Meet Kramer—hitchhiker, dog rescuer, festival junkie and the first camper outside Bonnaroo’s gates
Beside a small church on New Bushy Branch Road in Manchester, Tenn., a silver tarp is slung over a rope stretched between a tree and a branch stuck into the ground; another silver tarp is on the ground underneath. “Tent” would be a generous term for the setup. Strewn about are a couple sleeping bags, clothes, water bottles, a bag of dog food and a cooler. A small puppy romps through the grass nearby.
This supremely humble abode is the temporary residence of Kramer and his pup, who are waiting for the fifth annual Bonnaroo Music & Art Festival to begin. In fact, they’re camped out right in front of the entrance. But it’s only May 25, mind you, and the festival doesn’t start until June 16—22 days away. And they’ve already been here for two weeks.
“We just came from Coachella,” says Kramer, a lanky 24-year-old with a tousle of dark-brown hair in the infant stages of dreadlocks. “I did Langerado [a festival in Sunrise, Fla.], then I went up and did a festival in North Carolina, hitched over to California, saw the San Francisco bridge then went down to Coachella [in Indio, Calif.], then hitched out here to this one. My friend said that Coachella doesn’t even compare to Bonnaroo, and that I can’t miss this.”
Though he looks healthy, his exceptionally lean physique suggests he’s had to do without a couple of meals along the way. And he’s ripe—it’s about 85 degrees, after all, and such a lifestyle provides few opportunities to shower or do laundry. To a passerby, he might look like a drug casualty or a kid with “problems.” But that doesn’t appear to be the case. He’s pleasant, alert and articulate, and seems genuinely happy to be where he is. He doesn’t beg or ask for anything.
“I’m from Miami, Fla.,” Kramer says. “Right now, I’m just floating around. I’ve been traveling with my friend for about four months. Before that I was working as a warehouse manager in Miami. I tried getting a job inside [Bonnaroo]. They hired my friend, but wouldn’t hire me because I didn’t have my Social Security card.”
The puppy, it turns out, was dropped off in front of his tent (along with a bag of dog food) while he wasn’t around. He doesn’t know who left him there, but he says he’s going to do his best to take care of him.
A week later, Kramer is still camped out under the same tree—except in place of the tarp, there’s a high-end, zipped-up, screened-in palace of a tent, straight out of an L.L. Bean ad.
“A lady came by yesterday,” Kramer explains, “and she was like, ‘Man, you look hot. You want to go to the lake?’ We grabbed the dog, she went over and got him some worm medicine and bought him a leash and collar, we went down to the lake, swam all day, and on the way back, she was like, ‘Man, that tarp you guys are living in ain’t gonna cut it.’ So we stopped at her house and she pulled this out of her garage.
“We’re going to give it back when we’re done,” he says. “That’s just an expensive, awesome tent. It’s a mansion! And other people have come by and donated stuff. As you can see, I have tons of water here.” Like his Seinfeld namesake, Kramer is a man with no visible means of support, into whose lap good things seem to fall.
And despite these idle weeks camped out next to a church, he doesn’t seem bored. “I’ve just been playing music on my thumb piano that I got in Indio,” he says, “and just talking to people who stop by.”
In addition to the medicine and leash, the puppy has a name now. “We’re calling the dog Misdemeanor,” Kramer says. “He’s not quite a felony, he’s still a pup.”
Kramer may not be contributing much to the GNP, but neither is he gobbling up resources or burning through the ozone layer. And he’s in no hurry to head back into the mainstream. “As long as the festivals keep going,” he says, “I see myself keeping at it for a while. I love the music, and usually I get a job at each festival, so I’m able to work. As long as I’m able to keep that up, I’ll keep going.
“My girlfriend wants to come out with me, but I don’t think she understands the whole thing we go through every day. And my mom just says, ‘Do what you’ve got to do.’ ”