Well, Alec and I survived Bonnaroo '08, 4 days of sun, rain, dust, mud, sleeping on the ground and music. The original plan was to stay in a house where a friend of mine's parents live that is really close, but my friend ended up having to go out of town for work. So $200 worth of camping gear and non-refrigerated food later, we were roughing it.
We got everything packed on Wednesday night and had the car packed with everything except the cooler. The original plan was to get up early Thursday morning and head out. I decided that sleep would be in short supply over the weekend, so we slept later on Thursday and took our time getting on the road. It took us about an hour and a half to get to Manchester and we found that we had to go all the way down to exit 127 (another 13 miles) to exit. We stopped at a gas station and topped off the tank, just in case. I had filled up before we left but wanted to make sure we had as much gas as possible in case of long lines. We also hit the restroom, which was our last sighting of a flushable toilet until late Sunday night. We got back on the road and followed the traffic and signs. We were cruising along for a few miles and then hit the line. It took 3 hours to travel the next 8 miles.
We finally got in and had a quick car search (they just looked in the glove box and console). We got routed to our campsite, which was in Camp Randall "Pink" Floyd (all the camps are named after movie characters). When we parked, I was able to leave a pretty big gap between me and the car next to me, which gave us more camping room. We jumped out and put up our canopy, then put the tent up under it. We got everything situated and headed up to Centeroo. It was about a 15 minute walk from camp to Centeroo. We walked around a bit and then got some ice cream. We wanted to catch one of the shows in the comedy tent and got in this long line. We get up to the very front and they have a sign about getting passes before the show and then getting in line. So we bailed out of the line and gave up on comedy.
We headed to That Tent and caught the end of Grupo Fantasma, a Latin orchestra that was pretty good. After they finished, we were able to get up pretty close for the next act, The Sword. They are a heavy metal group from Austin, TX. They were LOUD. We were standing in a direct line from the PA speakers and pretty close and I could feel my skin vibrating. They were good, I just couldn't understand 99% of the lyrics, because of the mix, not the singer. After their show, we went back outside the tent, but hung around to catch Lez Zeppelin, a female Led Zeppelin cover band. Their show was good, but nothing special. They did play "The Ocean", which is my favorite Led Zep song, so they get bonus points for that. After their show, we called it a night and headed back to camp. I don't think I've ever fallen asleep so fast.
I woke up early to bright sunlight, heat and one of neighbors whistling. Then he started rummaging through the ice in his cooler, it seemed like his cooler was inches from the tent. We woke up, brushed our teeth using bottled water and had some Pop Tarts. I realized that the canopy would only block sunlight when the sun was almost directly above it, so I pulled the tarp out from under the tent and hooked it up on the east side of the canopy (using my wisely purchased multi-length pack of bungee cords). I then realized that we only had about 10 square feet of space to sit two chairs and a cooler that was shaded. So we decided to move the tent to the "back" of camp, where only the very front of the tent was under the canopy. We would only be using the tent at night, so didn't really care if it was shaded. This gave us much more room and we would just have to move the tarp to the west side in the afternoon. We played cards for a bit then headed out at noon to catch Drive By Truckers, one of the coolest bands around in my opinion. They played a great set, although I was hoping for a few more songs off the "The Dirty South" album (specifically "Where the Devil Don't Stay"). We had planned on catching Umphrey's McGee, but we quickly learned that looking at a schedule on paper and planning shows to fill your entire day is much easier than actually hanging in the heat and crowds all day. We knew we had a big night ahead, so decided to walk back to camp, eat and rest up for the night. We headed back at 4 to catch The Raconteurs. I'm a huge fan of the Raconteurs and Jack White so my expectations were high. Those expectations were exceeded 100%. They put on one hell of a show. They played just about every song on their new album and a few from their first.
