My Weekend at Bonnaroo

The event organizers at Bonnaroo have outdone themselves again. I have attended the organized confusion and chaos six times in a row dating back to 2004 when Dylan, The Dead and Primus expanded my mind and body to a higher state of awareness and heat. Every year I leave thinking, “How are they gonna top that next year?”

A couple of contributing factors to topping last year were the surprises?there was more variety, better weather, it was a lot cleaner than usual?amongst many other random new things and attractions like always.

This year there were more collaborations and special appearances than usual, including Nas with the Beastie Boys and a surprise appearance by Jimmy Buffet. Nine Inch Nails brought out Dillinger Escape Plan, Eryka Badu laid it down with Snoop Dogg. Bruce Springsteen even came out and did a couple of jams with Phish.

Every year it seems that there is a more diverse lineup, which leads to an eclectic mix of people of all ethnic groups and ages. For instance, on Sunday one could experience the intensity and the mosh pit of nu-metal math rockers Dillinger Escape Plan at That Tent and then head to What Stage (which is the main stage for the non experienced) for some different singing and dancing with Motown hip-hop artist Erykah Badu. From there you could go to an old-fashioned hoe down with Merle Haggard and back to the main stage for a gangsta party with Snoop Dogg and then some hard jammin with Phish all in the same day. That is just one of the crazy combinations you could witness.

This year definitely had the most obvious and widest span of age I’ve seen there yet. There were 50-year-old couples surrounded by kids in their teens to people in their 20s and 30s, and more babies than I have seen at any other ’Roo. It probably had a lot to do with the draw from the older Bruce Springsteen and David Byrne fans to the new acts and younger fans like Santigold the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and Cage the Elephant.

This year started off very wet and muddy on Thursday with off-and-on showers and tornado warnings keeping people in frantic panic. The rain went away after Thursday and actually helped keep the dust on the ground for the rest of the event. Friday and Saturday were not as hot as usual and Sunday’s overcast sky was perfect enough to sleep in and hang out all day with no sunscreen. Last year it was so dry that all of the cars and tents were covered in a thick layer of dust by Sunday.

Also, there were more tickets sold than last year. Ticket sales went over 2008’s 70,000 to around 75,000 sold by Thursday morning. How much money is that? Well, just for fun 75,000 times $200 average ticket price = $15 million, not even including money made on all of the food and merchandising like posters clothes and toys.

Another mentionable fact is that the attendees of the festival are for the most part good, honest, caring, people. I lost my wallet in the front sway and push of Nine Inch Nails. I had no money but it had my card in it. As soon as I realized it a girl recognized me from my ID and gave it back. One girl, Megan Keith from Monteagle, lost her purse with her wallet with $30 in it and her card. Someone returned it to the lost and found with all in tact. Eric Robertson from Nashville left his camera sitting in the open for almost an hour. He realized it and came back and no one stole it. Another friend of mine lost her purse and phone and instead of or stealing it they called her friends in her phone, got in touch with her, and gave it back.

There were also new fancy lit signs for the tents. There were individual sinks instead of community troughs in the campgrounds. The port-a-johns were kept considerably less stinky and messy this year as well. One of the best additions is the much needed $5 taxi rides to and from camp for the sore and broken that I could not afford. Maybe next year.

Friday was New York day with Santigold, Beastie Boys, TV on the Radio, and the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s all hailing from the Big Apple. On Friday, June 12, the first show I caught was the funky outfit from New Orleans, Galactic, who brought along special big N.O. players Trombone Shorty and Cory Henry on the main stage. It was a tough decision because on the other stage Bonnaroo veteran Bela Fleck was going at it as usual. I had seen both of them several times. The deciding factor was the horn players that Galactic brought along. There was a lot of dancing in the sun and the horns were blazing as they jammed a mostly instrumental set for a little over an hour.

