I’m a pretty fortunate person–in February, I sold my house for just under the asking price in the worst housing market in years, and just yesterday I sold my V8, 15 mpg truck for Kelley Blue Book value during the highest gas prices in history. Continuing that good fortune, my wife scored free tickets to Bonnaroo through her job, including backstage passes (to every stage except the main stage), a free hotel, and free shuttle rides to and from the concert. Yeah, I didn’t get the whole hippie-in-a-tent experience, but whatever. I’ve never been known for roughing it–the first time I ever went camping, I forgot my sleeping bag and underwear. So, you could say I’m not really cut out for that kind of life.
Over the past 24 hours, a lot of my friends and family have been asking how the experience was, so instead of repeating the same story 1,000 times, I thought I’d just write about it here.
Friday – Willie Nelson Still Looks Old
We got to the hotel Friday afternoon, where the person in charge gave us our passes and explained what kind of access/amenities those passes came with. She was a Bonnaroo veteran, and said trendy Bonnaroo things like “gen pop” and “yeah, like, her music is really revolutionary.” I was confused.
We boarded the shuttle and headed on our way. People were discussing who they wanted to see the most, and I said, among others, Donovan Frankenreiter. Someone asked if he invented the hot dog. These people gave me free Bonnaroo VIP tickets, so I won’t criticize their comedic talents.
We got to Bonnaroo, and were whisked to the Artist’s Tent where all the artists go to hang out in the lounge, or grab dinner in the mess hall, or get free merchandise from any of the vendors’ tents set up back there. The first celebrities I saw were comedians Brian Posehn and Zack Galifianakis. As the young kids say, “meh.”
We headed onto Which Stage (the various venues within Bonnaroo are titled What Stage, Which Stage, This Tent, That Tent, the Other Tent, etc…you know, because dumb hippies with a minimum of 7 lbs of marijuana in their systems aren’t impaired enough) to see Willie Nelson (speaking of dumb hippies). There were roughly 37 people on stage with him, 4 of which were physically propping him up, like “Weekend at Bernie’s.” But he was good nonetheless, and played a lot of his classics, which the crowd wanted to hear. After that, we saw Chris Rock, who was just hilarious. Really, really funny. I wasn’t sure how he would mix with the crowd given their general demographic (I think he was the only black person I saw all weekend), but he was great. Some of his best jokes were (and I’m paraphrasing, here):
“Could Barack Obama’s name sound any more black? He shouldn’t be running for president, he should be the bassist for The Commodores…and one of those black as fuckin’ night guys, too…not the light skinned motherfuckers!”
“Why are gas prices so high? Let me get this right–we invade countries with shitloads of oil, and gas prices skyrocket??? I’ll tell you this: if I invade IHOP, pancakes are gonna be cheap as shit in my house.”
Good stuff, and the crowd loved it. Shortly thereafter, Metallica went on. They were really loud. Good, but loud. Then, My Morning Jacket followed them, and the skies opened up. It was flood-level rain. MMJ performed really well–lots of energy and enthusiasm–but Jim Jones’ voice sounded like shit. I have tickets to see them in Atlanta in August–I hope Jones’ voice sounds better then. Afterward, we went back to the hotel, showered, and slept.
Saturday – More Sweaty, Hairy, Naked Hippies
The next morning I noticed there was a Great Clips next to our hotel, and I needed a hair cut. While I was waiting, the barbers were discussing Bonnaroo, and who was headlining. None of them could think of a single act, until someone said “Yeah, I think that band ZZ Top is the headliner.” And another concurred “Yeah, yeah, that’s right…ZZ Top. I ain’t goin’ out there with no damn smelly hippies to watch no damn ZZ Top.” I just kept my mouth shut, and thanked every deity I could think of for ZZ Top not actually headlining Bonnaroo. I fucking hate ZZ Top.
