After last year’s Bonnaroo, I swore I’d never return. Not because I didn’t see any good shows- I did. I saw some amazing shows. It was just that the place was a hot, filthy mess and swarming with hippies. Of course, I expected to see more than a few hippies at a hippie festival, but I thought since the line-up had been skewed towards a, let’s say, more aesthetically discerning crowd that maybe the hippie quotient wouldn’t be so bad. I was wrong, hence, my swearing never to return. But then they went and threw The Police into the line-up this year, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
So, I went with six friends this year. No camping, of course. Day parking all the way. I didn’t want to be stuck in that dirt pile for four days, cavorting around with Jer Bear look-alikes and whatnot. We arrived on Thursday only because The National was playing that night at 10:30 p.m. After we sat in traffic for three hours, we had a big “D” painted on our cars to delineate “day parking” and followed the security team’s waving flags to our spaces. Much to my horror, we had been waved into the camping area and immediately people started setting up tents all around us. We quickly jumped back into our cars and drove back the way we came, only to be told traffic was one way. We stopped at an information booth, and they told us there was no “day parking” on the first day. What the fuck? And to make matters much, much worse, no one would be allowed to leave the campground until the next day. This information was printed in tiny print on the front of our tickets. Thanks.
Since we had all dropped some serious cash to stay in a hotel for four nights, there was no way we were going to suck it up and stay trapped at Bonnaroo that night with no place to sleep amongst 80,000 hippies. So, we pulled into a random driveway to form a plan. We watched the way the parking unfolded and spotted some space in front of the campers in a nearby lot. Or, rather, I did. My friends were way more focused on drowning in Red Bull and vodka. We ignored the traffic monitors and pulled into a few open spaces near the main street. Our plan was to leave our cars there and meet back up at midnight to try to sneak out.
In the meantime, I saw The Little Ones and The Black Angels while waiting for The National. Midway through The National’s majestic set I got a text from one of my friend’s that our cars had been blocked in. Fuck.
I hurried back through naked girls painted green, homeless-looking buskers, and guys selling drug balloons to our meeting spot, and, sure enough, some fucking hippies had camped out all around our cars. My friends were less than sober but alert enough to know we were pretty much fucked. I got in my car to see if I could wrangle out onto the street. There was an opening, but I’d have to take a tent out with me. I decided to go for it. Sorry hippie. I made an awkward three-point turn and squashed a tent on my way out. My friend decided to follow my lead. He was in no shape to be driving, so his girlfriend got out to give him directions and help guide him. He ignored everything she said and tore through an opening way too small for his car. He completely smashed the side panel of his six day old car and just took off down the road not to be heard from for hours. Another one of our friends had not even shown back up, so we had no idea what had happened to him either. He wouldn’t answer his cell. So that was two men down on the first night.
Things got better by Friday. Saw the Cold War Kids, Brazilian Girls, Kings of Leon, and Lily Allen, whom we got to meet. She was a bit drunker than usual during her set, but she was into it, playing most of her record, plus Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and a Specials cover. I could imagine she was none too pleased that her management had roped her into an autograph signing following her set. But she actually showed up (unlike Sonic Youth last year who kept people waiting for two hours and never showed), looking haggard and disinterested. But she feigned smiles as she signed people’s crap. I got her to sign one of the annoying smiley face beach balls people threw around during her set. She thought her record company had brought them. Tool headlined that night. My friends slept through it.
Saturday was crammed full of people to see. Regina Spektor, The Hold Steady. It was a logistical nightmare. Whoever planned this out didn’t realize how many conflicts there were. Spoon, Ween, and Franz Ferdinand were all playing at pretty much the same time. I’d seen Spoon three times before, and Ween twice, so I opted for the first part of Spoon’s set before heading over to Franz Ferdinand, who I’d never seen. They put on a high energy show, even though it was sort of surreal to watch these dandy Englishmen playing wiry dance-punk with herds of hippie girls trying to do that ridiculous swaying hippie dance. Franz Ferdinand’s new songs were heavy on the synths and sounded worlds better than that crap second record. About fifteen minutes before set was to end we saw a sea of people heading to the main stage to get good spots for The Police, so we frantically made our way over to join the stampede. I still don’t know if Franz ended up playing their LCD Soundsystem cover or not.
We filtered through the masses to get a surprisingly good place for The Police. We had to sit there completely still with no room to move for about 90 minutes, which wasn’t too bad, considering. The Police started right at 9:00 p.m. Sting went for more notes than I thought he would, despite more than a few key changes. He sounded so good it almost wiped away the memory of his solo career. Almost. And he’s a hell of a lot better of a bass player than I’d given him credit for. They played everything you might have expected. No glaring holes, though I kept hoping for “Bring on the Night”, which never came. Some people complained about the mid-song interludes, which expanded classics like “Can’t Stand Losing You” into seemingly endless noodling sessions, but The Police have always done that. Even their official live record, which compiles two concerts from two different years, has them doing the exact same thing. For a band way past its prime, they sounded pretty fucking good. After such a big show we figured we were spent, but Girl Talk went on at midnight and blew everyone away, especially with his cover of Nirvana’s “Scentless Apprentice.”
Sunday was much more low-key. Even the Bonnaroo staff was past giving a shit, waving in cars they would have previously inspected thoroughly. Not much to see with stuff like Pete Yorn and Wolfmother going on, so I casually wondered over to watch Elvis Perkins, who surprised me with his dark, energetic folk. I begrudgingly sat through Martha Wainwright to get a good spot for Feist. She allowed some complete fool to climb up on stage and prance around like a fruitcake during one of her songs, which sort of ruined things for me. Her music seemed ill-suited for an outdoor venue with its intimacy and subtle dynamics, but her voice sounded amazing. Another herd swarmed by at the close of Feist’s set to get close to the White Stripes, who, in a glaring miscalculation, were booked on the secondary stage, while Wilco played the main area. It seemed like every single person on the campground crammed in to watch The White Stripes. They blasted through their set of hits, b-sides, and a few new songs off Icky Thump, which were raw and rocking. Jack White was relentlessly entertaining on the guitar. I was what seemed like two miles away, and it was still so loud you couldn’t talk to anyone near you.
The moment The White Stripes finished we tried to get the fuck out of there to let the hippies wander over to watch Widespread Panic or whatever nonsense was going on. Evidently, we were not alone in our plan to escape, so we were stuck in traffic. Again. And I swore I’d never come back. Again. I guess that will hold true until I see next year’s line-up.