20 June 2007

Bonnaroo 2007! Story and Pictures!

I'm back. I survived the Great Bonnaroo of '07. I've survived the heat, the dust, the hippies, the Police. I've got a cold now, but what do you expect when you spend four or five days with virtually no sleep, blazing sun with no shade, and an excess of partying?

Follow me, because I'm going to lead you on a little guided tour of Bonnaroo 2007.

After some confusion with driving down in a caravan or not, we decided just to drive down and meet our friends on Thursday morning outside of Nashville. We were supposed to be a caravan of four cars, and the plan was to all drive into Bonnaroo together to ensure a big campsite (they allow groups to park together, and as your campsite size is determined by the number of cars you have, well, the more the merrier).

We left Chicago at about 8:30 or so, and arrived 533 miles later in Nashville at 5:30 in the AM, after a few pit stops. We crashed at Melissa's hotel room for a couple of hours, and then headed on to Bonnaroo.

Last year Eric and I made it to the Bonnaroo entrance at 11 am, waited about an hour in line, and then got one of the best camping spots available, so we figured that it would be a good idea to arrive at the same time this year. It...uh...didn't work out as well.

What looks like traffic was actually cars lined up for miles and miles. It took us at least three hours to get in, waiting in line. We left Nashville with over a third of a tank of gas to drive 45 miles, and when we finally rolled into the campsite, the needle was almost on the peg, and the gas light was reminding me that I was probably in trouble for getting out of the area.

Along the path, some locals had ways to make money, from selling cigarettes to showers to trips to Walmart.

It was hot. I knew it was hot, and I had just read the night before that Manchester was experiencing a drought, and so I knew it would be dry, but the dust was truly something else. It felt like I was in a hippie version of Dune or something.

Our campsite? How far away was it from the activity area (Centeroo)?

Remember, the whole area is something like 700 acres. That's big. It was a hike, to say the least.

We set up our campsite (which ended up with seven cars), and got to it.

There was a lot of music there. I personally saw The Flaming Lips, The White Stripes, Regina Spektor, Lily Allen, DJ Shadow, El-P, The Police, Widespread Panic, Ben Harper, Franz Ferdinand, Ornette Coleman, The Decemberists, the Roots, Galactic, Gillian Welch, Sasha and Digweed, Feist, Gogol Bordello, Brazilian Girls, Rodrigo y Gabriella, Tortoise, and more.

Some highlights and lowlights.

Fuck Tha Police

I hate the Police. More to the point, I hate Sting. I have no opinion about Andy Summers (other than he's an adequate guitar player), and Stewart Copeland is okay (I now understand why people keep telling me that he's a great drummer...'cause he is). But I hate Sting's smug sanctimonious attitude. He's a lot like Bono, giving off the impression that he's doing you a favor by allowing mere mortals into his presence. Ugh. I hate him. The only thing I've ever enjoyed watching him do was being beheaded in Dune.

So apparently either no one told Sting, or he ignored them, or he never bothered to find out who these 80,000 people that were attending the show (surely the largest crowd he'll have in North America, right?) actually were. He kept referring to everyone as native Tennessee residents, when very few were. Some people came from great distances to see him perform, and the least he could have known was that not everyone lived there.

The band jammed out on every song, and their fans (about 79,999 people, plus me) danced and sang along, but apparently not to Sting's satisfaction. His idea of jamming was to keep repeating "EEE-OOO! EEE-OOO!" and make the audience repeat it along with him over and over again.

And then they ended their show 45 minutes early. I don't understand what kind of arrogance would allow you to headline one of the largest music festivals in the world, not know or care where you were, and end your set almost an hour short. Someone who worked for the festival remarked that the Police were aloft in their helicopter before the lights had even gone down.

I went into that show with an open attitude. People whose opinion I know and respect have told me repeatedly what a great group the Police are, and I was willing to give them a chance.

I was unimpressed (except for Stewart Copeland's drumming, which really was very good).

God Bless the Flaming Lips

And now we have Exhibit B, the Flaming Lips.

