Were I to express my thoughts and feelings on Bonnaroo in one word, I’d probably just say “ummmm.” Mostly because “totally freaking stupendously awesome” would still be a vast understatement. The entire weekend was a giant musicgasm. It was like every single band took Rock ‘n Roll Viagra™, and gave their fans hours of extended play.
For me, it all started with one hell of a painful, and occasionally rainy, motorcycle ride from my apartment in San Marcos, TX. Not having acceptable camping equipment, I pulled off I-35N in Buda, TX and paid the folks over at Cabela’s a visit. Nearly $300 later, and I had a nice one man mountaineer tent and a self-inflating sleeping mat. Both fit nicely in my left hard case on my motorcycle. Entirely too many hours later, through the brutal heat and ridiculous winds, I made it to my brother’s apartment in Pine Bluff, AR.
A few short hours later, I was awake and on the road again with a very sore backside and angry knees. Something like ten hours later, I rolled in to Manchester, TN and met my friend Johan and his wife Lynsey at the finest retail establishment ever – Wal-Mart. A case of water for the weekend, and a metal candle holder were purchased. The latter to put under my kickstand, and keep the bike upright in the mud. It worked like a charm, and cost less than $2.
Once camp was setup, we popped open some beer, and proceeded to make the long walk from our campsite to Centeroo. Thursday offered a decent glimpse at the things to come. Thousands of people. Hundreds of musicians. Plenty of venues, and of course more weed than the DEA would know what to do with. After some walking around, the group decided sleep was required before the real fun began, so into my micro-sized tent I went.
At Bonnaroo, the sun rises at 0500. I’m almost positive that 99% of those in attendance didn’t notice, but I’d also bet I was the only person there fresh out of the Army and used to waking up at first light. There were, of course, a few soldiers here and there. Johan and I had no problem visually identifying them through either tattoos, haircuts, or other tell-tale signs of .mil-ness. Anyhow, by 0800 the temperature and humidity inside my tent had risen above my comfort level, so I stepped outside and used my motorcycle as a lounge chair.
Friday hit me with a nice variety of tunes. We started off catching Steel Train, followed by Adele. When that was a wrap, we wandered over to see Les Claypool break down some ultrafunky bass riffs before we hopped stages to watch The Raconteurs. Claypool was the only one I’d ever heard, but everyone was pretty awesome. Adele has one hell of a powerful voice. Steel Train kept things pretty tight and was generally enjoyable. Les Claypool kicks some serious bassist ass. I want to see a bass-off between him and Flea. The Raconteurs really turned the awesome knob up a few levels for the day though, and set the stage for the greatness to come – Metallica. Of course, before Metallica we attempted to see Willie Nelson, and did for a minute – from about 800m away. Seems everyone else had the same idea, at the same time. Oh well. Chris Rock was funny, even my opinion of his political rants is “what a dumbass.” Fortunately, my ability to cease caring helped things out, and I just toggled the give’s-a-shit switch to the off position anytime someone started talking politics. I was there for the music, and Metallica delivered a heavy dose of metal Friday night. Aside from some random drug-addled soul puking all over my free Metallica poster, it was perfect. Perfect.
When Metallica wrapped things up, again the group required sleep. Yet again, when the sun came up the temperature quickly rose with it. Funny how that works. I have a love/hate relationship with my favorite nuclear ball of gas. Saturday was a heavy hitting day of musical bliss. I’m not even sure I can ramble enough to capture the level of excellence. In short, everyone turned the awesome dial to 11. No, scratch that, they turned it to 12.
Bands I was unlikely to have seen without outside influence (Tegan and Sara, or Cat Power) actually put on a good show. I was sufficiently impressed. Of course, for me the real fun began with The King of Blues himself, B.B. King. If you were at Bonnaroo this year, and you skipped BB entirely, get out of your chair, and do push-ups until your eyes bleed. Only then will the angels of music forgive your sins. The man is 82, and still definitely has the power to make Lucille cry. Unfortunately, there was a scheduling conflict that cut my second B.B. King experience short. If you made the Bonnaroo schedule, and decided to put Ben Folds on at the same time as B.B. King, you too should be doing several hundred push-ups. I’m not joking. If you require motivation, I’d be more than happy to put my SGT hat back on and provide it. I’m not happy about that. Still. At any rate, Ben Folds was pretty awesome, and the crowd was very into it. I skipped out early on his set to get a decent spot at Jack Johnson, not because being surrounded by screaming teenage girls was something I wanted (I can get that at home, just spend a day with my sister), but because Pearl Jam was on after Jack Johnson. For a number of reasons, including one quite attractive little blond, I’m rather glad I even bothered to go to Jack Johnson. He’s pretty good at what he does too, I approve. Hell, I might even teach myself a few of his songs. Certainly can’t hurt things any.
As soon as Jack Johnson finished, my friends (including the previously mentioned blond and her friend) pushed our way to within about 5 standing rows of the security barrier between Pearl Jam’s VIPs and the rest of the crowd. Considering the fact that Pearl Jam was what made my MasterCard fly out of my wallet and order tickets to Bonnaroo in the first place, I was very pleased with my position for the concert. A concert that exceeded anything I could have imagined. Pearl Jam played almost every single one of my favorites, and went on an hour longer than they were supposed to. They may have even pissed Kanye West off, for which they deserve additional applause as far as I’m concerned. The fact that my voice was mostly in tact the following morning is nothing short of a miracle. I’m not sure I’ve ever yelled that loudly, for that long, ever in my life. I’ve gotta thank the people I was with, and the people I was around for letting my Pearl Jam experience kick as much ass as it did. Their set was the perfect end to the first of many a Bonnaroo to come.
So there you have it, if next year’s Bonnaroo line up is even 60% as awesome as this year’s, I’m going. Of course, I’m going in a much larger tent (or an RV) and I’m going on four wheels, but I’m going. If you’re a TX friend, or hell a friend from anywhere, you need to put it on your calendar. Call it a pilgrimage if you must, but every music loving friend I’ve got owes it to themselves to get to Bonnaroo. Trust me, you won’t regret it for a second. Photos posted here