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Music: The Rhythms of the 'Roo

Some fear and very little loathing at this year's giant, sold-out Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee

By RIC HICKEY · June 28th, 2006 · Music
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Keith Klenowski



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Now in its fifth year, Bonnaroo has rapidly become the nation's most beloved, well-organized and wildly diverse music and arts festival. For four days every June the rolling green pastures of Manchester, Tenn., are transformed into a sprawling pre-fab city, complete with plumbing, commerce, bright lights, live music on multiple stages and 80,000 music lovers happily co-existing, camped out in a makeshift tent city the size of fifty football fields. Make that 200 football fields. Seriously, this thing is HUGE!

Our Thursday afternoon drive from Cincinnati to Manchester (an hour southeast of Nashville) was smooth sailing all the way. Foresight dictated we drive the speed limit as we neared the festival site, and sure enough the last 20-mile stretch into Manchester was crawling with both local cops and state boys who had cars pulled over about every mile or so. Bonnaroo certainly draws a lot of pot-smokin', substance-gobblin' freaks, so the police were out to make a few busts and a few bucks in fines for their local jurisdictions.

Arriving around 9 p.m. on the first evening of the festival, we avoided major traffic headaches and rolled right into the lot. Immediately making friends with the people in the car next to us, we shared our whiskey with them as we all began the task of setting up camp. Thousands of people trying to set up their tents in the dark was an amusing scene, as we all were still exhausted from our various cross-country treks that lead us all to this same remote spot on the map. Immediately one could smell sweet pot smoke in the air and the sounds of the Grateful Dead began to emanate from every third or fourth car in the lot.

Anxious to get inside and get this wild weekend under way, we started walking towards a distant bright light just over the horizon. We were absorbed and assimilated into a moving throng of mostly hippy kids, talking, twirling, drinking, smoking and selling each other trinkets, food and drugs. On either side of the gravel roads on which we walked there were tents and booths where vendors had set up to sell their wares.

After nearly 30 minutes of bouncy wide-eyed walking, we finally passed under the giant archway that is the main entrance to Bonnaroo. On this first night we realized that gate security certainly had a job to do -- prohibiting glass containers or any beverages other than sealed water bottles, etc. -- but they were pretty lax and a crafty gatecrasher could easily find a way to bring pretty much anything he wanted onto the festival grounds.

Turning to our right, the first stage we saw was That Tent, where Toubab Krewe had the first-night crowd on their feet and grooving to some playful Reggae Funk. Still unsure of exactly what our press credentials entitled us to, my associate and photographer Keith Klenowski made his way to the front, stage left. After speaking briefly with a security staffer at the side of the barricade, Keith was immediately granted access to the small pit in front of the stage where he snapped the first of what would eventually be many hundreds of pictures taken over the course of the weekend.

We found that at This Tent, That Tent and The Other Tent -- medium-sized stages under barn-metal rooftops -- as well as at the small side stages all around the festival grounds, photo access remained generally pretty open.

A bittersweet irony that repeated itself many times over the weekend, this was the first instance where we had to pull ourselves away from a super-infectious, fun performance in order to move on and see what was happening elsewhere.

Divine Guidance: God (and Gatorade) Saves
At This Tent we discovered Marah mid-set, swaggering with drunken abandon, playing reckless, Stones-y, Celtic Honky Tonk. Hailing from Philadelphia, Marah paid tribute to their hometown heritage with a Punk Rock rendition of the The O'Jays' "Love Train" that was reminiscent of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. Wholly overcome by the barn-burning passion of their set-closing number, Marah's sweat-soaked, beer-swilling singer and guitarist traversed the gulf between band and audience by leaping first into the photo pit and then continuing out into the open arms of the crowd.

In our after-hours wanderings around the massive concert site on our first night, we could find NO ONE who knew where the press tent was located. Even staffers at the information booth had been told, "There is no press tent," though they said that we were like the 20th party to inquire about it and they were trying to find an answer for us. In the enormous and still-growing crowd we managed to spot a guy wearing a dark blue "press" wristband like mine. Rich, a writer for Spin magazine, directed us to a break in the perimeter fence that lead to a Press Compound located backstage between What Stage and Which Stage, the two main stages. (Who knows how many of our fellow press members were able to actually find the Press Tent thanks to Keith's suggestion that we return to the info booth and let them know where it was located.)

