Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bonnaroo Recap

Last weekend I had the extreme pleasure to attend my first Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. I can say with absolutely no hesitation at all that this was one of my favorite experiences ever. The only way I can describe Bonnaroo is like this... Imagine mixing Woodstock and Lollapalooza with Mt. Sterling's Court Days and Pikeville's Hillbilly Days and dropping them all in middle Tennessee. That's Bonnaroo.

For those you who don't know, Bonnaroo is a four-day festival held in June of each year in Manchester, TN, a sleepy little town about 60 miles outside of Nashville. This was the festival's seventh year. In the past, artists such as The Police, Radiohead, Dave Matthews Band, The Dead, Widespread Panic, Phish, Gov't Mule and Tool have been a part of the festival. This year's most notable performers included Metallica, Pearl Jam, Jack Johnson, Kanye West, Willie Nelson, The Raconteurs and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.

Bonnaroo weekend started out with a bang... literally. My buddy Gordon and I left my house at 8:26 a.m. Friday morning. We had been on the road a grand total of twelve minutes when we were rear-ended on Newtown Pike by a "visitor from south of the border" driving a pickup truck. I got out of the truck for a check of the damage and, to my suprise, it was very, very minor. The other truck hit my tow package which sticks out about an inch further than my back bumper, so most of the impact was limited to that area. I asked the other driver if he was OK and he simply gave me a thumbs up. I don't think he understood me. So, not wanting to make a big deal of what turned out to be nothing, really, I decided to let it be and hit the road. Come to think of it, Friday was the 13th... hmmmm...

So after dodging a major bullet, we continued driving to Elizabethtown before stopping for a quick biscuit at McDonald's. Afterwards, I-65 South took us through Nashville to I-24 East to Smyrna, TN where we checked in at the hotel, stopped by Super Target to buy a new camera (which I'm still trying to figure out), then it was off to the festival site for a long day of music to be capped off by, hopefully, a great set by the mighty Metallica.

So we make it to the festival site successfully, but we have to go through a few checkpoints first. They call these tollbooths. One tollbooth determines where you park (day-parking, campground, RV lots, etc.) One tollbooth is basically a vehicle search (I guess they were looking for illegal drugs or alcohol, although I can't imagine why). As you can probably imagine, yours truly had taken many, many CDs to listen to on the way to Tennessee. But at the second toolbooth, I almost had them all taken from me. The guy asks me, "Why did you bring so many CDs? You're not planning on selling them here, are you?" After convincing him that I was not a bootlegger trying to make a quick buck, we finally made it to our parking spot.

The walk to the actual festival site took about 15 - 20 minutes. Not too bad, I thought. I could use the exercise anyway. Later I would come to realize the importance of a VIP parking pass. After being on your feet all day, a 15 - 20 minute walk back to the truck is the last thing you want! But I'm jumping ahead... Walking through the camping area was... interesting. You meet the nicest people at festivals such as this. I found it really cool and amusing that no one greets you with a "Hello!" or "How are you?". It's always, "Happy Bonnaroo!" or "Have a good Bonnaroo!" I thought that was just the coolest...

Access to the festival grounds, or "Centeroo" as it's called, is allowed only after going through yet another checkpoint. This time you have to empty your pockets and be patted down before you're allowed in.

So finally we make it in and familiarize ourselves with the layout of the festival grounds. By this time I was getting a little thirsty - this happens after a long drive, two checkpoints, a long walk to the site followed by another checkpoint, etc. But I managed to find a nice little "drink fountain"...

After a much-deserved beer (or two) we walked around to the various performance sites. Bonnaroo has two stages - the main stage called the What Stage and the secondary stage called the Which Stage. There are also three tents - This Tent, That Tent and The Other Tent. Pretty imaginative, huh? Plus there are a million food and drink vendors, merchandise venders, a Comedy Tent, a Cinema Tent - even a U.S. Post Office (seriously - I could have sent a postcard from Bonnaroo). Fuse TV had exclusive television rights to the festival, so they had the Fuse Barn where you could go inside and check your email at one of the internet stations. Here are a few pics of the stages:

It was at this point in the day that we finally got to do what we went to Bonnaroo for - to check out some cool music. We really didn't stay at one place for very long. We tried to squeeze in as many acts as we possibly could, so we jumped back and forth between stages and tents and caught a little of Stephen Marley, Umphrey's McGee, Tegan and Sara, and Minus The Bear. Then it was off to meet a Metallica Club representative to get our special wristbands for the Metallica Club BBQ that was set up for lucky fan club members. None of the band made it to the cookout because they were doing a photo shoot, but we did get to see a few of the longtime guitar and bass technicians which was pretty cool to me.