I left a little early to go to That Tent to catch Santigold please the crowd with her Internet hit “Get it Up” and tunes from her record Santogold like “Unstoppable” and her Ode to Brooklyn, “Brooklyn Go Hard.” Her last song played by request “Creator” was augmented by her pulling about eight people from the crowd up and dancing the set away.

I heard that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a good set on the Which stage as well, but I could not leave Santigold because I was enthralled and trapped by dancers.

After Santigold I went and caught a little of the legendary soul master, Reverend Al Green. Green pulled classics like “Let’s Stay Together” mixed with songs from his newest album which was produced by ?uestlove Thompson from the Roots. It was a special event as he told the crowd how much he loved them and passed out roses.

Next was TV on the Radio at Which Stage. These guys had beautiful tapestries hanging as their backdrop and they opened with “Love Dog” from their new album Dear Science. They kept the crowd going with cuts from all three of their albums like “Crying” and “Wolf Like Me.” They created an awesome sonic atmosphere for Bonnaroo with their mesmerizing singing front men’s harmonies and luscious electronic sounds.

I headed to Ani Difranco who was wooing the women with her folky sweet yet punchy set list back at That Tent. I caught her doing her political Obama song “Nov 4, 2008” and her rendition of an old folk song “Whose Side Are You On.” She closed the set with crowd favorites “Untouchable Face” and “Shameless.” It was an easy breezy set that evoked emotions from the saddest heartbreak songs to giddy puppy love and amazing new baby feelings.

I gathered my thoughts and rushed back to the main stage for a good spot at the Beastie Boys. The Brooklyn boys prepared a well rounded set starting back at their punk roots and spanning their entire career as hip hop pioneers with hits like “Sure Shot,” “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” “Gratitude,” “Body Movin,” “Root Down,” “What Cha’ Want,” “Intergalactic” and more. They moved back and forth from playing instruments and just rapping. There was no lack of energy as they danced and ran all around the stage like they were doing 20 years ago. The Beastie Boys closed with their hip hop rock anthem Sabotage and made sure to point out that they don’t lip sync or play tracks and that they play their own instruments and mess up like humans should do.

David Byrne, the former Talking Heads frontman, took the second stage about half way through the Beasties set, but I had seen him before so I decided to stay and catch the whole BB’s show. After the explosion that was the Beastie Boys I ventured to Which Stage to see the end of Byrne’s set. I caught him actin’ a fool and running in place with his crazy dancers just in time for “Take Me To The River” and the Talking Heads classic “Burnin’ Down the House.”

I also had to catch some of Femi Kuti and the Positive Force. They were playing an amazing show at the Other Tent that magical night. They had the stage full of African dancers and singers. The crowd was definitely feeling this show. Soon I realized that Public Enemy were starting at This Tent and had to head that way because I had never had the opportunity to see them before and I had seen Femi Kuti several times previously.

Public Enemy decided to do its whole 1988 historical album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back from start to finish. It was a full throttle set of hard beats, high energy from Flavor Flav the hype man, and the mad lyrics of Chuck D. It also marked the first show with Terminator X in 10 years due to some stirred up controversy over racism in their big years.I had to keep reminding myself that this was a festival and that there were other things going on all around at any given time. So I had to make the trek back to the What Stage for the end of Phish.

At the main What Stage it was hard to get through the thick crowd of insanity to see Phish. I stumbled my tired feet through the dancing hippies while watching out for the thousands of glow sticks flying through the air and made my way to a spot where I could see. I got there just in time to witness them cover an unexpected “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC and the Phishhead classic “Wolfman’s Brother.” They left the stage but the crowd could not wait until Sunday for more so they called for an encore. Phish came back and closed with the Beatles song “A Day In the Life” and I closed my eyes and thought John Lennon was right there singing with us.

