Idleness, and Folly
"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 the middle of 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.
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 of 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 sunblock 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 Walmart 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 Walmart seems like it warrants a mention. I've been to many Walmarts 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 Walmart 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 Walmart and then we'll get on with things the spiffy cowboy hat you all see me in in the pictures in this book 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 Bonnaroos 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 have two extra tickets in his inventory, and of course the whole thing would be summarized in a sensational headline in the Post something like: Soaker Gets Scalped!
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 corral, 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.
As it turned out,
our lovely little slice of horse pasture heaven, was very much BFE. The
walk from out front door
our 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
and that was when we didn't
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.
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, Montaray Pop).
In 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.
Okay, so now there's 10,000 or so people on line to get in to a room we just waltzed into like we own the place, it's ninety fucking degrees and we're sitting in the A/C, and one of the funniest men in America is about to take the stage. I gotta say, I was riding pretty high at that particular moment.
Lewis Black walks out and the place goes nuts.
The cool thing about Lewis at Bonnaroo, is that he truly loves the festival. He had performed the previous year in the comedy tent, and had such a great time that he talked about it all year and couldn't wait to come back. At this year's festival, he performed at least four sets, and was seen all over the place throughout the weekend checking out music on various stages. I personally noticed him standing in the wings at last four times.
The not so cool thing about Lewis at Bonnaroo is that he was performing with three of his "friends" of whom none were really that funny.
John Bowman was up first, and while he did have the funniest line of the entire show . "Girlfriend: Why do you love me? Boyfriend: I don't know you're around a lot." he was on for too long and was trying way to hard to be a zany Robin Williams style comic without actually being as funny or naturally zany as Robin. To sum it up quickly, the guy was just trying too hard.
After John, we got the comedy stylings of the lovely Lynne Koplitz. I found her mediocre at best, and when I glanced over at James, he had a look of utter disgust on his face for her entire fifteen to twenty minute set. I'm sure she made me chuckle, but I don't remember why. I'm also sure, if I was a woman, I would have found Lynne much more amusing I couldn't explain why, but I was sure her jokes were y chromosome resistant.
Finesse Mitchell of limited Saturday Night Live fame was on third, and lost me right from the get go. He said something like . "Wow, that's a lot of white people are you the good white people or the other white people?" it was funny but it left a bad taste in my mouth .I imagine if I walked up to him and said something true, yet taboo all the same, like ."hey, Finesse Mitchell you're one of the only black guys I saw all weekend that wasn't in The Roots or selling drugs!" his reaction wouldn't be to laugh he'd probably hit me though maybe I underestimate him he seemed like an okay guy as his act wore on.
Finally after all that, Lewis came out and did his thing for a while he killed the only problem was I was familiar with most of the material, and in my opinion, comedy works in the exact opposite way music does. You see when you hear a song performed live that you don't know, it may sound good but it's never as good as an old favorite. Conversely, when you hear a joke you've already heard, it loses all its pop. In essence, if you take away the element of surprise, you take away all the luster. And while people unfamiliar with Lewis' routine were having a grand old time, I found myself thinking I'd rather be somewhere else.
Twenty minutes later, my thoughts became reality .and that was the last time we set foot in the comedy tent regardless of our fancy wristbands.
We spent the next two hours kinda wandering around, checking out the lay of the land, and popping in and out of various performances in the process. I have a rough idea of what happened in this period because, ever the professional, I took notes.
Granted, a lot actually almost all of the notes are scribbled nonsense that I'll probably need a separate set of notes just to understand. There are things written in an obviously intoxicated, shaky hand such as "We shall see we shall see Alligator Eye Boogaloo." complete with little doodles next to them I tell ya folks, I have no idea what the fuck I was talking about .or what the doodle represents .I suspect we're dealing with a song title, and an alligator respectively, but who the hell knows?
The good news is that mixed in with the documented mental slop, there are a handful of clues as to what the hell was really going on. One such example, is the entry from 8:30 that Thursday night. That was when, according to the notes, we wandered into the Budweiser Troo Music Lounge for the first time.
The Budweiser Troo Music Lounge was one of the smaller venues but it had music going for almost the entire weekend where as a lot of the other smaller spots had more spotty schedules. The lounge had a few things going for it, and a few things not so much. In the plus column, it was in a prominent central location that made it really convenient to pass through and check something out on your way to and from bands well bands you'd actually heard of. Also a plus, they had really short beer lines probably because they were only selling Bud, and very close by there was a magic little place called the Broo'ers Tent where you could get far better beer for believe it or not, less money I'll get to that soon enough but I bet you knew that already.
In the negative column, the Troo Music Lounge was really just a glorified beer tent which featured a mediocre sound system that couldn't quite drown out the much louder, near by Which Stage later in the weekend a table set up that didn't really allow a ton of people to sit and didn't leave much room for other folks to stand and a lighting system that well didn't exist there were no lights on the band aside from the overhead lights in the tent. But honestly, what do you want from a small family owned company like Budweiser ugh, I guess things really are tough all over, no?
Anyway, we wandered into the Troo Music Lounge around 8:30 and bought a couple beers. Behind us, opposite the bar, a band called "Smokin' Dave and the Primo Dopes" were on. I had never heard of them before they were announced as an act on this year's Bonnaroo, but in yet another dazzling display of professionalism, I had downloaded a few of their albums, and did a little research prior to heading down south.
I found their albums to be pretty straight forward rock n roll with lots of clever, often humorous lyrics. I had read though, that their live show was usually a super eclectic mix of whatever struck the band's fancy on a given night. They love playing covers, and have actually be known to throw all of their original material by the wayside and perform entire sets of requests .or just play Pink Floyd all night long.
As we walked in on them, they were in the middle of a Beastie Boys cover I got that info straight from the notes which alas, do not indicate which Beastie Boys song it was I'd call James and ask him but it's almost four AM as I'm writing this, and who are we kidding? James wouldn't remember that we saw them let alone what they played .he probably didn't know who they were even as we were standing there more accurately, he probably thought he knew who they were, but had it wrong I'll ask him tomorrow for shits and giggles if he remembers seeing this band, and report back in tomorrow night's pages.
Anyway, after the Beastie Boys, the notes tell me Smokin Dave did either a song called "Such a God Damn Shame" or more likely a song that contained that line. I apparently liked it very much, and thought it sounded like The Minutemen although and by the way, I promise my recollections of the bands I gave a shit about, sorry Smokin Dave, are much sharper the Minutemen comment could have been about the following song.
"Now they sound like The Flaming Lips damn, these guys are all over the place! Awesome." And with that direct note quote Smokin Dave leaves our tale, as James and I headed on to our next discovery.
I'll tell you the truth right now, I'm almost positive my notes are fucking lying. They say where we went next, and where we went after that, and they even have the time next to the entries .but then they make reference to something else that we did and I don't see how it could have gone in that sequence doesn't seem to fit together like that in my admittedly hazy memory. Well .as no one on the entire planet has any reason to give even the slightest fuck if I get this wrong I'll just go with it as the notes describe and try to ignore that nagging tug in the back of my brain that says "You know that's not right you asshole! Fix it!" Yep I'm gonna go ahead and tell my memory to go fuck itself.
Next I'm sure (wink wink) we headed over to the Bonnaroo fountain. The fountain is well it's a fountain, just like the one on Main Street that the old folks and the homeless people congregate around all Summer that's a literal reference in my neck of the woods, but I bet most of you have a similar scene to picture, in whatever little place you call home. Regardless, just picture a big public fountain, and we're pretty much on the same page.
The specifics of the Bonnaroo fountain are thus .it features a twelve foot tall mushroom in the center that constantly has water spilling over it, along with a dozen or so posts around the circumference (Wow look Mrs. Trust, something you taught me sorta actually came in handy in my life granted I could just have said perimeter and your class'd still be useless .but I didn't so score one for you!) which sporadically fire jets of water into the center. Every year the design of the fountain is a little different, and this year the whole thing was covered in black and white checkers although honestly I didn't notice that until I read about it after the fact which does kinda make me feel sorry for the guy that spent all that time painting it.
Anyway, something about the fountain I didn't know as I stood there that night taking a few pictures of it, is that for the most part from day two on, it's always full of people trying to cool off, or clean up, or both after all, a shower was ten bucks walking thought the fountain free.
As we stood there, off to our left there was a band playing in either This Tent or That Tent I can't remember which one was over that way and which one was the other way I do know that The Other Tent, was way over past them both. Confusing stage name aside, the band was like a mile away, but we could kinda see them, and could hear them just fine. Later in the weekend I would be standing in the same spot, though the fountain would no longer be empty, and the same wind that brought this mystery band to my ears, would carry salvation.
James checked the schedule and told me that we were watching "The Little Ones". I made a note of that, and crossed it out a few minutes later when I discovered that the Little Ones had played an hour or so earlier, and that the band we were watching had to be someone else. I looked it up myself, and found that it was actually, The Black Angels.
The band was very pink or at least the one photo I took of them that didn't really come out very well was very pink. I have no recollection of what the sounded like my brain keeps saying they were heavy not like Pantera heavy like Beatles "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" kinda heavy .there's no notes to turn to, and no solid memory to grasp at all I know is we were there at 8:45...I took one pink picture and we were somewhere else by nine.
