That’s not true. The dust in Manchester, Tenn., likely won’t stop swirling until some time in mid-December. But I’ll get to that later.
It’s been six days since I left the massive farm that is home to Bonnaroo, and the buzz from the festival has almost completely dissipated. (Hopefully, writing this article will delay my withdrawal a little longer.)
As you may have noted in my post a couple of weeks ago, I was rather apprehensive about this whole Bonnaroo thing. All signs pointed to me have a miserable time, with the music providing an inadequate reward to all the risks I would be undertaking.
In a lot of ways, that’s probably accurate. But with a now-level head, I can honestly say that it was a totally worthwhile adventure, and one that I would definitely consider embarking upon again.
The trip got off to a rather inauspicious start on Tuesday night, when I got off work around midnight and hit the road, bound for central Illinois. I was just shy of the Indiana-Illinois border when my truck started going haywire. I was able to get off the highway and coast through the city of Hammond, turning into an auto repair parking lot just as the engine completely shut down.
Figuring it was almost definitely my alternator, I knew there wasn’t much I could do other than hang out at the shop until it opened. So that’s how I ended up lying/sleeping in the bed of my truck for seven hours on Wednesday morning.
I wasn’t the only one who had a poor night’s sleep, as Drew was tossing and turning in Peoria, struggling with a bout of some form of bronchitis.
We eventually met at his place around 1 p.m. then tooled around town, picking up some last-minute supplies, including a less-than-pleasant stop at a butcher shop. When we finally did depart town, we were only officially on the road for about 30-40 minutes when Drew decided we should stop in the small town of Delavan to eat at a surprisingly awesome restaurant.
We didn’t know it at the time, but that detour would impact the entire rest of our trip. I hadn’t planned on doing much, if any, drinking during this vacation. I figured I’d be spending most days just trying to stay hydrated and most nights recuperating. But when we walked into The Harvest Cafe and I saw what was on tap, I knew I’d be quaffing a beer or two.
After the meal, we stopped for gas on our way out of town, and Drew came back with a 12-pack of PBR. And with that began our slow trek toward Nashville, Tenn., with me pounding beers in the passenger seat.
We ended up making several more stops and picked up more beer along the way. By the time we arrived at our incredibly overpriced motel, I’d put away 13 beers and used an empty Gatorade bottle to evacuate my bladder multiple times.
THURSDAY (The arrival)
We got up at the crack of 10 a.m., took our final showers of the week, ate at Waffle House, filled up the gas tank, picked up some whiskey and a couple of six-packs of craft beer, then headed to Manchester — with me in the driver’s seat this time.
As we closed in on the town, we kept waiting to see the perilously long line of traffic. But it never appeared. Normally, arriving at that time of day would have resulted in a minimum wait of five hours or so. But this year, the gates opened at 7 p.m. Wednesday — although, I heard a rumor from a local that they actually opened at 4 p.m.
We were still forced to follow the incredibly elongated and circuitous route around the town, but when we finally arrived at the security checkpoint, there was absolutely no wait at all.
We meandered our way back through the campground and ended up pulling into a spot in Camp Stewie Griffin — although, which camp we were actually in is still up for debate.
And much to the delight of Drew and me, we would be spending the rest of the week camping next to four lovely ladies from Providence and Boston. They were all seasoned Roo veterans, with this being the third or fourth year each of them had attended. So we were constantly peppering them with questions the first couple of days.
One thing I gleaned — and always knew, I suppose — is that, if you’re an attractive girl, you can bend a lot of rules.
Nevertheless, by 5 p.m., we had set up our camp and were drinking some beers and enjoying some very tasty pork tacos that our neighbors gave us. Sitting under our canopy, we were just basking in the beauty of a nice day and were in no hurry to get to Centeroo for the actual music.
That would be a recurring theme throughout the weekend.
Eventually, we made our way to That Tent for Deerhunter and caught the end of The Walkmen’s set, including “The Rat”.
Drew is way more into Deerhunter than I am, so I just ventured off to find a place to relax. Shortly after sitting down, I saw a man and woman exchanging something in front of me. And, before I knew it, the dude was putting the item up to his nose and snorting.
That would also be a recurring theme of the festival.
At that point, we returned to our campsite to grill some rather awesome hamburgers and drink some more brews. We didn’t actually head into our tent until about 5 a.m., which would not bode well for us.
