OK…here we go. This is going to take a while cause this weekend was packed with fun and beauty.
I got about 5 and a half hours of sleep on Wednesday night. I maybe should have gone to bed a little earlier considering what was to come but I didn’t. I got out of bed a little after 5:30 (EDT) Thursday and was on the road within half an hour.
I have lots of things to say about the highways in Kentucky. On Thursday I drove on a new stretch of expressway. This doesn’t often happen as I’ve been on most of them. But I’m pretty sure Thursday was the first time I ever drove the stretch of I-71 that extends between Cincinnati and Louisville. It is a very nice stretch of road, rolling along through forests and hills, following a path south of the Ohio River, and there wasn’t much traffic (I sort of assume this is usually the case on this road.) But my if there wasn’t a crap load of activity. Construction. Teams of men mowing the lawn on the side of the road. People RUNNING out into the middle of the expressway to pick up and dispose of tire rubber. And all these activities have their own specific signs. It was like driving on an obstacle course. Then it met up with lame old I-65 in Louisville (where someone threw up a mean tag over the expressway) and I headed south. You may recall my story about Elizabethtown from March. Well, I was happy to get past that point without hitting traffic, but a few miles south THERE IT WAS. But it wasn’t TOO bad and I kept moving.
I arrived in Nashville a little bit after 11 (CDT) and picked my friend Carl up in Nashville. This worked well because he had pretty much all the camping shit since I don’t regularly camp. We turned the car into a Tetris game to make everything fit. Then we transferred our liquor to plastic bottles since you can’t bring glass on the grounds at Bonnaroo. Before we left town we stopped at a grocery store cause I needed some BEER (and I suppose also some fruit.) This was tricky. Due to the previously mentioned regulation I had to buy cans. Since everyone was heading to Bonnaroo the store was pretty picked over. Carl said he made a nice snag the night before when he picked up twelve each of Blue Moon and Yuengling, but by Wednesday morning I was pretty stuck. We decided to try the liquor store. Picked over as well so I just decided to go cheap and grab two twelvers of Miller Lite. Then I spotted one of those Guinness four packs so I grabbed that. Then I found some Heineken tall boys two for three dollars so I threw them on as well and we were on our way.
Bonnaroo is a little over an hour south of Nashville. We listened to Weezy. Maybe two exits before Manchester we pulled off for gas. After filling up I went in to grab a soda and LOW AND BEHOLD I spotted a twelve pack of Fat Tire. #winning. So I bought it…I just couldn’t believe they had something this close to the fest! At this point I was PLENTY set on beer.
I had heard all the horror stories about people waiting on the expressway for eight hours trying to get into the festival so I was relatively prepared for that. What I wasn’t prepared for was how confusing it was. We drove up to the exit and there was no backup which was confusing. Then we saw a flashing sign directing us to go the next exit THIRTEEN MILES DOWN THE ROAD. Carl and I both said…FUCK THAT. We got off at the exit with nobody there. We ran into some cops at the VIP entrance and they were not helpful. They just yelled ASBURY ROAD as if we had any idea what the hell that was. So we fiddled around on some back roads with no cars in sight and then BOOM all of a sudden we found the festival’s back entrance. We drove right up to the inspection point with absolutely zero wait time. They inspected the car, threatened to count our beer (limit is 48 per person…we were under but barely), then got lazy when we didn’t react. And guess what…we were at our campsite by 1:30, well before the music was scheduled to start.
So then it was time to set up. Obviously I had no idea what I was doing. I pretty much just did what Carl told me to. He was pretty cool about it. He set up his tent and mostly set up mine. He said to consider it paying me back for picking him up. That made sense. And it didn’t really take all that long. By about 2:30 we were sitting under the canopy drinking the beer and perusing the schedule / guidebook. This was mostly what we did for the next couple hours. Also we me our neighbors. On one side were Randy and Margaret, aging hippies from Maine. On the other were a couple I can’t remember the names of from Georgia. The dude was British and the girl was, like, Asian or something with a strong southern accent. Isn’t that silly? All were very nice. Two tents down were some loud college kids with drugs and fireworks and radios. We didn’t talk to them.
