Monday, June 13, 2005
Here's what I scribbled the first night, a couple of hours after arriving:
"So I'm here. I think part of me had stopped believing that I would ever actually get here. Most of the way here in the car I couldn't stop thinking about the test. I still have no idea if I passed. But we're here, and we pitched our tent, and I'm standing here listening to Bela Fleck and the crowd is roaring and we just bought beer and I swear the first sip was the best fucking beer I've ever had. This is happiness."
Manchester is only a few hours away, but we had read all these horror stories about people stuck in traffic all night, so even though we left around 3 in the afternoon, we weren't counting on catching Dave Matthews Band from 8-12 and were a little worried we might even miss The Mars Volta from 1-4. But fate smiled on us and we had no problem getting there, minimal traffic, and were all set up and at the concert site a little after 7 (the time change, which we had forgotten about, helped out too). So we caught a bit of Bela Fleck and were introduced to quite possibly one of the best features of Bonnaroo - the crowd. It sounds corny and naive, but seriously, the vast majority of people there just had more respect for incredibly well-played music than any other show I've ever been too. Of course, most concert-goers like 'good' music, whatever they consider to be good. But I mean a tent full of people just going nuts because the guy on stage is a particularly talented banjo strummer. How often does that really happen?
Next up was Dave, which was, of course, amazing. Tens of thousands of people all opening their mouths and singing "You've got your ball/you've got your chain/ tied to me tight tie me up again" in perfect unison. Doesn't get any better than that. He also did an excellent cover of "Time of the Season" by the Zombies. ("who's your daddy?")
After that we hurried over to That Tent (yes, everything is named to get maximum entertainment out of drunk/stoned/otherwise totally fucked up people) to get a good place for The Mars Volta and were treated to Saul Williams, a spoken word artist/poet/rapper whom you should definitely check out. "Never forget/that this country is one of the richest in the world/Because it was built./For Free." I also caught a sly reference to "knowing where diamonds come from." I was hoping to find some excerpts online, but you'll just have to take my word for how impressive he is.
And The Mars Volta. Whoa, The Mars Volta. By the time they took the stage a little before 2 am I was, for a variety of non-pharmaceutical-reasons, not completely myself (you try waking up early to take a 4 hour exam, then throw a ton of stuff in your car, drive for 4 hours, then stand for 7. you'll be a little nutty too). Which made for one hell of a concert-going experience. One of those really amazing ones where the crush of noise just washes over you and spreads through you and vibrates in your chest and there's no way to describe it without resorting to cliches.
We finally stumbled the mile and half or so back to our tent (it never felt all that far, but it took a good 30 minutes or so to get from our campsite to the concert site, so I'm guessing it was somewhere between one and two miles) and did the requisite port-o-let-in-the-dark adventure (thank goodness Travers thought to bring a headlamp!) and sacked out for the night. I woke up five hours later very confused because my brain had been wrestling with the sum of xs and ys and x-squareds and y-sub-n and y-sub-n-minus-1 all night (stoopid brain!) but managed to doze a few more hours that morning. Then it was time for breakfast. Our brilliant plan to use dry ice to keep our burgers frozen for more than one day worked well for the meat, but alas proved too cold for our eggs, as they froze and busted open. So no omelets for us, but some pretty cool artwork, so that's ok. After potatoes and onions and cornbread we trudged through the drizzle back to Centeroo to catch the end of Kings of Leon, a few songs from Mouse on Mars (to make a nice linguistic trifecta with The Mars Volta and Modest Mouse) and a few minutes of Government Mule.
Back to camp for burgers and sitting down in preparation for another longish night featuring The Black Crowes, Jack Johnson, Widespread Panic, Trey Anastasio, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, and De La Soul. Somewhat surprisingly, Jack Johnson was perhaps my favorite of this night (including the truly hippie/woodstock experience of watching several people climb way, way up to the top of surrounding trees to get a better view), though Trey did feature Bo Bice for one song, which was entertaining. Travers and I were both dragging a bit by this point, so we mostly just put in appearances for a few songs here and there from each of the above shows, with breaks to enjoy one of the best scenes in Kill Bill (yes, bonnaroo features a 24-hour movie theater, though why anyone would pay that much money for a concert ticket and hang out in the theater is beyond me; we only stayed a few minutes) and quality beer consumption at Brooer's Festival, where the patio provided the ideal place to sit and listen to Widespread Panic. One ounce tastings for one dollar, unless you're a girl, then the guy from Magic Hat gives you a full 16 ounce beer for one buck! Magic Hat is an excellent microbrewery in Vermont, and they also make condoms! How fun is that?
