Welcome to my first official day at Bonnaroo, where before we've even made it to the venue, I'm already sick of hippies and nice people. Hippies, courtesy of the fine group of youngsters that were hanging out in the hotel parking lot when we rolled up on Wednesday night. We got out of our car, and they said "hey dudes, you want some weed?" Welcome to Bonnaroo.
Now, I don't frown on all of ya'll that enjoy the herb (I always chose to spend my money on CDs, obviously) but there was something about this particular bunch that was annoying from the start. I made a quick beeline for the room to avoid conversation. Brian snaps rather spontaneously and fantastically at the group's ringleader as I walk away, setting our official team position as "Just Say No."
Regarding nice people: We'll get to them in a second.
We set out for Bonnaroo on Friday morning with a stop off at Krystal to grab a bit of food, since I had missed the free breakfast that morning at the hotel. All I needed to hear from Brian was that it was "like White Castle," and sure enough it was, complete with eggnog milkshakes available for all in JUNE. I didn't feel like that would be the wisest decision going into a 14 hour day in the heat, so I stuck with some Slider knockoffs and an order of fries, accessorized by the usual Dr. Pepper. Off we go.
Once we got off the exit at Manchester, you start to see the entire scene, people making use of their own personal real estate in the name of commerce, including the morbidly obese woman who is selling bananas. It seems like a semi-nice trade off to be able to make money off both the hazed out hippies and shirtless dudes with the Jock Jams compilation still in heavy rotation on their Ipod that are all over your property for nearly a week.
On our way in, our car is "randomly selected" for a full search by the local drug task force. I attribute this to our resident hippie Adam, sitting in the front seat with a look on his face that says "search me, I've got heroin in my ballcap." So they pull our car over, and start the search as a giant RV goes by that couldn't possibly have any drugs on board. I know what you're thinking, this guy is a real a-hole for generalizing and stereotyping on all of the above topics. Perhaps, but I've been waiting for a long time to make fun of Cleveland Caper's entire hippie clan so I've got to get my shots in while I can.
After a full search of our car, all of our bags, and a free bonus full cavity body search, we're on our way and inside Bonnaroo grounds before we know it. Bonnaroo really does it right - processing tickets and exchanging them for wristbands as you are driving in, to avoid a crush of people at the gates waiting to get in.
We're parking our car, and of course as we get out of the car, the couple on the other side has to engage us in trippy "wow isn't Bonnaroo so rad and cosmic" kind of conversation.
This is when I tell Brian that I am officially tired of talking to people. "But you had no problem getting all chatty with that agent back there!" "Dude, he's asking me questions, I'm going to answer them!" I snap back. One thing I've noticed during my short time in Tennessee is that everyone in this state is way too damn nice. The girl at the reception desk at the hotel, sure - it's her job, but everyone from the maintenance man (especially him) to the room maids feel the need to engage in full-on biographical "where are you from" conversations, and I'm kind of over it.
But Bonnaroo, oh Bonnaroo, finally we are here. Brian will remind you at this point that he was actually here yesterday.
Yes, I know. Shut up.
Walking into Bonnaroo, I finally get a proper appreciation exactly how massive this festival is. It's incredible. People and booths and sounds of music as far as your eyes and ears can reach. Completely overwhelming in comparison to Virgin Festival, our destination for the previous two years. The crowd is a mix of both young and old, and despite all of my hippie bashing above, you're really not surrounded by them. Sure, they're there, but it's interesting to see the makeup of the crowd, a split between travelers, and area locals. The area locals include a fair amount of older people, who have been coming to Bonnaroo each year as if it is the local home days. They congregate with friends and relatives on blankets and at picnic tables, and share conversation amongst one another as music leaks out from the nearby stages.
Brian grabs me a schedule of events from the press tent (yeah, he did the leg work for credentials, and I didn't bother,) and I split off from Brian and Adam to go find a good spot to chill out for a bit until some of the music that I want to see comes around.
I ended up parking it outside This Tent, a stage that is curated today by David Byrne, who selected that day's slate of acts for the stage, and will perform a set of his own on the Which Stage later that evening. Byrne was a good curatorial choice, and I enjoyed sets from St. Vincent, Santigold, and finally for the first time, I saw Ani DiFranco who played an amazing 90 minute set.
