Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Bonnaroo Part I: Thursday Arrival

Editor's Note: If you are not hip to the Bonnaroo scene, check out an old post called Glossary of Terms and Slang for a little help if you get confused with the lingo.

I arrived in Tennessee on Monday, three days before the start of Bonnaroo. My goal was to spend quality time with Spaceman and Mrs. Spaceman in addition to acclimating to the steamy weather and the leisurely pace of the South. I've spent the majority of 2006 in major cities specifically New York, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. Those locations could be classified as different planets instead of cities. Although we hung out in Nashville, it was important for me to get away from the grind of a major city and spend time in a quiet and rural area like Ashland City, Tennessee with wide open spaces, fewer people, and thousands of stars in the night sky.

For three days I had a true vacation away from my hectic life of deadlines and constant wandering. I enjoyed one of my favorite past times... sitting on a porch in the South drinking and talking. I did that with Spaceman and it was one of the highlights of my trip to Tennessee.

On our way to Wal Mart one afternoon, Spaceman and I drove past a factory/plant that employs the majority of the people living in the county. I reminded him that we were lucky to get to do what we do. We're poker tournament reporters and travel all over the world writing about what we see instead of humping the tedious swing shift at the massive factory for minimum wage. The sight of that ominous factory jolted reality into my brain. I was born under a lucky sign. Everyday I wake up with the freedom to travel, set my own schedule, gain life experience, and meet new people while others will never get to enjoy those advantages that life has provided with me. From that point forward, I held a greater sense of appreciation for my week in Tennessee. Not only was I on a vacation, but a celebration of my good fortune over the past year.

Despite some serious low points, I hit several major highs in 2006. Bonnaroo was going to be the pinnacle of that celebration. And I had a couple of good friends along for the ride which made the event twice as sweeter.

Over the last year, I had to give up one of my passions in order to carve out a career in writing. I sacrificed music for poker. Instead of hitting the road to see music, I spent my time sucking down casino oxygen covering various poker tours all over the world. And when I realized how many shows, bands, and festivals that I missed in the past year, the thought got me very depressed. Music mellows my soul. Music encourages me to write better. Over the past 15 years, I've seen around 100-150 concerts a year. Some of those are from my favorite bands while other concerts are from new bands. I'm open to almost any form of music... Funk, Hip-hop, Classic Rock, Hard Rock, Indie Whiny Rock, Punk, Ska, Reggae, Jazz, Trance, even Country. I'll give any band a shot once, especially to see them perform live. That's when you separate the real musicians from the ones who have their marginal talent hidden by savvy record producers and engineers.

Music not only inspires me, but seeing live music is an entirely different and enriching experience. As a struggling writer I never made much money and spend what little I had on concerts and festivals like Jazz Fest. Summers were reserved for following bands and attending major musical events and since I lived in NYC, I always got a variety of shows to choose from. In the last 12 months, aside from Vegoose, I had put music on the back burner. Bonnaroo was going to end that drought. Plus music festivals are a great and economical way to see other bands of similar musical genres that I might not pay to see otherwise. I could see a ton of music in a short time. I had four days to soak up as much music as I could.

* * * * *

Change100 and I met the Joker, BTreotch, and Professional Keno Player Neil Fontenot at the Nashville airport. Right away, I spotted the Joker in baggage claim carrying around a Trey head, one of the many celebrity heads that he made. The Joker always shows up at festivals and concerts with props and toys. Wasted kids love that shit and it's a great icebreaker with the ladies. At Vegoose, he dressed up like the UPS man and gave out packages. Two years ago at Bonnaroo he and his crew dressed up like superheros. He was Robin. For Bonnaroo 2006, the Joker brought several heads on sticks. Actually they were rulers, not sticks, and the celebrities were Trey and Mike from Phish, Thom Yorke from Radiohead, President Bush, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Oprah, Dr. Phil, and Turtle & Johnny Drama from Entourage.

The drive to Bonnaroo from Nashville took around 90 minutes. The Joker and I made a crucial decision for Bonnaroo this year that would affect our entire adventure. During Vegoose in Las Vegas last October, there was no camping and we had to stay in a hotel on the Strip. Although I had to drive to and from the festival, our bodies didn't take a beating since we had the luxury of a hotel room. For Bonnaroo we decided not to camp out and booked a hotel 12 miles from Bonnaroo in Tullahoma, Tennessee. That gamble paid off... big time.

I don't mind camping, but it's a physical strain at a summer music festival. And it puts a lot of mental stress with the people you are with. After no sleep during a four day alcho-narco orgy, people get cranky, especially in the heat. You usually only sleep a few hours because once the sun comes up, sleeping in a tent becomes unbearable. And having to take a shit in a port-o-potty is hellish in searing 90 degree heat, especially when you are tripping.

We didn't have to deal with those hardest parts of Bonnaroo. We had a decent bathroom, a shower, AC, and a bed. The hotel was a shithole, but compared to camping next to a van full of wookies who haven't slept since April, we were in five star accommodations.

It took us about forty minutes to get into Bonnaroo on Thursday afternoon. Since Day Parking had not been set up yet, we parked on a local's front lawn for $20 and walked in. He had the most unfriendly dog named Vicious and he warned us that his dog bites. His house was about a mile or so to Centeroo, where all the music went down.

