In case you're still hankering for some Bonnaroo coverage, I've got some, and then some, and then some more. Had my brain been working better the last few days, I would've furnished ye Cream faithful with my musings on Manchester with greater haste, but a long harsh weekend like the one I'm still recovering from yields a mighty harsh grindstone to face Monday morning. Anyhow, here goes:
How anyone could ever handle four straight days of braving Bonnaroo without the amenities of guest camping and climate-controlled artist and press areas is simply beyond me. Then I remember how — not long ago — I used to patronize these festivals and slum it among the plebes with smiles abounding. Well, now I’m spoiled and I’ve forgotten my roots. While access to Bonnaroo’s perks may have gone to my head, blood has stopped going to my feet, the drugs have worn off, the chigger bites are spreading and the blisters are still bulging. Such is the price one pays for an 86-hour three-way of musical, professional and hedonistic responsibilities. Having made it back to Nashville safe and sound, I’m learning to readjust to a life in which my shoes aren’t waterlogged with pissy mud and muddy piss, and my mind is altered only by MSNBC and VH1 Classic.
For me, this — my third Bonnaroo — started out a little bit differently than ones past: I was playing this year. With my band’s set the second of the entire festival, Thursday got off to an early and hectic start. Since I generally hit the sack at 4 or 5 (or 6) a.m., leaving the 'Ville by 7 a.m. left me sleep-deprived to say the least, and I left for Bonnaroo with no gas in my figurative tank.
After conquering the clusterfuck of closed off-ramps and arriving early birds, I — along with my bandmates — made it to artists’ check-in at 9 a.m. to find, I kid you not, a fucking tailgate scene in the parking lot of the Manchester Holiday Inn and Convention Center. There were zombified hippies bumping into me whispering things like “doses” or “Molly,” a pitiful two-man drum "circle," potential date-rapists shot-gunning beers and scalpers trying to sell me general admission tickets … at fucking artists check-in! Are the ‘Roo-tards really THIS 'Roo-tarted? You’re at the precipice, people. Bonnaroo is about to begin and you’re totes gonna be able to immerse yourselves in a four-day bender of everything unholy without inhibition. Have you ever seen season three of The Wire? Remember Hamsterdam? Well, Bonnaroo is Hamsterdam for white people. But until you get inside, the social contract is still in effect. Now, keep it in your pants.
Anyhow, my compatriots and I get checked in early, staked claim over what would later come to be known as Camp Cream and headed out to case Centeroo — where an eerily pleasant before-the-storm atmosphere lingered in the air and across the faces of every vendor, stage hand, musician, sound crew and festival worker, tying up loose ends and preparing themselves for the invading army of rabble-rousin' roustabouts mere moments from besieging the grounds.bingo card. Among its squares was a depiction of St. Louis eccentric, legend of rock 'n' roll fandom and leading practitioner of arrhythmic dancing, Beatle Bob — a ubiquitous presence at just about any music festival in the nation. I checked him off my bingo card after he popped out of the wings of the Troo Music Lounge to introduce my band. And so began Bonnaroo 2010.
Being fairly familiar with Centeroo, I'll admit it was pretty surreal to find myself scooping out landmarks like the painted mushroom fountain and the Ferris wheel from the vantage point of the stage. Even more surreal was playing Eno-inspired new-wavy jams to people jiggling painted boobies, noodle-dancing and actually paying attention — you don't get that a lot in Nashville. Playing to a sea of unfamiliar faces was great, but pounding out uptempo 16th-note beats in 100-degree heat felt like running on a treadmill inside a sauna. As far as drugs go, at least heat exhaustion is free. By set's end, my hands looked like they'd been wedged inside a waffle-maker. Bonnaroooooooooo!!!
With the nerve-racking part of the weekend over with, it was time to get on with the brain-wrecking part. So, off to artists' hospitality — which would soon become a dangerously frequent destination — I went to take advantage of all the free booze, sneakers, iPod accessories, filet mignon and near-shtitable porta-potties my "That Pass" would afford me.
Despite having gotten in zero hours of sleep the night before and a good eight hours of drinking in on the day at hand, I somehow had the wherewithal to head back into the shit Thursday night, to catch sets by The Dodos, Blitzen Trapper and Wale. Since these acts were already covered by other Creamers I'll make my sentiments brief with some one- (OK, maybe two- … or three-) sentence reviews. Here goes: Blitzen Trapper's first song sounded like Everlast. Other than that I guess they were OK, but I still don't see what all the fuss is about. Would anyone care to explain? Wale isn't bad but, like most rappers, he ran down the predictable checklist of cliches that hinder most hip-hop shows from being good — too much banter, starting and stopping songs ad nauseum, having more people onstage than in the audience, etc. The Dodos are two-thirds drums and sound like '90s-era indie-rock had indie trends of the now been prevalent in the '90s. They did it well, and I like good things done well.
