I awoke on Day Two to the shriek of a young woman. “Someone took a shit next to our car!” she cried, unknowingly securing a place in my memory as my now-current response to the question, “What is the strangest sentence you have ever heard when waking up?" After a few giggles, I tried to roll over and get some more sleep, but was foiled by the combination of the heat of the early morning sun beating down on our tent and the incessant yammering of the idiotic female friend of Ted and Alice who was on something that kept her gums bumping to the point she was unaware how woefully uninteresting her monologue was. I wanted to scream, “Use your inside voice,” but there were too many days left to be causing problems with the neighbors.
Fumo and I went to check out the shower situation. Down the way, Garnier Fructis had showers set up that offered small rooms to bathe in and warm water for a fee of $7. We passed and headed to the free “showers.” As we got to the front of the line, we discovered people entering a large metal container with maybe ten sinks on each side. People were bathing and collecting water to take back to their camps. The water seeped out, turning the dirt to mud. As the days went by, people were dirtier getting out of the box then they were when they went in. Once inside, most people usually shouted out as their systems were shocked in reaction to the cold water. A few serious campers had bags that they filled and took back to their camps where the sun warmed the water. Fumo and I never returned to these sinks because we had our own version of the sun-shower bags. The bottled water we brought that didn’t get put into the cooler got warm over the course of the day sitting in the back of my car and was the perfect temperature for washing down with soap and paper towels.
Day Two of the festival began with our checking out Grupo Fantasma after the rave review they got from fellow Snob Fantasma el Rey. They played on a small stage, but their upbeat, Latin-influenced soul revue got the early birds going. Jose Gonzalez had a good acoustic set that made the crowd happy, but I found him too laid back for a hot afternoon and needed to move on before all my energy was drained. The battle between the heat and the music over my body because a recurring event throughout the weekend.
Fumo and I are both big fans of Umphrey’s McGee so we headed to the stage where they were going to be playing and did our best to find a shady spot, a practice we engaged in every afternoon as we tried to maximize the shade by calculating the sun’s path and what objects we could keep between it and us. When last I caught them at Vegoose, I was critical of Umphrey’s performance because I didn’t think they engaged the crowd, but at Bonnaroo they made up for it in spades with a dynamic set. The music and performances were lively and well paced, and I was delighted to hear my current favorite UM song, “Wizard Burial Ground,” at the center of the set list. No doubt a tip o’ the hat to the day’s headliner Metallica as the guitars shredded something fierce. Saxophonist Jeff Coffin joined in on two songs. “Higgins” received a reggae treatment for part of the song, and they all closed out with a reprise of “Miss Tinkle’s Overture.”
Thinking we were going to shift gears, we headed over to hear The Bluegrass Allstars featuring the likes of Sam Bush and Bela Fleck, but shortly after we settled in, they played us a tune with a reggae beat as well. Fleck offered up a sample of a new hybrid he’s been working on, a combination polka and bluegrass, which he calls “polk-ass music.” No surprise coming from the fingers of Fleck, it sounded glorious no matter what he called it.
Fumo chose the indie-pop stylings of The Swell Season, and I am glad he did because I had no idea they were the duo from Once. In the spirit of Bonnaroo, they decided to jam together and asked who in the audience had a poem they wrote and would like to recite. It was a special moment as they knocked down the barrier between fan and artist to create something together.
As is customary at a festival with so many choices, people started to walk out, prompting someone from The Swell Season to shout out, “The next song isn’t called ‘Leave,’” and then went on to say it wasn’t a competition, which contradicts his insecurity. It began to get dizzying, bouncing back and forth between stages trying to get in a much as we could. Les Claypool and his band gave the audience a good mixture from surf music to Zappaesque jazz led by his amazing bass, keeping a good many engaged. I overheard a person say there were more people here than over at the main stage where The Raconteurs were playing.
Then we were off to hear Rilo Kiley, who sounded a little similar to Concrete Blonde. Unfortunately, they took the stage late, cutting in half the 30 minutes we had scheduled for them. Of course, we had to go back and pay our respects to Willie Nelson. The country music fans seemed resigned that Willie draws stoners as the joints, pipes, and blunts were being shared, and the man himself seemed right at home in front of these people, delivering a set chock full of hits, including “Bloody Mary Morning,” which coincidentally I had had this day. Unfortunately some in the audience were more concerned with getting high, making it tough to hear Willie.
We headed over to the main stage to grab a spot for Chris Rock. The 40% chance of rain became 100%, so we pulled out our matching raincoats and sat back amongst the elements. There was a comedy tent at Bonnaroo, but there was too much waiting in line to hassle with it. Besides, no name there was as big as Rock’s. He took the stage after an introduction from Metallica’s Kirk Hammett and Lars Ulrich and killed. Everyone in my area was barely able to contain their laughter as Rock combined his usual hysterical observations with a few “did he just say that?” lines that were so outlandish you might not even think them to yourself. He talked about Barack Obama having the blackest name possible, making him sound like “'the bass player for the Commodores.” He wondered why gas was so high after invading Iraq. “Let me tell you something. If I invade IHOP, pancakes are going to be cheaper in my house.” He even provided a public service pointing out the one and only time it is okay for a white person to use the word “nigger,” which involved a number of degradations that must be suffered. Even the audience wasn’t safe as he called us out for taking “performance enhancing drugs” and antidepressants before seeing a comedian.
Rock then returned the favor and introduced Metallica, who came to show the hippies relaxing in their tents how to rock. Their best-of set went over well as they played just about every classic song from their catalog, and the crowd didn’t want them to leave. The pyrotechnics and effects during “One” was the standout of the weekend and no doubt startled a few hallucinogen takers. As a fan, I would have liked a new song or cover, but it was understandable.
Fumo, who isn’t a fan of Metallica, retired before they came on, leaving me to bang my head by my lonesome. Thankfully, campground neighbors and University of Alabama students Brock and Lilly coaxed him into returning. We went over to check out My Morning Jacket’s midnight set and they sounded great, much better than their Coachella performance and I enjoyed that. In the rain, under the colored lights, amongst the dancing revelers, some of who came with their own lights, the band captivated the audience and sealed the deal with their fantastic cover of Sly Stone’s “Hot Fun,” which found the band augmented by a horn section.
No one had heard who was playing the Superjam, but expectations were high after last year’s set with Ben Harper, John Paul Jones, and ?uestlove. The tent was packed as the rain grew in intensity, causing bodies to press against each other, forgoing any sense of personal space, which would have been bearable if the invaders were cute girls. The severity of the weather was also the explanation for the 45-minute delay. Roadies kept hitting the stage and checking gear, but there was not enough explanation in what was going on. When the musicians finally hit the stage at nearly two in the morning, it was Claypool and three guys from Gogol Bordello. We were expecting a little more, and couldn’t make out what they were playing. After two songs, it certainly wasn’t worth the wait, especially because we were pissed we left MMJ where we were having so much fun. We headed back to the tent and as we drifted off to sleep, we could make out MMJ in the distance playing Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street.”