The music began at noon starting on Friday, but they included a few acts to kick off the festival on Thursday night at 7pm. We arrived just in time. During our walk in, a shirtless frat boy from Ohio was screaming at the car behind him and swigging down a bottle of Barton's Vodka. You know a bottle of vodka is cheap when it's in a plastic container. Only serious drunks need to take advantage of shatterproof technology and those are the ones who would drink vodka that could substitute for paint thinner or tractor fuel.

"Pace yourself!" the Joker warned.

The kid wasn't even into Bonnaroo yet and he was shitfaced. We gave him a few hours before he was passed out in some campsite. There was over 100 different campsites spread out on a gigantic farm, each with a different name referring to a pop culture or movie reference. Molly was camping out in R2-D2. There was a camp Paulie from Rocky and a camp Ferris Beuller. They also had VIP camping behind the main stage, which was a closer walk. The "streets" were numbered and the main area used NYC's grid. We'd have to remember that we walked down 10th Avenue and West Broadway to get back to the car.

Like any massive music festival, there are people everywhere walking around. Vendors are lined up on the walkways and you can get anything such as a variety of food and drinks and souvenirs like posters and clothes. They also have a high concentration of glass pipes and bongs. The main vending area is called Shakedown, named after the Grateful Dead's song Shakedown Street. That's where you can score some good shit and get a deal on a veggie burrito or buy a beer or two.

We headed to Shakedown to load up on supplies before we headed inside. There were 11 main tents or areas of entertainment. The main stage called the What Stage, featured the headliners such as Radiohead and Tom Petty. More music was going on simultaneously at other stages such as the Which Stage, This Tent, That Tent, The Other Tent, The Comedy Tent, The Cinema, Sonic Stage, Kat Nip Cafe, Troo Music Lounge, and the Preservation Hall Cafe which featured New Orleans infamous Preservation Hall band.

There were comedians like Lewis Black performing in the Comedy Tent. We tried to get in, but the line was ridiculous. The cinema ran movies around the clock and also showed World Cup matches and the NBA finals. They showed flicks like Walk the Line, Star Wars III, Spinal Tap, King Kong, Rosemary's Baby, Rocky IV, Real Genius, Scarface, and a few music documentaries. BTreotch and the Joker are both originally from Texas so they wanted to keep an eye on the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat score.

We walked around a bit and checked out the different vending tents and other attractions such as the video arcade with classic games and the MLB tent which had a batting cage. There was a "silent disco" where you put on headphones and listen to different DJs while they danced. Forty or so people where dancing around quietly in circles when I walked by.

I met up with Molly at the Centeroo Fountain, a giant blue and red mushroom fountain about twenty-five feet high. The Joker warned us that they recycle the water in the fountain. Over the next few days people would actually shower in there as the water turned light brown.

For the first bands we caught, we split time between I-Nine and Motet. I-Nine reminded me of Soundgarden with a female lead singer. From Georgia originally, I-Nine and had been playing together since they were kids in different bands over the last two decades. Cameron Crowe "discovered" them when he used a few of their songs in Elizabethtown. Motet is from Colorado and the Joker described them as "Galactic Lite." I would describe them as fluffy salsa funky from the few moments I listened to their set.

We headed over to This Tent to see The Wood Brothers. I caught the brothers last year when they opened up for Trey Anastasio Band at Roseland Ballroom in NYC. Oliver Wood (from King Johnson) plays guitar and his brother Chris Wood (from Medeski, Martin & Wood) plays stand-up bass. Since I knew I wasn't going to catch MMW's set, I made an effort to see the Wood Brothers. They performed all of their tunes off of Live at Tonic including Stealin' and One More Day.

We checked out DeVotchka which is an interesting mix of gypsy music, Eastern European folk, and polka music. Those are one of the bands that I've heard or read about but would never see unless they opened for another band I was seeing or they played a festival. For every established band like Radiohead, there were four or five other acts at Bonnaroo that welcomed the exposure to a crowd of neo-hippies that openly welcomed different types of music.

We watched the Hunab Kru Breakdancers at the Solar Stage. They were pretty good for a bunch of white people. At the same stage, they held yoga every morning at 8am. On our way to Molly's basecamp, we passed by Electric Eel Shock from Japan. Heavily influenced by American speed-metal, British punk, and general classic rock, Electric Eel Shock kicked out a raging set. The kids dug it.

While we hung out at Molly's camp site, the Joker went looking for beer. He disappeared in the darkness and returned a few minutes later with a couple of cold and wet cans of Natural Light.

"I was walking down the road and saw a cooler sitting there. No one was around so I opened it up. I saw a couple of Heineken's and the Natty Lights. I took the Nattys. I could have been a dick and took the Heineken's," he mentioned sympathetically.

When we finished those, the expert hunter and gatherer took off again. The Joker found another unaccompanied cooler filled with Bud Lights. He scooped up a few and took them back to camp. We didn't stay up too late partying. We headed back to the room relatively early compared to the other nights. We still had three full days of music left to see and wanted to conserve energy for an epic Friday of music.

Random Pictures from Thursday at Bonnaroo:

Walking through Shakedown

Late night lights

... to be continued

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