Hippie culture is like a beach ball being batted around over a crowd while a band plays. The purpose of the game is to keep the game going, but nobody ever questions whether we’d all just be better off without the game at all.
Bonnaroo started as a traditional Hippie music festival, but in the past few years has branched out to indie rock and even super-accessible hip-hop, on 5 massive stages and tents and several smaller ones. There’s plenty of common ground between the cultures–country music is employed by both kinds of bands, as are trippy smoked-out synth-jams, but there are still differences. Also we take showers. So I went to the festival with a book of questions: What are hippies up to these days? Still the same old drum circles and stuff? How do they get along with the tens of thousands of not-hippies who come to see bands like Neon Indian and Kid Cudi? Who are these other people who can afford $250 plus expenses to camp for 4 days? What is the best way to enjoy yourself at one of these things without going Manson family and tossing a lit propane stove into the John Butler Trio? And in the end, is there any essential difference between cultures? Perhaps all culture, all human endeavor is like a dirty beachball on a sea of hands, and your only option is to slap it forward, lest ye get smacked in the face and your glasses fall off and you scramble around among the sandy Tevas and hairy calves to find them and then have to go to the misting tent for an hour to keep from stabbing everyone..
hotos by Alice Turbotye
Additional writing by Mark Turbotye
Walmart Parking Lot of Doom
If you don’t want to sit for 4 hours in traffic from the highway but you are too cheap or poor to pay for a hotel room, might I suggest camping in the Walmart parking lot Wednesday night before the gates open on Thursday? You’ll make lots of cool new friends who from the looks of em have been doing meth and chugging keystone light for the past 8 hours when you show up at 4pm. I saw at least to legit eyepatches and more makeshift casts that you can shake a rainstick at. This is your first chance to get a real good look at the hillbilly mafia hippies who, though they aren’t the prime audience for the festival anymore, are certainly still the most vocal, barely nudging out buff, visor-flossing, electro-worshipping NC State co-eds. Anyway, these new friends will do their their impression of a howler monkey until 4am, so invest in a tent lock while you’re stocking up on water and sandwich fixings at the big store, which also has guns, I’m just saying.
I asked my buddy Mark to write up a bunch of his experiences too, here’s what he had to say on this subject:
Bonnaroo 2010 began Wednesday in a Walmart parking lot with a cesspool tailgate and a thunderstorm right out of Ragnarok. There were howls and hippies and kids passing out in sleeping bags on wet concrete. By dawn the early bonnaroosters had cleared everything from the store’s shelves, leaving the employees waving white flags and a trail of beer cans and terror toward the 700 acre festival farm in Coffee County, Tennessee.
There’s no buying day passes and no hotels nearby. You have to camp. That is why there are no gay guys at this festival.
Even if you run you can possibly see everything you might want to see so you’re better off not planning at all and just showing up…Oh is Lucero playing? I’ve always wanted to see them.
Bring lots of cigarettes. Cigarettes are 15 dollars a pack in the official store, and 9 dollars a pack on Shakedown Street, a black market row of tents in some distant campground where you can get everything, and I do mean crack. But that’s overpriced too, so bring crack.
It’s a long walk to the campsite, so get wasted early, wander in to watch some music, wander back out, eat some canned peaches, drink more, back in, back out, and so forth. No you may not bring your bike. You’re welcome.
Even though a lot of things about it are a pain in the ass and everyone who works or plays there is falling over themselves to paint it as a special magic event where dreams come to be fulfilled and everyone loves each-other and it’s not actually a corporately sponsored hole in the ground where major label musicians with influential publicists get to play Peter Frampton for a massive crowd of tired and sunburned substance abusers, it’s still, on the whole, really awesomely fun. Whoever selects music for this thing has really good taste (this guy?) And every now and then the wind blows, and you smoke a 9 dollar cigarette, and some insane stranger with devil horns and dreadlocks starts talking to you about basketball, and for a moment it’s a real vacation. Then you start to suspect that is the actual devil. Perhaps you bought the wrong pack?
Care About The Old Folks
There are lots of old people acts at Bonnarroo, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially when they consistently make tasteful and unique selections of geezers that work perfectly as a break between mud-drumming at the Solar Grokking pit and chomping free Wheat Thins at the Odwalla biosphere. I didn’t see Stevie Wonder (and vice versa haha no! sorry) but I’m sure he was adequate. I did see John Prine, one of the most underrated songwriters of all time. He’s easily as good as Dylan and Townes Van Zandt but most people only know him from his cute goofy Grandpa Was A Carpenter stuff. He’s incalculably old now, but he was never really a young guy at all, even when he was. His puffy cheeks have always hid his eyes and blurred his words, but after his last stroke he’s somehow grown even more intense and more powerful than you could possibly imagine, even though he can barely stand up straight.