After spending the wee hours getting ornery with other residents of Camp Cream, I called an end to a long first day, or should I say the end called me, as I passed out in my trunk. Don't worry, it was open and I survived.
Now for a few complaints: I know it's been said already, but it just can't be said enough — where the fuck were the arepas? This has to have been officially the worst Bonnaroo ever for that reason, and that reason alone. I thought this year was gonna be hopelessly disappointing because Springsteen wasn't playing, but the lack of arepas was just as bitter to swallow. Now for the other big problem with 'Roo 2010: I would've done my civic duty and called Child Protective Services when I saw someone cradling a four-month-old infnat — no joke — side-stage after midnight, but my iPhone quickly went from being valued at $300 to being worthless, as AT&T were the failure kings of the festival. I need not be reminded of how horrible life was before smart phones, and I really would've loved to have used that Bonnaroo app I downloaded. I'm still pissed on account of all the hilarious text messages I must have missed — talk about First World problems.
The party started early on Friday, when I got iced by a bro at 10 a.m. While the rest of you may have found out about this icing phenom via the Internet, I found out about it by getting iced and, in effect, losing at a game I didn't even know I was playing. Despite its diminishing of my dignity, the diabetes-inducing soda-beer made for quite a refreshing breakfast as temperatures rapidly began to rise. Friday's a blur from that point on. As I reach back a whopping four days into my memory bank I'm amazed at even the fleeting details I'm still able to recall. Again with the one-sentence reviews: Between SXSW, last month's Cannery show and this set, I've seen Dr. Dog three times in the last three months. I'd love nothing more than to keep up that pace for the rest of the year. Tenacious D's shtick is still funny, although not as funny as it was when I was 20 … and not nearly as funny as Dean Shortland, clad in his Tex Rambunctious get-up, walking in on Jack Black dropping a dirty deed of his own in artists' hospitality. After 15 or 20 minutes I'd had my fill. The National are Interpol with interesting parts but worse haircuts.
Oh yeah, and I did get to see Conan's show on Friday. Not in the flesh, of course, but — like my esteemed colleague D. Patrick Rodgers — from the air-conditioned comfort of the Cinema Tent. Now, even from a satellite location, the power of the pompadoured one's presence was undeniably affecting — and I'm used to watching Conan O'Brien on a big screen. The overwhelming bulk of 'Rooers grew up with this guy in their living rooms and his place in their hearts was far more palpable in person than it is on a Shepard Fairey Facebook poster. His appearance was undoubtedly of seismic cultural and timely significance. Conan did up Bonnaroo right, and employed the original inflatable bat from Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell tour as a stage prop and at one point even came onstage decked out in Eddie Murphy's skin-tight leather suit from his classic Raw. Now, that's fucking awesome — I'm with Coco.
As the sun went down on Bonnaroo's second day, so did the communal standards of Camp Cream's decency and moral judgment. I'd like to think that a slideshow documenting the night (and morning) that ensued would trump that seen at the end of The Hangover, but I'm glad that — unless Lance Conzett is holding out on us — one doesn't exist for purposes of comparison. All I knew is that when you wake up in an RV with the Dozen Dimes' Matt Friction upchucking just outside the door, you've either done something right or something really, really wrong. I know that, by now, most of you are tired of hearing our self-aggrandizing tales of debauchery but hey, that's Bonnaroo. You wanted a report, right?
Guest camping totally rules except for one thing: its proximity to the actual stages. Last year I remember struggling in vain to fall asleep at 7 a.m. while Paul Oakenfold was spinning plates at 120,000 decibels on the other side of the fence. This year Camp Cream was forced to get our Friday evening pre-game on to a sonic amalgam of all the things in John Mayer's record collection when we were involuntarily treated to hearing the entirety of Michael Franti and Spearhead's set within inescapable earshot. I decided to cleanse my auditory palate by going to check out Kings of Leon's landmark headlining set, already in progress.
