Sorry kids, I've been knocked out with a head cold for a few days (lack of sleep + dirty hippies + snot-nosed kids at the gym, who would've ever thought I'd get sick?)
So, right, Bonnaroo! Travers and I crept our way through Atlanta rush-hour traffic Friday afternoon, completely forgot about the time change between here and Manchester, and celebrated our early-to-on-time arrival with a trip to Sonic and our last chance at toilets that flush and soap and water. Our best karma ever continued as we rolled onto the festival grounds and were directed to a prime camping location (less than two blocks from the Centeroo entrance in one direction and direct access back onto the highway in the other, meaning our walk to the shows was very short and we dodged most of the traffic leaving Sunday evening).
First show of the night was Tom Petty, and damn does that guy rock! I mean, obviously, but I think I have a tendency to think of Petty as a sort of working musician, someone who reliably churns out hits year after year, but who is, perhaps occasionally, not great. But seeing him, and the Heartbreakers, who were celebrating their 30th anniversary, in person, I realized was a little like seeing Eric Clapton. I mean, holy shit, those folks are talented! There were the obvious, and yet thoroughly enjoyable, drug references during which most of the audience lit up ('Let's roll another joint,' 'Last dance with Mary Jane'). Tom Petty talking about how after a couple of years of playing they started to notice they had a little sister, and they were happy to have her here tonight, and introducing Stevie Nicks! This show was also the beginning of our theme for the weekend - all bands should play cover songs. Petty talked about the music that he and the Heartbreakers dug when they were young, then launched into a series of covers, most of which I couldn't name, but one was definitely by the Yardbirds.
Afterward we actually managed to meet up with two other friends who'd already been there since Wednesday night. We all headed over to the midnight show of My Morning Jacket. I liked it, but was getting tired, and now I feel like a jackass because I made Travers leave around 2:30 and they played until 3am and apparently it was The show everyone talked about all weekend. Maybe I was just tired, maybe I don't have good taste, but I saw other, better shows that weekend. Highlights from My Morning Jacket though included when they came back for their encore (really, it was probably more like just after intermission) and covered half the Rushmore soundtrack and the hippie guy who climbed up on the scaffolding holding up the tent and danced and gyrated and swung and pill-popped and nearly fell (but managed to climb down safely in time for security to escort him out).
Saturday morning I actually woke up and spread out our blanket for a bit of early morning yoga. I know, I'm a dork. But my back thanked me for it. The first two bands of the morning were Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (impressive, lead singer sounds a little like a more rocking version of Sheryl Crow) and The Magic Numbers (Corrine's recommendation, also thoroughly enjoyable). I don't have anything more interesting to say about either, unfortunately, because after our mid-morning burgers and beer I was dragging through those first two shows. We managed to catch a few minutes of Dungen and Steel Train on our way to meet our friends (eh and damn! impressive respectively) and attempt to catch the score of the US vs. Italy soccer game, only to discover a HUGE line outside the movie tent where it was showing. So instead we moved on to Buddy Guy (and, fortunately, I perked up). And holy shit, this blues legend and influence to the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton is un-fucking-believable! I mean, his skill is awesome at any age, but he's 70! He growled out, "Y'all are going to have to stop me, 'cause I feel good!"
Alas, I would have loved to catch his entire set, but we departed early for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. They were adorable as ever, but I have to say generally sloppier and not as good as when I saw them at the Variety with the Canadians.
We caught a few minutes of Rusted Root on our way to check out Elvis Costello and the Imposters featuring Allen Toussaint. They were good, and I'm glad I can now say I've seen Elvis Costello, but I have to say, not terribly noteworthy. Then again, by 4:00 it's possible the heat and sun were just getting to me.
We stopped by Damian 'Jr. Gong' Marley on our way back to camp, and the talent in that family is obviously genetic. Having never seen Bob Marley live I guess I can't make any direct comparisons, but Jr Gong was pretty freaking awesome (and the huge crowd clearly agreed).
After a brief stop at camp to pick up more water it was back to the main stage for Beck. For me, this was the best show thus far, but several people I spoke to afterwards were disappointed. I agree, audience response was not what I would have hoped for, but Beck was pretty much how I expected him to be - funny and cerebral and ironic and a tad insulting. His band did this whole bit sitting around a table playing cups and plates instead of 'real' instruments and there were marionets and a video around Centeroo making fun of hardcore hippies. And, once again continuing our theme, Beck covered The Flaming Lips "Do you realize?"
