnaroo so special.
This really is the magic of Bonnaroo; its true greatness. It's not that it's four days of music .it's that it's four days of non-stop music that you personally are enjoying. There is no downtime. And I admit, I truly didn't understand this beforehand, mainly because I was thinking only about what might miss that I WANTED to see instead of what I'd miss that I had no interest in or might even dislike .the glass isn't half full or half empty if you do it right, it's filled to the brim.
The second level that Bonnaroo's ridiculous schedule works on, is that everything you see becomes a little more special when you're there by choice it almost feels like you're an explorer looking for treasure. and the very nature of the set up leads more bands to deliver the treasure you're searching for.
You see, the bands all know, all too well, that you're there by choice and it drives them. Just imagine you're in a band, and you look out at 10,000 people waiting to see you play it would be amazing, and you'd give it your all now imagine, that without spending a dime, every one of those 10,000 could go see any one of 12 other bands, but they chose to see you you're gonna put on the best fucking show you've ever put on, and make these people realize that they made the right choice.
So in essence, you're searching for great music, the bands know you chose to see them over a bunch of others so out of respect they give it a thousand percent, which makes you feel like a genius for showing up, so you go off, the band feeds off that, pushes harder, which drives you nuts, and so on and so on and the whole thing is like a giant fucking orgasm .multiply by the thirty sets you manage to see over four days and you've got a hell of a weekend.
Back to the narrative if you recall, about a thousand words ago, our heroes had decided to go to Yet Another Tent, which we've since learned was the comedy tent, to check out Lewis Black and Friends.
I'm gonna go on record right now, in the process spoiling a bit of the surprise of things to come, and say that if I didn't have a press pass, there's no way in hell I would ever see the inside of the comedy tent at Bonnaroo.
As James and I made our way over to Yet Another Tent that first night, we found ourselves looking at a massive line that stretched for well over a thousand feet from the entrance to the tent. You see as I mentioned before, though the significance probably slipped past you, the comedy tent, being enclosed, had an actual non-negotiable seating capacity. This meant that unlike all but one other Bonnaroo venue, people couldn't just stumble over as the pleased, and catch a show. You had to wait on line for hours and maybe get turned away.
Someone I spoke to later in the weekend told me that they got on line for that first Lewis Black Show ninety minutes ahead of time, didn't get in, and stayed in the line for another ninety minutes to catch the second show. That's dedication. For me, like I said, with all the other stuff going on virtually none of it with a line there's no way in hell I'd waste my Bonnaroo time standing in a queue.
Not to worry I had a plan.
Fortunately, and I'll freely admit I'd didn't know ahead of time if my plan would work, James and I walked right up to the front of the line we're talking thousands of people flashed our media wristbands, and a nice man with a cowboy hat that looked like it belonged on his head more than my cowboy hat belonged on mine, walked us right in.
Needless to say, we were both giddy and damn, the A/C felt great. I thought about telling James he should leave since he was already good and used to the heat, but I let it go and if that's not proof that I was in a great mood, I don't know what more you could ask for.