That somewhere else was That Tent which I guess means that the above scene was going down at This Tent. Continuing our aimless wanderings, James and I wandered into That Tent, and discovered a band called Sam Roberts Band. I knew very little about them other than that they were Canadian, that Sam Roberts had once claimed he'd "die for rock n roll" and that the Bonnaroo web site said that even critics with "high powered bullshit detectors proclaimed him the real deal." Now folks, I'm a guy with a high powered bullshit detector if ever there was one I'd be the judge of Sam Roberts and co. thank you very much.
Back to the notebook "This here Canadian band rocks like a motherfucker!"
Yep, no bullshit detected here, just a fantastic balls out rock band doing their thing kind of a more ballsy Oasis thing that is for a few thousand ravenous fans and new converts alike. James and I were thoroughly into what this band had to offer, and for the first time since the comedy tent where we didn't really have a choice we opted to ditch our spot on the perimeter, which allowed us to move on at a moment's notice, and work our way up close in other words, we decided that we were going to stick around for a while.
As it turned out, we ended up staying for the entire set, and we ended up working our way all the way up to the front where I noticed people standing backstage wearing .the same purple wristbands we were wearing! I pulled James off to the side, and in the blink of an eye, we were backstage, watching the band from a special press viewing area off to stage right.
I was feeling pretty good about myself for obtaining the press passes at that particular moment. So far they'd gotten us into the comedy tent which absolutely would not have happened without them, and now they had gotten us backstage, out of the crowd-surfing un-washed masses, with an excellent view of the band. In a little while, the press passes would pull of their greatest feat of the entire weekend, but we had a quick stop to make first.
After Sam Roberts, we had a specific destination in mind, but we also had some time to kill. We grabbed some food I had an excellent vegetarian burrito, James had a Gyro I think and we decided that we needed a drink. For that drink, we walked over to the Broo'ers tent that I mentioned before.
The Broo'ers tent was home to about two dozen different stands each featuring a different Microbrew. The way it worked was that when you entered the tent, you got on line and bought tickets for a dollar a piece. There was a decent line for this, but if you were smart like us you bought enough tickets the first time and you never had to get on the line again. After you had your tickets, you headed over to the stands where for one ticket, you could get a shot of beer, or for six tickets you could get a full one.
After a few dollar shots, I settled on a full sized Magic Hat #9 which I had had before, but had never found so fantastic as I did that night it would become something of an obsession that germinated that weekend, was incubated on a subsequent trip to Vermont a couple weeks later, and in the end resulted in my declaring Magic Hat my official Summer beer the only beer I'll drink this summer if I have a say in the matter it's a very prestigious honor, at least in my head I'm drinking one now actually .cheers!
At some point, I put my Magic Hat down, and scribbled in my notebook "I officially think I'm in heaven." Things were about to get even better our next stop truly was something else
The Somethin' Else tent was a new addition to Bonnaroo in 2007. The idea behind this tent which was sponsored by the famous jazz label Blue Note Records, was that it would not only replicate a real down town New York City jazz club, but that it would feature it's own line-up of top notch A-list jazz performers. I kid you not people, if you took the line up from Somethin Else, didn't change a thing, and dropped it into any large public park in the country, it could easily have been it's own festival. They weren't playing around.
Before we go inside Somethin' Else, I want to mention something really quickly. When Bonnaroo began, it was a three day festival. Over the next few years, it became a three day festival where you could show up the Thursday beforehand, just to get set up, and they would have a band or two to amuse you some people took advantage of this, others just ignored it and showed up early Friday morning. In 2007, without making a public announcement, although they did mention it at a press conference they held AT the festival, Bonnaroo officially made the jump to being a full fledged four day festival. What I'm getting at, is that some of the stuff we saw on the throw away Thursday, was some of the best stuff we saw all weekend .which leads me to
When I saw the line up for Somethin Else, the one thing that jumped out at me more than anything, was that Dr. Lonnie Smith probably the greatest jazz organist alive since Jimmie Smith passed a few years ago and the incredible saxophonist Lou Donaldson were playing together with a quartet that they'd formed. This was the one set I wanted to see in the jazz tent no matter when it was going down it happened to be going down on throw away Thursday .I was so there.
What I didn't realize about the jazz tent, was that it only held 310 people per set in case you forgot, there were about 100,000 people on that farm that weekend to be among the 310 that got into Somethin Else at any given time really was something special .you'll never guess how we pulled it off if you said press passes actually, they didn't work it was all finesse baby all finesse.
"My man Dustin!" I said to James as we waited for the show to start.
Dustin, was the house manager of Somethin Else. Also, he was the guy that brought us inside, once again ahead of the massive crowd waiting on line, after the security woman at the door told us that we had to wait on line like everyone else, and that our press passes didn't mean anything at that tent.
Ten years ago when I was first starting out down this rocky road of music journalism if you can call this that I would have slinked away and stood at the back of the line, probably only to get turned away when I got to the front after the security guard told me that my press pass didn't mean shit.
Fast forward to today the older, wiser, and admittedly more devious me, instantly replied that I worked for a major jazz publication .bullshit and that I had been in touch with the label sponsoring the tent sorta bullshit (I had an e-mail conversation about an unrelated topic) and that they told me that not only would I not have to wait on line, but that I would have a reserved table inside for this set .TOTAL ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT.
Upon hearing this, the lady got her boss Dustin I had the balls to repeat myself to him a guy who by very the nature of his job really should have known I was full of shit but didn't and voi-la James and I had a front row table at the most exclusive spot in all of Bonnaroo. For the sake of pushing it all the way .hey, buy the ticket, take the ride. Right? I even told Dustin that we'd be back again the following night .he said just to ask for him and he'd get us the same table. As it turned out, this would be our only trip to Somethin Else but hey, once again, it's nice to have options no?
Honesty, in a perfect world, I absolutely would have spent more time in Somethin Else it was awesome but just by the nature of Bonnaroo, I never made it back there was always something else I needed to see.
Inside the tent, it really did look like a jazz club you couldn't tell at all that you were in a field in rural Tennessee. There were these red velvet curtains all around, photos of musicians on the "walls" tables with black linen table cloths and candles on them and even waitress service. The illusion was perfect. Somethin Else really was something else!
I felt it was kind of a waste to put so much energy into something that so few people would get to see, but in a way the fact that everyone inside that room was so excited just to have gotten in, added even more to the mystique and excellent vibe that the place had. You could just reach out and grab the positive energy instead, I reached out and grabbed another beer guess what, Somethin Else served Magic Hat! I told the waitress to keep em coming she did.
At around a quarter to eleven, the band took the stage which by the way was perfectly lit, and had absolutely excellent sound. They were an interesting group of guys to look at Lou is an 80 something year old black guy, the guitar player was a significantly younger white dude, the drummer was Asian, and Lonnie well Lonnie was once described as "An enigma wrapped in a question wrapped in a turban!" and there he was, turban and all.
If memory serves, they opened with "Blues Walk". When they were done, and everyone's minds were already blown even though they were just getting started, Lou told us that that was their theme song and added "Be sure to buy it I need the money!"
You have to be one cool cat to walk into a festival known as the biggest jam band festival around and say what Lou said next but then, Lou is one cooool cat . "This next song is pure jazz, not recommended for fusion and con-fusion musicians. We gotta practice to play this stuff!" And BAM they ripped into a tune that I recognized immediately as one by Charlie Parker but I couldn't grab the name of it out of the ether might have been "Marmaduke" on the other hand, I may just be thinking that because later I got a recording of Lou and Lonnie playing that particular song whatever, they played a Parker tune and it was SMOKING!
The musicianship of these four guys was absolutely top notch. Lou played sweet and slow and then picked up the pace like the be-bop master that he truly is. Lonnie is a madman behind his Hammond B-3 organ, playing amazing licks at times with his elbows and at others, with his teeth! But, aside from the two headliners fronting the group, the guitar player, Peter Bernstein, was brilliant, and late in the set when drummer Fukushi Tainaka who Lou introduced by saying "with a name like that you can tell he's from Mississippi or Alabama or somewhere like that" took an extended solo my jaw literally dropped no kidding folks, it was the single greatest drum solo I've ever seen in my life nothing else even comes close.
The cherry on top was the handful of songs where Lou sang to us. One was introduced as being by the greatest jazz musician of all time, and was "Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong. The other stand out was "Whiskey Drinkin Woman" which whipped the audience into a clapping, hootin and hollering frenzy, myself included not to mention got a few laughs I mean come on "She puts whiskey in her coffee, she puts whiskey in her tea she puts whiskey in her whiskey and puts the rest of it into me!" Classic.
After an all too short hour or so, the set was over and as everyone shuffled out of the tent, there wasn't a face to be seen without a huge smile plastered on it.
The quartet was going to be playing a second set, to a new audience, in a half hour or so, and James and I strongly considered getting a hold of Dustin and heading back inside. I fought off that impulse, reminding myself that if I just watched what I liked over and over again I wouldn't be here in the first place and explained to James that there was something else going on across the festival grounds that I thought would be just as good he clearly didn't believe me shit, why would he, I didn't even really believe me but he followed my lead regardless.
Okay now, when I first saw the schedule for Bonnaroo, I was pretty sure that my late night set of choice for Thursday, by the way anytime I say "late night" I mean midnight or later, was going to be a band called Tea Leaf Green. I had never seen them before, but with my ear ever-present on the ground of the jam band scene, I had heard lots of good things about them, especially their live show, and had downloaded some of their stuff in preparation. But then, almost like a bolt of lightning, I got hit with Rodrigo y Gabriela.