Before turning in for the night I wanted to catch Lucero's late-night set in the Troo Music Lounge. The Memphis boys received a warm welcome and, after ironing out some problems with the mix, proceeded to rock the face off of anyone within earshot. Attempting to find our campsite at the end of that first night, we wandered, clueless, for over an hour. I felt more hopelessly, completely lost than I have ever felt in my entire life and I was beginning to come to terms with the possibility that we might never see our tents or Keith's car ever again when they suddenly, miraculously materialized before us. Divine guidance, I guess.

Temperatures dropped and it was pretty chilly in the wee hours of late Thursday night, early Friday morning. I unwisely zipped up all the flaps and ventilation windows in my tent in order to keep warm through the night. But the blazing Friday morning sun made my tent hot as a sauna and I awoke feeling sicker than I'd ever felt. I'd had an inexcusably small amount to drink the night before, so this was no hangover. As I awoke with a pounding headache and a stomach eager to empty itself anywhere right now, I struggled to even get to my knees.

Slowly emerging from the tent, I attempted to stand up and my vision just went white. Like the polar opposite of a blackout, I was painfully conscious but my eyes saw nothing but blinding bright light as if I were standing 10 feet from the sun. Convinced I was gonna puke violently or, worse, empty my bowels into my pajama shorts, if not both simultaneously, I set off ­ frantic, blind -- in the direction where I was sure I'd seen a bank of Port-o-Potties the night before. Within a few minutes my vision returned and my spinning head slowed to a more manageable rotation. Logic and reason returned, bringing with them a hot, horrible sense of heart-crushing panic as I realized that for the second time in less than 10 hours, I was irretrievably lost in a sea of tents, dust-covered vehicles and strange faces.

In the head-rush of nausea and dread I had also neglected to put on my glasses. Once again, the hand of God saw fit to lead me more or less right back to our campsite where Keith's face was whiter than mine, so stricken was he with fear after helplessly watching me wander off like a sick and senseless zombie. Somehow I managed to get my shit together (I'll attribute my recovery to the healing powers of Gatorade), packed a few things into a small backpack/day-bag, and we set off for the festival grounds.

Cinema, Commerce and Tragedy
Head Bonnaroo organizer Ken Weinstein's 11:30 a.m. oress orientation on Friday was a cordial crash course on the "who, why, where and when" of the entire weekend's festivities. We were introduced to all of the event's organizers and one could not hope to meet a more down-to-earth, highly-approachable and accommodating bunch of dudes. Throughout the weekend, at all hours of the day, Weinstein and his very busy merry men remained accessible to us and answered every inquiry with patience and a big smile. At this, the first in a series of press conferences, Weinstein displayed a keen mind, well informed on all aspects of the event, as well as a sense of a humor about the festival's overwhelming size and scale. In a smiling, self-deprecating confession, Weinstein told us that on the previous night, an official Bonnaroo motorcade of three golf carts, with CNN in tow and armed with GPS, got lost in the vast parking lot and eventually gave up trying to find the party they'd set out to locate.

While enjoying World Party's set of soothing, sardonic '70s retro Folk Rock philosophy, I stopped for a mid-afternoon siesta in the shadow cast by a giant 20-foot bobblehead. Nearby, Bonnaroo's on-site cinema offered an air-conditioned respite from the blazing sun, showing films like This Is Spinal Tap, Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith and Walk The Line. Not surprisingly, the longest lines outside the theater tent were for select matches from the World Cup, NBA Finals and exclusive indie films, directed by various Bonnaroo performers like Les Claypool and Refugee All-Stars, plus Stewart Copeland's documentary about his old band The Police. A collage of Copeland's grainy super-8 films of The Police onstage and on the road, Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out was a hilarious roller-coaster ride through the meteoric rise and heartbreakingly early demise (after only five albums) of one of the finest bands in Rock history.

