Just a few days ago we were waiting unhealthily long stretches just to use the bathroom. Depending on your relationship with germs and bacteria, it may or may not come with the territory at Bonnaroo, Tennessee's sixth largest city for all of three hot days and four beautiful pastoral nights. There were hallucinogens, vast fields of cannabis and erotic body painting. We avoided all of that tomfoolery to bring you dozens of glorious photos of all the great music and conversations with the good people who continue to put juice in the festival's tank. We're not talking about the Man, we're talking about those who came to rock. That's what we did.
So there’s this girl and she’s sweaty. She’s speckled with dust and sitting in a tent with a cadre of her closest, smelliest friends and she’s talking forcefully. Her hands are all over the place and those around her nod in agreement, their dreadlocks dancing about in concert. “Know your drug, know your source, but most importantly, know yourself, maaaaaan,” she says.
Although Bonnaroo seems to be trying hard to buck its reputation as a festival for hippies, the jam band and patchouli-stank remains ever-present in nearly every strand of its DNA. Widespread Panic headlined the festival’s final evening and the endless noodles of the String Cheese Incident cut through the great clouds of second-hand smoke surrounding the main stage late Friday night.
The ‘Roo doesn’t seem to rely so heavily on the weight thrown by its headliners as it does on the vibe and mystique that distinguishes it from so many other summer festivals: communal suffering with 85,000 brothers and sisters in the heat of Coffee County, Tennessee.
We made the jaunt down to beautiful Manchester, TN to be one with the people, to rock out as they rock out, to bathe ourselves in dust as they do, to gain some great understanding as to why this festival in particular purports to be something more than just a religious experience anchored by bands we love and hallucinogens we have never heard of. There were copious amounts of Dave Matthews Band tattoos, bad contact highs and bare breasts both male and female (That shit was distracting). We spoke to concertgoers of varying stripes: to the good citizens of Manchester whose sum population skyrockets during Father’s Day weekend, to hippies, wookie-faces and kooks. We tapped into the lifeblood, ya’ll!
Just off of I-24, on the way to Bonnaroo, sits a small, red brick building. Probably once used to distribute burgers and fries, it now houses a German restaurant owned by the Onderka clan, a family of Bavarians from Passau, a small city that hugs tightly the border between Germany and Austria. It’s a cozy hybrid between southern BBQ joint and Alpine inn.
Roswitha, 37, claims never to have attended the festival, nor has she been bothered by the thousands of people that congest the small capillaries of pavement that string Manchester together. “I like to look at all the different license plates. These people really don’t bother anyone and they’re so sweet,” she says. “In the beginning, the festival didn’t seem prepared for the crowds and it was crazy, but now its only a day or two of traffic. The old people hate it, but I think it’s great. I just don’t want to see the drugs.”
Paula Chambers, a family friend and restaurant fixture, had caught the first night of the festival.
“I was afraid it was going to be a bunch of druggies lying around on the ground and shit. But, it wasn’t; it was actually really cool. Everyone was having a real good time. It’s a whole better than the redneck karaoke bars we have around here,” Chambers said.
Kevin, 43, is a tech support consultant in Hot Springs, Arkansas with a “bitch” of an ex-wife that he just can’t seem to shake (she lives just a mile down the road). Kevin loves to “party,” recreation for which he claims he deserves no punishment, despite his ex-wife’s claims that its irresponsible considering he’s a father of one. “I get the shit that needs to get done, done. Period. That’s all that matters.” Kevin took some time off from said responsibilities to partake of all the pharmaceutical and horticultural joys Bonnaroo promises.
“People just come here and lose their mind. It’s not like Sasquatch where it’s all good all the time. It’s special because there are so many vibes coming together, good and bad. You could be sitting next to anyone, the governor’s son. I met this ER doc one year. He was trying to score some ketamine off of me, but it seems like he already had him some access to the goodies, man!”
The goodies homeboy should have been searching for could be found on stages all over Centeroo, no problem. Truth is, not matter how much you swallow or smoke, the jams come first.
Let’s fast forward:
The Holdsteady’s Craig Finn waxed rhapsodic on the tenets of rock ‘n roll, Ziggy Marley doled out nuggets of political wisdom, The Black Angels fucking rocked, Lily Allen promised not to drink and then did, Sting was embarrassing, The National blew a hole in the roof of their tent, Ween was impossibly loud, The Roots were impossibly sweet, Tool reheated and recycled the same riff for over two hours, Ornette Coleman survived a heat-induced crumble and The Flaming Lips sent all those under the influence of psychotropic substance running for the asylum: the crowd.
Everyone goes nuts at some point anyway, so just enjoy the photos.