On The Record: Braving Bonnaroo
Up until Monday afternoon, I was living in a tent. Showering with bottled water. Wandering aimlessly through a dust bowl, looking for shade, water and food. Fighting for survival, skin bubbling and lips cracked. Hallucinating. Dying.
For four days, I was on assignment down in Manchester, Tennessee, camping out with the unwashed masses at Bonnaroo. I got sunstroke, I got covered in dust and I ate a lot of stuff out of cans (or in burrito form). I also had a great time — I believe in my half-dusted haze I may have even called Bonnaroo “probably the best [festival] in America” (see “Bonnaroo Recap: White Stripes, Police, Lily Allen Bring Heat To Already Scorching Fest” ).
Somewhere in between all the heatstroke and the hyperbole, I began to jot down notes about my experience, and since I just got back into the office late Monday (via helicopter, ’cause that’s how MTV News rolls), I’ve decided to turn my innate ramblings into this week’s edition of BTTS (lucky you!).
I’ve edited out all the gems like “Friday — 2:47 p.m.: Tempeh not just city in Arizona, Seitan not just Lord of Darkness,” but what’s left is a pretty good look at my dance with death at Bonnaroo 2007, not to mention a convenient way to take potshots at hippies and link to photos like this and this. Read on if you’re looking for the inside scoop on the ‘Roo (or if you have five to 10 minutes to kill at work).
Thursday, 10:45 a.m.: JetBlue flight 1043 touches down at Nashville International Airport. Instantly, some doped-out hippie toward the back of the plane bleats, “Bonnnarooo!” I already regret my decision to come here.
11:30 a.m.: Rent car, make trip to Wal-Mart. They have an entire section devoted to biscuits here. No lie. Also, Master P’s clothing line, P. Miller, is sold here, and if that isn’t an apt metaphor for his entire career, then I don’t know what is.
3:47 p.m.: Arrive at Bonnaroo. Survey scene at my campsite.
3:49 p.m.: Want to leave Bonnaroo.
5:31 p.m.: Finish pitching tent in “Guest Camping,” which is really only “camping” in the loosest sense of the term … after all, I have showers nearby and I’m actually sleeping like 5 feet from my rental car. Yet, despite these facts, I will spend the entire weekend A) telling everyone within earshot that I’m “totally camping out”; and B) complaining about the fact that “I only have a tent and an air mattress to sleep on.” Also, I decide to keep my hair product packed away in the trunk, as I don’t want the heat to make it all gooey.
5:32 p.m.: Question my own masculinity.
8:33 p.m.: The Black Angels totally scare the crap out of anyone on any sort of psychedelic drugs with a droning, terrifying set, one made only more droning and terrifying by the sheer number of helicopters hovering in the night sky, whisking talent on and off the Bonnaroo grounds. I’m not even on acid and I’m scared to death.
10:41 p.m.: Purchase an ironic tie-dyed T-shirt. Feel somewhat bad about doing so. On the flipside, I now have something to wear in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, this summer.
11:10 p.m.: The National take the stage roughly 30 minutes behind schedule, still totally kill it. No joke here: The National rule.
11:30 p.m.: Clutch are, inexplicably, playing Bonnaroo. Begin searching crowd for Bam Margera, as he is required by law to remain within 150 yards of the band at all times.
Friday, 8:02 a.m.: Wake up, sun baking my tent. Totally hate life. One of the kids camping next to me apparently decided to sleep on his cooler last night. It’s my first up-close-and-personal interaction with a partied-out “Wookiee,” which someone tells me is a term of endearment for jam-band fans with “unshaven faces, long hair and a lack of personal hygiene.” (There’s even a Web site dedicated to their passing out — complete with awesome Chewbacca sounds.)
8:15 a.m.: Brush teeth. Spend next four hours trying to find shade. Consider crawling under car and dying.
3:50 p.m.: Kings of Leon rock out. Later on in the weekend, a writer who did a story about them will tell me that one of the Kings’ mom tailors all their jeans for them, so they’re extra tight. Apparently, there are “hidden zippers” involved.
6:12 p.m.: I get a henna tattoo of a unicorn (or, if you ask the woman who gave me the sorta-tat, “A horse with a knife on its head”). I spend the next day walking around with my sleeve pinned up because the henna needs to dry. Get sympathetic looks from several hippies.
9:04 p.m.: Tool. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!
11:59 p.m.: Super Jam — an annual Bonnaroo tradition — begins. This year, we’ve got ?uestlove from the Roots sitting in with John Paul Jones and Ben Harper. At the same time, Sound Tribe Sector Nine — a “five-piece electronic jam band fusing live instruments with electronica,” according to their Web site — start up nearby. I begin to wonder if I am allowed to bill MTV for hazard pay.