By early Friday afternoon the festival grounds were already packed with people. Shade was hard to come by and crowds clustered under trees and alongside fences and tents to escape the sun. Throughout the weekend, many performances were beset with tuning problems brought on by the oppressive heat. Daytime temperatures climbed into the '90s and a cloudless sky allowed the sun to beat down upon us mercilessly. At least it didn't rain.

Everything you can imagine is available for purchase both in the huge and chaotic parking lot scene and inside the festival grounds: weed, beer, bottled water, soda, grilled cheese, veggie burritos, pizza bread, massage, spiritual healing, psychic readings, acid, X, 'shrooms, Jello shots, pot brownies, space cake, glass pipes, water bongs, flip flops, fireworks, glow sticks, floppy hats, hemp jewelry, T-shirts and more. Some held handwritten signs advertising "Free Hugs." But it's the man who figures out how to bottle and sell shade that could make a fortune here. Come to think of it, I did see people selling umbrellas. My guess is they fared well.

After World Party's performance, I made my way back to the press tent for a 1:30 p.m. press conference featuring G. Love, members of Umphrey's McGee, The Magic Numbers, The Disco Biscuits and Country/Bluegrass giant Ricky Skaggs. Skaggs, 51, was a breath of fresh air, humbly admitting to his unfamiliarity with Bonnaroo. He seemed boyishly anxious to get onstage and play vintage 1940s Bluegrass for a huge, very young audience. Sadly, it was only a little later that day that a young man was struck and killed by Skaggs' tour bus. Our prayers go out to the boy's family and to Ricky Skaggs entire entourage. Bluegrass is one of America's purest musical exports, and one hopes that this tragedy doesn't discourage Skaggs and others from appearing at future Bonnaroos.

After the press conference I slowly wove my way through a densely-packed crowd gathered in front of Which Stage to see Ben Folds. I caught a few songs by former Phish bass player Mike Gordon and his new band Ramble Dove at This Tent and found them playing sunny and refreshingly simple traditional Country and Western Swing. Wandering around the massive Bonnaroo complex, I caught a few songs by reggae legends Steel Pulse and a precious portion of Bright Eyes' mesmerizing performance, which featured guest vocals from My Morning Jacket's Jim James.

The Land Of The Red-Eyed Freaks
There was all kinds of random crazy shit happening all around the festival grounds: drum circles, tribal dance troupes, a silent disco where dancers wore headphones, jugglers, a giant Fire Garden of huge iron sculptures that erupted with flames and more. Among the numerous art installations, my favorite was a piece comprised of 16 10-foot tall "sound poles" grouped in a square. The people walking through the square triggered sensors that constantly changed the music, nature sounds and sound effects emanating from speakers in the poles. It was freaky and I made it a point to walk through that thing at least once each day!

Having been on site for less than 24 hours, I was still reeling from sensory overload and I completely forgot to attend the 3:30 p.m. press conference. Keith caught it and declared it a lot more fun than the one earlier in the day, due to hilarious contributions by Ben Folds and comedian Lewis Black, who hosted the proceedings in Yet Another (Comedy) Tent. There was so much happening on Friday that Keith didn't have a chance to stop for a bite to eat all day. But we both managed to make time to participate in Round 1 of the Press Corps Batting Cage Competition. (We did not advance to the semi-finals, but let's just say that by connecting with the ball even once, I came closer to advancement than a certain photographer. Ahem.)

Another amusing and oddly heart-warming Bonnaroo spectacle was self-appointed Master Of Ceremonies, Beatle Bob. He could be seen introducing acts on every stage, bopping throughout any given band's performance, smiling broadly, thumbs up, shaking his head, tapping his toes not quite off stage as if he were a member of the band. Picture a 7-foot tall, rail thin, dancing beanpole scarecrow in mid-60s Beatle garb and dyed black mop top, and that's Beatle Bob. Good-humored performers smiled upon Bob's spontaneous and unexpected introductions, as well as his onstage dancing, throughout the entire weekend.