Contrary to the Police, the fLips tried to start their set an hour early, so excited were they to perform. After the Police had finished up super early, and I was waiting for an unnamed friend to mellow out from his acid trip enough to head over when I heard what I thought was a PA playing 'War Pigs' by Black Sabbath. Apparently the fLips just were really amped up to go on and just started playing, but were forced by Bonnaroo to tell the fans it was only a sound check. And then they had to wait to officially start their show. And when they did...Jeeezus!

There was a giant UFO that landed on stage, and Wayne Coyne came out in his giant hamster ball. Giant balloons bounced around the audience, there were dancing girls in costume on stage, crazy images on the video screen behind the band, a confetti cannon that Coyne repeatedly shot out over the audience, laser pointers that were handed out by the band (Coyne referred to them as 'cat toys,' asked audience members not to shine them at each other ["people might freak out"] or at them band, but shining them at him was okay). The laser pointers were especially funny for a few reasons. One, they are banned at Bonnaroo, and the fLips gave out what must have been a thousand of them. Second, they were given out for a particular planned moment in the show, when Coyne held up a mirror and had everyone shine the pointers at it. It created a thousand rays of light through the dust and smoke, and was beautiful. Third, they figured in an unplanned moment in the show, when Coyne inflated yet another giant balloon to send out over the audience and everyone shined their pointers at it. It looked like it was filled with a thousand red fireflies. Even Coyne remarked, "That's really cool!"

He talked to the audience. He thanked everyone for being there, for participating, for being alive. You could tell that he really was happy to be there, and wanted everyone to have a great time. He started sing-a-longs that for once didn't seem obligatory. They played two encores.

And then they got back in their UFO and flew away.

That's a fucking show.

Other Stuff

-Ornette Coleman performed. If you don't know who he is, well, follow the link. In short, he is one of the towering legends of jazz, the creator of free jazz, and at 77 still an energetic performer. I stayed for the first 45 minutes of his show, then left to check out the White Stripes. Apparently just moments after I left, he collapsed from heat stroke. It's understandable. He's 77, and performed in a suit on a 90 degree day. He was rushed to the hospital, and is said to be doing fine.

-Perhaps as a rebuttal to the Police, or maybe just because they don't want to stop playing, Widespread Panic performed an over three and a half hour set to close the festival. My brother in law is a huge fan of them, and was excited for me to finally see them in concert. I was struck by a few things about them. First is that I always imagined the lead singer to be a big bearded mountain man looking type, just by the sound of his voice, and amusingly enough, I was right.

The band is a lot older than I thought they'd be, some of them having grey hair and all. I always pictured them as being in their 30's, but nope. They're also the homeliest band since Blues Traveler (the bassist looks like he should have been in Tad). But they put on a great show, proving that not all jam bands need to sound like Phish or Grateful Dead clones.

But at about two hours into the set, I was falling asleep. It wasn't the band's fault, because their show was vibrant and inventive. It was just four days of no sleep catching up with me. So, I excused myself at what I thought was one of their last songs and began to make the long, long trek back to the campsite. Well, it wasn't their last song by a longshot. They played for almost another two hours. In fact, I made it all the way back to camp, stopping for snacks on the way, sat around with my friends for a little while, and went to bed, and Panic was still playing. Kudos to them.

-I only caught a little of the Brazilian Girls show, but I was there just in time to hear a song called, "Pussy, Pussy, Pussy, Marijuana," which went over well with that crowd.

-Oh, and the most exciting part. I met Jim Jarmusch! He was giving a talk about his work on Sunday afternoon. I overheard someone mention that he was going to be at the cinema tent, and I thought, 'Yeah, right. He's the quintessential New Yorker. Like he's really going to come to the biggest gathering of hippies in the country.' Besides the fact that you'd think they would have advertised his being there.