Rodrigo y Gabriela pronounced Rodrigo "E" Gabriela with a pained look on my face that says I know I sound like an idiot when I try to say Spanish words even if they're only one letter long are Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero, a Mexican born duo that now call Dublin, Ireland their home. Apparently, they met in Mexico while playing in a speed metal band called Tierra Acida, but got tired of the local scene and split for Europe to make new music that isn't metal, but at the same time kinda is See, the thing is, there's just the two of them no drummer no bassist no keys no freaking singer just a girl, a guy and a pair of .here's the kicker acoustic guitars. Does that not seem a little headbanger-ly challenged to you?
Well, don't tell them that, cause Rod and Gab as they're affectionately know, show absolutely no fucking mercy when they play. Strings are being plucked faster than it seems like they possibly could be, and Gabriela's right hand .and sometimes the left one too is constantly beating the hell out of the hollow body of her guitar providing percussion that's more innovative and for that matter intense than anything Metallica's Lars Ulrich has played in damn near two decades!!!
Now, it may have seemed random that I singled out Lars there perhaps because I personally think he's a prick but it wasn't. Rod and Gab, two musicians playing classical style acoustic guitar, regularly name Metallica as their biggest influence so it seemed appropriate to call him out.
When Rod and Gab took the stage, they were greeted by loudest ovation we'd heard thus far .I looked over to James, who was still sulking a little that we'd opted not to see Lou and Lonnie again the look I shot his said see trust me. A second later, we were treated to a double acoustic guitar rendition of Metallica's "For Whom The Bell Tolls" the place went nuts, and a quick glace revealed that James was already grinning ear to ear.
From what I've heard, Rod and Gab don't work with a set list they just feed off of each other with someone following someone's lead I imagine they alternate and off they go into a crazy eclectic mix of their own songs along with great covers of Metallica, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and more every once in a while they stop for a second, Gabriela takes a break from head banging away to her own righteous beat, shoots a two fingered devil sign straight up over her head and they're right back at it playing something else that initially makes you mumble under your breath "no way" and seconds later has you screaming HELL YEAH!!!
At one point, Rodrigo introduced a new tune that they were going to play. He told a quick story about how they had to cancel a few gigs Austin and Philly I believe because of a problem with his work visa that wouldn't let him cross over from Mexico and then told us that the new song was titled "Fuck the U.S. Visa Department" If you didn't get it already, this isn't your everyday classical guitar group
Something like two hours after they began, all thoughts of Tea Leaf Green were completely vanquished from my head I was too busy providing vocals for Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" along with the overjoyed crowd while simultaneously trying to count how many Metallica songs they'd touched on. It was at least three "For Whom the Bell Tolls", "Fade to Black", and "One" which lasted around fifteen minutes and had various other covers intertwined throughout including a little bit of "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes and a little bit of west coast Jazz legend, Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" as well.
When the music stopped, James and I screamed our approval and headed back to camp there was still music going on somewhere or other, but we'd been up for almost 22 hours at that point, and had a lot more to do before any real rest would be available.
We had two small arguments in the ten minutes it took us to get from Rod and Gab to the Arch. First, I got us lost I admit that much but the argument came when James kept pointing to a point on the map, claiming it was the way out, a point which was clearly visible from where we were standing and clearly was A FUCKING WALL then, we went in a totally different direction from where he was pointing and he said, "See I told you this was the way out!"
James still maintains that the way we went was the way he was pointing, but lets look at argument number two first, and then you can judge how well he knew what the hell was going on.
"So what'd you think of Rod and Gab?"
"The band we just saw ."
"Oh, they were fucking awesome. This whole thing is awesome. First we saw that great band, and then the jazz was amazing and you talked me into going to this and I didn't think it could possibly be better than the jazz but I think it might have been actually. Plus, we were five minutes in a five hour waiting line."
"What you just said wasn't a sentence at least not in English."
"I'm making perfect sense! I'm not that fucked up!"
"Say it again."
"We were five minutes in five hour waiting line."
"You really think that makes sense? I mean I know what you're driving at, but that's only because I already know what you're talking about."
"It makes perfect sense! Hey what are you doing?"
"I'm writing it down so that we can see how much sense you think it makes in the morning."
"It's gonna make sense fine."
"We'll see asshole."
It's important that you all know that while yes, we were arguing, these were not the kind of arguments that would cause any kind of problems .these were the kind of arguments where you argue, call each other assholes, and then laugh about it for the next twenty minutes .which is exactly what we did while we stumbled around in the night trying to find our campsite.
We followed the main road, past the Hare Krishna guy that didn't seem to stop chanting or playing his tambourine for the entire weekend, and onto the other main road. We followed that second main road as long as we could and then headed off the trail into a sea of sleepy tents and dormant cars with only a small flashlight to guide us. At some point, James insisted that we needed to jump a barbed wire fence that we were facing .which clearly we didn't and at the last second before he attempted this, I spotted the large Sponge Bob balloon that one of our neighbors had floating above their tent it guided us home.
After a quick change and various highly primitive grooming and (un)hygienic functions IE urinating into an empty water bottle rather than backtracking a mile in the dark to the wonders of the porta-potty or pissing on the ground, where someone else was bound to be walking barefoot the next day we climbed into the tent it was close to three in the morning.
James said one last thing before he instantly dropped off to sleep
"Jesus Christ, I feel like I have hooves!"
I'm sure he was sure that that too would make sense in the morning.
I laid awake for a few minutes trying to get comfortable, and finally drifted off I woke up a short while later, and believe it or not, found that I was freezing! I went out to the car, got my sweatshirt that I had packed thinking there was no chance in hell I would actually need it, and curled back up trying to fall back asleep even though I was literally shivering. Next thing I knew
"Holy shit, I'm on fire!" I thought as I sat bolt upright on my ..now this is where that sentence belongs!
I'm not kidding people, for a split second when I first woke up I really did think that I was literally on fire! It was only seven thirty in the morning, and even though I had been lying awake shivering less than four hours earlier, the temperature in our tent was already well over one hundred degrees.
When I got my head around the situation, all I could do was groan James, who I hadn't even realized was awake added "Yeah no shit!" We both lay there for a while, not speaking, trying to fall back asleep .but we both knew it was just too damn hot, and it was never going to happen. I wasn't thrilled with the idea of facing day two, a day that was, music wise, about forty percent longer than day one, on less than four hours sleep but there was nothing we could do about it so what could we do.
We realized our neighbors were awake when a voice floated through one nylon wall, then another, and into our tent. It said, "No no dude, the acid's in the first aid kit!" With that, I decided it was time for some Special K breakfast that is and climbed out of the tent.
Five minutes later after I discovered that as I mentioned, we hadn't bought any bowls, I set to work on cooking the Italian sausages we'd bought as they were the only thing that even sorta resembled breakfast food. Also, by that point I knew there was no way in hell we were EVER gonna make that monster hike to and from the music just to eat so all the food we bought for lunch and dinner would go to waste if we didn't turn it into breakfast. You won't hear me complaining mmmm sausage.
While I was cooking, I got into a conversation with one of the guys next door I didn't know if he was the one looking for the acid or not, and I didn't really care. He was telling me that he had seen Clutch the night before, and they were excellent. I didn't mention that I'd seen them a decade ago and they were horrible what would be the point? I did tell him what we'd seen the night before, and we discovered that we didn't have a single performance in common.
That's as good an example as any of what I was talking about before regarding just how much stuff is going on at once. Here were two guys camped next to each other, who both had seen a full night of music but we had no overlap whatsoever! I imagine, we could have easily found a third guy and probably with a little effort, even a fourth guy that also had totally different experiences.
James and I had seen four full sets, and parts of two or three more .
Here's what we didn't see The Little Ones, The National, Mute Math, Clutch, Ryan Shaw, The New Orleans Klezmer Allstars, Apollo Sunshine, Tea Leaf Green, Lionel Loueke, Stanton Moore Trio, David Cross, Langhorne Slim, Dubconscious, Yard Dogs Road Show, The Westside Daredevils, Jescoe, Huab Kru Break Dancers, Tenderhooks, and The Whigs (who I think we actually did see for a few minutes while we were, lost after Rod and Gab.
So we saw six acts, and missed eighteen and that was with four of the stages (Which, What, Sonic, and Blue Room) not hosting performances yet! When everything was in full swing, you could probably come up with at least a half dozen completely unique paths to take except, when the headliners were on.
I haven't mentioned this yet, because it didn't apply to Thursday night. Here's the deal for each of the next three nights, at some time around eight or nine, The What Stage that's the ginormous one became home to one of the festival's "headliners". When that happened, all the music everywhere else ceased the big boys were the only game in town musically but if you really couldn't stand one of them, you could still go check out a movie, ride the Ferris wheel, or god forbid, take a nap!
The headliners for the 2007 festival where Tool, The Police, and Widespread Panic.
A lot of die hard Bonnaroo people were upset that only one of the three was actually a jam band .but more than that, A LOT of people were upset that Tool, a prog-metal band, was there at all. Admittedly, they didn't really fit the mold of traditional Bonnaroo headliner..a mold created by folks like Dave Matthews, The Dead, and Trey Anastasio of Phish but Bonnaroo is nothing if it's not eclectic, and I for one was really looking forward to watching Tool rock such a large audience .for the sake of full disclosure though, I should mention that I had already seen them before twice and knew first hand how bad ass they are live, so it wasn't too hard to get amped up for their set.