In spite of their limited vocal skills, Oysterhead might be the greatest Power Trio ever. Both side project and supergroup, the band features guitarist Trey Anastasio from Phish, Les Claypool from Primus on bass, and the aforementioned Stewart Copeland on drums. Their 5:30 p.m. performance on the main stage was one long segue, flowing seamlessly through twisted Pop song rave-ups, a sparkling solo acoustic guitar piece and several jams that were dissonant, spacey, angular and played with raging fire. For an extended caveman romp through an almost unrecognizable "Jailhouse Rock," Les and Trey took up a pair of stringed instruments that appeared to be built out of a large tree branch and antlers.

Keith caught a segment of the elusive Cat Power's hypnotic performance (with Al Green's backing band!) in That Tent before racing back to Which Stage to see Death Cab For Cutie. I went wanderin' 'round after Oysterhead's performance and I had the extreme good fortune to run into some friends who treated me to cheddar wurst, hot beans in a pot, cold beers, whiskey shots and reefer. That's what I'm talkin' about.

That put me in a very fine mood as I drifted back to the Troo Music Lounge so I would not miss Bobby Bare, Jr. and his band. Bobby's beer gut, wet mop of hair and short pants made him no threat to the pretty boys of the hipper-than-thou Indie Rock scene. But he can kick out the serious ear-blistering jams, and he don't give a fuck about them anyway.

My blue "Media" wristband looked so much like the similarly blue-tinted "Guest" pass that I was able to penetrate the inner sanctum, gaining bootleg access to a V.I.P. tent lounge where I found free chips and pretzels, tables and chairs and a variety of love seats and sofas. They also had a bar with half-price soda and a quality microbrew -- North Carolina's Starr Hill Jomo Lager -- on tap for only $2.50 a pint. That is a lower beer price than has been seen inside any concert facility for decades, though it comes only as a perk to those willing to shell out over $1,000 per pair of "V.I.P." tickets to Bonnaroo. (Or those crafty enough to sneak in.)

The sparse, polite and quiet smattering of people in the V.I.P. viewing area next to What Stage in the afternoon sun swelled to a mob of loudmouthed, beer drinkin' frat boys and their ditzy babes packed fence-to-fence for headliner Tom Petty's Friday night set. Petty's jammed-out version of "Last Dance With Mary Jane" both evoked the spirit of Bob Dylan and appeased the throng of dancing hippies. Petty's very well-received performance included both a cover of the old Fleetwood Mac classic "Oh Well" and, just a few songs later, a surprise guest appearance by Stevie Nicks. An audible gasp of recognition, followed by warm applause, greeted Ms. Nicks when she was introduced.

My Morning Jacket's midnight performance on Friday night was a definite highlight for me. Blaring a pre-recorded version of "When You Wish Upon A Star" over the P.A. as their walk-on music, The Jacket set an unexpectedly eerie and anxious tone before even picking up their instruments. They opened with "Wordless Chorus," the first song on their brilliant new record, Z, as singer Jim James swung a big lantern, stalking the stage like a caged lion. Their two-hour-plus set included covers of The Velvet Underground's "Head Held High," The Stones' "Loving Cup" and, incredibly, The Who's "A Quick One (While He's Away)."

Elsewhere, The Disco Biscuits and Umphrey's McGee played jammy Funk in The Other Tent. Instead of a cold set break between bands, the groups intermingled through a cleverly choreographed, non-stop jam that included a medley of Pink Floyd tunes.

Wandering back out to the parking lot in the wee hours of the morning, we found it teeming with crazed activity. The Land Of The Red-Eyed Freaks, the 'Roo parking lot scene rages unabated 20 hours a day. Grinding down to a reluctant halt only as the sun peaks over the horizon, then slowly winding back into gear by mid-morning.

N'Awlins Represents
Saturday morning was much more pleasant than Friday had been (to say the least), and we had a chance to get a little more acquainted with our neighbors in the campsite next to ours. Lilian, Shannon, Scott and Shaun, all in their twenties, came from Chicago and Boston for Bonnaroo 2006. A couple Bonnaroo veterans in their party shared friendly insights that helped answer a lot of questions for us. They even pointed out where, for a fee, we could take a shower. The blazing sun and daytime temperatures hovering in the mid-90s lead Shannon to declare, "That $10 (cold) shower was the highlight of my weekend."