We headed back out to the farm a little after noon, and caught Donovan Frankenreiter on one of the smaller stages. As I mentioned before, he was one of the main guys I wanted to see, so this was a great show. He and his band did a phenomenal job, and sounded great. We got backstage, and were able to watch the concert from there. That was cool–cooler than I thought it would be. Afterward, I corralled a completely stoned Frankenreiter for a picture, and he obliged. Cool! I told my wife I could’ve gone home at that point and considered the weekend a success. Little did I know–we had a pretty big night ahead of us…
Our plan was to watch the following bands Saturday afternoon/evening:
Iron & Wine
This was going to take some deft manuevering and strategizing, given that
a) some of these bands were playing at the same time
b) we hadn’t eaten since breakfast
c) we didn’t have a map
d) Kanye West wasn’t playing until 2:45am
But we soldiered on. We first went to see BB King. PHENOMENAL. He put on a great show, with great music and really entertaining storytelling. He’s 82 years old, so of course he’s not what he used to be–but his band is one of the best I’ve ever heard. Very talented musicians.
From there we caught a brief glimpse of Ben Folds…glad it was only a glimpse, from what I heard. I spoke with someone who had been to at least 10 Ben Folds shows, and she said it was one of the worst she’d seen. He apparently didn’t sound so great, and didn’t play many of his recognizable songs. I’m sure some people get tired of hearing his hits, but his most recent album sucked ass…so I wanted more of the older tunes. Oh well. Iron & Wine was too far away from where we were, and we missed him. It’s probably better we didn’t catch him. That guy is the most mellow singer I’ve ever heard, and mixing him with all the pot in the air probably caused everyone to fall asleep.
We were then whisked to the Yahoo! tour bus (Yahoo! gave us the tickets, which is why I feel inclined to include the exclamation point), where it was rumored that we would be able to get up close and personal with Jack Johnson and Pearl Jam for the evening. This was a big deal, because since there wasn’t much else happening Saturday evening, almost all of the 80,000 people were at the main stage already, and had been since earlier in the day. So it would be difficult for us to get a good spot that late in the day without some preferential treatment.
While waiting at the Yahoo! bus, someone in the group asked if I was a hockey fan. At that very moment, Sean Avery drove by us on a golf cart…I’m not kidding. I couldn’t make this up. Supposedly, many of the NY Rangers had chartered a bus to Bonnaroo, and it was parked next to the Yahoo! bus. He waved to us. I asked him not to beat the fuck out of me.
Soon enough, some head honcho with Bonnaroo was herding us like cattle to a special spot in front of the stage, in front of all of the campers. I felt bad because these guys had sweated and slept through days of heat for their spots, and here we were waltzing in 15 minutes before the show with a better view than them. I got over it soon enough, though.
Jack Johnson came on and performed an excellent set. I had never seen him in concert before, and didn’t consider myself a huge fan, but he was great…I consider a performance to be awesome if it convinces me to go home and download more music by that artist; and that was the case with Jack Johnson (and many others I saw this weekend).
We were told that the Bonnaroo Honcho would have to corral us out of the area between Jack Johnson and Pearl Jam’s sets because of all the setup that needed to occur. So, we walked backstage again after Jack’s concert and waited. Soon enough, Johnson was walking right next to me, so my wife snapped a picture. Good story, though (well, at least to me): He was getting harassed by people to sign autographs, take multiple pictures, meet and greet, etc. I could tell he was being really nice, but was also really tired and probably growing weary of the whole thing. So, not feeling sympathetic enough to just leave him alone as I should have, we had the following conversation:
Me: Hey Jack, walk and smile while my wife takes a picture?
Jack: Hey dude, yeah. Walk and smile. I like that. I’m gonna use that from now on. Cool?
Me: Wha….huh? Sorry, I just got lost in your eyes.
Okay, so the last line didn’t happen…I actually just said “yeah man, cool” and then my wife took the picture. So, in our brief interaction, I can say he seemed like a cool dude. Very laid back, which is what everyone says about his music. And I’m not posting the photo because if I revealed who I am on my sports blog, I might get fired (Please see Exhibit A). I guess since I’m reluctant to “come out” to the blogosphere, I now know what gay people feel like…well, minus the whole sex-in-the-butt thing.