Saturday, 2:37 a.m.: Sounds like Super Jam is ending. I think STS9 are done too. Of course, I can’t be sure, as I am sitting in my tent complaining.
12:30 p.m.: A jam-packed day gets off with a bunch of action in some of the ‘Roo’s smaller tents, but I am nowhere to be found. Rather, I am debating the merits of R. Kelly with my producer Monty on a shaded picnic table. (He’s not crazy about R, but I maintain he’s “definitely eccentric. Possibly a genius.”) Then we start talking about summer festivals in relation to “Peanuts” characters. We decided that Bonnaroo would definitely be Pigpen, and the Lilith Fair is either Peppermint Patty or Marcie, but we really couldn’t decide — oh, wait … sorry, I think my brain shut off for a minute there.
5:30 p.m.: The Hold Steady finish up a triumphant, fist-pumping set at That Tent. Some drunk guy from Louisville, Kentucky, tries to fight me, then launches into a tirade about how he’ll “never come back to Bonnaroo” because security confiscated an ice pick he was trying to bring into the campgrounds. This sucks doubly, because the ice pick was “a family heirloom” and if dude wanted to “f— someone up, [he] definitely wouldn’t need an ice pick to do it.” Terrifying.
7:55 p.m.: Franz Ferdinand are totally ruling the Which Stage with a spiky set of tunes both new and old (plus a cover of LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends”). Meanwhile, aged fans (and a surprising number of actual police) are trooping over to the What Stage to catch the fest’s most hyped set — a purported two and a half hours with the mighty Police.
10:40 p.m.: The Police wrap, a scant 50 minutes before their set is supposed to end. Roughly 77,000 people shuffle off into the night, dreams crushed (I covered the Police’s disappointing set in greater depth here). Sting and company presumably hop into gold-plated helicopter, hightail it the eff out of the sticks.
11:22 p.m.: Monty turns to me, asks, “Dude, do you think the Police are even in Tennessee anymore?”
Sunday, 12:12 a.m.: The Flaming Lips prove once again that they’re the absolute kings of style over substance (and that they’re probably the most underappreciated guys in rock) with a mind-melting, shambling, psych-heavy set that featured a spaceship landing onstage, Wayne Coyne’s omnipresent bubble, dancing Santas, hand puppets, confetti and balloons. It’s so great that you don’t notice that Coyne hasn’t been able to sing properly since about 2003. Their set wraps at roughly 2:15 a.m., which makes it the longest performance of their 24-year career.
8:15 a.m.: I finally take a shower.
2:30 p.m.: Hey, Wolfmother are playing! And playing the same songs they’ve been doing for roughly a year and a half now!
4:40 p.m.: I interview the White Stripes. During the end of our chat, Jack White makes a crack about how people at summer festivals shouldn’t wear baseball caps. “Have some self respect,” he laughs. Incidentally, Monty is wearing a Yankees cap, and he will spend the next four hours threatening to punch Jack White if he ever sees him in public.
5:00 p.m.: I am officially running out of steam. My notes from this time read like this: “Decemberists = Linen Suits” and “Good too see Jeff Tweedy still looks like the Singin’ Hobo.” Perhaps my brain is cooked.
8:45 p.m.: With a “God bless Bonnaroo, God bless Tennessee!” the Stripes exit the stage, having just rocked the hemp outta 80,000 or so ‘Roo heads. At this point, Monty and I decided we’ve had about all we can take of Bonnaroo. So we skip Widespread Panic — and miss out on what someone described as “possibly the best 20-minute bass solo you’ll ever see” — and decide to get ready to leave.
Monday, 11:20 a.m.: My super-charged helicopter lifts off from Bonnaroo.
As we leave the rolling countryside behind us, I feel myself changing from a sun-kissed, sorta-blissed child of the earth back into the jaded, elitist pr— that I know I really am. Feels good to be headed home.
B-Sides: Other Stories I’m Following This Week
Seriously, has there been a more hotly anticipated major-label release in recent memory with worse pre-release buzz than Kelly Clarkson’s My December? (see “Kelly Clarkson’s My December: Rumors Aside, LP Isn’t A Radical Departure” )
Boy, that Slayer/Manson tour sure sounds like it’s getting off on the right foot. (see “Slayer’s Kerry King Warns Marilyn Manson About Co-Headlining Run” )
A piece that combines the theory of German psychiatrist Hugo Münsterberg, the musings of American critic H.L. Mencken and, uh, the stupid crap of something called “The Beaterator.” Stephen Totilo rules. (see ” ‘Grand Theft Auto’ Of 1916; Launching ‘Traxxpad'; ‘Halo’ Toys & More, In GameFile“ )
Questions? Concerns? Drop me a line at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.