At noon on Saturday, Keith and I were privy to a three-song solo acoustic performance in the press tent by Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Ounsworth's mess of curly brown hair, harmonica necklace, jaded indifference, nasal voice, rambling humor and sometimes scathing social commentary once again brought Dylan's all-encompassing influence into evidence.

By now, Keith had settled into a rhythm, shooting smaller stages pretty much at will. For the big names on the main stages, there developed a routine of meeting in the press tent 15 minutes before an artist's start time, then a member of Big Hassle (the über-hospitable 'Roo press organizers) would lead the whole entourage on a "photo run" into the pit in front of the stage. There, the assembled photographers were permitted to shoot the first three songs, or 15 minutes, whichever came first. John, a photographer for Pollstar, told us that this year's security was severely limiting his stage access compared to years past.

But Keith had no trouble getting all the shots he wanted. The worst interference he encountered was the towering height of the main stage itself, and petty squabbling and elbow-jabbing among the photographers in the pit.

Early Saturday afternoon saw the legendary Neville Brothers bring the spirit of Mardi Gras to the main stage, while, on the other side of the sprawling Bonnaroo complex, the U.K.'s Magic Numbers opened the day's proceedings with their catchy Brit Pop. Fans of great guitar playing found themselves having to choose between Avant Jazz giant Bill Frisell in The Other Tent or Blues legend Buddy Guy on Which Stage, both of whom began sets at 2. The weekend was fraught with dilemmas like this. Because at any given point there was just so much going on, there was no way to take it all in. I have to confess that I found out about some performers who were appearing at Bonnaroo only after they had already played!

A member of Muddy Waters' band while still in his teens, Buddy Guy played guitar with his teeth and behind his back long before Jimi Hendrix stole these stunts and added them to his famous trick bag. And so I'm sure even Mr. Frisell would understand: I had to see Buddy Guy. Buddy's fiery guitar playing and lyrical innuendos quickly won over the crowd. Disappearing from the stage at one point, he immediately resurfaced in the crowd at stage right, wailing on his wireless Strat while the stunned audience clapped, danced and collapsed into hysterics. A true showman, Buddy Guy brought the house-rockin' real thing to a field of unsuspecting white teenagers in Tennessee.

At the Saturday afternoon press conference, Blues Traveler's John Popper proved himself to be quite knowledgeable about music history, with one astute analogy after another. He compared post-Katrina New Orleans to the enforced evacuation of Storyville in the early 1900s that compelled musicians to head up the Mississippi looking for work, subsequently spreading Louisiana music all over the country. About the large number of New Orleans' displaced musicians who've found work in nearby Austin, Tex., Popper said, "I'm already seeing and hearing signs of an interesting new hybrid of New Orleans and Texas music, and sometimes it takes a disaster like Katrina to spawn a whole new chapter in American music."

Former Phish bassist Mike Gordon later chimed in, relating his personal experience of staying up all night hearing music in the French Quarter, calling it one of his fondest musical memories. Gordon also confirmed rumors that the Saturday evening Super Jam at midnight in That Tent would be the first-ever public performance of he and Trey Anastasio's new band featuring the Benevento/Russo Duo.

Outside the tent after the press conference I ran into Les Claypool. After I complimented him on the previous night's performance and told him I didn't think I'd ever get to see Oysterhead again, he said, in his madcap cartoonish drawl, "Me neither, man!" Claypool lingered in and around the press tent for close to an hour, coolly providing totally unscheduled and open access to anyone with a question or a camera.

Elvis Costello devoted half of his Saturday afternoon set on the main stage to his special guest, New Orleans music legend Allen Toussaint. (The two have just released an album of Mr. Toussaint's compositions.) Also at the afternoon press conference, Mr. Toussaint told me that he had been quite touched by the respect he'd been accorded and gigs he'd been offered since being displaced by Katrina. Sadly, the afternoon crowd in front of the main stage during their set was barely at half-capacity and largely unresponsive. Saturday's higher temperatures were clearly starting to take their toll on the crowd. Accustomed to playing out only a few times a year, a crowd "sparse" by Bonnaroo terms was probably more than Mr. Toussaint had played to for many years. The pair lead Costello's backing band, The Imposters, through a rockin' set featuring the best of each man's impressive output, and any fan of great songwriting would have been absolutely floored.

