The Bonnaroo Dad makes his second foray into musical madness 

Joyous Overload

In the foothills of Tennessee, at the stroke of midnight, I started my Friday the 13th revisiting the rock of my youth with the all-girl band Lez Zeppelin blasting through a two hour set of Zeppelin covers. The lead singer hit notes that Robert Plant could only dream about. Considering I had already experienced six hours of swirling jam band rock from the likes of MGMT and the Battles, I zombied into a couple hours of sleep, only to be revised by a Waffle House greasy special and a return to the farm for more.

A quick stop to the tent city of 70,000 with a precious cooler of ice confirmed that my son and his 40 Charlestonian friends were still alive. Following their advice, I rushed to Steel Train’s opening set as the sun hit high noon. By the end of the hour set, the population had awakened and the community of unwashed bodies was on the move between the sites 15 stages and music tents. This is Bonnaroo — when the music starts, it never stops, and the herd is always on the move.

Smell or no smell, don’t worry about a thing. By mid-afternoon Stephen Marley was playing his dad’s songs on the main stage. There was a natural mystic moving through the air; a sweet aroma covered the field. A quick check of the multi-columned schedule, and it was off to see the Bluegrass All-stars, featuring Béla Fleck, the best banjo player in the world. No time to eat, just drink.

Last year, while attending my first Bonnaroo by myself, my only fear was that I would wake up naked in the communal fountain. I somehow survived. This year, with two contemporary friends in tow, the only fear I had was that none of us would get any sleep due to our snoring. (In the spirit of the Green Initiative promoted by the festival sponsors, my friends and I car pooled and shared a hotel room.)

Full of hot banjo pickin’, we grazed with the herd back to the main stage for two hours of superstar Jack White (of White Stripes fame) and his equally talented Raconteurs band members. They played, we watched, and all were transformed. Hearing White with a talented, full band behind him is unparalleled. To calm the shattered brain matter, we mellowed our way to stage right to catch the familiar tunes of 75-year-old Willie Nelson and his sons. Suddenly, from the far left, we heard thundering F-bombs being dropped as Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett of Metallica introduced Chris Rock. Chris begins by telling 70,000 white people the only circumstance in which they can use the N word. With a short 20-minute intermission and a setting sun, Chris returned the favor and introduced Metallica to the jam band culture. After three mind-pounding songs, Hammett asked the crowd of 70,000 strong to raise their hands if this was their first Metallica experience. 90% of us had our hands in the air. At that moment, we were afraid to move. Metallica to their credit, played to the crowd, toning down the experience with their songs from the ’80s, a gentler time if they ever had one. 

The pyrotechnics of Metallica’s set brought on the rain and we ended the day with a performance by My Morning Jacket. The rain killed the dust and washed sweat and filth from the masses. Wet and cold, we huddled past a quiet tent of moving bodies. It was a silent discotheque, everyone plugged into the sound through wireless headphones. Yes, this is a typical Friday at Bonnaroo.

Four days of music. Every day filled with superstars. 158 artists, with musical styles that included New Orleans jazz, classical, heavy metal, rap, country, bluegrass, comedy — it was all there. For us oldies, there was the chance to see the premier Southern rock group Little Feat, blues legend B.B. King, or the Zappa siblings playing their dad’s music. And then there is the unexpected and development of contrast as exampled by the ever intense Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder joining the stage for a mellow melody with the most laid back musician in the world, Jack Johnson. As the moon rose for the beginning of Pearl Jam’s set, the big question was which hit from their 300-song repertoire were they going to play. And they did play, setting the stage for a festival controversy.

And what better musician to have a controversy with than the egomaniac Kanye West. A week before the festival began, West asked Bonnaroo to re-schedule his 9:30 p.m. Saturday show to 2:45 a.m. Sunday morning. Originally, he had been scheduled to play at an alternative stage while Pearl Jam played on the main stage. West’s argument was he wanted to make sure there was enough darkness and time to put together his fancy light show. By the time West’s elaborate stage set was constructed, 4:25 a.m., 30,000 hard-core and nearly dead field-crashing veterans were still in attendance. Midway through his performance, the morning light showed that the crowd had dwindled substantially and for the first time, a crowd booed and started a two-word, four-letter chant as to their thoughts on his performance.

Parents: security is tight, and the herd is learning. No one died this year. Unfortunately, rockers still have to appreciate the sacrifices and the required involvement necessary to enact the green initiative promoted by the festival organizers. This was witnessed by the sea of plastic bottles left on the ground following each performance. In ending, Bonnaroo continues to get better with age and is the must see festival for our area. This 50-something Bonnaroo dad hopes to see you there next year.


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