This was my fourth attempt at being rocked by the brothers Followill and, as always, I was hoping it would be the performance that won me over. But it wasn't. Although that's really my fault and not theirs, as something I had, uh, eaten shortly before venturing over to the What Stage started, uh, "disagreeing" with me, and I ended up entering the crowd willy-nilly and immediately getting sucked into a lightless vortex of unbathed humanity while trying to find a spot from which to observe our neighborhood rock stars. All of a sudden I found myself feeling like Chandler Jarrell traversing the bottomless obstacle course in The Golden Child with nothing but Caleb Followill's emoting face on a pair of 20-foot wide video screens to guide me to a sanity that wouldn't exist for at least another eight hours.
After getting blindsided by an Ali G. look-alike who took a break from caterwauling along to the Kings' hit "Charmer" to try and sell me ecstasy, I realized that my mission to try and enjoy this KOL show was doomed to fail by virtue of circumstance alone. Most call it the What Stage, I call it the What the Fuck? Stage. Either way: Fuck the What Stage. That place is the part of town you don't wanna get lost in late at night.
By the time I made my way to the slightly, albeit barely, more manageable Which Stage to see The Flaming Lips and Stardeath play some Pink Floyd, I'd ecstatically acclimated to a temporary state of blissful delirium — thanks, Ali G.-lookin' KOL fan! — and you could say I'd become comfortably numb. Other peeps in my party wouldn't have such an easy go at it and, for them, a long strange trip was creeping over the horizon. Someone who had a freakishly similar experience to mine at the exact same show, at the exact same time, wrote about it in The Spin.
In a crunch to get my mentally endangered buddy out of Centeroo's maddening alcohol and funnel-cake fueled hurricane of psychotropic visual noise and mass douche-herding, I instinctively led him to the farthest reaches of the area where, serendipitously — almost as if some kind of mystic music festival spirit pony was guiding us — happened upon the Other Tent. As the smoothest of sounds penetrated our auditory orifices, my buddy's face changed from one of Poltergeist-like possession to blissful delight as his eyes lit up, and he uttered his first two comprehensible words in two hours: "Daryl Hall!" I watched, astounded and amazed, as the demons evacuated his body, and Chromeo and Hall brought the party back to the partyin'. It was all good! Until reading other Creamers coverage of this set, I was convinced that Daryl Hall's aeronautical tresses were my own hallucination only — guess not. Losing my shit to their ever effervescent set closer, "You Make My Dreams Come True," was a personal highlight of the weekend. I most certainly was not alone in such sentiments. Check it out:
After seeing LCD Soundsystem illicit a similar fever-pitch response from their tent crowd when they busted into "Drunk Girls," I decided to head back to the seedy underworld that was Camp Cream before I overdosed on joy.
After taking the first half of the following day to regroup, re-use (my underwear) and recycle my empties I felt rejuvenated enough to venture and thus kicked off another day of music by spending an hour with Jimmy Cliff, whose proclivity for preachiness was all forgiven by his enchanting presence, the sheer power of his voice hitting me in the heart like a wrecking ball with every note, and a version of "Many Rivers to Cross" that made me start coming up again. J.C. was awesome, but he was upstaged by the masterful moves of one of Bonnaroo's many dancing Charles Manson look-alikes
Speaking of evil, Rivers Cuomo has sold his soul to the devil. Did you know that?
Weezer. Dudes. What happened? Pinkerton was a commercial failure and ever since, Rivers Cuomo has gone through any and all painstaking lengths to suck every ounce of sincerity and raw emotion that once seemed an effortless characteristic of his song-writing, till finally arriving at this vapid, Radio Disney version of a once-great band. That's what happened. With ace session drummer Josh Freese — the best part of their show — manning the skins and ex-Weezer drummer Pat Wilson on lead guitar, the once loudly introverted Cuomo is free to run amok and force crowd participation like an imitation rodeo-clown making balloon animals at a six-year-old's birthday party. Which is fitting, considering how their new material sounds like Miley Cyrus. Weezer once meant the world to me, but now I'm just thankful I never bit the bullet and got that winged "W" tattoo I so desperately wanted in 1996. I could go on and on, but why bother? This band is dead to me.
Saturday night's when the shit got real. First I came one step closer to fulfilling my goal of seeing every artist I've ever loved who's actively performed in my lifetime, finally getting to cross Stevie Wonder's name of my to-see list. Wonder was, well, wonderful. Read an anonymous Spin-meister's review — which I wholeheartedly agree with — click right here to learn more.
