Coffee, King and a killer White

Published 1:16 pm Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Last month, I took my second annual trip to Bonnaroo, a music festival that draws up to one hundred thousand music fans every year to Manchester, TN for four days of fun, musical virtuosity, and lax drug policies. Accompanying me on this magical odyssey was Russell Kooistra, as well as a few other individuals from the Polk/Buncombe areas. Heres what happened each day.
Wednesday, June 11
My friends and I left my house around 4:15 p.m. for what was sure to be a fantastic voyage. We packed Russells vehicle with suppliestent, chairs, clothes, and oh yeah, food and water. You need to bring your own food to Bonnaroo unless you plan on shelling out vast portions of your life savings on frequent visits to vendors whose prices are higher than the audience at Bonnaroo, which is to say that a slice of pizza can cost ten dollars. For nourishment, I hoped to subside solely on Fruit by the Foot and peanut energy bars.
Thursday, June 12
Because I chose to travel with a bunch of hyper-punctual lunatics, we arrived to the festivals gates around 7:00 a.m., the ungodly hour when Bonnaroo officially starts. Stressed out by the prospect of having to get up early the next morning, I didnt manage to go to sleep the night before. After the worlds longest nap in the blistering heat, our group met up with some friends to catch a set by the up-and-comers MGMT, who were good if a little bit underwhelming. Halfway through their show, Russell and I snuck off to the Comedy Tent to catch some stand-up by Zach Galifianikis as well as other comedians who werent as good or as famous and therefore dont deserve to be mentioned. After the comedians, we came back to watch a few songs from another band on the rise, Vampire Weekend, whose happy-go-lucky, lackadaisical blend of pop with African rhythms has won them acclaim with music critics and fans alike. Exhausted from all of the whimsy, I went to bed early.
Friday, June 13
You know those times when the world is so nuts that you think that everybody else must be on drugs and youre the only normal one? Well for me and my friends, Bonnaroo was that feeling, only for real. Okay, so not all of the other festival-goers were high. It was like that movie 300, with the people on drugs making up that insanely big army, and we were the 300 Spartans hiding in a valley waiting for them to attack us. So in case I lost you with my metaphor, marijuana was pretty okay with most people there. In fact, I saw our fifty-year old neighbor smoking a joint while sitting at his campsite, reading. On the other hand, drinking coffee was frowned upon. The irony that you couldnt swing a Grateful Dead album without hitting a pot dealer was not lost upon me as I stalked the festival grounds looking for an elusive cup of joe, glaring at the hippies smoking weed, jealous that their vice was accepted and mine wasnt.
My coffee secured, we proceeded to head to the festival grounds to take in an awesome show from Stephen Marleyyes, he is the son of Bobwho delivered a set packed with hits from his fathers catalogue, as well as his own material, which was arguably just as strong as his fathers. We then waited at that same stage for a performance by the Raconteurs, a band led by the insane, enigmatic Jack White, as well as the less-enigmatic Brendan Benson. As expected, the Raconteurs ruled. But I must take a sentence or two to explain exactly how great a guitar player Jack White is. It was as if the gods of Rock had ventured from Valhalla to Manchester and blessed White and his axe (okay, so it wasnt an axe as much as it was a very shiny Gibson guitar) with the ability to play with more energy, skill, and flamboyance than can logically be contained in one human. Jack unleashed a brutal barrage of solos upon the audience that I must describe as the finest display of guitar playing Ive ever seen in person.
After taking in an exciting set from hyper-politicized rap artist M.I.A. and then a hilarious hour of stand-up from Chris Rock, we retired to our camp to rest and place ourselves as far away from the Metallica concert as we could. After we deemed it safe to venture back to the festival, our group split up, some going to the all-night rave, and others going to see My Morning Jacket. It was almost 1:00 a.m.when the Jacket came on, but they put on an instantly legendary show, playing for three hours in which the band decided to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the audience, playing fiery funk jams, a song featuring a surprise appearance by Kirk Hammet (virtuoso guitarist for Metallica), the song Tyrone by neo-soul goddess Erikah Badu, and even a ditty about stalking a librarian. After MMJ ended, I staggered off to bed.
Saturday, June 14
Cut to 2:00 PM. I was only just then getting up, probably due to the fact that I didnt get to bed until My Morning Jacket released me from its funky grip at 4:30 a.m. My friends thought I was dead, but they werent so much worried about the possibility my death in and of itself. Their chief concern was that my death might have inhibited them from seeing all of the concerts that they wanted to see, so it was a relief to them to confirm that I was alive. Our group first saw Cat Power, a songstress known for her on-stage meltdowns as well as her pained, soulful vocals. However, there were no meltdowns today, and watching a singer simply emoting gets tedious, so Russell and I went off to see BB King, who was a privilege to watch. King was also a great guitarist, but as opposed to Jack Whites wild, flamboyant style, Kings more mellow style focused on pouring his soul into his notes and making sure each one counted. Think of BB Kings guitar playing style as reading The Old Man and the Sea, while Whites style as Catch-22. One book has more pages, notes, and complex sentences than the other, but that doesnt mean that one is necessarily superior to the other.
We reunited with our friends at the main stage to watch Pearl Jams rapturous show. They were, to use one word, transcendent. But the problem was that they decided to be transcendent for an hour longer than their allotted time slot, which wasnt a big deal except that Russell and I wanted to watch Lupe Fiasco and then Talib Kweli, and still make it back to the main stage to see Kanye West at 2:45 a.m., which would now be impossible due to Pearl Jams extended set. We opted to skip Kweli, due to the purported greatness of Kanyes stage show, which supposedly included an alien planet and a spaceship. Plus lasers! After arriving at Kanyes stage circa 2:45 a.m., we proceeded to wait for two hours until Kanye finally took the stage. To repeat: it was almost FIVE IN THE MORNING before Kanye started performing. And what really disappointed me was that his concert wasnt even that spectacular. The spaceship turned out to be a big computer screen, and the alien planet was just a stage with a lot of bumps on it. Additionally, West barely acknowledged the audience, and rapped in a lifeless manner that suggested the delays were caused by his being asleep. After the concerts anticlimactic finale, we trudged back to our tent at daybreak and passed out from sheer exhaustion.
Sunday, June 15
Russell dragged me out of my sleeping bag at noon in order to see Rogue Wave, one of his favorite bands. I quickly discovered that the bands songs were the musical equivalent of a hug, which was exactly what I needed after Kanyes injustices. The Wave were unrelentingly positive and pleasant, at least until the bands lead singer delivered a rant about Kanyes egregiously late showing, which was responded to by myriad cheers and demands for Wests head.
After Rogue Waves set, it was time for us to leave. So what did we learn, kids? Sleep is good, drugs are bad, comedians are funny, Jack White and BB King are exceptional guitarists, My Morning Jacket is awesome, and Kanye West is not very punctual. And that, my friends, is Bonnaroo in a nutshell.

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