I was not ready to walk the mile back to camp so I headed to That Tent to sit and rest while Girl Talk was mashing up and spinnin the goods. I spent some time people watching and met a guy named Mango who could not walk but instead had to crawl because he thought he was an ant or something? I don’t know? He freaked me out so I went over to the Other Tent to see the group Pretty Lights and the pretty ladies dance and move around like they were on fire at 4 in the morning. Pretty Lights was mostly instrumental electronic sounds looped over strange danceable beats. Their sound was a little poppy but still edgy.

It was a long tiresome amazing day full of contradictions, indecision, dancing, singing, freaking out and having a great adventure with strangers. I didn’t go to sleep ’til after the sun came up.

Saturday I arose due to the extreme heat at like 9 a.m. I might have gotten 2 hours of sleep. I had to snap out of soreness and gather some ice for the coolers which consisted of more walking. A surprise appearance by Jimmy Buffet kicked off the day I heard but coudn’t bare to head out yet because I knew what I had in store later.

Booker T and the DBT’s from Staxx records played at 3 p.m. on Which Stage followed by Govt. Mule and then Wilco on What Stage. These groups are some of my favorites but I knew what was in store for the rest of the night.

I made it to Mars Volta on the Which Stage at around 7 p.m. I missed them last time they were there at the ’Roo and was determined not to again. A hot air balloon came flying over the crowd as we waited for Mars Volta and the sun to go down. The Mars Volta are considered the rock gods of the modern era so I had to catch a show. All through the crowd all you could hear was talk of Omar A. Rodriguez, the guitar player’s, genius powers and the new drummer, Thomas Pridgen’s, unhuman abilities, as well as compliments on their unorthodox songwriting style and stage presence. It was all it was supposed to be. They were right, Cedric Bixler Zavala is one of the most amazing frontmen of all time and is backed by an excellent band including Omar’s brother on the keys and percussion. The fro’s were flying as the Volta blasted through almost one song from each album and even new stuff from their upcoming album, Octahedron.

I missed Bruce Springsteen but I heard that he played a lot of obscure tunes mixed in with hits like “Born to Run” and “Glory Days.” At one point he actually took requests from fans that they had written on cards and ended up doing “Santa Claus is Comin To Town.”

It was time for another high point in Bonnaroo history as Nine Inch Nails, an unlikely Bonnaroo addition, took the stage for an intense mind bending 1 a.m. set. This was the last show in the United States ever for this history making group. Yep, NIN are calling it quits and we caught the last U.S. show right here in Tennessee. How fortunate are we to get them for two Halloweens, last year and 2006, and now this. They played the hits like “Reptile” and “Head Like A Hole” “The Becoming” and many rarities for the hardcore vicious crowd like cool versions of “Piggy,” “Mr. Self Destruct.” They even did the famous “I’m Afraid of Americans” song by David Bowie. Reznor and the nails also pulled out “Burn” from Natural Born Killers soundtrack and the cover song “Dead Souls” originally done by Joy Divison from The Crow soundtrack. NIN also brought out special guests Dillinger Escape Plan, who was playing on Sunday, for an awesome version of “Wish.” It was a strong show with the crowd smooshed into one another and swaying back and forth holding each other up and knocking each other down. This was by far the most energy and emotion that I have ever seen at Bonnaroo. The show came to the end and Trent said goodbye and not to cry that he would do something eventually. Then they closed with “Hurt,” a very sad and fitting song once covered by Jonny Cash, as the whole crowd seemed to sing along. It was like thousands of angels crying and singing at the top of their lungs. The lights were low and there was sniffling in the quiet parts.Then BAM, on the last chord of the song the lights blasted brighter than I have ever seen and totally day lit the crowd. It was very awkward because there were so many caught in that moment of crying. Everyone just looked at each other and wiped the tears from their eyes and went about their ways. Wow!

moe., Ben Harper and Nails all started at 1 a.m. but this one wasn’t that tough of a decision for me especially considering I had seen both of them before and since it was NIN’s last show. I caught the last bit of MGMT’s psychadelic pop set and the end of moe.’s jam session but was way too tired to dance so I sat and enjoyed the sweet sounds while I relaxed and rested my body. I heard that Bruce Springsteen stuck around and showed to watch MGMT. Once again I did not get to sleep ’til the morning again.