FRIDAY (Todd’s lost day)
By the time the oven-like conditions in the tent became too much for me, I arose to greet the morning and discovered, much to my dismay, that it was only about 9 a.m. Since we had moved the canopy over the tent, I spent the next couple of hours snacking on various things and trying to find shade wherever I could.
Eventually, Drew arose and we moved the canopy out to give us a nice shaded area again. Later, while eating lunchmeat sandwiches that really hit the spot, we attempted to plot out our day. It became clear that we’d never make it to any shows that started earlier than 3 p.m.
As we were starting to get our things together and head out, one of our neighbors offered us some cookies. I took a couple of bites, not knowing that these cookies held magical powers.
Within about 20 minutes, I found myself in a scene from the movie, Inception. After marveling at my surroundings and freaking out for about 30 minutes, I begrudgingly joined Drew on the trek to Centeroo. Considering the walk there usually takes 30ish minutes, we figured there was no way we’d make it, so we hopped aboard one of the various taxis.
Best. Decision. Ever.
After what felt like the world’s longest rollercoaster ride, we arrived at the gates to discover a rather lengthy set of lines to the pair of entrances. We ended up standing there for at least 90 minutes. Since our focus was waning during our preparation, we didn’t exactly bring as much supplies with us as we should’ve that day.
By the time we finally got inside Centeroo, I had unwittingly come down with a severe case of heat exhaustion. So we headed to That Tent so Drew could catch The Sword and Opeth. Meanwhile, I was sprawled out under a tree, attempting to stay lucid and hydrated.
Eventually, we decided we should get out of the sun and into some air conditioning, so we headed to the Fuse Relax and Recharge area. We were there for a while, and I was a babbling mess. I could barely hold my head up and kept forgetting to take sips of the water that Drew was getting for me.
I hit rock bottom when I grabbed a nearby garbage can and, for about five minutes, filled it with the entire contents of my stomach — most of which appeared to be water.
Later we ventured over to Cafe Which to catch Hesta Prynn. She was the front woman of the all-girl rap trio Northern State. I loved that group, but I had yet to listen to any of Hesta’s solo stuff. It was definitely a fun show, one that even Drew enjoyed. Her new sound is more pop/dance, but she did give an occasional glimpse to her MC’ing skills.
Next we made our way over to What Stage for My Morning Jacket. The boys from Louisville played for two hours, about 1.5 of which I apparently slept through. But what I was conscious for I really enjoyed.
During the hourlong break before Arcade Fire went on, the sky lit up with what seemed like thousands of glimmering lights. We soon realized that a few parachuters were up there dropping little, blinking lights down on the crowd. It was a pretty surreal moment, especially when the “stars” would finally fall to earth.
By the time Arcade Fire hit the stage, I was still pretty tired, but, for the most part, I was coherent. And the band rewarded my perseverance by putting on a great show. It was like watching a greatest hits compilation as they bounced around among their three albums.
What turned out to be my favorite show of the festival closed with one of my favorite songs from last year, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”.
We then made our way back to camp, where I managed to stay awake long enough to chow down on some tasty brats and decent wings.
SATURDAY (Black Keys and blah)
We got another late start Saturday. It seemed like every morning we’d wake up and just not want to do much of anything for a while.
We got into Centeroo in time for Drew to catch most of Man Man. I had no interest in said band, so I wandered around, trying to stay hydrated and eventually making it over to Which Stage to see Mumford & Sons. As I meandered around the grounds, I happened to walk by That Tent and caught the one and only song by Portugal. The Man that I know, “People Say”, so that was nice.
By the time I arrived at Mumford & Sons, I quickly realized it wasn’t going to be a great experience. That stage was by far my least favorite. The grounds were just too cramped, and with big names on stage, things became intensely packed.
The other problem is that Mumford’s songs were mostly on the slower, quieter side. That’d be fine if they were playing a smaller venue or at night when it’s dark and peaceful. But in the late afternoon under the beating sun, it just wasn’t conducive to goodness. Plus, I was far enough back that I couldn’t really hear their stuff that well.
So, after a few songs, I cut my losses and headed over to What Stage to get a comfortable spot for the Black Keys. I finally touched base for a few minutes with a friend that I knew was at the festival, then I met up with Drew at a decent spot outside the handicapped area where we had watched Arcade Fire the night before.
The Keys put on an incendiary set. While I’m not an avid fan of theirs, I still knew plenty of songs. And the ones I didn’t recognize were still great.
