Of all the times to get what now appears to be a swollen, seeping case of poison ivy, I chose this week to meet my yearly quota. And of all the places for a guy in a fucking three-cornered hat to stand, he elected to stand in front of me during Arcade Fire's set on What Stage. But you know what? If Philip Seymour Hoffman can hang for Bonnaroo — as I swear he was last night, in character as "exhausted Philip Seymour Hoffman waiting for a shuttle while sweating the hell through a white T-shirt" — then I can hang. We all catch our battle scars at Bonnaroo, and I seem to injure myself at every festival I cover. Weepy chest welts aren't so bad, considering, and ol' Patrick Henry-ass-tri-corner-hat dude eventually got out of my way. Plus, Arcade Fire's Win Butler put his knee in my face and dripped flop sweat on contributor Ashley Spurgeon. I was psyched. Spurgeon was grossed out.
Friday morning, I spent a lot of time proofing other folks' blog posts — we've got a fine batch of 'em, if I may say so myself — and tagging along to see artists whose sets my colleagues were covering. Our own Steve Haruch will no doubt have some words on Murfreesboroan-made-good songstress Sharon Van Etten, who played her heartfelt, dense indie rock on Which Stage.
I also popped over to The Other Tent for Justin Townes Earle, and Seth Graves can hip everyone to that a little later. I'll say, though, JTE sculpts a narrative with his banter and set arrangement that's telling of his family ties and the tradition he was raised in — though talking about his dad and name-dropping namesake Townes Van Zandt made the aforementioned familial relations pretty apparent. Our girl, Tristen/Korean Is Asian member and occasional Scene contributor Jordan Caress, joined in on vocals for Earle's "Harlem River Blues," as did Ben Sollee and the rest of Earle's familiar-faced band. Also, he admitted that he "likes drugs," but tries not to do them.
As you saw from Brantley Hargrove's report, My Morning Jacket did that thing they do: festival-sized, noodly, feel-good blowouts. MMJ is certainly the sort of band that must be appreciated for filling a much-needed niche, and for doing it with songs that are — by and large — pretty enjoyable. Gives me a bit of historical context on why people dig big-bill, longwinded jam bands. Not that I can stomach most of them, but MMJ brings me about as close as I'll get.
Now, after being dumped from the My Morning Jacket pit and into an unfamiliar, artist-only backstage access area, Ashley Spurgeon and I decided to play it cool and smoke cigarettes — both the left-handed and the right-handed kind — between a couple of gear-transport vehicles. It was about then that several — I'd venture to say at least a couple dozen, perhaps? — para-tROOpers dropped from the sky, releasing propellored glow sticks as they descended with the grace of that feather in Forrest Gump ... but more psychedelic-like ... like if Ke$ha directed Gump instead of Robert Zemekis or something.
Our patience and cloaking skills paid off, as Spurgeon and I were granted early access to the pit just before 11 p.m., finding a spot along the catwalk-y sound-booth access path — no further from the stage than 15 yards, and close to dead-center. The cinematically themed stage design couldn't have been more appropriate, as the Canadian-slash-Texan superstars of wide-eyed suburban angst sang and played every note (as they always do) like it could be their last ever. The last time I caught Arcade Fire, I was photographing them (however amateurishly). Now, they perform with the same gracious humility, but with the confidence of a band that ... well, was playing for tens of thousands of people, just won a fucking Grammy and can still get away with playing a hurdy gurdy.
Frontman Win Butler guided his ensemble through all the most stirring numbers from Funeral, The Suburbs and Neon Bible, noting that any festival featuring both Lil Wayne and My Morning Jacket was A-OK with him, and exerting the sort of zeal and prowess that makes you think he may have gotten a few pointers straight from his boy Bruce Springsteen. Butler even said "Let's do this, you fucking hippies" at one point, and it came off kind of endearing. After he climbed on the barricade beside me — I would've snapped a pic, but I was too busy supporting the weight of his strapping Mormon-bred hock as he saturated Spurgeon in Butlersweat — Arcade Fire unsurprisingly encored with "Wake Up" and "Sprawl." But in that order ... so that part is mildly surprising.
And the rest of the night paled in comparison, as my battery was drained by people making "party favor" inquiries via text message, and Lil Wayne's security personnel seemingly ditched Bonnaroo's protocol for their own. Weezy's an icon, a rock star ... but I just kept thinking to myself, "Why in the hell am I not at Big Boi?"
This morning I caught that Spin-beloved songstress I mentioned yesterday playing the press tent, doing the whole media-darling thing. Now, there's talk of lost phones and found drugs. And Ron Jeremy was here yesterday. And I've run into Nashvillians like Jemina Pearl and Infinity Cat's Bob Orrall, and I've pressed flesh with a bunch of dudes whose names I'm supposed to remember.
Now, to get something in my system that obliterates any and all memories of flesh-pressin' — except when Win Butler pressed his flesh on me. I'll hang onto that one. Hope to see The Black Keys, Deer Tick and more this evening. Stay tuned, beautiful babies.