Sunday was great because the Sun was hidden by an overcast sky that allowed me to sleep until almost noon. I got up got ready and headed off in pain with aching feet somehow to That Tent again for Dillinger Escape Plan’s nu metal madness. Dillinger worked out better than I thought they would. They exploded onto the set with lots of energy and got the crowd all riled up for some mosh pit action. They played the newer “Panasonic” and “Milklizard.” The moshers went nuts for the early stuff though like “43% Burnt” to the 75% burnt crowd. DEP also broke out their Aphex twin cover of “Come To Daddy.” I once again had to leave early to catch Erykah Badu on the main stage but on the way got to see some of Citizen Cope’s easy going groove on the Which Stage.

When I finally arrived at the main stage Erykah Badu had long lines waiting to get to the up front area. She opened with her newer trippy stuff “The Healer” and mixed in favorites like “Didn’t Cha Know” and “Back In the Day.” She did really unique stripped down versions of a lot of her tunes. Much like the female James Brown she control’s the band by saying stop, slow it down, hold up, hit it and other various commands that keep the band and crowd on its toes. She went over her allotted time but I think that she knew that Snoop wasn’t even in town yet. The front area was cleared and we went back into the line to get up close to Snoop Dogg.

Snoop Dogg was suppo
ed to be coming on and a voice came over the speakers saying that Snoop was still 5 or so miles out of town and on his way. The crowd sat down and waited for the fashionably late Snoop Dogg. There was a worker on stage showing the crowd his phone as he kept us posted o
Snoop’s whereabouts.

I probably had time to go see some of Merle Haggard but didn’t want to risk losing my place in line and I really didn’t feel like walking anymore.

Snoop finally came out and threw it down. He opened the show with “N
xt Episode” a high energy song Snoop appeared on Dr.Dre’s The Chronic 2000. When it got to the “Smoke Weed Everyday” line He put the mic in the crowd and they all knew what to do. Mr. Dogg busted out classics like “Gin an
Juice” and “Murder Was The Case.” Snoop also covered House Of Pain’s hit “Jump Around” and did and ode to 2Pac which consisted of the hit “Hail Mary.” He did his song for the ladies “Sensual Seduction.” He split the crowd up into east and west sides and made them compete to be the rowdiest. One thing that Snoop has to learn about these hippie festivals where people are out in the heat for 3 days is that you shouldn’t get them to put their hands in the air. Please keep them down. It stinks enough already without thousands of perspired people reaching for the sky all around you. Snoop brought out Erykah Badu for an extended freestyle jam to “Loddi Doddi.” Just when we thought it was over he played his first big hit of his own “What’s My Name.”

Phish came to the main stage again Sunday night to close it out while lots of people started piling out into the line out of Bonnaroo like every year on Sunday. By 6 or 7 every Sunday at Bonnaroo the mainstream masses have had enough and are gone leaving only the true roots crowd of Bonnaroo to close the place up. I had to go as well because my rides had to work Monday morning. Too bad for them and me because Phish brought out the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, and they did “Mustang Sally,” “Bobby Jean” and “Glory Days.”

What an amazing year once again for those who attended, worked, played and experienced Bonnaroo 2009. Once again I’m left saying, “How are they gonna top that next year?”

Here are a couple of predictions and hopefuls for how they are gonna do it next year; Neil Young, The Dead, 311, Eminem, Toots and the Maytals, Les Claypool (hopefully Primus), Common, the Roots, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, N.E.R.D., a Marley, My Morning Jacket, Ween, Dave Matthews Band, and Widespread Panic. We will see.


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The Murfreesboro Pulse, Middle Tennessee's Source for Art, Entertainment and Culture News. murfreesboropulse@yahoo.com

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