Here To Help by Ben the Bonnaroo Backstage Blogger,posted Jun 16 2013 4:18PM
One small detail I like about Bonnaroo ... the security people's shirts say "Safety" and “Here to help". They seem well-trained and they do the things security folk do ... but I like the emphasis on safety and that they're doing these things to help. I think it changes the dynamic a bit.
The Jack Johnson show last night was terrific. He'd been coming just to hang out with other musicians, maybe do a late night jam with friends in ALO. Very low-pro, as Jack said. That changed when Mumford had their medical emergency and Bonnaroo asked if he would headline.
While he's been recording new material with his band, they haven't performed in over a year and haven't been practicing the hits. He was quoted in an article as saying that there were only two festivals he would be willing to risk being unprepared in order to help out - a bay festival in California and Bonnaroo. Our as he sang in the song about his weekend that he wrote Saturday morning ... "What the hell, it's Bonnaroo."
I think in the story of the improbable headliner, I may have found some of the unique spirit of Bonnaroo. A community of musicians that really care for each other. And a crowd - many of whom surely traveled specifically to see Mumford - that warmly welcomed an artist that put together an intimate set for a roomful of 80,000 friends.
Note: The photo is of Jack Johnson at Bonnaroon 2008
Still no mag. This is as close as my phone zoom can get. The dancers are sparkly. Bjork has a dress that looks like duct work from a dryer vent. The hat face thing looks like a cross between bubble wrap and pinhead from Hellraiser. Which could all be really COOL. Just hard to say when we can't SEE it.
We waited at the main gate for over a half hour. A dozen safety full were poised to open the fences. Three on horseback provided back up. When they opened them up, it was a speed walk at first. Upon seeing that another, distant gate had opened, all bets were off... everyone started running.
Bear in mind that most festival-goers are college age. With the natural athleticism of youth. I'm not and have not. As I jogged-ran-wheezed, Eli would look back and slow up for me. I may have pulled something. Ugh.
Anyway, we made out all right. We weren't in the first 100 or so for the mosh pit. We needed that status to be on the rail that's right next to the stage ... and we didn't want to be in the mosh pit if we didn't have a rail to hold onto. So, we drifted over to the second rail. A bit too the left and back, but still excellent.
All this was NOT for the 12:30 show. They're playing now and I still don't know the name. We're here on the rail hours early for Macklemore. (If you happen to not be familiar, YouTube "Thrift Shop" and "Same Love." Now. I'll wait.)
That'll be the last show of the weekend for us. The trailer is cleaned, stowed and attached to the van. Electric rewired and all lights are operational. When Macklemore finishes, we go straight to the van and ... Hit. The. Road.
The blog title says it all. We're nearly an hour in and they've yet to fire up a camera to put her on the big screen. Unless you're in the first 100 feet, you can't see her cool costuming or her dancers/backup singers. Meh.
Here's the theory. We'll camp here all day and see Gov't Mule, Nas, Björk and Jack Johnson. Not sure we'll have the stamina, but it's worth a shot. We're seated in comfy bleachers courtesy of Triple M, and food is close by. I suspect that most of the assembled thousands don't know that Jack Johnson is a last second sub for Mumford and Sons. Their bass player just had surgery for a brain bleed in the last day or so and they had to cancel. We only heard through materials in the Guest tent.
No pic to share with this post. I've just been thinking about the McCartney show last night. My expectations were admittedly low. My focus for years has been discovering new music, not dwelling in the past. And while the Beatles stand apart as the most influential band in rock history (and arguably the greatest), it was just ONE of the Beatles. And he's, like, a thousand years old.
But as the nearly three hour show progressed, I started to connect and reconnect. Yes, it felt like suffering when he said "here's a new one" or played a cover. (That's NOT why we're here!) And I rolled my eyes at the Wings tunes. In the end, nostalgia tackled me, sat on my back and made me say uncle. I really enjoyed singing along to great songs I know by heart. (La la how their life goes on!) And that was Paul Freaking McCartney up there on stage! Right there! He told stories I hadn't heard before ... He wrote Blackbird in hopes of comforting and inspiring the students desegregating schools in Little Rock. (All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arrive.) Maybe y'all knew that. Was news to me.
That sort of intimacy in a crowd of 80,000 was impressive. I forgave him a late misstep - an over the top Live and Let Die complete with pyrotechnics and fireworks - when he promptly answered with a sincere Hey Jude. I gave in to the sentiment, and it was a highlight of the festival so far.
So Un-Bonnaroo by Ben the Bonnaroo Backstage Blogger,posted Jun 15 2013 1:15PM
In the picture, you'll see a fraction of the tent city that surrounds us. It's really quite amazing. It goes on for as far as the eye can see. It's pretty cool to be in the center of it, knowing that it wasn't here 2 days ago and knowing it will not be here 2 days from now.
But that's not the point of this post. Look above the roofs of the tents. Partly cloudy, pleasant summer blue. The weather - relatively speaking - had been gorgeous. I mean, it's still a summer festival. It's in the 80's and you need to hydrate. But there's been a constant light breeze and no sign of mini heat strokes. The legendary relentless sun? No shade? Not as bad as advertised. It's been nice. And not very Bonnaroovian.
Consistent with our pattern of unusual vantage points, here's how we started the McCartney concert. An access road behind and to the right of the stage. Hard to get any kind of vantage point at these big festivals, but once again ... or Triple M passes are what got us this close. Thanks guys!
We're only two days in, but our little patch of land is feeling like home. Some guys cut through, and (in my head) I'm like "Dude. This is my yard." (Not very Bonnaroovian.) Instead I nodded and said "Hey." He did the same.