We had a pretty good spot, so we just decided to stay right there and eat vendor food. $30 later, I had a chicken pita and lemonade and Alec had a couple slices of pizza and tea. When it was time for Chris Rock to start, Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammet from Metallica came on to introduce him. Chris did an awesome set, joking about performance enhancing drugs and how cheap pancakes would be if he invaded IHOP. Chris Rock returned the favor and came out and introduced Metallica as "the greatest fucking rock band in the world." I happen to disagree, as the greatest fucking rock band in the world wasn't scheduled until the next night. Anyway, Metallica came out and did not fuck around. They started the show with "Creeping Death" and didn't let up for 2.5 hours. They played mostly old stuff, there was only about 3 songs after the ...And Justice For All album. Speaking of which, they played the song "…And Justice For All", which I've heard they never play live. It is my favorite song on the album, so that was pretty cool. The only thing about the Metallica show was that it felt scripted. I imagine that everything, even James Hetfield's crowd interaction is exactly the same night after night.
After Metallica, we followed the massive tide of people over to the Which stage to see My Morning Jacket. It was rainy and crowded and the Superjam started in about an hour, so we decided to go ahead and go to the Other tent to catch that. We got just inside the tent so we weren't getting rained on, although people kept trying to squeeze in and take our spot. I was tired, wet and getting pretty pissed at everyone's inconsideration. Then they announced that the show would be 20 minutes late. After 30 minutes it finally started. It was Les Claypool on bass and a group called Gogol Bordello. Unfortunately, we were extremely uncomfortable and tired, so we could only hang for a few songs. I saw several people recording, so I figure I'll just find the bootlegs later. Turns out Kirk Hammett showed up as well.
We got back to our camp and found a little water in the tent. I think we just didn't have it zipped all the way. Luckily, nothing was too wet. Right after we got in the tent, it started pouring rain again.
I actually slept til almost 9 on Saturday because it was overcast and cooler. We hung out and then headed up around noon and caught Two Gallants, a band from San Francisco. The "band" is just two guys, one on guitar/vocals and one on drums. They sounded really good and put on a great show. I got one of their songs from a free iTunes coupon for Bonnaroo artists and may look into buying their album. We then watched Against Me! a political punk band. They sounded good, although all their songs started sounding the same. We headed back to camp to eat and rest up for the night. It was entertaining to listen to our neighbors, there were 4 of them and they were giving one guy hell the whole weekend. I began to feel sorry for "Big Ed."
We went back up at 5 to watch Zappa Plays Zappa, which is Dweezil Zappa and band playing Frank Zappa's music. Wow! I've never been a huge Zappa fan, mainly because no one I know listens to him and I've been reluctant to just buy any of his albums without hearing any of it. I will be buying some of those albums now. Then we headed over to the What stage to find a spot for Jack Johnson, buying dinner along the way (another $30, this time for 2 baskets of chicken and fries, lemonade and tea). Actually, we wanted to find a good spot for Pearl Jam, it's just that Jack Johnson was on first and we were going to find a spot and keep it. Jack put on a good show, it was better than I expected. I've only heard his radio singles and he has some stuff that is a little less "strummy" and laid back. He forgot the lyrics at one point and laughed it off. He said he was looking forward to Pearl Jam playing that night and said he just couldn't wait, so out comes Eddie Vedder. They played a song together (don't know what it was).
10:15, time for Pearl Jam. I had told Alec that I had no idea what they would open with because sometimes they open with a rocker, sometimes something slow. I said they played "Corduroy" (my fave PJ song) 2nd quite often. They opened with "Hard to Imagine", which is a slow B-side. Then they launched into "Corduroy." Man, it sounded good. Next up was "All Night" from their Lost Dogs collection (same as "Hard to Imagine"). I found out later that this was the first time they had played "All Night" live. Next up was "Why Go", then Eddie talked a bit about Bonnaroo and how they thought they wouldn't ever play a festival again (some fans were killed at a festival in Denmark in 2000). He compared it to a small town and they started "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town". They kept going, playing their asses off. They were obviously digging the crowd and the crowd was definitely digging them. They wrapped up the set with The Who's "Love Reign O'er Me", which Eddie sang like his life depended on it, "Do the Evolution" which fuckin' rocked then "Rearviewmirror" with an extended jam ending. They left the stage and the camera man showed their encore set list on the big screens. They ended up changing a few things on it though.