And whoa .speaking of being amped up for Tool, the guy that I had been talking to from the tent next door, had a gigantic Tool tattoo covering his lower back .and get this, it's pretty wild even by my "anything goes in order to see a good band" standards at eight thirty in the morning, he headed off to camp out for a good spot for Tool's nine PM performance! Now that's dedication I mean shit, these Deadheads that were upset about Tool being around weren't even awake yet, and this dude was standing in the Tennessee sun staking a claim for his spot almost thirteen hours ahead of time!! In my book, any band that creates fans that loyal, is a perfect fit for Bonnaroo bands that don't have something truly special about them, don't get that kind of reaction .know what I mean?
But wait wait wait slow down Mike it's way too early to talk about Tool James and I had twelve hours of other stuff to see first!
Our first full day at Bonnaroo started out a little different than most other people's did I can say with certainty, that only about a hundred people did what we did cause umm there were only about a hundred people there. Our first event of the day was the "mandatory" press orientation, which was to take place backstage between Which and What.
I didn't know how truly mandatory it was, it didn't seem like there was anything they could do to us if we didn't show up, but hey it was scheduled before any music was going on, and maybe we'd learn something cool like press have their own bathrooms which as it turned out, we did. So around eleven, after we'd cleaned up from breakfast, and changed into new clothes that already seemed dirty, we headed towards Centerroo to see what the meeting was all about.
On the way in we invented okay okay I invented a new people watching game called "pregnant or fat?" James told me I was going to hell and then played along for the long walk in. At some point, I looked down and noticed that the words on my media pass were about halfway through the process of MELTING off I made a mental note to try to get a replacement at the press shindig.
Said shindig was thoroughly uneventful. We learned that we could get free water, though every time I tried after that meeting, the free water cooler was always empty. We learned that there were in fact "Press Bathrooms" but they were really just additional Porta-potties pressa-potties maybe sitting out in the sun like all the rest, that you needed a cool purple wristband to be grossed out by .I suppose they were slightly less disgusting but disgusting is a term that I usually don't find works on a relative scale stuff is either disgusting or not know what I mean?
Some other info we got was that there would be a series of mass interviews throughout the weekend, where a few bands would get on stage, backstage, and a hundred people at once could fire off questions I had no use for this if a band had no time to sit down with me, I have no time for them especially when there are fifteen concerts going on around me. I'd rather experience Bonnaroo than experience a bunch of people telling me what a great experience Bonnaroo is.
Lastly we learned that Tool had announced that NO ONE, press included, was allowed to photograph them. Now, this didn't really effect me as I didn't have a photo pass to begin with but man it was funny to watch all the "real" press freak the fuck out when they learned the headliner of the night had essentially told them, their editors back in East or wherever, and their deadline, to go fuck themselves.
Now you say "Wait wait wait did he just say he didn't have a photo pass? How the hell can that be, this god damn book is full of his pictures and I saw like 200 of them on his My Space page!"
Folks, for me an independent music photographer that has to fight and claw for every bit of access I get, THIS was the greatest thing about Bonnaroo anyone there was more than welcome to bring a camera and fire away at whatever they happened to be standing in front of .cept Tool of course, but fuck them, I've got bigger fish to fry!
Yes, my press pass did get me a little closer than most folks at times, and did get me into things that others might not have seen but as for the photos, the vast majority of them were taken from common areas that I would have been standing in with no credentials at all. So, if you're a person that likes to shoot bands and if you're not, don't start, it's a pain in the ass more often than not Bonnaroo is a fantastic place to add all kinds of different acts to your portfolio. I shot over 1,500 frames in four days!!!
At the end of the meeting, I talked to the head honcho, who for some reason didn't shake my hand when I offered it. Hopefully it was a Monk kind of thing and not a hey look at me I'm a big powerful prick kinda thing. Offering a third theory, James seems to think the guy just didn't notice. Regardless, he did give me a shiny new media pass and I was thankful for that until it too melted away later on in the weekend. Did I mention it was really fucking hot yet?
Anyway, big fancy pointless media meeting out of the way, it was time to check out some music. It was a little after noon, and everything was just getting started for the day. James and I didn't have anything that we definitely wanted to see until four thirty so it was time to just submit to the wanderlust and see what we could see.
Right as we walked out of the backstage area, we noticed a fairly large crowd milling about in front of Which Stage. A quick check with the guidebook revealed that a band called Rx Bandits were coming on in fifteen minutes seemed like as good a start to the day as any so we walked over.
I had heard of the RX Bandits, and even owned a song or two or theirs on various compilations. In my head, which means a lot to me and probably less to you, I had them categorized as a punk rock band that occasionally flirted with ska. After watching them perform though, that's not really right. Yeah, they have some punky elements, but they sound more like I don't know The Meat Puppets with a trombone player or something like that it's hard to explain though it's not necessarily unique. There are a lot of bands around right now doing this weird rocky, not-quite weird enough to be avant-garde but weird enough that you think it's weird, kind of music though they don't all have an ultra skinny shirtless trombone player, who's sun block isn't quite rubbed in enough, jumping around all over the stage that, was unique.
The singer, looked like that guy that always ends up camping near-by when you head to the woods with your friends for a weekend excursion you know, the hairy stranger that wanders over to your campsite with his mangy dog and explains that he's here for five days, but didn't bring any food and when you reluctantly give him a hot dog all he says is, "Karma.". That guy
The guitar player was an Asian guy that looked kinda fat but probably just needed a shirt that was one size bigger someone should buy him one, cause aside from his awkward look, he was pretty awesome.
We watched four or five songs one of them which had a line something like "Hey girl, come with me and let yourself go " was especially good anyone know what that tune's called I googled the lyric but got nothing back. Then we moved on I'm not saying they were bad by any means but five songs was enough. Like I said, at Bonnaroo if it's not moving you you just move.
Next we found a band called Cold War Kids, we watched one song which was actually really good and got stuck in my head for most of the weekend problem was it was way too crowded to get a good spot in the front and the dildo working the backstage entrance let me in, and then immediately told James it was full she was just being a douche bag so we said fuck it, and moved on there was tons of stuff to see.
That was however the moment when I got nervous that the very size of Bonnaroo was going to make it a pain in the ass to see anything I mean if the Cold War Kids drew such a crowd that even the press area was full, where were we gonna end up watching The Police from somewhere in Alabama. As it turned out though, this was the ONLY instance of the entire weekend where James and I couldn't get a decent spot without a ton of effort so much for Sting, I guess the Cold War Kids should be the ones charging $500 a ticket at Madison Square Garden somehow I doubt it
We walked away and I was singing under my breath about how I'd never touch another drink as long as I lived that's a line from the one song we'd heard. We went straight to the Troo Music Lounge remember, that's the tent that would be better named Budweiseroo got a couple beers, and watched our third artist in less than two hours.
Just before the performer took the stage, we were treated to an impromptu performance by a lets say pissed to the gills, drunk guy. He jumped out of his chair and at the top of his lungs started singing and original song, set to the tune of Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All" you know, I believe the children are our future and so on his version went "IF I FAILLLL .IF I SUCCEEEEED .FUCK ALL Y'ALL I'M JUST BEIN ME!" aaaand then he fell down. I was gonna see if I could hire him to write me an official theme song but alas, the show started before I could make my way over.
Now, if I was the manager of this next act, the name would be "Billy Joel's Kid" .because well she's Billy Joel's kid, and that name would fill the seats more than just going by Alexa Ray Joel as she does maybe if she listened to me, she'd be out of the beer tent. By the way, just for the record, Carlos Santana's kid who also insists on having a band name other than "Santana's Kid" was also at Bonnaroo and was also relegated to the beer tent.
Anyway, there she was, Alexa Ray Joel that is, low cut blue dress, big bulging eyes, and a voice to match you know, loud and flashy.
She was doing the whole chick singer thing don't play coy with me .you know what I mean that whole look at me, I'm beautiful AND talented bit that Jewel, Alayna Myles, and current darling (who was actually playing at some point somewhere at Bonnaroo) Regina Spektor have milked or are currently milking for all its worth.
Usually, these acts really do have the beautiful part down but their music isn't brilliant it's more of a 'not awful to the point that you don't want to look at the pretty girl anymore.' Billy Joel's Kid I'm just gonna call her that from here on out had a similar thing going but it was more of a 'whatever she's saying isn't interesting enough for me to care or annoying enough for me to stop trying to figure out if she's actually attractive.' It was a confusion tactic felt like trickery after a little while, we moved on again.
What that wasn't enough on her? Come on she was playing in a fucking beer tent let's go, I'll tell you all about the burrito I had for lunch!
It wasn't a terribly exciting burrito just black beans and cheese but, I had been on a cleanse for the previous month, and it was the first cheese I had eaten in that time fuckin thing gave me chills up until that point, it was the highlight of my day I'll go on the record right now and say that I will take a bean and cheese burrito over an Alexa Ray Joel concert any day of the week and I say that knowing full well that I'll probably meet her in a bar one day, she'll fall madly in love with me, and just days before we wed and I become an heir to the Joel fortune, one of her bitchy socialite friends will find this writing on the internet somewhere, and I'll watch the whole thing float away .ah fuck it, the truth is the truth, it was a damn good burrito besides, I have a girlfriend, and she'd look better in the low cut blue dress.