I think sometimes these festivals underestimate the popularity of some acts. The crowd for Of Monsters and Men stretched in all directions until - at the edge of the mass - music from other stages overwhelmed theirs. We've found refuge in the alley to the Guest tent. Can't see the band, but can hear well enough. Once again saved by special Triple M status!
Decided to beat the heat a bit in the Guest tent. Also lucked into one of two or three extension cords in the place, so I'm drawing a strong current to recharge the phone. (The solar charger has had mixed results for my battery, but scores 100% for "That's really cool" comments from passersby.)
I'm still trying to put my finger on the vibe of this festival. We've exchanged several pleasantries with our RV neighbors. They're nice. The hippie/jam-band heritage of Bonnaroo is evident in the maze of vendor tents (complete with the tie-dye clothing hut and the puzzle box guy ("You keep your WEED in it!")). There's also a healthy presence of do-good causes ... I could have signed a petition to end hunger in Africa or taken a picture to support music in schools ... but Lolla has that too. The demo skews a bit younger. Maybe more college kids are willing to camp out and can't afford the downtown Chicago hotels for Lolla ... I'll keep noodling on it, but I will say this: Many, many staff, volunteers and fellow-festival-goers have gone out of their way to wish us a good festival and ask us how we're enjoying everything. In that way, I think people here really are living the Bonnaroovian tenet of Positivity. So I've got that going for me.
The guest area - for radio station winners like us - features comfy seating, discount food, and a nearby artist tent (for potential celeb sightings). We'll also get access to special viewing areas for the concerts. Triple M is treating us RIGHT!
After ten hours of driving through storms and interstate stop n go traffic, we called it a night and hit a Super 8 around 2:00 a.m. (Like Frodo in the mountains over Moria, nature had beaten us. Unlike the Nine Walkers, we tried again in the morning and made it to our goal by noon.)
We got the camper set up with ease, exchanged pleasantries with our new neighbors, and set of to explore the festival.
First stop was an accidental discovery of free shirts courtesy of adult swim. Swag is always welcome. :).
Also checked out one of the food areas in these sprawling grounds. Smoked chicken and Mac n cheese burrito. So far, the food is the equal of lollapalooza.
Bonnaroo Bound! by Ben the Bonnaroo Backstage Blogger,posted Jun 12 2013 8:59AM
We're prepped and ready to go. I'd like to say that I had the pack list completed weeks ago and that we're launching with the precision of a Swiss watch (or something else precise that's actually relevant today), but ... here we are. A late night grocery run gets us the essentials. A borrowed camper (thanks, Becky!) means we can just toss things in the van and look forward to a tidier living space for the next four days.
Things I'm glad I remembered? Rain gear, bug spray, hat/bandana combo, sunscreen, tools. Things we'll get on the way? Ice, batteries, box o' wine, giant mylar balloon so we can find the camper. Special splurge item I'm geeked out about? Solar-powered phone charger. Oh yeah.
I learned I won the Triple M Bonnaroo Backstage Blogger contest weeks ago, but the big event is really here! My son and I are in the final stages of prep and will start the drive to Manchester, Tennessee tomorrow. We'll be trying to give a sense of what it's like to be at THIS festival as opposed to THAT festival ... and how successful we are in living by the Bonnaroovian Code. (More on that later.)
In the meantime, I thought I'd kick things off by sharing the entry that won the contest - the theme was "Favorite Concert Experience." Talk to you later!
My son Eli is a freshman and Madison West, and we see lots of shows at area clubs and festivals. It's our main connection and way to bond. We enjoy the same styles of music (mostly indie and alt) and always make memories - like the time at High Noon when MC Frontalot dramatically pointed from the stage at Eli and said, "You have a really cool dad" before launching into a risque rap about groupies at a sci-fi convention.
Our favorite memory is from last summer at Lollapalooza. On day 2, the oppressive heat was finally broken by rain ... in the form of intense thunderstorms (complete with tornado warnings). They evacuated Grant Park, and 100,000 people poured into the streets of Chicago to seek shelter. Eli and I ended up in a Panera Bread on State. We found a corner of the floor and sat down, eating enough (we hoped) for it to be okay for us to wait out the storm.
We tracked the storm on our phones and monitored the Twitter rumors swirling around the park opening. We headed back at just the right time, and found ourselves at the front of the line just as they prepared for reentry.
The game had changed. Festival-goers that had carefully planned their day had to start fresh. Obsessive fans of that special (to them) band that had camped out on the rail all day had lost their spot. The playing field had been leveled and we had first choice. Eli is slight-of-build, so I normally avoided the rail area that eventually turned into the mosh pit. But we had a chance here to pick a pristine spot on the rail that could avoid the worst of it. The band fun. was in the mix. Their set had been washed out, and they were rescheduled to play immediately upon park opening. Or ... we could wait on the rail for a couple hours for Franz Ferdinand. The opportunity to see Franz Ferdinand up close was too good to pass up, and we jogged to the stage when the gates opened. We were among the first to arrive and secured a spot 30 feet right of center.
We killed time watching them drain rainwater from the canopy. Security guys entertained the crowd by diving in to confiscate cannabis.
The energy of the festival had changed ... Between the heat relief, the nervous/scared feeling of the evacuation and the general disruption of how-things-were-supposed-to-go, there was a fun mania in the air. We were READY for the band.
When Franz Ferdinand took the stage, they must have caught the vibe. They were happy to be there, a little relieved that the storm caused no real damage, and thankful for the energy we sent to them. It was the only time I've seen them perform, but I'm confident it was their best concert of the year. My son and I watching a great band playing at their best in the heart of Chicago while sunset illuminated departing stormclouds over Lake Michigan ... yeah. Those are the reasons it's my favorite concert experience.
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