They came back out and played a cool, laid back version of "W.M.A." Then Eddie started the intro to "Better Man." We all sang along and everyone was holding up their lighters. As usual, Ed stops singing and just lets the crowd sing during the song. After the 2nd verse he stopped playing and said "That's fucking beautiful." After the song, he said he hadn't realized how many people there actually was out there. Then he said he didn't want to ruin the good vibe, but they were going to play "the saddest song we know" and they played "Black." They finished out the encore with "Life Wasted", "Crazy Mary" (with Ed climbing off the stage and giving someone in the audience his bottle of wine) and "Porch" (with a break in the middle while Ed ranted about politics). At some point in this encore, the moon, which was almost full, was directly over the stage, which was very cool looking.
For their 2nd encore, Ed came out alone and talked for a bit about the war and his friend, Tomas Young, the guy who helped make the movie "Body of War." He was paralyzed in Iraq and has become an anti-war activist. Eddie was saying that he went into a coma a few weeks ago and is not doing well. He then played "No More", the song he did for the movie. The rest of the band came back and Ed said they normally don't play their next song at that point in the show, but he was dedicating to a friend whose father had died the day before. The song was "Release", which was beautiful. Then they rocked out on "Alive", I can't even begin to describe the feeling of being in the middle of 70,000 people singing "I'm still alive…" They left the stage again and I kept telling Alec "they have to play Yellow Ledbetter." It was on the set list they showed earlier. Instead, they came back out and played an absolute blistering version of "All Along the Watchtower." In total, they played almost 3 hours and it was exactly what a rock concert should be like. It's funny, but I never once said "I wish they had played …" Yes, there were songs of theirs I would have liked to hear live, but the show was so good, I didn't miss hearing them. Besides, if they played everything I wanted to hear live, the show would have been about 6 hours.
We were planning on going to watch Phil Lesh & Friends and then check out a little of the Kanye West show, simply because his light show was supposed to be spectacular. As we were leaving Pearl Jam, Alec and I talked and decided to just head back to camp as there was a mass stampede headed toward Phil Lesh plus I had just seen my favorite band in the world and wanted to fall asleep still hearing their show ringing in my ears rather than Kanye West. That was probably the best decision we made that weekend.
That morning I walked down to the port-a-potties and was standing in line. Everyone was talking about how bad the Kanye show was. I asked a guy what happened and he said that first, the organizers asked Phil Lesh (you know, from the Grateful Dead and one of the original artists to support and play at the first Bonnaroo?) to end his set early (he was scheduled from midnight to 4am) because of the Kanye show at 2:45. Now, they were playing different stages, not the same stage, so it wasn't like Phil couldn't keep playing during the Kanye show. Anyway, he ended early and 2:45 came and went and no Kanye. They didn't even start setting up the stage until 2:45. This apparently took a while and they announced that the show would start at 3:30am. 3:30 came and no Kanye. He didn't take the stage until 4:30am and when he did, he didn't apologize or even acknowledge he was late. He just said "Good morning" and started the show. That was the last thing he said to the audience at all. The sun was coming up during his show, which pretty much ruined the whole light show thing (the very reason they scheduled him at 2:45am, he was originally schedule to play earlier around sunset). Less than an hour later, his show was over and he just walked off the stage. From what I hear, there were a lot of boos following him. All day, we saw "Kanye Sux" spray painted on the fences (where they let people put up graffiti).
Sunday was a late starting day, we didn't get much sleep in the morning, but the acts we wanted to see were later in the day. So we did a lot of hanging out at the camp, eating and playing cards. We played an epic game of Rummy to 500 points. I led most of the game, Alec took a slight lead and then we ended up both just a few points away from 500. Alec had 485 and I had 480. We knew the last hand would decide it. I got some good points early and only had 2 cards left, but couldn't get anything to match up. Then Alec started getting every freakin' book possible. He ended up with over 200 points in one hand, I've never seen that many points in a game of Rummy (and I've played a lot of it). We discussed possibly leaving that night instead of in the morning as a few cars around us were packing up to leave. We couldn't get out of where we parked unless enough of them left, but it looked promising based on who was packing. We went ahead and packed up everything except the tent, canopy and cooler just in case. We had brought a watermelon that we hadn't eaten, so I gave it to our neighbors (Big Ed and his friends). The guy I offered it to thanked us, but didn't seem real excited about it. But we heard Big Ed when he found out about and it sounded as if we had given them a steak dinner. That made us happy because we had started to feel bad for him, hearing his friends give him hell all weekend.