So there I am, eating my burrito, standing in the massive field in front of the What Stage, which at that point was pretty much empty, because no one was on, and all of a sudden, I realize I hear music .but as far as I know, there's no stage anywhere near me other than the empty main stage silly me there's stages fucking everywhere! Tucked away, totally off the beaten path, in the back left corner of the What Stage concert field, was the AT&T Blue Room Café who knew not me and apparently not many other folks either there was nobody there but that didn't stop Dave Barnes who I didn't know was Dave Barnes until just now when I looked up who was playing when I was standing there from playing a bunch of songs I honestly don't remember. I just know it was good burrito eatin music thanks Dave 'preciate it.
When that was done, and by that make no mistake, I mean the burrito, not the music, James and I headed up towards the front area of the What Stage field. In a short while, a band called Kings of Leon were set to kick off the performances on that gigantic stage. A while back, I used to date a girl, sort of, that left me to date one of the guys in the band well that's not exactly how it went, but it's more interesting than the truth so let's just roll with it anyway, out of something like morbid curiosity I wanted to check them out plus, I had heard that their straight forward rock n roll, was really good live. Their studio albums sure sound like they'd lend themselves to great performances.
Now, being from Nashville, the band were something like hometown heroes, but sorry there was no way in hell they were popular enough to pull off performing on that monstrosity of a stage. There were thousands of people watching them play, and the place looked like a wasteland. The front area I'll explain this in more detail later on when it's more relevant which usually had one to two hour waiting periods associated with it, was wide open and we just walked right in and up to about twenty feet from the band.
It reminded me of the train wreck that most opening acts for The Rolling Stones turn out to be. I don't care how good a band is if you're a band that usually plays 5,000 person venues, and all of a sudden, you're facing a more or less empty 80,000 person venue, your show's gonna suffer. It affects the band psychologically, and at the same time it affects the audience who are all standing around wondering if being there when so many others clearly didn't think it was worth it makes them a loser.
I actually felt bad for the band I found myself thinking, if you put these guys in one of the tents (which they've done in the past) they would kill (which I hear they have in the past). But that was the What Stage huge, impersonal, and more or less, a vibe killer. I decided right then that I would avoid it as much as I could for the remainder of the weekend and aside from the headliners, I really only went back once.
Anyway, Kings Of Leon were doing the best they could, and it really did sound good even though it was missing that spark, connection, energy, whatever that makes a show magic. Then it started to rain then we left.
Adding insult to injury, I heard that sometime after we split, the power went out on Kings of Leon mid-song damn .when it rains it pours huh I'll give em another chance next time they roll through NYC they seemed like they'd be well worth it under better circumstances.
So now we'd seen bits and pieces of five different acts so far on day two. It was just after four, and it was time to head over to That Tent for one of the sets I was personally looking forward to the most, The Nightwatchman.
For those of you that don't know, The Nightwatchman is Tom Morello. Tom Morello, was and I guess once again IS, the guitar player from Rage Against The Machine. Rage Against the Machine, was hands down fuck Pearl Jam, Nirvana and whoever else you're thinking of the best band of the nineties that were big enough to sell out arenas across the country. There were a handful of bands I liked more on a club level but when it comes to huge successful bands, Rage was at the top of the mountain.
They broke up seven or eight years ago, but they're back on the road for the first time since the Clinton administration, this summer two dates in New York in late July I'll be at both.
Anyway, The Nightwatchman, is Tom's side project, and in stark contrast to Rage's 'knock the walls down, then pound the rubble into dust' heaviness, and Tom's innovative, borderline genius electric guitar playing The Nightwatchman, is just Tom, a harmonica, and an acoustic guitar. Think of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska album this was like that Springsteen Against the Machine if you will .he even did that weird hoot thing that Bruce likes to do between verses.
Now talk about playing the right sized venue when Tom came out the place was PACKED, and the crown was on fire people were so excited that at one point they started cheering and chanting the name of his roadie! "PETE PETE PETE PETE!"
"Good afternoon Bonnaroo. I'm the Nightwatchman, and this is a one man revolution!"
After opening the set with the title cut from his new cd, "One Man Revolution" Tom announced that the next song was "for all of you people who work for a living this song right here is a freedom song this song right here my friends is a fighting song this song that I'm gonna play for you right now brothers and sisters is a union song!"
As he sang "Union Song" I discovered that it wasn't really Springsteen that he was imitating it was the guy Springsteen was imitating that he was imitating I jotted a quick note "He's trying to be Woody Guthrie for 2007"
If that sounds derogatory, or like a complaint, you couldn't be reading me more wrong. Guthrie, who was a folksinger in the forties and fifties, kinda has a permanent position at the top of the folksinger hierarchy even above Dylan. I mean shit, before he wrote song one, a young Dylan, still Robert Zimmerman at the time, was roaming around Minnesota playing pizza places like the Purple Onion in St. Paul, and was known as "a Woody Guthrie Jukebox" and then, one of the only original tunes on his first album which was mostly covers, was called "Song For Woody", and it was set to Guthrie's music! So no, idolizing, or trying to be Woody Guthrie is in no way looked down upon in the book of Mike it was the path my favorite musician of all time took .and it was really cool to see another favorite taking a blowin down that road.
The next song stayed on that path but swerved a little when Tom announced that they were filming a video for it and he'd be playing it twice I'm pretty sure Woody, Bob or Bruce never did that .but hey, this is the 21st century, and folksingers need money too! The song was called "Alone Without You" and is featured in the new Michael Moore movie. I'm sure if you ever see the video, I'll be in it but then, you probably have just as much chance of catching a Woody Guthrie video the way MTV is these days, so don't hold your breath.
We got back on track quickly, and Tom got political imagine that.
"I just got back from the G-8 protest in Germany. I was the only American artist there representing the millions and millions of us back here that are sick of the George W. Bush administration and are sick of the G-8 where eight rich leaders of the eight richest countries in the world get together and decide how the world's gonna be structured without asking any of us about it!"
It seemed like run of the mill anti-Bush stuff and I tried not to roll my eyes. I don't want to hear this stuff from anyone but especially not from a guy that got famous playing in a band that was incredibly vocal about how much they disliked the U.S. government's policies .from 1992-1999...when that war monger Bill Clinton (U.S. troops invaded and killed folks in twice as many countries under Bill than we have under George look it up) was in office.
But then he added something kinda interesting...kinda, well actually in line with how I feel which is something that doesn't really happen too often, and virtually never happens when someone from the far far ultra left is speaking.
"I'm gonna tell you this right now. None of that's gonna change by voting this way or voting that way. I think it's fine and good to vote, but the way the world changes is when you and I, people who's names are not heard in history books, stand up for their rights where they live, where they work and where they go to school."
Right-fucking-on Tom. Way to say something political that isn't simultaneously stupid a specialty of most pop stars today. It's statements like that that make me like you even if I disagree with you.
Tom went on to say that The Nightwatchman's mission god I wish he wouldn't refer to himself as his alter ego, and what's more wouldn't do that in the third person I want desperately for this intense meaningful music to not be corny, and that doesn't help .regardless The Nightwatchman's mission is to one city at a time liberate territory, and that this was now the "People's Republic of Bonnaroo" and the whole not being corny thing went right out the fucking window.
He recovered quickly with a great tune called "Flesh Shapes The Day" and then he announced that after his set he'd be heading over to the little record store next to the Sonic Stage, and would be signing "a bunch of shit". He added "This is great, but it's a little impersonal. I'd like to meet you guys face to face, and shake your hands." I was super excited the guy's been one of my favorite musicians for like fifteen years I couldn't wait to get a picture with him. I looked at James, and didn't have to say a word .he just nodded and smiled.
The next tune was possibly the highlight of the set there were a couple other gems coming up that are also in contention but this was great on it's own merit the other's had gimmicks it was a great sing along style folk song called "The Road I Must Travel".
Next, Tom teased the crowd a little by announcing that the next song was dedicated to those of us that knew him from his previous bands. People started going crazy. Then he said, "whoa, don't get too excited, it does not go like this " and played the opening to Rage Against the Machine's "Bombtrack" INSANITY and then he stopped and said "I said it does NOT go like that!" and laughed .dick.
Three songs later, he really did play Rage's "Guerilla Radio". as a crazy blues folk number with slowed down lyrics that really let you hear that great line, "War for Gore or the son of a drug lord none of the above fuck it, cut the cord!"..the song was originally released during the opening phases of the 2000 election...brilliant. This version was fantastic though, I'm getting goosebumps thinking about the incomparable Zack De La Rocha singing it for real in a couple weeks!
Tom, sorry, The Nightwatchman announced that the next song would be his last and too my pleasure (I love being right) but not my surprise, he announced it as follows
"This is a song by a great American rebel, a great American song writer. I'd like to play a song for you know by Woody Guthrie."
Ha-ha .I know my shit! At some point in the set, I noticed that Tom even had a handwritten slogan on his guitar just like Woody used to .though Tom's "Whatever It Takes!" was no where near as cool and classic as Guthrie's "This Machine Kills Fascists!"
The song Tom chose, was one that you probably know even if you've never heard of Woody Guthrie it's one you learn in elementary school. Before he played the song, Tom explained that it was originally meant to be an angry song, and was written in protest of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" which Woody felt missed the point of America. He also talked about how the song has historically been edited and censored to "protect" the children from its true meaning. I knew all this already, but it was cool to see that the guy knew what he was talking about and maybe one or two people standing there watching him (without notebooks) would remember all this, and when they got back home would go out and pick up a Woody Guthrie CD and that would be a beautiful thing
The screamed, improvised final line of the song was "Never give up, and never give in. Nobody wins unless we all win!" Fucking awesome.