He did a bunch of silly songs and the hippies loved it and then he did a bunch of sad songs and somehow even the Dropkick Murphys went silent and teared up. While he sang “Souvenirs”, an old woman being held gently from behind by an old man pointed her cheap cellphone at the stage but the wrong way so that the screen on its back was facing her and she snapped a picture of the tent’s white ceiling which was very ironic but seemed important. At the end he brought a couple of fellas out from Old Crow Medicine Show and they beefed up the sound immeasurably, including on an absolutely devastating version of Lake Marie. The harmonies on the chorus and the way they raved-up the ending after John yelped “baby–we gotta GO NOW” turned it into something beyond transcendent. As an encore they brought Kris Kristofferson on too and they all rocked “Paradise” like it was a religious hymn, which, to me, frankly it is.
Other great Old Folks moments were: Chromeo and Daryl Hall playing each-other’s songs. Dave 1 grinned like a mad scientist when Hall got behind a keyboard and busted out the intro to one of their tracks. “I always told P I wanted a D.Hall style organ riff there, I never dreamed it would literally happen!” Hall is a pretty cheesy old dude, and his band is full of bald guys with long hair playing the sax with bitter beer face. But when paired with the dudes from Chromeo it all made sense, musically and culturally. We should love Hall and Oates if we love electro-funk, even if Hall keeps sliding around unfunkily during Can’t Go For That in the verses (I can go for being…[too long pause] twiceasnice!) and even if P-dogg misses his talkbox cue during Private Eyes and instead of going “Watching U Watching U” he just goes “oooooOOOOOoooops” everyone was having such a fucking real amazing time nothing mattered at all. I don’t think I’ve ever been hotter, but I couldn’t stop dancing. It was perfect.
Less perfect, but twice as likely to make Sevetlana jealous, was Steve Martin’s Old Timey Bluegrass Band. They were Old Timey Bluegrass, which was fine.
Talk about the Young Styles
There are a couple of smaller stages around the grounds that have newer younger bands (often the bands that are opening for the major acts on whatever current tour they’re on, natch) and these sometimes have chairs and weird tatami rugs (Japanese furniture sponsored by Budweiser) for resting on. These are excellent places to catch a show, like a real show, where you can see the band and there’s not bugs flying up your shorts and poison ivy. I passed out on one of the tatami mats during Warpaint, who were either a bunch of awesome psychobilly/post-punk banshees or I was drunk dreaming. I woke up in time to see Dawes, who’s on tour with Edward Sharpe right now, and who utterly nailed it.
Dawes with lady from Edward Sharpe’s Band Singing:
Dawes does the 3 or 4 part Eagles harmony thing like a champ, but with a lead singer who phrases lyrics like Billy Joel. These are all compliments. Every song is so naturally catchy and unforced while being ridiculously sincere and sappy and with overly-wordy long sentences like this one. They played their internet hit “When My Time Comes” and everyone in the crowd (a mix of fratty Pitchfork bros, teenage hipster girls and the ubiquitous Dad hippies) linked arms (this happened) and jumped up and down. Directly behind that tiny fenced-in stage Michael Franti and Spearhead were churning out cheesy funk-reggae (what happened to that dude why is he terrible and Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy so good?) but we sang so loud we could only hear our own voices. In other words, it was like, an actual show.
By the way, I know it’s too late but that weird vine on the tree by the This Stage is 100% poison ivy. Too bad for these guys.
Lack of internet might make you crazy-crazy.
Sure Mr. Dummy, you are saying right now, I’m for sure bringing a laptop to a camping trip! Well you don’t have to be so sarcastic. Even your phone will not work in this wilderness. It’s especially a blow if you were planning to do some kind of on-the-scenes reportage. Now I really shouldn’t complain about the way they treated us press-pass types. They gave us free water, an air conditioned tent, a chance to listen to panels with various semi-celebrities (the drummer from DMB! That other guy from Weezer! The guy from KOL’s wife! Margaret Cho!) and best of all an acoustic set by Dr. Dog, who sounded beyond amazing through the crackling shitty PA, stomping their feet on the rickety wooden stage and clapping and harmonizing flawlessly behind stunna shades. But for an internet junkie the fact that they promised (PROMISED) to have it working every day and every day you’d haul your laptop a mile through the dirt and throngs to find it was still broken and you can even see if anyone liked your status from before you left and suddenly it feels like crows are flying counterclockwise in your brain. But after a while you just relax and get used to (perhaps even start to enjoy) the complete lack of connect to anything resembling the real world (which sounds like something Blackbeard’s wife would say, but there you go.)
Don’t Pass Out
Like 800 people (not a fact) passed out from the heat this year, a feat that you’d imagine could only be accomplished by a cretin but is surprisingly easy to do accidentally. During They Might Be Giants’ adorable Avatar puppet show section I watched a giant beaded man being hauled up onto a combination ATV/Golf Cart while his conspicuously bra-less girlfriend languorously ignored him and waved her arms to the songs about astronomy.