DiFranco's set was the perfect mellow cap for the afternoon as things began to cool off, and I was happy that "32 Flavors" was in the set, a tune that has been lodged in my head since Pat stuck it on his mix a couple of weeks ago. I was inside the tent for DiFranco's set, and eventually got distracted by the pair of guys outside that decided that mud wrestling would be a fun Bonnaroo pastime. And really, how often do you get mud in quantities like this, of such perfect consistency for mud wrestling usage? These guys took advantage of it.
People watching is awesome here. There's lots of inappropriate displays of flesh going on here that is completely over the line - i.e. people that didn't look in the mirror, or just don't care. Let your freak flag fly, and get down with your bad self. These people are doing just that. I've seen a guy that looks like Willie Nelson with the mix of dark hair/ponytail braids and a gray beard, all of which would make Willie proud. I don't think he's going for the Willie look, but he pulls it off. And then as I'm sitting at the picnic table, I see this weathered hippie Tommy Chong lookalike, with a feather tucked behind his ear. I have to take a picture.
Now, we have to make our way over to the Which Stage for David Byrne's set. I say "we," but I really just mean "me." Thanks to the Beastie Boys, who are playing at the same time as Byrne, the competition isn't that fierce for a good spot for Byrne's set. It fills up by the time Byrne takes the stage, but 45 minutes prior to that, I have no issues grabbing a nice spot in the center that is about 10 rows back lengthwise from the front of the stage. Such an awesome place to be for Byrne, another artist on my long list of people that I love, and I've never seen prior to tonight. I've always thought that David was one of the coolest artists ever, from the time that I was very little, and he remains just as cool all of these years later.
Byrne's latest release Everything That Happens Will Happen Today didn't spend a lot of time in my player when it was released, and I immediately wondered why as Byrne began his set with "Strange Overtones" from the disc, setting an immediate tone for the evening. What a fantastic opener! Imagine that you are at an island dance party where Byrne happens to be the scheduled entertainment for the evening, and you've got the vibe for tonight's set. I missed Byrne's Cleveland show at Playhouse Square, but I couldn't have asked for a better substitute than seeing Byrne at Bonnaroo. Byrne's current tour focuses on the work both solo and with Talking Heads, that was produced by Brian Eno, who also collaborated with Byrne for the new disc. In the open air environment of Bonnaroo, Byrne's setlist plays perfectly, delivered by an ace 8 piece band, choreographed to the last second featuring a variety of visuals and three dancers that further colorize the vibe that Byrne is working to get across.
Clad in a white suit, Byrne alternates between acoustic and electric guitar throughout the evening for a set that easily nails my vote for highlight of the day. One concertgoer nearby notes that "this is the perfect warmup for Phish fans," and really, it is. Whether it is the Talking Heads hits, the lesser known album tracks, or Byrne's own solo material, the setlist really shines with a dance groove that floats through every track, keeping the jam going. Byrne doesn't talk much, and he doesn't need to - the music speaks and says everything that needs to be said tonight, and Byrne comments at one point that "we'll save the storytelling for another night." Good enough.
Coolest part of Byrne's set: Byrne and band singing "Take Me To The River" to wrap up the main set, as very slight raindrops fall on the crowd - my inner hippie really dug this part of the night.
photo courtesy of Bloggaroo
Byrne's two hour set was the perfect way to wrap up my first official day at Bonnaroo, closing with "Everything That Happens," from the new album and lyrically, it was hard not to smile as Byrne sang socks and shoes upon our feet, little fishes swim upstream... The track has been a regular closer on the tour, but for tonight, it felt like a sly nod to Phish, who were about to make 80,000 Phish fans very happy with their inaugural performance at Bonnaroo, the first of two scheduled sets this weekend.
I met up with Brian and Adam for the first time since the beginning of the day where they were watching Justin Townes Earle wrap up his set. We wouldn't be finishing off the day with Phish, but we also weren't heading back to the hotel - yet.
We still had to see Public Enemy, performing their classic It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back album in full. How many years has it been, and these guys are still larger than life, still completely relevant. Sometimes a picture says a thousand words, and the picture below really sums it all up.
photo courtesy of Associated Press
P.S. - Check out Brian's view of Day Two here, including details on the Beastie Boys set, which featured a guest appearance by Nas.