Bonnaroo 2011 – Day One: Getting Acquainted
For all the nightmarish stories of being stranded in traffic, sweating to within seconds of death, our arrival at Bonnaroo’s big 10th Anniversary festival was pretty seamless. Back country roads through Tennessee’s Cumberland Valley. Back around fields upon fields of green and brown grass, hay bales, broken down tractors and abandoned country stores. The turn which suddenly put us on a road bedecked by gas stations and roadside hotels, an O’Charleys and a WalMart, seemed a bit jarring. I thought this place was in the middle of nowhere.
But, once I got inside I got it. It’s not necessarily that you’re in the middle of nowhere. Just that Bonnaroo feels like a world unto itself.
“Welcome!” exclaimed our new friends who had agreed to walk us from Guest Camping to the festival proper. “Welcome to Disneyland for adults!”
Inside, a giant blow-up water slide, a ferris wheel, a food truck corral, a good quarter mile of other food options, craft tents and local artists (or are they just the type of vagabond things-makers which follow giant festivals around the country?)…all this and somewhere near a dozen stages are crammed into a lot which feels about the size of your average state fair. Which is to say it’s crowded and sprawled, but not unmanageably so. The fact that these stages can be so close together with little to no sonic bleed-over is impressive in itself.
Walking around the grounds yesterday afternoon, my companion wondered aloud if either of us would feel oriented by today. It’s a bit overwhelming. The “arrangement” of stages and marketplaces seems a bit dizzying and scattered, like a pile of unconsciously dropped pick-up-stix. And yet, sure enough, by the end of last night, I’d gotten my bearings.
Needless to say, the first couple of hours resulted mostly in wandering aimless behind sentences like “I think I saw a booth serving Greek salad back there” and “Where is the press compound, again?” The stages are confusedly named things like “This Tent” and “That Tent,” “What Stage” and “Which Stage,” etc. It’s easy to get confused.
Finally, we parked ourself by a small “Taproom” tent and caught about half a set from the much-buzzed about Kopecky Family Band. Like the Avetts jamming with Delta Spirit – that level of energy and sheer rock power. Plus a rad chick on keys and a dude who looks like he maybe once played punk-rockabilly bass, except here he is in this band, on cello. Later, in that same space, Reverend Peyton and His Big Damn Band popped the lid off the place. A scattered crowd of unassuming strangers had amassed – all bedecked (barely) in bikini tops and falling-off shorts. These festivarians are thinly clothed. You can’t blame them – it’s hot as hell.
Speaking of hell, Reverend Peyton and crew unleashed it, unapologetically. Before the mic had even been turned on, the crowd was in his pocket. By the time he got to singing about “Mama’s Fried Potatoes,” forget it. And then, to top the whole set off, a good solid rollicking hour later, his wife Washboard Breezy lit her board on fire and scraped the shit out of it before pounding and crashing it against the stage like it was some punk rock guitar. Tiny cymbals flew into the crowd. Little bits of wood splintered and flew. You can’t top that. So I didn’t try.
It was early to bed on Night One of Bonnaroo. Don’t judge me though. Check out today’s plan:
Ben Sollee, Justin Townes Earle, Abigail Washburn, Wanda Jackson, Del McCoury Band with Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Florence & the Machine, Bela Fleck with the original Flecktones lineup, the Decemberists, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, My Morning Jacket, Bobby Long, Hayes Carll, the Black Angels…and if I can squeeze it in, Primus and Ratatat. Anyone wanna bring me an iced latte about halfway through?
Reports on all of that will come tomorrow AM. Til then…