But I still blame the lack of accessible water. You’re not allowed to bring in your own water into the festival area because they’re terrified of underage kids not buying a $7 local organic homebrew from their vendors, and yet the lines to fill your canteens from their faucet sheds are enormous and 20 miles away from wherever you want to actually be. Let’s put that one in the request jar. More Water Fountains Please Because I Want to Dance and Wear Skinny Jeans and Drink the Booze I Snuck In Anyway All Day And Not Pass Out K Thnks. TMBG was pretty good, though they seemed disappointed in the flagging Sunday audience they still brought a way higher level of professional energy to their kidzbop-jams that I would have guessed. Don’t get me wrong, they’re my favorite band of all time, but they seem to have this air of like “We never really intended to play these songs live, but since you want us too, let’s play them like a 1980s arena rock band!” Which is actually just the right tone for Bonnaroo.
Here’s what Phoenix looks like from the back of the Rock and Roll Hotel:
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
The commune band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros drew a huge early afternoon crowd and cloud of weed. The frontman stood on the crowd and sang to try to convert several bleary-eyed bikini girls to whatever totemism the band practices. They were followed by West Philly’s Dr. Dog who put on a virtuoso, hung-over set of four-part harmony and nursery rhymes.ss=”alignnone” title=”aosasd” src=”http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4059/4702509851_85fbc770f5.jpg” alt=”” width=”500″ height=”375″ />
The Dodos make scratchy jittery rockabilly indie pop somehow (through the use of a xylophone). They were awesome but their sound sucked. It was all xylophone. Which was too bad because they were one of the most energetic and interesting rock bands I saw all weekend.
Share the Laughter
The Comedy tent is amazing. The line-up is superb (from giants like Conan to shrimps like Chelsea Peretti and Rob Cantrell they all have a certain level of cool) the decor is adorable, it has air conditioning and also it has fucking air conditioning. The problem is its impossible to get into one of the shows with or without a press pass, because you have to wait in line to get a ticket. For the Conan show people waited in line starting at 5am to get a seat. Where were these people when he was on the air, I wonder? Probably watching Aqua Teen Hunger force on Adult Swim, which had a massive presence at the festival: showing clips from new shows (Steve Brule!) at the cinema tent (also cool, ahhhh) and they also had a giant arcade and carnival section with Squidbillies whackamole and giant inflatable Meatwad full of videogames that I didn’t take pictures of because I have a fear of puppets.
Here’s what Mark (who actually saw some shows there) says:
Bonnaroo has a running Abbott and Costello gag going with its tent names. Which tent? That tent? What stage? The other stage? The comedy tent is called the comedy tent, and (blessedly) has air conditioning.The comedy lineup this year was strong. Conan talked about going through the stages of loss for his show, culminating in the realization he needed to “grow a pair and get to Bonnaroo,” which drew rapacious applause. Tenacious D fought the devil onstage. Reggie Watts told us how to take shit and fuck off a wall and make a shit-fuck stack, a little ditty I still can’t shake from my head.
Aziz Ansari was a highlight with his new comedy act of Wikipedia observations, ethnic slur deconstruction, and 50 cent/R Kelly bashing. He also pulled off a joke about shooting puppies in the face, no small feat.<
Anyway, hey Bonnaroo: r, triple the size of the Comedy Tent. And install air conditioning in every prepositional stage too! If I could AC directly up to Gaia’s bleeding soul I would. Sweating is for monkeys.
Find a nice spot of ground under an unpoisoned tree and spread a blanket or a small beach chair, near enough to a stage to hear one of these nice but slightly boring bands who will lull you off to dreamyland.
Norah Jones (who isn’t as hot as she used to be)
She and Him (Zoe’s voice is way better than I suspected…live it’s almost Neko Case-ian in its soul power axis) (and she is still hot.)
Calexico (their live show traveled way too far down the NPR-friendly coyote lyrics cowboy world music hole for my taste)
Regina Spektor (who is way hotter and way better than she ever was before, especially when it’s just her and a piano nomnomnom x nom)
If I was going to write about how good sub-Saharan drone-blues band Tinarwen was it would take another 1000 words so I’ll just say: they are possibly the most amazing beautiful music of any kind ever made with one of the most fascinating stories. It was 100 degrees out at 12 in the morning when they played and the diverse crowd up front were utterly hypnotized. See them everytime you get a chance and buy all their records. Best concert of the weekend by far awesome show great job. Here’s what they look like:
Oh wait sorry those are some fat guys playing rock band on the Lunar Stage. This is Tinariwen:
Fanfarlo were the first band we saw on Thursday and really set the tone. They were likable and innocuous and intermittently moving, but not particularly innovative. It’s good festival music, and apparently a great test run for the soundguy who kept changing the mix on every song. Do you guys want all violin? No? How about 99% glockenspiel and hihat? Really? Up to you I guess.