When we finally headed out (around 4:30) we found that our walk was long…about 35 minutes. We each brought a beer for the walk but it became apparent that for the next three days this would be a two beer walk. We got there and were met by a medium length line to get in…ten minutes maybe? Then we did get in and there wasn’t a ton to do for a little while. Carl met up with his friend Todd and went to check out Karen Elson…rumor had it Jack White may make an appearance but he didn’t. I listened to a couple Wavves songs and then chose to scope out the grounds a little bit since it was my first time. It’s quite the small community and I quickly figured out where everything is: the five main stages, the movie theater, the comedy theater, the sports bar, the cell phone charging area, the food stands, the porta potties. All these places will be part of the four day story.
The first band I watched for a full set was Best Coast. There was nothing wrong with their set but it wasn’t really anything special. Pretty much the same thing I saw from them the last two times. But they were a pleasant way to start the weekend, nice sing along, feel-good pop songs. One weird thing…some dudes started a mini mosh pit. Normally I would be annoyed by a mosh pit at a Best Coast show but it was so gentle and goofy that it kind of just made me laugh.
When Best Coast finished I wandered over and got a decent spot on the side of the tent and a ways back for J. Cole. The man doesn’t have an album out and the place was PACKED. This didn’t surprise me a lot…since neither of the main stages were open people were fairly concentrated in a small area on Thursday night. What surprised me as the show went on was that this massive crowd was rapping along with the lyrics to deep mix-tape cuts. J. Cole seemed genuinely moved (and surprised) by the response of the crowd and put on a hell of a show, filling his whole hour. He gave plenty of Rocafella love from the start, leading the show off with his verse from Jay-Z’s “A Star is Born”. He also did a fun Tupac tribute, letting the crowd join in on “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” and “Hail Mary”. Oddly enough, fewer people seemed to know these songs than the J. Cole songs. Weird.
At the end of the show I ran into my friends Tom and Alex at what would soon be known as “THE ATM”. We hung out there a bit and drank beer. Then it was time for Sleigh Bells. What a clusterfuck. They played on the smallest stage on a night without main stages drawing people away and the crowd was enormous. Then when they went on (about fifteen minutes late) the sound was terrible. The mix was bad and way in the back where we were it was way too quiet. I was surprised to learn later that people in the front were talking about it being the loudest show they had ever heard. Just one of those things I guess. The band seemed alright from what I could tell. But they only played about 35 minutes and I would have to say it was a fairly disappointing set.
After Sleigh Bells part of me was tempted to just head back to camp. I like Deerhunter but they will be at Pitchfork. Carl was at the comedy show with Todd and it occurred to me that if I headed back right now I could conceivably get 7 (or even 8) hours of sleep, unheard of in these parts. But Alex and Tom convinced me to go to Deerhunter (and then left themselves after a little bit) and truth be told I wasn’t crazy about the idea of trying to locate camp by myself. Anyway, I’m really glad I stayed because Deerhunter turned out to be the clear highlight of the evening. They even went over their time, playing an encore and everything.
So now I had the grounds down and I’d gotten a taste of what the stages were like. It was a pretty good night. At this point I decided to just wait for Carl to finish at the comedy show (which btw was Cheech Marin and Jay Pharaoh and some other dude…I sorta wanted to go, didn’t get a ticket, but then Carl told me it was pretty disappointing.) While I waited I listened to a couple songs by Dam Funk. They (he?) were pretty good and the place had cleared out quite a bit so it was a nice way to relax. Then we walked the whole long walk back. I was in bed by a little after 2, listening to Dam Funk from my tent, and got a DECENT night’s sleep. Good thing cause shit was about to get frantic…