While seeing Stevie sing his best hits with pitch-perfect precision was as good as you could ever hope it would be, his show was no match for Jay-Z — who unequivocally stole the festival with an astounding two-hour set that was the talk of Centeroo 'til festival's end.
It really says something extraordinary if you can hang next to Stevie Wonder with such ease. Seeing living legends of yester-generation kick Bonnaroo's ass is one of the best parts of the festival experience, but if there's anything to take away from an annual June weekend in Manchester, it's getting a sense of the pop-cultural zeitgeist as you check the collective pulse of the nation's quarter-lifers with your own index finger. Bonnaroo is a time capsule. Performances like Conan's are only poignant now, Daryl Hall only has so long to capitalize on the resurgence of smooth — yet, in these finicky times, nearly everyone in the house was able to feel it when Jay-Z took hold of the moment and stood his ground on a pedestal next to Stevie Wonder as modern-day musical icon.
For me, Jay's galvanizing Manchester takeover put him into perspective as one of the most significant artists of a generation and redefined the word "epic" as I watched, dumbfounded, while he enraptured the crowd of 60,000-plus with a transcendent and moving show that ranked alongside those of U2, Springsteen and Prince as one of the best I've ever seen. No other rapper has ever come close to such a feat of showmanship. I lost my shit and jumped up and down with excitement for two hours, from a football field away, and I've never even been a big Jay-Z fan. Well, consider me converted. Also, his stage looked like an Emerald City. This isn't the drugs talking. Jay-Z killed it!
By Sunday morning I felt like a cast member of Survivor, but having now been at Bonnaroo since the opening of check-in I was determined to stay on the island until I got the million — or, at the very least, my millionth chigger bite. After reconciling my determination to endure with my body's utter refusal to functional and my brain crashing harder than Windows 95, I reminded myself how much more taxing it would've been to have spent even a single dreadful day at Woodstock ('69, '94 or '99) — which I'm convinced couldn't have actually been fun for anyone — and synthetically mustered the energy to carry on. Thank God for Adderall.
Destination one was fellow Road to Bonnaroo victor Caitlin Rose's set in the Troo Music Lounge. Since I've probably written up Caitlin more times in the last year than I've paid my gas bill, it goes without saying that I — like any show-frequenting Creamer — have seen her perform a lot. Which makes me a pretty good barometer to go a step further than The Spin did yesterday and declare, hands down, that Bonnaroo was the best set I've seen from her, as well as a true highlight of the festival at large. Not bad considering that it was the first set I attended sober since my own. Well done, Cato!
Same goes for How I Became the Bomb, who were mercifully allowed to go on at Cafe Where? (wha?) a half-hour behind schedule as to not get drowned out by John Fogerty — who, while sounding great as always, could simply never play a set on the What Stage that could compare to the one he kicked my balls into my throat with at Mercy Lounge last fall.
Unfortunately I had to sacrifice seeing the bottom half of their set to hit up the Which Stage for a much needed fix of the Boognish — Ween. Like Stevie Wonder and The Flaming Lips before him, a writer who I really just see eye-to-fucking-eye with, had a thing or two to say about the band's set under the anonymous cloak of Spin-itude. Check it out here.
As far as I was concerned, Bonnaroo was over when Dave Matthews hit the stage. Seeing stunt drummer-extraordinaire Carter Beauford milling around the artists area earlier in the afternoon — track pants, metrophonic headphones, braids, earrings and all — was a chilling reminder that something horrible was going to happen in Manchester at 9 p.m., and that I needed to round up my crew — ready or not — and plot an exit strategy. But not before we saw Phoenix. The fact that France's finest got slotted to play in the penultimate outdoor set was a mega-bummer for all us exhausted types. It didn't seem to hurt their show though, as the area around the Which Stage was PACKED to with thousands screaming along to "Lisztomania" and "1901." Their set sounded terrific, but it was nearly, if not completely, identical to the one they played at Rites of Spring back in April. Phoenix finished and I literally ended up peeling out of Great Stage Park as the house lights surrounding the What Stage went down. As I took a last long look in my rear-view I had no feelings of guilt over leaving my old college buddy Dave behind to fend for himself.
Bonnaroo is like a casino: There are plenty of ways in and out, but you can't find any of them. Direction does not exist. Every standing object is competing for your attention, and you're expected to punish yourself with a smorgasbord of vices and soak up as much life as you can while feeling like you could get away with murder. You can come. You can conquer. But in the end, the casino always wins and the 'Roo will inevitably conquer you. At least whatever happens in Manchester stays in … fuck.