Before the encore there actually was no break, he just did one more tune Tom told us that this was absolutely the best audience he had ever played in front of .a direct quote was "Tennessee who knew?" He added, he couldn't wait to meet us. I couldn't wait to meet him, so James and I took off for the store where he'd be signing.
Wouldn't you know it .Tom Morello turned out to be a rule crazy capitalist asshole or even worse, a guy who let rule crazy capitalist assholes tell him what to do!
When James and I got over to the store, I was given a red wrist band, and James was told that my wristband was the final wristband. Then I was told that people with blue wristbands would be going first, and that if there was time the red wristbands could go. We learned the Tom was only staying for EXACTLY thirty minutes, and that he would NOT take a photo with anyone, would NOT sign anything but his cd and here's the kicker WOULD NOT MEET ANYONE UNLESS THEY BOUGHT THE CD. I truthfully told the guy that told us this, that I already had the cd, and he said with a smirk, "Guess you'll be buying a second copy then."
After the previous hour and change about unity, brothers and sisters, hand shaking, and freedom "I can't wait to meet you" this was kind of a let down.
When Tom was signing, I walked up to the barricade, and before any security guards could tackle me, I shouted over "Way too many rules Tom! Way too many rules." I ripped off my red bracelet, tossed it on the ground and walked away people started clapping!
The only plus that came out of the signing fiasco was that while it was going down, we got to see fifteen funky minutes of the dance happy band, Brazilian Girls on the Sonic stage while everything unfolded.
Actually, when I think about it, there was a second plus to the fiasco. I'm really okay with knowing that Tom's full of shit. It makes me feel one hundred percent better about the fact that I don't agree with a bunch of the stuff he spouts off about in his music. Now I know that good intentions aside, he just wants my money like everyone else, and that means I'm allowed to treat him as entertainment instead of some kind of teacher/guru in other words fuck what he's saying I don't kill myself when Ozzy sings about suicide, and I don't have to feel bad about leaning to the right when Rage Against the Machine tells me how evil that is. Works for me. So go ahead Tom, put out a new Rage album after all, this $20 is your $20, this $20 is my $20...this $20 was made for you and me.
At any rate, we walked away from Tom with a decent amount of the great vibe we'd picked up at his set, laying crumpled at his feet up with my unused meet and greet bracelet. As you can see, I've come to terms with it, but at the time it was kind of a bummer as it turned out, it was the perfect time to need a little uplifting
We had a few options of what to see next The Roots seemed promising, but since they were on the monster stage, and in my experience it's very rare that live hip-hop equals good hip-hop (it can be done, it's just more the exception than the rule) we decided to pass on them. Lily Allen, the English female rapper had some novelty appeal, but come on if I was skipping hip-hop greatness because I had no faith in its ability to translate into a moving live experience, I damn sure wasn't going to go see the flavor of the month instead. No, the frontrunner for us was a band called The Black Keys. They're actually a duo, drums and guitar, much like The White Stripes, and play similar hard driving bluesy rock. I have no doubt that they would be an EXCELLENT live band.
But there was something nagging me something in the back of my mind that said, while The Black Keys were more or less a sure thing, I should roll the dice on a fourth option that we had something that could go either way but just seemed to be calling me I tossed the idea to James, and he said, "After what you brought me to last night, I'm following you no matter what you say you're going to!" With that we set out for the Which Stage.
As we walked over there, stopping quickly to walk through the fountain and cool off a little, I explained to James what we were going to. "Well he sings in English, but also in Spanish and French, and I think some other languages and the music is kinda well it's just all over the place it's like Latin reggae punk with hip-hop mixed in and all wrapped in this wild up-beat world music fusion style rock n roll I think it could be really good."
"What's this called again?"
"The guy's name is Manu Chao."
Now some of you, I don't know who, but some of you, are reading this, and are now smiling, and nodding your heads at the text. The ones doing that, are the ones familiar with Manu Chao's work. If you've experienced it, it's pretty much impossible not to smile when you think of it.
Some additional info you new folks should know about Manu is that he started out in a band called Mano Negra which played music similar to what I described above and became absolutely HUGE all over the world except here .think of it as soccer (that's football to you Manu Chao fans ), but music. Seriously, Manu Chao, through his various bands, is one of the top selling artists in the world and he rarely tours the U.S cause nobody here gives a shit .and that makes me feel more shameful to be an American than anything Tom Morello said all day.
When we got to the Which Stage, there was a decent crowd gathering, but we were able to make our way up to the front with a perfect combination of slithering, gentle pushing and constant "excuse me's". We waited there for about twenty minutes for the show to start, during which time, I was still seething over Morello being a dick, was nervous that I'd made a mistake by skipping The Black Keys, and had already dried out from my fountain walk, and was sweating again because it was about a billion degrees at that point, and the Which Stage offers no shade. It was kind of more or less a totally miserable moment. Then .
Holy fuck people! I defy ANYONE to see Manu Chao and stay miserable through it! I don't care if your dog's got cancer five minutes with Manu and that motherfucker will have you dancing. I WAS DANCING FOR TWO HOURS STRAIGHT! I don't dance I'm a six foot tall, slightly overweight, white dude with no rhythm whatsoever but I couldn't stop moving even if I wanted to! James, also not a dancer, stood next to me and danced his balls off!!! It was like the band sent out this explosion of energy and hypnotized the entire crowd .and when Manu had us all under his spell, he only issued one command PARTY!
James and I were singing along at the top of our lungs I don't know what the fuck we were saying we were singing in languages that WE DON'T SPEAK! The whole thing was just a two hour frenzy of screaming, and dancing, and singing, and fist pumping, and laughing, and more dancing, and smiling and chanting, and ahhhhhhhh .it was just absolutely fucking amazing!
I can't tell you the name of a single song they played I didn't know any of them. One of them was about Tijuana, and he changed it to be about Bonnaroo I think.
I can't tell you much of what was said between songs I didn't understand most of it. Some statement was made addressed to "Mr. White House" about how the only way to stop violence was not with violence, but with food, jobs, and mainly, education for everyone. Sounds about right
I don't know who any of the other guys in the band are. Who was that percussionist? He looked like he was going to beat that bongo until he burst into flames!
All I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty, is that when all was said and done, a few days later James and I both agreed, that Manu Chao Radio Bemba Sound System that's the full name of the band .was hands down the best set we saw at Bonnaroo .and one of the best sets I've ever seen in my life.
When it was over, we were exhausted what we needed was a nice shower and a quick nap what we got was Tool.
Immediately after Manu left the stage, and we finished cheering, more like howling, for him we started towards the What Stage where Tool was going to be performing very shortly. The spot we ended up in was about a hundred feet from the stage, which considering at least one dude had been waiting for twelve hours already, wasn't that bad.
The What Stage, which I had been calling the "charmless wonder" all day, gained some luster when you saw it with an appropriately sized crowd in front of it. The sea of people in front of the stage, which literally looked like it had waves going through it, was pretty impressive. It also helped that the band coming on had a show designed to be gigantic which meshed well with the stage's um giganticness .SORT OF I'll explain shortly.
Well, no, I'll explain now. Tool, the show, was built to be gigantic. Tool, the band, was not. We were about one hundred feet away as I mentioned which really was pretty close relatively speaking when you considered the size of the field .and when the band came on and ripped into "Jambi" the smoke and the lights and the six massive video screens all kicked in, and it was an awesome spectacle .an awesome stage show but .there were really no lights on the band, especially on Maynard, the singer and we couldn't really see them I figured eventually, the video screens would stop showing creepy animations, and start showing a live feed of the band but this never happened. So unless you were REALLY close like lined up at 9 am close you didn't really get to see to much of Tool what you got the see was the big weird laser, smoke and lights animation thing that Tool created .while they played on a small under-lit, at times totally unlit, section of the stage.
I didn't really get it. I wrote in my notebook "Great light show but we could really just be watching this thing set to a Tool cd it's like the band's not here. If this is their show they could franchise it and have it going in five cities at once anyone could be on that stage!"
Don't get me wrong, it sounded awesome I got a bootleg of it and have listened to it almost everyday since I got it and it looked awesome too but there was just some kind of disconnect between the show and the performance .I guess what I'm getting at was that it didn't feel like we were watching a concert mainly because we couldn't see any musicians .but also because the show seemed very sterile. Since we couldn't see the band, and were just sitting there watching a video/light show that looks the same in every city as long as it's assembled correctly and someone pushes the on button there was no connection with the band, and therefore no emotion to be felt. It really was like listening to a cd and I've been getting more enjoyment out of the copy I got, than I did at the show.
I suppose, it was the exact opposite of the show Manu Chao put on. In his show he took the audience under his wing and made them, and their energy, part of the show with Tool, it felt like they were pissed off that we showed up. The one moment I remember when Maynard spoke to the crowd he teased everyone about how he had a shower and air conditioning! I know it was supposed to come off as cool rock-star obnoxious but to me it came off as just plain old asshole obnoxious.
Oh and Memo to Tool: You don't have to make such a fuss about photographers there are no lights on you therefore no one can take your picture!