Disco Dork and Radiohead-Spinning
After catching a few songs here by the criminally underrated Gomez and a few songs there by Bob Marley's son Damian, I decided I'd sneak back into the V.I.P. area for Beck's 5:30 p.m. set on the main stage. Arriving a few minutes early, I copped a comfy seat in the corner of the tent lounge and immediately realized that every single person seated on the surrounding sofas was fast asleep. This was such a surreal scene, I couldn't resist snapping a picture. The shutter click and flash didn't cause them to stir even in the slightest. These people were OUT.

Since the parking lot scene is such a loud, drunken, crowded mess at all hours of the day, I found myself feeling glad that at least these few kids had found someplace to catch some Zs. Meanwhile back on the What Stage, Beck's heavenly Disco dork Emo morphed in and out of Dub Reggae vamps and funky Hip Hop grooves.

Projected on the big screen during Beck's set were marionettes that looked dead-on identical to Beck and his band. I heard somebody say that the marionettes were created by some of the same people involved with the film Team America: World Police. Somehow Beck's every onstage move was matched, twitch for twitch, word for word, dance step by dance step by the marionettes. A clever and hilarious concept I expected to see for only one song, the spot-on puppet animation reappeared again and again on the Jumbotron screens throughout Beck's performance.

I like a lot of things about Beck: a brilliant idea, deceptively simple in execution, funny as hell and quite memorable. This is one of my favorite mental images of the whole weekend. My eyes bugged outta my head and my smile threatened to shatter my whole face when Beck paid tribute to his friends and former tour-mates, The Flaming Lips, by performing their song "Do You Realize?" An excellent example of something we saw time and again this past weekend: artists on every stage pulling out all the stops, doing crazy shit, playing unusual and totally unpredictable cover tunes, having special guests join them onstage. It's what makes Bonnaroo such a crazy and unforgettable experience.

Easily the most highly-anticipated moment of the whole weekend was when Radiohead took the main stage at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night. There are very few bands in the history of Rock music than can match Radiohead's trance-inducing, head-spinning intensity. It's a good thing most of the other stages shut down when each evening's headliner takes the main stage, 'cause every other area on the festival grounds drained almost completely empty of people as they made their way over to see Radiohead put on a performance that did not disappoint. It's one of the most peculiar dichotomies I've ever seen in a live performance setting -- tens of thousands of people responding enthusiastically to intense Art Rock by a band that makes no concessions to work the crowd. A band I never thought I'd get a chance to see, Radiohead's torrid performance captivated an unbelievably huge crowd for close to three hours.

Among certain members of the assembled press, Saturday's late night "Super Jam" in That Tent was a disappointment after the unparalleled excitement of Radiohead's performance. But the crowd that gathered to see and hear Trey and Mike from Phish play their first-ever live performance with keyboardist Marco Benevento and drummer John Russo knew they were witnessing -- and dancing wildly to -- a new chapter in Jam band history. Since their appearance was an unannounced "secret," it was close to 1 a.m. before word spread and a huge overflow crowd filled the tent and spilled over into the surrounding area. No sooner had the hippies settled and assimilated the excitement did Grateful Dead bass player Phil Lesh walk on stage to thunderous applause. Phil joined Gordon/Russo/Anastasio/Benevento (henceforth: G.R.A.B.?) for a rousing "Casey Jones," but "Going Down The Road Feeling Bad" was lackluster and five minutes too long. Hmm. Perhaps the most accurate analysis of this musical event lies somewhere in the honest middle ground between the journalists' bitter indifference and the Phish heads' overenthusiastic exaltations. Imagine that.

Sunday Morning Drunkening
A young girl overheard in the crowd at Rusted Root's performance: "Oh my God ... shit! I've got mushrooms stuck in my teeth ..."

For the ceremonial Sunday Morning Drunkening of our neighbors in the next tent ("Last chance!"), we polished off numerous beers and almost an entire jug of 100-proof Southern Comfort. Shit-faced at 11 a.m., my memory of our drunken walk to the gate is a blur of sunshine, dust, and boisterous laughter.