But all of those bands were better than Neon Indian, who didn’t do anything at all really. They attracted a bunch of frat people who thought that dressing up like a Native American was funny. One chick in a stupid plastic headdress kept bugging the old Indian woman working the front of the stage to let her go watch from the photo pit. The woman just looked at this girl like “Damn. Really?” And the girl looked at her like, “IM HAVING SUCH A GOOD TIME!” That made me ill so I left to go watch someone, I think Kid Cudi, who was lethargic and cracked out and mumbling but still way more lively than NI. I couldn’t tell you if they are real Indians or not, I do not care, but if I were them I would let their fans know that wearing mocking headdresses isn’t cute. Also it’s so 2007. It’s all about blackface nowadays! Jiggawat? Jiggawho?
They Will Throw Things At You
After midnight on Saturday I left Jay Z to go see Dan Deacon playing with a full band, which I wouldn’t have done if A. Jizza was about the size and volume level of a really cool ant and B. I wanted to see what Deacon actually looked like on a stage since I’ve never cared to push my up to the front of a show he played on the floor.
Another question is this one: would it blend? Would he work outside at 1am for a bunch of curious ravers and jam band types? Would they get down on one knee at his command and stick one fist in the air before he’s played a note? Would they stick with the show after he micromanages every note other people are playing including stopping a song because a bass is out of tune? Would 1000 people take a step back so he could stage a group interpretive dance lead by one of his loser Baltimore buddies? He did all of those things and more. And to tell the truth, the crowd, despite some random mongoloid calls of “WHERES DEAD MAUS DURRR” ate it up. And it’s because Dan Deacon is one of the most uniquely gifted composers of music in existence right now, and the full band treatment makes him much much much more interesting.
His songs, on record and at his solo shows, are weird little ipod symphonies. But when two real live drummers are pounding out punk beats under the blips and bloops and three tousled MICA students are banging octaves on the vibes and the whole thing drones like the Ramones covering Can covering Pat Metheny and Deacon is screaming and roaring muddily but tunefully, any crowd can forgive him his pretentious unprofessionalism and elitist lecturing of audience and fellow band members alike. We want to pogo to the pure aural colors that only he can produce, and as long as he’s playing with that big lush sound he can abuse us and pull any embarrassing simon-says shit he can think of on us, and I’ll go back to my quarters soaked and ecstatic.
Also, for some reason hippies (or someone…robots?) do this thing where they sneak a massive amount of glowsticks into the festival area and whip out about 20 when a band is really kicking butt in the nighttime and they toss them into the air and they look like lasers for a second and they fall down and crack you in the eye. It’s really pretty annoying and useless. But during the DDA it made utter sense. I just wish I’d brought a neon painball gun it would have gone over like gangbusters spraying the crowd and stage unless one of the scary hippies mistook it for a jacking and came at me with his Leatherman.
Mark’s take on things:
Temper Trap attracted a large nighttime crowd that seemed to have no idea who the band was, but were bowled over just the same. The Dan Deacon Ensemble used mind power over its audience, having everyone take five steps backward, take a knee, and raise a hand to form a dance-off circle for people dressed like Gumby and a giant rabbit. I was too far back to hear (or take pictures of) the Flaming Lips play Dark Side of the Moon, but their light show was unearthly.strong>
And now here are a million billion more photos on the subject of: Camp Life
More from Mark:
The event colors this year were neon and sunburn. Kids dressed up like they were on teams. There were the boys caked in Avatar blue and girls in green mermaid-cowgirl suits. Groups wore matching bandanas or speedos or silk screen Ts. Conan O’Brien and Kyle Gass from Tenacious D sported black ten gallon hats. But mostly there were white people turning into lobsters.
I met a group of Austin kids who told me a story about a place in Texas called Enchanted Rock. The story goes, this married couple built a house there, but it turned out to be atop a snake pit and the husband was eaten by a thousand serpents. That being the only punch line, I made a beeline for the Broo-ers festival beer tent.<<</strong>
Best beer at Bonnaroo 2010: “The Love” by Starr Hill brewpub of Charlottesville, Va. Boys and girls tried to stay cool on a giant slip n’ slide that used more mud than water. At the festival’s iconic, neon-colored central fountain, a writer for New York magazine said he was going to use the oppressive heat as a metaphorical framing device for his article, so I punched him in the face.>Back at the beer tent I met a woman from a local Tennessee brewer named Annette. She described the annual crowd of some 80,000 as “gracious.” In the end, she said, the event pumps life and money into the area. This year, according to Annette, the community’s profits are going to be used to create a giant new skate part and soccer field. Skyblue skies in Tennessee.
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