So we headed up toward Centeroo around 2:45. We wanted to see Harrybu McCage at 3. They are a jazz trio consisting of organ, bass (standup) and drums. The drummer is this guy named Matt Cameron, who has played for these other bands you may have heard of: Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. We got there right after they started and it was awesome. They played some very cool music and we were standing 20 feet from Matt Cameron playing drums.
We found a bit of shade to sit in and figure out where we were going next. We could hear Robert Randolph still playing. We had wanted to see him, but we had seen him before opening for the Black Crowes, so we chose Harrybu McCage. So, we strolled over and listened to the end of his set. Then we headed to the big stage to listen to Yonder Mountain String Band, a bluegrass band. We found a stretch of fence in the shade and sat down. We couldn't see the stage, but we could hear it. Neither one of us are big bluegrass fans, but their music was catchy. They did say something like "We'll play the late night light show next year and do it right!", which was a nasty dig at Kanye. People walking by were still randomly yelling "Kanye Sucks."
I noticed that Sunday had a higher number of girls who were topless than any other day. Honestly, I had only seen 1 or 2 topless until Sunday. I saw 4 or 5 on Sunday, one poor girl I saw could have gone topless anytime. At least 50% of the guys there had bigger breasts than she did.
During Yonder Mountain, we wandered over to the market area again and looked around a bit. Then we decided to head to the cinema tent and sit in the shade and A/C for a while. Sunday was the hottest day there and it was draining being out in the sun all day. They were showing "Charlie Bartlett" and we came in during the movie. We left before it was over, but I liked the bit I saw, I will have to rent it.
We had to leave so we could find a spot for Robert Plant and Allison Krauss w/ T Bone Burnett. By that time, we had decided that we were going to try to leave that night, so we sat way back from the stage. Robert Plant and Allison Krauss were wonderful. It was a pretty laid back show, with some bluegrass, blues, old country and rockin' stuff. I only recognized a few songs, all Robert Plant stuff. They played "In the Mood" (from his solo work); a very cool, slow version of "Black Dog", which you could only recognize by the lyrics; and a spine-chilling version of "Battle of Evermore", a song I've always loved and to hear them sing it together was awesome. After their show, we grabbed another $30 dinner. Alec: cheeseburger and tea, me: Greek salad w/ chicken and lemonade. I forgot to tell them to hold the sauce (that white Greek sauce), but by that point I didn't really care. It was cooked meat and vegetables and it was wonderful. I told Alec after I ate it that I don't know what I had craved more, the meat or the veggies.
Next up was Widespread Panic. I'm not a huge fan, I only have 1 of their albums. Alec has never listened to them at all. I told him we would probably head out in the middle of their show to get on the road. I told him if he just wasn't digging the show to let me know and we would go ahead and head out. About 3 songs in he leaned over and asked if I was ready. We stayed through one more song ("Climb to Safety", a song I knew from the album I have) and then headed back to pack up camp. Panic was putting on a good show, we just weren't into and both of us were ready to get home.
We packed up the tent, canopy (which took a few minutes to realize there were release buttons we had to hit before folding it up) and cooler and headed out. Traffic leaving wasn't bad until we go to the main road. Even there, it wasn't real bad. It just took 10 minutes or so to get out. We turned back the way we had come in, and I realized we were going to go way out of the way and should have turned right. We turned around and sure enough, the interstate entrance was right there. We made it about 20 miles and Alec was asleep and I was tired. Plus because of some change falling down in my car lighter, we didn't have my iPod to listen to, so I had to keep switching stations to find something halfway decent. I pulled off in Murfreesboro to get a Coke. Since we were so grubby, I thought I would just go thru a drive-thru. Unfortunately, everyone else who had left Bonnaroo with us had the same idea. We tried Taco Bell, gave up and hit McDonalds. It seemed quicker until after I had ordered, then the line just stopped. We finally got back on the road and made it back in about an hour. It was a luxury to take a shower and have a real toilet.