After a great meal (free food and drinks - woo hoo!), we walked over to the What Stage to catch the end of The Raconteurs set. It was awesome to see Jack White perform. You can't really appreciate how talented he is unless you've seen him live. Then we walked over to the Which Stage to see the one and only, the legend - Willie Nelson. It was great to see Willie, but there must have been a problem with the PA because we could hardly hear him.

After a while at Willie's performance it was time to gear up for the main event of the day - METALLICA! We managed to push our way up near the front to a pretty great spot. Before Metallica, Chris Rock performed to a surprisingly receptive audience. I've seen Metallica 14 times now and it's pretty safe to say that the 'Tallica crowd isn't really known for it courtesy towards opening acts. But this was no ordinary Metallica show. This was Bonnaroo! And this was no ordinary opening act - this was one of the funniest comedians/actors of all time. Chris Rock did a solid hour-long set that included presidential election jokes, race jokes and sex jokes. He was absolutely hilarious! He told one of the best election jokes I've ever heard. I won't repeat it here, but if you want to hear it, ask me the next time you see me!

The moment had finally arrived. It had been four years since we last saw Metallica live and the wait was almost over...

I'm sorry to say that I didn't get any really good pictures during the show (I really need to learn to use this new camera). But trust me when I tell you that this was quite possibly my favorite Metallica concert. In my opinion, they played as well if not even a little better than they ever have. I think they even won over a few hippies! James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett were really tight while Rob Trujillo and Lars Ulrich kept the rhythm solid. The band was mixed perfectly and sounded great. The setlist was full of both old classics and newer favorites:

Creeping Death
For Whom The Bell Tolls
Ride The Lightning
Harvester Of Sorrow
The Unforgiven
...And Justice For All
No Remorse
The Memory Remains
Fade To Black
Master Of Puppets
Nothing Else Matters
Sad But True
Enter Sandman

Last Caress
So What
Seek and Destroy

After Metallica kicked our teeth in, we started walking back to the truck by way of the Which Stage where My Morning Jacket was playing. I would love to be able to tell you that we were troopers and stuck around for this four-hour show (which ended around 4:00 a.m. from all accounts), but we aren't as young as we used to be and had a 40-minute drive back to the hotel plus a whole other day of Bonnaroo on Saturday, so we decided to leave for the day. I found out later that Kirk Hammett actually joined My Morning Jacket on stage at one point. I wish I had seen that.

Saturday we slept in, but made our way back to the festival at around 1:30 p.m. We were more familiar with the festival grounds and entry procedures this time, so it was a pretty smooth trip. Upon arrival at Centeroo, we got some food and drinks and made our way around to various stages and tents. We saw a bit of if not all of the sets by Mastodon, The Avett Brothers, Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet featuring Bela Fleck, Gogol Bordello and Against Me! before making our way to the What Stage to see the legendary B.B. King.

After B.B. King we had an hour to kill before Jack Johnson at 8 p.m. followed by Pearl Jam at 10:15 p.m. Ed. note: I keep saying a.m. and p.m. because Bonnaroo never stops! There is literally somebody playing somewhere at any given time between Thrusday afternoon and Sunday evening!

It was cool to see Jack Johnson. It was kind of a mellow show which gave us a chance to rest up for Pearl Jam. Again I didn't get any good pictures of the show itself, but just to prove I was there...

And here's one of Jack Johnson...

While Metallica pretty much stick to a standard setlist throughout their tour with a few different songs each night, Pearl Jam NEVER play the same setlist twice. I think this is really great. It keeps the fans on their toes and keeps each show fresh and new. However, this can lead to a not-so-solid performance on the band's part. This was the case with Pearl Jam Saturday night. I'm not saying it wasn't a great show. It most certainly was! But I have seen Pearl Jam many times and they have played much better in the past, that's all I'm saying. But hey, rock and roll doesn't have to be perfect, does it? It was a great night and a great setlist:

Hard To Imagine
All Night
Why Go
Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town
Who You Are
Severed Hand
Half Full
Even Flow
Love Reign O'er Me
Do The Evolution

Encore 1
Better Man/Save It For Later
Life Wasted
Crazy Mary

Encore 2
No More

Encore 3
All Along The Watchtower

As you can see, this was a monster of a setlist. In fact, the band played an hour longer than their scheduled time!

In short, Bonnaroo was amazing. I had the time of my life. I'm already considering going back next year even if the lineup isn't that great. It's just fun to be there among 70,000 people all there for the same reason - to escape their normal, everyday lives and come together for one common purpose: music!

Here is a video of Metallica's performance of Enter Sandman:

Now that I've written a novel, I think I'll go to bed. Until next time... Happy Bonnaroo! I can't get that out of my head...

1 comment:

Christian Stevenson said...

DUUUUDE!!!! Now that was a blog posting for the ages! Glad you had a fun time. Sounds like it was a blast. I'm not sure I'd have the energy to get it all done like that but I'm glad you had you're "energy" drinks available!