Bonnaroo is a journey into the unknown as this modern-day Brigadoon rises for four days, becoming one of the biggest cities in Tennessee during its annual occurrence. It’s a large commitment of time, money, and energy driven by a love of music, and whether the affair is isolated to one genre or labels has no effect on the heart; anyone who walks away claiming they were unfulfilled from this year’s event surely has no one to blame but themselves unless the weather was too much for them.
Bonnaroo is many things to many people yet the individual experiences are like snowflakes: no two exactly alike. Accompanied by fellow Snob Fumo Verde, my journey was prefaced with a three-day cross-country drive with nights spent in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Choctaw, Oklahoma; and Memphis, Tennessee.
Day one of the concert was an adventure in itself. At 6 am, an hour before the campgrounds officially opened and four hours away in Memphis, we hit the road. It wasn’t until Nashville that we noticed mutual travelers, out-of-state and Canadian license plates on cars packed with camping gear. Smiles and peace signs were passed back and forth as the anticipation and excitement grew each mile closer. However, Exit 111 was closed off. The Manchester police made those of us heading southbound continue 16 miles farther south before allowing us off the freeway, and then we had to take backroads, which were slightly less backed up than the northbound side of the freeway. Of course, the occasional idiot had to cut the line and make it longer for the rest of us, temporarily dispelling the peace, love, and understanding vibe that was growing.
We drove four hours at a snail’s pace through the town, passing farms where a few locals sat on their porches or rode around on their ATVs. Slightly on edge from aggravation, I grew nervous watching one large woman bound around her yard with an unprotected young child in her lap, although I will grant that the child might well have been safe in an accident as it sat between the driver’s undulating tricep flab and thigh meat.
When we finally got to the temporary boundaries, there was no search of the cars upon entry. We skated right in, as did many others who carried more trouble than we did. The vehicles were lined up in rows two cars long, back to front, and as wide as possible with occasional lanes to get around. There was an ample area for tents set for one row’s back cars and the next row’s front cars. The land rush was on, and people claimed their spots quick. The vegetation really needed to be stamped down well because it was so tough it could easily pierce the bottom of a tent. The population slowly grew as we worked to set up camp.
One of our neighbors was a young couple from Ohio, Ted and his lady friend, Alice, who he treated terribly. They had a hell of a time getting their tent set up because they each worked on a different part and were getting nowhere fast. She kept trying to move onto the next part before they got one thing done and he would yell at her to vent his frustration. Then they had this huge canopy monstrosity to deal with. Fumo and I helped out and we soon learned Ted was an entrepreneur. He was selling grams of weed, some of which had hash oil spilt on them, which he saw as a commodity.
Upon completion of our camp’s set-up, Fumo sat back in his legless chair, facing the traffic lane, and began to fire up his pipe as concert-goers continued to file in with no knowledge of how security worked. I grew a little antsy with the brazenness of his lifestyle and not knowing the limits to which laws were enforced. No band of interest to us was starting up so we hung out as time passed and relaxed. Eventually, Fumo made the acquaintance of a young traveling salesman. Fumo bought some weed off him, and then he hung out as they smoked and chatted together. Before long, a young fellow wearing big, white shades asked if they would smoke him out. It turned out he was a businessman himself, dealing in Molly particularly. Numbers were exchanged for potential transactions.
Fumo and I packed up the car and decided to go exploring. Many kids and those technically of adult age were letting their freak flags fly as they dressed in multi-colored counterculture and pro-drug shirts, some augmented with a fine layer of dirt. We walked along and discovered different sections of vendors to complement the lifestyle: sellers of glass pipes, t-shirts, stickers, clothing, and food and beverages of different flavors, although you needed to keep an eye out on what the sun had been beating down and what the bugs were finding, but most things were pretty sanitary.
The pat down into the official staging area took a while as people learned what they could bring in. Chairs of a certain height, food and drink that was sealed, even beer surprisingly enough, yet different attendants had different rules and different levels of intensity in their search. A few who were careless and reckless had their pot and paraphernalia thrown out. I was surprised more people didn’t do better reconnaissance, but plenty of people were able to bypass the system.
The first band we stumbled upon was Back Door Slam, a wonderful delight as neither Fumo or I had heard of this British blues-rock trio, yet we fell in love instantly. They brought to mind Cream and early Zeppelin, and guitarist Davy Knowles will surely be a name that will be rising to the top. The crowd was captivated and you kept hearing whispers of “Who are these guys?” We rode them out until the end of their set. What a great way to start the festival, discovering someone new to tell friends back home and learn more about. Really, that’s the best part of festivals. Unless something spectacularly bad happens, I am already going to like headliners and known acts, but the new blood is the real treat.
Being a Laker fan, I decided to head over to the Cinema Tent to see what was happening in Game 4 of the NBA playoffs. They were up by a lot at the closing minutes of the second quarter. I decided to make my way in, while Fumo headed back to the car. The crowd was definitely pro-Boston and they grew wilder and boisterous as the Celtics took the game over and won.
The rest of my night was spent listening to the midnight sets of a couple of cover bands: the all-female Lez Zeppelin and Grateful Dead recreation Dark Star Orchestra. Both crowds appreciated what they were getting as each sounded pretty good, but after a long day and with prospects of seeing members of the real deal over the remainder of the weekend, I gave into my body’s need for rest.