So, how was Bonnaroo as a whole and would I do it again? Let me start by saying I am glad I went. The music was amazing and Alec and I had a great time together (it was probably the coolest thing a teenager and dad could do together on Father's Day, although I missed not seeing Zack, who was on his way back from Disney World). Plus it was a learning experience on a personal level, seeing all the things we think are "necessary" that aren't really.
I had heard about how friendly everyone was and that was partly true. There weren't really any "rude" people, but it wasn't like everyone was friendly either. I'm sure if we had been consuming some of the various drugs most of the people seemed to be consuming, they might have been friendlier. The first few days, the only people that really said anything to us were selling t-shirts or drugs or wanting to buy drugs. Saturday, a girl walked by, obviously stoned and said we looked too grumpy to be at Bonnaroo. Of course it was hot, muddy and we were walking through the area where there were port-o-potties on both sides of the road and the smell was quite fragrant, so we may have had a sour look on our face. The last day we did talk to more people, one girl came by our camp and asked us where we were from and if it was our first 'roo and were we having fun. While we were sitting in the shade of the fence Sunday, a guy came up and sat down and we chatted for a minute. He then offered Alec a lighter for a drink of his water. We had brought a couple of extra bottles with us, so I gave him a full bottle (and let him keep his lighter).
My biggest surprise and disappointment was in seeing the litter created by everyone. The crowd there typically leans to the left, politically (as evidenced during Chris Rock's show when he mentioned Obama, virtually everyone there cheered). This is the crowd that is, or claims to be, at the front of the environmental movement. There was a lot of information about being green there and they offered recycling cans right next to the trash cans. When we arrived, we were given a trash bag and another bag for recycling. But by the end of each day, there would be so much garbage on the ground it was ridiculous. Leaving the What stage every night, you would literally wade through piles of trash. There were trash cans everywhere, but most didn't seem to care. They dropped their bottles, plates, pizza boxes and cups right where they stood. Alec and I were always careful to throw all our trash in the cans. I think Saturday night, we had 2 cups that we didn't get in the trash. We had them with our stuff to carry out after Pearl Jam, but during the show, they got kicked away from us. It was just really disappointing to see the lack of concern for our environment on such a large scale. I was proud because when we tied up our two bags at camp before we left, we had twice as much in our recycling bag as we did in the trash bag.
Would I go again? I'm still not sure. It was an ordeal, but the music made it worth it. I'm uncomfortable in crowds and have a pretty large personal space bubble and most people there don't seem to have any concept of personal space. I got very annoyed with the way people walked through the crowds. Everyone would be sitting down waiting for a show to start and people seemed to pick the most difficult way possible to get through, stepping on people's blankets, kicking their stuff, sometimes even kicking the people. I got kicked in the arm once and I saw another guy get kicked in the head. Several times, we almost had our lemonades and teas get spilled and at $5 a pop, I would have been pissed. You weren't supposed to bring full sized chairs in, but I saw several people with them. One lady in particular set hers up directly in front of us before Robert Plant and Allison Krauss. We were already pretty far back, so could only see the video screens and she was smack dab in the middle of that. I think part of the problem with getting annoyed with people and where they stand is that none of the stages are set up like most amphitheaters. There's really no hill (there's a slight one at the What stage, but not much). So you aren't able to look over the people in front of you and it makes it difficult to see. I had one guy in front of me at Pearl Jam who kept switching which leg he was leaning on, so his head would be in one spot and I would look over his right shoulder, 30 seconds later he would lean to the right and I had to lean to the left to see over his left shoulder. This went on every 30 seconds for 10 minutes. And I'm sure my moving affected the guy behind me as well. Finally he moved over a bit and sat down during some songs.
Overall, I'm glad I went and I would probably do it again, depending on who was playing. I do know one thing, had I been a cave man I wouldn't have invented the wheel, I would have invented the chair with cushions.