Next, Drew and I tried to catch Buffalo Springfield at Which Stage, but we quickly came to the realization that wasn’t happening.
It was about that point that we got split up. He apparently headed back to the campsite while I hung around at What Stage and caught the first few songs by Eminem. It was all newer stuff, so I decided that was my cue to head out. As I walked back to the campsite, I could hear him start to do the older stuff that I liked, including “Stan”.
When I arrived at camp, I discovered that our neighbors were trying to nap in anticipation for a 2 a.m. set by Girl Talk. I had no energy for such things and wished them well. Sounds like they had a blast.
We threw some hot dogs and brats on the grill and eventually called it a night.
SUNDAY (One last chance)
The main goal we had for the final day of the festival was getting a good spot to see The Strokes that night.
We did some afternoon grilling for the first time, cooking up some more hot dogs and pork chops — all of which were great — and even shared the dogs with our neighbors, who were packing up and moving out to get a spot closer to Centeroo.
We had a little more pep in our step and arrived at The Other Tent early enough to catch most of Junip’s set. While I like the band, I preferred to find a spot off to the side by the wall, and Drew headed into the crowd.
It was definitely a good set, one that Drew considered among his favorites of the weekend.
Then we headed to Which Stage for Iron & Wine and to get a good spot for The Strokes. By the time we got there, it was already starting to get crowded. Drew was determined to get a good spot, so he moved into the wall of people while I hung on the periphery.
I didn’t care too much about Iron & Wine and ended up looking for a comfortable spot somewhere else. I ended up sitting about midway between Which Stage and This Tent, where Cold War Kids were playing. It made for an interesting mash-up in my head.
The most notable aspect of this point in the day was that I had managed to find perhaps the dustiest patch of land in all of Bonnaroo, which is saying something. The entire weekend, the dust was horrible, and people were walking around with bandanas around their faces, looking like bandits in some old Western movie.
In my spot, I was getting coated with dirt, but I didn’t mind because I was comfortable and actually sorta passed out for a little bit.
Eventually, I headed to Which Stage to catch The Strokes. I managed to find a decent spot to sit for most of the show. Since I was sitting, I couldn’t really see the stage, but that was fine since I could hear the music.
Drew had wormed his way up next to the beer tent, behind some railing and had a great view, which led to him proclaiming that his favorite show of the weekend.
After The Strokes, we caught the tail end of the SuperJam with Dan Auerbach and Dr. John, which was less than memorable. Then we headed back to camp.
By the time we got to our site, Drew was feeling shitty, but I was doing great. I ended up polishing off a bottle of pinot noir our neighbors had left us and pounded a few beers before I drifted off to sleep.
By the time we awoke around 10 a.m. Monday, most of our fellow campers had already departed. As per usual, we weren’t in any real hurry and slowly started tearing down our site.
After a week full of amazing experiences, peering out over the now-barren farm was probably the most surreal site.
We finally got the car all loaded and were on our way out of the camp around noon. The drive home was as eventful and elongated as the drive down. We made a slight detour and stopped at Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn in Owensboro, Ky. A couple of my colleagues had raved about the barbecue buffet, and I figured this might be my best chance to hit it up. It was pretty good — not amazing, but certainly solid.
From there, with me in the driver’s seat, we meandered through southeast Illinois before we had a layover in Champaign, home to Drew’s alma mater.
By the time we left there, I was ready to pass out, so Drew drove the rest of the way to his place, where I quickly dozed off.
On Tuesday, after unpacking the car, I hopped in my truck and headed home to South Bend. Not long after arriving home, I finally cut off my Bonnaroo wristband and took a shower for the first time in nearly 5.5 days.
My Roo had officially ended.
The one thing I expected to see but was nowhere to be found? Hippies with hacky sacks. Seriously, did hippies stop playing hacky sack or something? I didn’t know the hippy culture every actually evolved. I thought it was pretty much unchanged since the ’60s. Were hacky sacks just a phase for hippies?
The one thing I never expected to see but saw everywhere? Hippies with hula hoops. I guess they traded in their hacky sacks and bought hoops. From the first night I was on the grounds, I constantly saw hippy girls (and occasionally a dude) grooving out to the music whilst expertly twirling a hoop around their waists. Some of these chicks could probably compete professionally — of course, they’d never pass the drug tests.
The one exclamation that I heard multiple times a day but never got old? “Butt scratcher? Butt scratcher!” You know what I’m talking about. From Family Guy.