Well, uh...he was there. Bill Plympton and D.A. Pennebaker were there too, on different days. I expected Jarmusch to be cynical and aloof, judging by the interviews I've seen with him, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Although he didn't have a problem mocking the Police for their crappy set or Michael Bay for his crass movies, he couldn't have been more friendly and open. He answered questions from the audience with good humor and patience (especially from the audience members who were high on a variety of drugs, which was most of them). He gave away prizes to audience members, told stories and jokes (a good story he told: One morning on the set of Broken Flowers Bill Murray just walked out of the house they were filming in, located in a suburb of NYC, and into a neighbor's house, entering without even knocking or anything. Jarmusch and the crew watched him in shock, asking, 'Did Bill just walk into a stranger's house?' He returned in about half an hour bearing a plate of cookies. Apparently he just walked into their house while they were eating breakfast. The family looked up, and Bill Murray was in their kitchen. They asked him, 'Aren't you Bill Murray?' and he said he was. They made him breakfast, and then gave him cookies to take back to the set.)

Jarmusch even went over his time limit, messing up the cinema tent's scheduled showings of his films. He was having a great time, it seemed. I had gotten there 90 minutes early to see him, as he is one of the major, major influences on my work. I wouldn't had even bothered him had he not just stood there answering questions and signing autographs. So I went up there, intending on just shaking his hand and thanking him for his contribution to my life, when I realized he would probably take a picture with me (he was with other people). I got my camera out, and it died. I started panicking, and realized that I had brought more batteries with me. I managed to get the package out of my bag, but it was one of the kinds that you need scissors to open. I didn't have any. I didn't even have keys. Freaking out, I started asking around, and no one had anything sharp on them either. But I managed eventually to get the damn package open, get the batteries out, get the camera ready, and then Jarmusch was told that he had to leave the stage. But he stayed for a moment longer, was friendly to me, and posed for a picture.

I was so awestruck and nervous that my hands were shaking. I don't get like this around celebrities at all (I've waited on a bunch, seen a bunch more, and I usually leave them alone), but this was like meeting Orson Welles for me. Here's the picture.

I had a great time at the festival, but it would have been worth it just for that moment.


Remember the empty gas tank? It was on my mind the entire time we were there. There was no way we were going to be able to wait to leave like we waited to get in with that much gas. But it turns out that there was a silver lining to camping a thousand miles away. Turns out out campsite was all the way by the entrance, and we could sneak out through a field in the back and skip almost all of the traffic. Well, not all of it. It still took us maybe 45 minutes to get to a main road. We had the computer in the van telling us how much further we could go on what little gas we had left, and I watched it go from 21 miles down to 7. We sat there idling in line, and I was waiting for the moment when the engine would just sputter and stop, and I would be forced to walk the five miles to a gas station.

But we just made it. When we finally made it to a gas station, we only had half a gallon left in the tank, which is essentially fumes. You can't imagine my sense of relief.

We gave a lift to a guy that hitched a ride down to Bonnaroo with Melissa back to the Nashville airport, and then headed home. We saw a few odd things on the way.

A tank being towed, oddly not by the military. Who owns a tank?

Three giant concrete tubes being transported. From this angle, they resembled the Bonnaroo logo (or so we thought).

And finally, what I look for every time I go on a road trip, a Chizek truck. It's not my family (the spelling is a little different), but it's always funny to see these on the road, and imagine that I'm the heir to a shipping fortune.

For more pictures of the festival, go to my Flickr page.


Anonymous said...

Oh Patrick! Reading your blog made me smile today! I also have caught a little bit of the Bonnaroo flu if you will...dust, no sleep, booze and heat stroke will do that to you I suppose! Already looking forward to next year...in an RV!!! Love the map of our campsite as well!

Grant Miller said...

It's a good thing the Police show ended early, right? I mean, who wants a huge portion of a horrible meal?

Belinda said...

I LOVE Sting!! Well......not him as a person (don't know enough about him to have an opinion), but I love his music, both solo and with The Police.

He played a few solo concerts in Western Australia a couple years ago - an instant sell out. I didn't see him.

I'm Against Esperanto said...

I thought the Police set was great. And I fuckin' hate Sting.

Sorry I got you sick :(