Cept me of course I got deep in the crowd where I was sure there'd be no security, and fired away it literally took over 100 shots to get one good shot of Maynard with enough light on him that he appeared to be more than just a shadow. Since there were signs everywhere stating photography was prohibited, I don't think I can use the picture for anything without them suing me buy hey that'd be good publicity, and I'm sure I could write a book about that time Tool tried to destroy me!! Besides, at the time, I didn't want to use the photo for anything it was the principle of it and I got my shot so fuck off rock star. Besides, the picture of the poster sized sign saying not to take pictures is a more interesting shot anyway and that one I CAN use.
Musically, I can't stress enough how great Tool were. About half the set came from their most recent album, last summer's 10,000 Days tunes like "The Pot" "Wings For Marie" and a killer "Vicarious". The rest was made up of a great batch of older songs like "Aenima" "Schism" and the two highlights a long ass version of "Lateralus" that featured none other than THE NIGHTWATCHMAN oh .wait now he's Tom Morello again now and "Stinkfist" which featured a scream somewhere in the middle coming out of Maynard, that I thought might shatter my soul .it was intense gives me chills when I replay it.
If you added "Sober" and "Prison Sex" neither of which they actually played, the set would have had every single Tool song I wanted to hear .nonetheless, as it stood great song selection.
Somewhere near the end, the light show reached it's pinnacle when laser beams shot out from the stage and lit up the whole sky it looked insane very cool.
Shortly after that, I was off to the land of late night
One last thought on Tool after reading back what I just wrote I realized that I liked the way it looked, and I loved the way it sounded but for some reason, I didn't like it. It strikes me that there is a possibility that I was just .hmmmm . exhausted and cranky and had I had a shower and air conditioning perhaps the whole thing would have clicked together in my head, and I'd have no complaints. I strongly suspect that this was the case why don't you try watching 15 bands in 26 hours on three hours sleep in 95 degree weather let's see where your head is at at that point which by the way was only the half way point!
Okay, what's next?
What's next was something really interesting and unique actually one of a kind. Every year, late night Bonnaroo offers something called Superjam which is not a real band but rather various musicians from various bands getting together and just going for it.
At Bonnaroo 2006, it was The Benevento/Russo Duo along with Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon from Phish. This foursome actually ended up doing a tour together as G.R.A.B. (The first initial of each guy's last name) after they united for Superjam.
For weeks before Bonnaroo, there was rampant speculation over who would play during the ominous blank spot on the schedule. There were three groups that people's theories fell into. First, some people said that Superjam was no more, and the open spot was going to be an additional band people of that mindset all seemed to have their own favorite band, not on the line-up, that they were sure would take that last spot My Morning Jacket, and The Mars Volta seemed to be getting more of this kind of buzz than most.
The second group of people seemed to think that the empty spot would be Superjam, and the participants would be various people already playing on other stages throughout the weekend. Lots of people wanted more Tom Morello, Warren Haynes, Jack White, and various others.
The third group was also sure it would be Superjam, but that the participants would be people not performing elsewhere at Bonnaroo with Robert Randolph and Les Claypool leading the way.
My plan for Friday late night, was to head over to the mystery spot see what it was, and then decide if I wanted to stay, or go watch The String Cheese Incident a true jamband, that I like very much who have announced that they're splitting up after their tour this summer.
But that was before the promoters, in an unprecedented move, announced that the empty spot was in fact going to be Superjam, and then told us who it would feature. As it turned out, people subscribing to theories two and three above, were both right. Superjam was to be a trio, with two members from bands already announced to be at Bonnaroo, and one member coming in just for this set.
The two we knew about were Ben Harper on guitar and vocals, and ?uestlove from The Roots on drums. Now, right away, this is already interesting. While The Roots are a hip-hop group, I've seen ?uestlove play drums before in rock/funk settings and the guy is no joke meanwhile Ben who I had never seen before was supposed to play a mean lap steal guitar so far so go.
The third member of the trio was what made the set one that for me, couldn't be missed. On bass, John Paul Jones .of Led Zeppelin.
With that announcement, the traffic on the Bonnaroo bulletin board went ballistic, and my plans to possibly catch String Cheese went bye-bye.
The show was going to take place from midnight til three at The Other Tent a venue we hadn't been to yet. So while Tool was doing their encore around eleven, I slipped out, grabbed another veggie burrito, and headed to the tent which was diagonally as far from the main stage as could be great.
When I got there, I discovered that The Other Tent was significantly smaller than ummm the other tents, and found that it was already pretty much full, an hour before the show was supposed to start. I guess a lot of the people that were not happy with Tool having a headlining slot, just hung out over there the whole time. There was no way in to the general population anywhere near the stage but who needs gen pop when you've got the magic purple wristband? James and I went backstage, which was blissfully empty and wound up in the front row of the backstage viewing area insert a Borat style NICE here.
A short while later, it was go time the air was electric. You could see people everywhere standing on their tip-toes trying desperately to hide the pained looks on their faces that gave away the fact that they were, each and every one, afraid they might wake up before this thing happened.
But to everyone's elation, just round midnight, the guys took the stage. For the opening number only, John Paul Jones and Ben Harper were BOTH playing lap steal guitars, while Ben's regular bassist Michael Ward handled the low end.
After a few minutes spent just tuning their instruments, which actually sounded like it could have been some kind of experimental free jazz song in its own right, ?uestlove hit a familiar drum roll and they began playing "When The Levee Breaks"
The audience erupted! I was surprised to see that many people responding to a song originally recorded in 1929 by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy what oh, Zeppelin re-recorded it in 1970 and took credit for writing it ohhhhh. Hey by the way, did I tell you about the new song I'm writing called "Stairway to Heaven"? It's gonna be trippppy.
Ahh, I'm just bustin balls. The song sounded fantastic. Harper's vocal was a little shaky but that seems to be his thing people eat it up. On the other hand, his guitar playing was stellar. Now I can weigh the pros and cons of Ben Harper all night, but I'll skip all that and come to my conclusion the answer to the question I found scribbled in my notebook next to a squiggly rendition of ?uestlove behind his kit "Superjam: Was Ben necessary?"
The answer is, no he wasn't. ?uestlove and John Paul Jones kept locking into each other in grooves so tight I barley even notice Ben Harper squealing in the back ground. They could have easily came out, just the two of them, and put on a killer show like a few years ago when I saw ?uestlove and Kellar Wiliams jam together they created an interesting, full sound that didn't need any further accompaniment. JPJ and ?uestlove could have done something like that easily.
Going even further lets suppose you INSIST that we need a guitarist for this set was Ben Harper the best guy for the job? Again nope. Tom Morello, Rodrigo or Gabriela, the guy from the Black Keys, or about a dozen other guys already at Bonnaroo would have been a stronger choice. You want guitar and vocals are you honestly going to tell me that Ben Harper is the better choice over Gov't Mule's Warren Haynes you know you can't do that with a straight face if you can, cancel our poker game.
Point is, Ben was the weak link, and in my totally honest opinion, he held the show back to a level I'd feel ok with calling "very good" where as if you put the right guy in there, it could have been on a level like "mind bending-ly amazing."
Now, on a non-musical level, I found out later that Ben was in fact very necessary for this to go down because when John Paul Jones came up with the idea, Ben Harper was the guy HE called and asked to make it happen .so in his role as a facilitator, he was essential.
Just to make sure you got me here Harper was fine in a supplemental role which is how I took to watching the set...he wasn't the star, he was a sideman. John and ?uest were the Mick and Keith of this deal Ben was that guy with the weird hair that plays the maracas.
Anyway, after about twelve minutes of "Levee" the guys stopped for a quick second switched the instrumentation around a little which means gave John Paul a bass and sent Ben's guy packin .and then dove into what would turn out to be a twenty five minute jam that moved through two Zeppelin tunes "Good Times Bad Times" and "Ramble On" (no vocal) and ended with Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Hollar)" with a few Meters teases sprinkled throughout.
Then came the highlight of the whole set, a version of "Dazed and Confused" that clocked in at well over a half an hour with a dash of "Immigrant Song" thrown in somewhere in the middle.
It was great and then they left after really just three extended jams that only last a total of about an hour.
Ummm this was scheduled for three hours wasn't it? I checked my schedule just to be sure .yep 12:00-3:00.
James looked at me as it to say "What the fuck?"
"I guess they're doing two sets." I said.
But nope three minutes later they were back on the stage along with Kirk Douglas from The Roots on vocals and guitar and twenty minutes of Stevie Wonder, Buddy Miles and Isley Brothers songs after that, the show was over.
It was great just to see John Paul Jones in the flesh, and even better to hear him absolutely tear it up but I'd be lying if I didn't say that all in all, the Superjam didn't feel exactly super and there wasn't all that much jamming .I think "Moderate Group Of Extended Versions" would be a more appropriate title.
Eh, what can you do it was just about two in the morning maybe the early finish would let us get some sleep .well, at least one of us. You see as we were walking out, our path took us right past the Which Stage, where String Cheese was literally only just starting their second set.
"Let's hang out here for a while and check them out a bit." I said to James.
"I'm exhausted." he replied.
"Okay, we'll stay back here so we can leave whenever we want. Just sit down for a few minutes and let me hear a song or two."
"Fine." he said, and sat down without taking another step.
Less than one song later, James was out cold .sleeping while sitting upright. I snapped a picture, but didn't wake him up.
