Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The 'Roo Experience (Long Post)

Music is incredible. Bob Marley got it right when he said, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” Music, even if for just a brief moment, can take all your worries away. And for the artists themselves, music is a way to let out worries, get out emotions, and freely let expressions run wild. Music is capable of joining together numerous people from all different paths of life. Few other things in life can bring together such a diverse array of people. This past weekend, 90,000 people from all over traveled to the little town of Manchester, Tennessee to experience a four-day musical festival that would send every single attendant home with life-long memories. I myself was fortunate enough to attend this great festival known as Bonnaroo.

This year marked the 8th year of Bonnaroo. Held on a 700-acre farm, there was plenty of room, which provided a great setting for plenty of great bands, tons of vendors, and loads of interesting people.

After a 12 and a ½ hour car ride (split into two days), a 5-hour wait to actually get into Bonnaroo, and a torrential downpour of rain the first night, I was somewhat skeptical about how much fun I’d be having over the next few days. However, the first full day of being at Bonnaroo quickly changed my mind and opened up my eyes as to just how much fun this experience would be.

I went to the festival with a few of my best friends, from both home and college, which made the experience even better. Upon entering Bonnaroo, I was immediately taken aback at the prolific amount of people at the place. Driving in, we got a good view of one of the camping areas. The tents seemed to go on forever. Tent after tent, lined up into the far distance until you could no longer see. After setting up camp (you get a camping spot just large enough to fit a tent, separated by about 6 inches from your neighbor), we ventured into Centeroo (the stage/main area) to see Portugal The Man. I am a big fan of this band and was super pumped to see them. They performed well, and I especially enjoyed “1989”. After that, we toured the area and just checked out the scene. One of my friends and I engaged in a few poses being taught in one of the many free yoga classes. While holding one of the squatting poses, the instructor began commending Sri Swami Satchidananda, the founder of the yoga institute where I will be taking Yoga Teacher’s Training this summer (He also gave the opening for Woodstock!!). Upon hearing a much loved, familiar name, I quickly began feeling like Bonnaroo was the place for me.

After a long day, we decided to go to bed relatively early since there were no big-named bands we were interested in seeing the first night. After what seemed like a short time, I was awoken early in the morning (around 8) by a wave of almost suffocating heat boiling me inside my tent. I realized what people meant when they said Tennessee was going to be hot. Each morning, although sleep was much needed after very late nights, the heat made it impossible to sleep in and catch up on those ZzZz’s. Most festivities/bands didn’t start until 12, so there were plenty of morning hours to do things such as wait in the long lines for porta-potties, or cook up some breakfast after a previously active night. One morning, our camping neighbors decided to cook up some pancakes and sell them to other campers for 50 cents a cake. A couple of Rolling Stone writers took notice of them and wrote down their contact info. Not only did these writers buy a couple pancakes, but they told them they’ll probably be included in the Bonnaroo article of Rolling Stone mag.!!! This is one of many interesting stories that occurred during the morning hours of Bonnaroo.

We had the pleasure of seeing a range of all types of music, from rock to folk to R&B to rap. On Friday, we saw a plethora of bands. The first main headliner we saw was Animal Collective. I thought they were good, but they catered to the stereotyped audience and turned themselves a bit too much into a jam band for my liking. We then saw Grace Potter & the Nocturnals and then the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. We caught the end of Santigold’s set, and then proceeded to see Al Green. Dressed up in a full suit on such a hot summer day, Al Green was surprisingly good. He definitely got my friends and I off of our feet. We then caught some TV on the Radio, Lucinda Williams, and Ani DiFranco (who I was newly introduced of and rather enjoyed). Later into the night, we saw the Beastie Boys who I’ve decided I’m not a huge fan of, and Phish where we met some “raging Phish-heads”. We caught the end of Public Enemy, whose set was followed by a brief, inspirational anti-racism speech. Next, we saw Crystal Castles, a techno-esque band. The scene there fit every description of a typical rave. Glow sticks, fast-sweaty dancing, odd characters, and most likely some ecstasy were all prevalent among the crowd. It was quite the late night experience. Lastly, we saw Girl Talk (2nd year at ‘Roo), where we also started to see some people unexpectedly passing out. All the drinking and drugging and lack of sleep started to creep up on people.

The following day we had the pleasure of seeing Bon Iver who was definitely good. He was a nice change of pace from some of the earlier jam bands we had been listening to. We also saw Of Montreal, whose set included some oddly dressed up characters wildly dancing around on stage. Following that, we saw The Decemberists who played my favorite, “Engine Driver”. We caught some of Mars Volta as well as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. We left his 3&1/2 hour set to go back to camp. After falling asleep to Springsteen we woke up to some heavy Nine Inch Nails. Sadly, we realized we slept through Ben Harper.

On Sunday, the last day (tear), we saw Cage the Elephant, and Citizen Cope who was surprisingly one of my favorite acts. We also saw Erykah Badu, Andrew Bird, Merle Haggard, and Snoop D-O-Double G.

Although music was definitely one of the coolest attractions at Bonnaroo, there were numerous other entertaining and random activities to experience. There was a ferris wheel, art galleries, authentic food, mud wrestlers, crazy good hoola hoopers, yoga, dancing, “green” lectures, comedy acts, an obscure circus, a hot air ballon, etc. etc…. I could’ve spent days on end trying to do everything they had to do there. I felt like I was living some totally weird dream, that involved every random attraction you could think of provided all at one place. There was so much to see and experience, it's mind-blowing just thinking about it. There was an endless amount of unique characters to interact with, and lots of interesting people that were “trippin’” to watch.

However, one downside of Bonnaroo is the dirt. If you completely despise dirt, ‘Roo is not the place for you. After the first day of rain, the place quickly became a mud pit. There were numerous places in which you could have mudslided, and we had the pleasure of watching crazy people go at it while wrestling in the mud. There was also the guy who was clearly messed up on something, and decided to down a whole canteen of muddy water that was taken straight from the ground. Many people peed and brushed their teeth between cars, the area right next to the tents in which we slept in and walked around. Walking barefoot was common because of how muddy and difficult it was to walk in flip-flops, but this also meant walking barefoot into the overused, grotesque porta-potties, and among the dirty/pee/toothpasted grass. Showers were available for 7 bucks, and although I greatly desired one, I didn’t end up taking one the whole four days because upon leaving the showers you had to venture through a huge mud pit anyways.

There were drugs everywhere. I found it kind of comical waking up to people outside my tent walking through the campgrounds yelling “Shrooms, nice magical fungus,” or the people who would quickly roll under there tongue “Roids, pharmies, LSD” as we walked by. Weed was basically decriminalized and the air inside Centeroo permanently smelled of it. The great extent of the commonness of drugs was something I had never quite experienced before. It was interesting to see the various people tripping.

‘Roo also featured a lot of recycling and environmental friendly programs. In 2008, they recycled 44 tons of product. There were over 2000 recycling areas on site, and most of the products were compostable, such as the plastic cups made from a compostable corn material. No glass was allowed on the premises, which made it very conducive for walking.

Bonnaroo was a great experience and something I’m considering going back to. I loved meeting and talking to all the different people, listening to everyone’s different accents, and sharing my own stories without feeling judged or being criticized. Pretty much everyone I met was super friendly and everyone had a unique story or talent to share. I definitely could feel a lot of peaceful vibes being given off, a vibe exemplified by the quintessential “hippie”. Out of all the diverse people there, from people of all races and ages, and even people abusing multiple drugs, I experienced virtually no violence or any acts of hate. Everyone was just so grateful and happy to be there, to be in a place where so many people were brought together for exactly the same reason. Music.

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