While we waited to be herded back to the front for Pearl Jam, my wife squeezed my arm with strength that I didn’t know she had. She whispered, “OLSEN TWINS…OLSEN TWINS…HONEY…HOLY SHIT…OLSEN TWINS” Sure enough, there were the Olsen twins standing three feet away from me. They looked very waifish and drugged out…and had the whole “grunge look” (circa Seattle, 1991) going on. One had on a red flannel shirt, and the other a white shirt and a big black hat. Everyone around them was dressed the same, and all of the men had very scraggly hair and beards. They were all so alternative!
Then I saw Sean Avery again, and I put two and two together, remembering that I had read somewhere that he was dating one of the Olsen twins. My wife wanted me to take a picture of her with them, but everyone around us was saying that they got pissed earlier when someone asked to take a picture with them, and that for the sake of my wife’s job, she probably shouldn’t do it. Me, I just pictured Avery punching me in the face and taking my camera. My wife was trashed at this point, so she would not be denied. She stole the camera from me, walked about 10 feet away from the Olsens, and pretended to take a picture of the backstage, instead taking a picture of the Olsens from behind. At this moment she’s still employed. (In the picture to your right, one is in the red flannel shirt, and the other is on the right in the white shirt and black hat).
The Olsens and their grungy entourage were allowed on stage with Pearl Jam (not actually on stage, but right off to the side). We were taken to the same spot where we watched Jack Johnson. (In the picture below, one of the Olsens (not sure which one) is in the white shirt and black hat).
I consider myself a “fan” of Pearl Jam…not like a card-carrying member of their fan club or anything, but a fan. I have all their songs, and like most of them. Some I like a lot (Corduroy, Hail Hail, Rearviewmirror), and some I like a little. Well, consider me a fan of Pearl Jam now. When you go to a concert, you want to feel like you got your money’s worth. Now, when you didn’t pay any money for the tickets, “getting your money’s worth” becomes a figure of speech, loosely meaning that you want the band to earn their money; to seem like they want to be there; to give their all, to put everything into that one show that one night. Pearl Jam did that Saturday night.
They were supposed to play for two hours and played for three…in a time where most headliners play for an hour and a half tops, that’s a lot. By the end of the show they had played all their hits, and they were drenched in sweat. Eddie spent too much time being political, but that’s just Eddie…comes with the territory these days. Even still, it was a positive political bent…a lot of “we’ve all come together tonight for a wonderful peaceful thing, and we can make change in this world in the same way” type talk. I almost didn’t want Kanye West to even perform afterward, because anyone following Pearl Jam would’ve been a letdown.
Well, you could say Kanye was a letdown. Here’s the rumored chronology of events that transpired to put Kanye in the 2:45am time slot. He was scheduled to perform Saturday evening on the Which Stage, which is the second-biggest stage after the main stage, the What Stage. Rumor has it that he (or, more accurately, his ego) was pissed that he wasn’t on the main stage, so he bitched and moaned until they moved him to the main stage. The only problem was that the main stage was already full in the evening. So the only time they could put him on the main stage was 2:45am.
We had every intention of staying until 2:45, because we had heard that Kanye’s show was supposed to be quite entertaining–something about glow in the dark, or something…I don’t know. My wife wasn’t feeling well (which is what happens when you drink 15 beers and don’t eat anything), so we had to leave after Pearl Jam had finished. The whole way home I was angry with her, because I wanted to stay for Kanye. Good thing we didn’t.
The next morning we saw some friends in the hotel lobby that stayed at the concert until 3:15. They said that at 2:45, Bonnaroo’s video boards stated that Kanye’s show was delayed until 3:15. At 3:15, they said it was delayed until 4:00. So, at 3:15, they gave up. He ended up going on at 4:15, shortly after the stage was pelted with glow sticks and everyone chanted, “Kanye sucks! Kanye sucks!” The guy really knows how to work a crowd.
On Sunday we packed up our things and went home. We both had to work Monday morning (should’ve taken the day off…now we know) and with the time zone change, we would’ve gotten home well after midnight if we stayed for the Sunday performances. We had seen plenty of music, though:
My Morning Jacket
We had an amazing time, got some access we’ll probably never have again, and I got confirmation that years and years of waiting on the Olsen twins to become adults was a complete waste of time. But hey, Jack Johnson thinks I’m cool, so, you know, I got that going for me…which is nice.