One writer's question briefly turned Sunday's 2 p.m. press conference, which included Phil Lesh and Steve Earle, among others, into a philosophical discussion of William Faulkner and ice cream. Though the panel included established artists with decades of experience and dozens of LPs to their credit, it was the comparatively new artist Matisyahu who drew the most questions and gave the most impressive and heartfelt responses. Matisyahu's deep spirituality was evident, his every measured syllable modest and mindful. I had a brief discussion with Steve Earle about the current administration and his belief that Hillary is too widely hated to ever win the White House. After confessing that he couldn't bring himself to support Ralph Nader ("The guy just creeps me out."), he said he hoped people would stop thinking of Bill Clinton as "far left." Fishing for a good anti-Bush soundbite from Mr. Earle I was pleased to reel in the following: "By now, pretty much everyone's figured out that he's an asshole." Score!

I think the most fun I had all weekend was tossin' Frisbee with Nick Shaw and Kyle Roukus, who -- with a combined age of 31 -- came all the way from Richmond, Va., to attend Bonnaroo. Our Sunday afternoon Frisbee session was interrupted by Matisyahu's entourage when their golf cart broke down in the middle of the field where we were throwing. We gave the cart a push as Matisyahu and crew exchanged a few Frisbee volleys with us and their transport jump-started back into forward motion. Young Nick and Kyle were so awestruck by their unexpected brush with fame that they just wandered wide-eyed and speechless off into the crowd.

Sunday afternoon I made it a point to make a few more investigative laps around Bonnaroo Village, checking out all the vendors, stuffing my face with a Pesto Mozzadilla and sampling a large number of microbrews from The Brooers' Lounge. My normally heroic caffeine intake had plummeted to dangerously low levels by Sunday afternoon. Deciding to finally do something about all that blood coursing through my caffeine stream, I had a large cup of Green Mountain iced coffee that was so delicious it required no cream or sugar (though some in our party were spotted up-ending a bottle of coconut rum into their coffee cup). The Oasys Mobile Lounge provided another spot where one could take a break from the heat, crash out for a few minutes on a big white, pleather sofa, charge your cell phone for free, log on to the internet and soak up some A/C. The giant fountain in Centeroo was surrounded by corporate tents like this one, installed to promote wireless phone services, Internet crap, American Spirit cigarettes, various record labels, Gibson guitars and environmental organizations among other things. Just as every inch of shade was treasured, in every enclosed, air-conditioned tent, one could find clumps of slumbering, exhausted people.

Over on This Tent stage, Sean Daley (aka Ant), MC with Hip Hop's true underground kings Atmosphere, could be heard expressing his gratitude to the Bonnaroo crowd for a warm reception -- "Thanks for not making me feel like a fish outta watta'."

Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth was uncharacteristically talkative on stage. He praised the pizza, admitted that the free American Spirits made him wanna take up smoking again ("I quit when I was 14"), and acknowledged his own Tennessee roots by mentioning that his father taught at Bethel College in McKenzie, Tenn., when Thurston was still a boy, riding his mini-bike through the Tennessee cornfields. And that was all before the band played a note. Turns out it was Moore's friend Stephen Malkmus (who played earlier in the day with his band The Jicks) who'd told Thurston, "You should talk to the audience more." Opening with "Incinerate," Sonic Youth's New York City Art Noise won over more of the predominately hippy crowd than one might have expected.

In a nutshell, it was a long, hot, super-fun weekend of a lotta walkin' around, drinking GALLONS of water and hearing a lot of incredible music. We met some great people, too. Fortune smiled upon us repeatedly over the weekend. We managed to avoid sitting in traffic both entering the 'Roo on Thursday and as we departed Sunday evening. Temperatures were high all weekend, the sun unrelenting and, except for a little drizzle Sunday morning and again in the afternoon, there was no rain. Ironically it was maybe 10 minutes after we got on the expressway that the sky turned charcoal grey and unleashed a monstrous rainstorm. All the folks we left back at the festival were more or less trapped in its path. By deciding to skip the closing performance by Phil Lesh and Friends to get a jump on the traffic, we narrowly escaped the windy, muddy nightmare about to unfold in our wake.

 
 
 
 

 

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