Another night, another several hours struggling with math problems, and then it was our last day. We were supposed to get the front end of the hurricane moving up the coast, and when we woke up it did look like hell was blowing in. But after a bit of wind and rain in the morning, everything seemed to blow over and we were treated to blue skies and sunshine most of the afternoon. Which was nice, except that Travers and I woke up with pink faces, necks, and shoulders, which seems impossible given how covered up we were the day before. Even multiple applications of sunblock wasn't enough to prevent us from growing ever pinker.
So we packed up the tent and people-watched our way back to Centeroo for the Old 97's, Matisyahu (I kid you not, "a Hasidic Reggae Superstar"), a brief nap in a field (now that things were finally dry enough that you could sit on the ground without the aid of a plastic bag), Heartless Bastards (a little Pretenders-esque, but also enjoyably described as "... suggestive of Robert Plant, minus his girly frills"), Umphrey's McGee, Bob Weir and RatDog (I got to hear an original member of the Dead play Sugar Magnolia!), and My Morning Jacket. We finished off the night with Modest Mouse (definitely one of the highlights of my weekend) and lying in the grass, watching the clouds blow by, and listening to Earl Scruggs and Friends (considered one of the fathers of bluegrass). Perfection.
The soggy weekend turned everything into a mudpit, but thankfully The Intrepid Snowflake and her four-wheel-drive had little problem slipping and sliding our way out of the field and onto the longest detour ever back to the highway.
There was plenty of other fun to be had as well, in addition to more music than one person could ever possibly listen to in three days. We saw some excellent break dancing, scary fire-breathing, a highly entertaining "silent disco party" and more lost and confused looking people than ever before. Walking up and down the road to centeroo you would pass people with signs - "Looking for Dank" (which always made me laugh since I would think of Scott and April's cat) "If I had a hole in my bowl/would you plug it was a nugget?" and walking around with unrolled bags of weed and others calling out "Molly! Fungus!" and lighting up bowls in the middle of the afternoon out in the open and more venders selling glasswear than I've ever seen in one place. And families! So many parents there with little kids! Mind boggling.
I can't think of a better music festival companion than Travers. He did all the cooking all weekend, memorized the map in a matter of seconds and was able to lead us around Centeroo trouble-free day and night, consistently found and pointed out the locations in the crowd where I might have a little more personal space, or a slightly better view, and humored my zillion-and-one trips to the port-o-johns (and ensuing addiction to purell).
My only mild disappointment was the discovery of something I pretty much knew all along - Cartmen is right, too many hippies don't actually do anything to create change. I was hopeful that this concert might be a tad different - that people might actually clean up after themselves instead of leaving behind a giant wasteland. I was wrong. But as things go, that's pretty mild disappointment. In general, people were nice and easy going and took care of and looked after one another, so how much more can you really ask for?
 I have to confront my own racism with this one. When Saul Williams started out, I have to confess I was uncomfortable, in a way that makes me very ashamed. Although I agree with what he had to say, I have to admit that for the first few minutes I glanced around at the few black faces in the crowd and wondered if they would get 'worked up' and whether things might potentially turn violent. Rationally, of course, I know that this is a completely absurd thought, and I'm very thankful that after a few minutes it went away. But I have to own up to that thought, because change begins at home.
Carrie is all over the important stuff lately. Go here and read her post about the Downing Street Memo, then promptly do all the stuff she says (will only take a minute, I promise).
Also, she has a link to this poor kid, whose parents are sending him to a 'make-'em-straight' camp after he came out to them. Every single person who is even contemplating children should read this. Parents, never, ever, ever do this to your child.
I wish I had never told them. I wish I just fought the urge two more years... I had done it for three before then, right? If I could take it all back.. I would, to where I never told my parents things and they always were mad at me-- It's better than them crying and depressed cause they will have no granchildren from me. It's better than them telling me that there's something wrong with me. It's better than them explaining to me that they "raised me wrong."
Sunday, June 12, 2005
"I'm not broke/but you can see the cracks"
Well, that's over. I honestly have no idea whether I passed my exam or not, and won't find out for a month or two. But it's over, thank goodness, and I've survived, more or less intact. Actually, somewhat less, I think. I knew going in to this that it would be the hardest, most stressful thing I've ever done. Nonetheless, it pretty much knocked me on my ass. Once I get some distance from it, I think I'm going to have to spend some quality time trying to figure out why I was nearly broken by this thing. I'm still working through some of the lingering effects, like periodic panic attacks and the dreams about math that woke me up both mornings at Bonnaroo.
And speaking of Bonnaroo, I survived that too! In a much more positive, albeit dirtier and pinker way. (yes, Travers and I are so white that we can get sunburned on a mostly cloudy day and despite wearing long-sleeved raincoats most of the day) I'm not sure words can describe how amazing the experience was, but tomorrow I will give it a try (I did some journal-ing there, but there wasn't much downtime). For now, I need food and sleep.