I watched about an hour of String Cheese which included a guest spot from the multi-talented Keller Williams who from a half a mile away where we were standing, I thought was Jack Black at first. Keller sat in on the Bee Gees' "Stayin Alive" as well as on one of my favorite original SCI tunes, "Best Feeling".
I wanted to watch the whole rest of the set, but eventually, I was so tired that I thought I might actually trump James' upright sleeping feat, by falling asleep standing up! So I woke him up, and we headed back to camp which this time we found pretty easily.
James was asleep in a second. I stayed up for a minute to update the what we saw/what we missed file which now looked like this
After two days we'd seen full or partial sets by the seventeen acts I've told you about. Not including bands we'd seen once that played more than once, or double counting bands that we missed on more than one occasion, I counted a total of 54 sets we'd missed so far. After some quick math I figured we were 17 for 71 which means we were seeing roughly 25% of what was out there not bad considering how much of it there was not bad at all.
Plus most of the stuff we missed was stuff I wasn't really looking to see I heard Lily Allen drank an entire bottle of Jagermiester on stage, got sloppy, and then got arrested that probably would have been worth seeing and that Paulo Nutini guy sure is catchy when he sings about his shoes so it's a shame we missed that but all in all, I was really happy with our choices so far.
I lay there listening to music off in the distance I think it was DJ Shadow and tried to come up with a rough schedule for day three but within minutes, I passed out with only one name on my list Gogol Bordello.
FIRE!!! Aww fuck, I'm still in Tennessee .morning all, welcome to day three.
After reading that back, maybe I should re-write this entire thing as a long ass narrative poem think of it Rhyme of the Twenty-Something Roo'er. Eh maybe not.
Anyway, it was a little after eight when I woke up in the tent sauna which meant I'd got almost a full four and a half hours sleep that night brilliant it was at that moment when I was laying there covered in sweat and irritation, that I decided if I ever go back to Bonnaroo, I was getting an RV.
I didn't want the RV for the obvious reasons not for the shower, the shitter, or the a/c though all of those would be huge, highly welcomed improvements but no I was getting the RV for the sleep. I was getting the RV so that from 8 am til noon when I had no reason to be up since nothing was happening I wouldn't be up! It was impossible to sleep in that fucking tent with the sun blaring through it I was surprised I didn't wake up sun burned.
Nope not next time, I thought. next time, I was getting me some walls. Walls that over three nights would give me an extra 12 hours of sleep which sad as it is, would be more than a fifty percent bump. You have no idea what an endurance test Bonnaroo is and doubling your sleep without decreasing the amount of stuff you see that would be like a miracle and in 2008, you can just call me Annie Sullivan!
What too obscure? She taught Helen Keller they made a movie about her it was called The Miracle Worker .sorry it seemed witty in my head.
Anyway, regardless of my frustration of not being able to sleep when it was so clearly sleepy time, I was excited. Day three, to me, was on paper the best looking day of Bonnaroo 07. It featured more bands that I wanted to see than any other both during the day, and late night .which meant another long day sigh .I knew sleep was out of the question, but I managed to lay on the air mattress for another hour or so in a lame effort to conserve energy.
Finally, just after nine, without moving a muscle, James said, "So are you making breakfast or am I?" I told him it was his turn but after a few minutes of hearing him struggle to get the grill set up, I just got up and did it. We had sausages again and again I say mmmm sausage.
"So what are we seeing today?" James asked.
"Well Gogol Bordello's on at two."
You see a few years ago, a group of us including myself, James, his brother Charlie and our friend John, had gone to see an Irish folk-punk band called Flogging Molly in Atlantic City, New Jersey. We had no idea that the opening act that night was this band, Gogol Bordello who none of us had heard, though coincidentally, someone had just given me one of their cds but I hadn't gotten around to yet. Anyway, James, who was traveling in alone, from a different direction, arrived late and for the rest of the night, and subsequent two years, he had to hear about how amazing this insane band he'd missed was.
Flogging was great that night too but it was the combination of seeing them together on the same show that made that concert easily one of my all time top-ten. I couldn't wait to see Gogol again James couldn't wait to never have to hear about how he'd missed the craziest band ever.
As it turned out, James not only ditched the ridicule, he gained some bragging rights because when John and Charlie asked me about Gogol's Bonnaroo performance all I could say was "remember how crazy and great they were in AC double it!"
But I'm getting ahead of myself James and I were still eating sausages and figuring out what we wanted to see. We agreed on the early part of the day, had different strategies for the middle and agreed again for late night so we decided to bring our cell phones with us and split up from around five until around eleven .that worked about as smoothly as you'd expect after reading this far but again, ahead of myself.
For the first performance of the day, there wasn't any option that we felt really strong about, so we decided to go see a band called Dr. Dog, that neither of us knew anything about. We picked them solely because Gogol was coming on the same stage right after them and watching Dr. Dog would get us a better spot .see careful planning and thought goes into this shit it's not just all beers and happy accidents.
What I remember about Dr. Dog is two fold one, I liked them enough to make a note that I should get one of their albums and investigate further two the singer sweat a lot .odd thing to remember but there you have it an image of this guy standing in a shirt that looked like it had just been dunked in a river is all that pops up on my internal screen when I call up their performance. I wish I had more for you, but a sweaty guy and a vague notion that the music was good are all that's left in the tank.
Again, you have to understand HOT seven hours of sleep vs. forty one hours on our feet REALLY HOT no showers, no real beds, your feet feel like someone's stabbing one after they just put a bullet in the other and there's no place to sit down .CRAZY HOW DO PEOPLE LIVE DOWN HERE HOT Bonnaroo really takes a toll it gets harder and harder to give a shit about anything you don't honestly give a shit about and sorry Dr. Dog, you fall into that category. Though don't feel bad other folks got the same reaction from me later in the weekend only more intense, when I'd reached a new stage of discomfort and irritation known only as "Day Four Hostile".
But back to day three HOT HOT HOT day three was so fucking hot that believe it or not during Gogol Bordello part of my camera (the rubber grip) actually melted right off the fucking camera body .do you get it yet? HOOOOOOOOOOOOT!!! And of course .of course with all this heat when Gogol Bordello hit the stage, all anyone, myself included, could do was jump around like a complete fucking maniac.
Trying to explain, I mean really explain, not just reiterate what happened, what the Gogol Bordello experience is like to someone that's never seen or heard them, is like trying to explain a whale to a cactus there's a disconnect there that's really hard to overcome. I guess the best place to start, is with the music.
Gogol Bordello plays their own brand of punk rock, that to my knowledge even in a world as derivative and unoriginal as ours no one has even attempted to imitate yet they call this music, Gypsy Punk.
They're like the Ramones, with and accordion annnnd an old guy playing a fiddle and two Asian women, one of whom I hear is actually Scottish in costume playing cymbals and a bass drum respectively when they're not playing washboards with the claw hands built into their cat suits and a black guy on bass that just looks like the coolest cat on earth with a look on his face that says 'of course I'm in this crazy ass band this band is bad!' meaning of course the best fucking band in the world.
Sounds wild huh?
And I haven't even touched on Eugene yet.
He hits the stage like a fucking tornado! He's a gold toothed, guy with a gigantic mustache, wearing neon striped spandex, a bandana, and various wristbands, scarfs, and accessories he's completely surrounded by insanity yet he grabs and keeps your focus for as long as he wants it. He is an absolute master of stage presence and just when you think he's reached his peak, he cranks the insanity up not one more notch, but two. Boundless enthusiasm and energy I can't stress that enough hold on to your balls .it's time to now read this next word with a heavy Ukrainian accent .PARTY!
"Hello we're Gogol Bordello your new friends!" and insanity ensues.
I think the set opened with "Ultimate" which is the first track on Gogol's new cd Super Taranta and has this great line "There were never any good old days, they are today, they are tomorrow " Fantastic.
After that it was just mayhem I know they played "Not A Crime" and Eugene threw a bucket over his mic stand and started beating the hell out of it .I know they played "Start Wearing Purple" and right when the band kicks in he head butted the mic stand and knocked it off the stage I know they played "Sally" . and I think they played "Think Locally Fuck Globally" I was honestly a little too busy bopping around, taking pictures, sweating my balls off, and wiping melted camera rubber onto my shirt to jot down the set list and for the life of me, I can't seem to find it online. Another thing, not online who was that guy that came out and sang a few songs with them? I have no clue
All I'm sure of is that when the band had the entire crowd gasping for air and feeling like the show couldn't get any wilder, any better, any more memorable as I warned you he would, Eugene topped it all.
As Gogol's set drew to a close, Elizabeth was on stage with her cymbals, and Pamala was out there beating the hell out of her giant strap on bass drum. All of a sudden, Pam unhooks the straps holding the drum to her chest, and tosses it into the crowd a few seconds later Eugene dives in after it and all of a sudden begins to climb ON TO IT and he's got his microphone with him! After a few seconds of work, now Eugene is up right, singing, while standing on a bass drum that's being passed over the heads of the audience it was absolutely insane I'm sure somewhere, Iggy Pop is proud to see his legacy of lunacy lives on and is at the same time is jealous as hell that he never thought of this!
After a few minutes Eugene made it back to the stage, and they wrapped up the set. They left the audience screaming for more.
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.
Now, you're thinking
whoa whoa there Mike
you said John Paul Jones was amazing last night
was he lame now? He wasn't. What they did was. They played just one song
which 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.
When 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
or was it this stage
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 latter 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 sense 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.
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.
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:
They're here cause it's Bonnaroo.