We skipped Cypress Hill in favor of staying near the main stage and staking out a spot slightly closer for Radiohead. Good thing, too, since the two jumbo-trons went out about 20 minutes into their set, and if we'd been any further back I wouldn't have seen a thing. As it was, my calves got quite the workout. Radiohead was, of course, unreal and surreal and fantastic.
Afterward we hit the beer tent to sample tasty beverages from microbrews in Brooklyn and Boston and who knows where else. The grand plan was to head back to camp and rest a bit, refuel, and then see the Dresden Dolls and Sasha. Alas, we are old, and after a 30 minute nap we both agreed we were too tired to really enjoy either show. I felt badly about that too, especially after our other friends told us how incredibly awesome it was to watch the sun come up while dancing to Sasha. But Sunday was our fullest day of music, and our drive home, so I think in the long run I had a better time thanks to more sleep. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.
Sunday morning at 10am I scribbled this down:
So it's been a mixed bag this year. On the one hand, I arrived Friday evening way happier and excited and in a better mood than last year. On the other hand, I was really dragging yesterday morning and we bailed on the late-night sets last night and settled instead for a nearly full night of sleep. Which, frankly, makes me feel a little old.
The people watching has been stellar - the Abercrombie and Fitch guys across from us who locked their keys in the car the first night, the middle-aged women next to us who shampooed their hair and febreezed their clothes, the gross, sketchy old dues clearly trolling for younger women, the remarkable number of middle-aged couples getting stoned, the random guy in a squirrel suit who looked up and grinned and offered to pose for pictures when Melissa deadpanned, Guys. It's a squirrel. The yuppies next to us who, no joke, watched Wedding Crashers on their dvd player Sunday morning.
So back to the music. We started off Sunday with Mike Doughty, and the combination of excellent viewing, good music, and banter (So, is there anything we should talk about?) were the perfect way to start the day. After that is was on to the small acoustic stage for Rusted Root, where some middling solo work and excellent banter (I'm hungover...went out partying with Shooter Jennings last night) gave way to a rolling acoustic version of Send Me on My Way. Absolute perfect timing allowed for highlights of Jerry Douglas and Deadboy and the Elephantmen (the former a student of Bela Fleck, the latter much harsher, both thoroughly enjoyable) before swinging over to That Tent in time to get the perfect spot (dead center, near the front) for The Streets.
Holy fucking shit, The Streets. This was, hands down, the best show I saw all weekend. Yes, better than Tom Petty, and yes, better than Radiohead. (though, in fairness, I'm sure that was due to my proximity more than actual performances) They bounced out on stage talking about how they knew we'd been there in the hot sun for three days and we were tired but they wanted us to have some fun and jump around. Then they serenaded a hot girl in the front (I bet that you would look good on the dance floor!) then realized she had a boyfriend and apologized to him, then sang, Don't you wish your boyfriend was hot like me/don't you wish your boyfriend ate your pussy like me! (for a mediocre recording of that moment, go here) From there they were filling solo cups from the tap on a giant inverted bottle of whiskey on stage, and offering drinks to audience members (Mike Skinner waded out into the crowd on more than one occasion). We Never Went to Church is a new song about Skinner's Dad, who passed away, and they happened to sing it at Bonnaroo on Father's Day. Enough to make you cry. Then, at the very end of their encore, Skinner launched himself off the stage and crowd surfed! I'll have my pictures up sometime next week, but in the meantime, check these out (we were somewhere just behind and to the right of him, several people away from actually getting hands on).
Although there were a few moments before The Streets took the stage when I could feel myself starting to panic just a bit about the crowd, and certainly the first time everyone pushed forward in an attempt to get a cup of whiskey my heart flip-flopped a bit. But overall what I remembered was that not only can I get over my claustraphobia in crowds, but just how worth it it is! Being packed in there like sardines, jumping up and down, sweating on each other, being in the part of the audience that just can't stop moving to the music. It's such a better experience.
Afterwards I wrote this:
nothing could really live up after that, but small acoustic set with Bela Fleck talking about leaning the banjo was pretty cool. Matisyahu was clearly rocking the (nonexistant) roof off, but we were still coming down off The Streets and had none of it. Sonic Youth was rather unimpressive, and now, Bonnie Raitt is pretty awesome. "I'm throwing the set list out the window because I'm hot and sticky up here! I'm serious!"
She also talked about tent sex, which we thought was funny, because we spent the weekend pondering how gross what we had dubbed 'Bonnaroo Boinking' would be.
And that, kids, was my trip to Bonnaroo '06. I have to say, the crowds were less enjoyable this year, but the music was moreso, and we saw more of it. Pictures to come sometime next week.