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 Based on photography by firaswehbe
You Know, When I Hate Bonnaroo

By: Salem K.


I hate Bonnaroo. I wish this weren't so. Maybe it's not. Maybe I just can't Bonnaroo. Before I lose you, let me explain. I shipped out June 11 to rural Manchester, Tennessee to a four day music and art's festival held on a 600 or so acre farm that, for one weekend a year is the fifth or sixth largest city in the state. The title comes from a creole term meaning "really good time" or some such. A whirlwind of distractions with a little something for everyone, but after this weekend, I was nearly convinced that I was too old to rock and roll and that good times may just not be for everybody.

Bonnaroo began as kind of an ultimate neo-hippie jam band fandango in 2002. Over the past few years the festival has evolved to include ferris wheels, abstract sculptures, live comedy, film screenings, hula hoop contests and a bizarre assortment of characters and miscellaneous strangeness I won't attempt to explain, like the "silent disco" which is as ridiculous to watch as you might expect from the name.

As the years wore on, Bonnaroo moved away from being a straight hippie love-in to becoming a hipster haven, replete with the trendiest of the indiest. Then things got a little weird, as concert promoters decided that you can't have a festival without the likes of Kanye or Metallica.

Which brings us to Roo '09, one of the weirdest lineups yet. You got Phish (which means hippies galore), you got NIN, Yeasayers, Oakenfeld, Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Buffett and more. The tension was a bit thick between the diverse groups and was most evident in port-a-potty graffiti. Bonnaroo, come for the music and drugs, stay for the scene wars.


It all starts with a scavenger hunt. Originally a druggie's pipe dream, Bonnaroo was always a place where the drugs looked for you instead of vice-versa. It only took a minute to realize something had changed. There was a paranoid vibe and folks seemed more reticent about sharing info regarding location of necessary chemicals. Eventually I did run into a nice chunk of perfumey tar that, judging from potency was grown in some Afghan cave by Bin Laden himself, and a handful of cherry imprinted tablets loaded with vitamin E. The trick is getting a good deal. If you can find one, then your score is cash money for the show. In short, in the municipality of Bonnaroo, TN, drugs = currency.

I retired then to my tent to impersonate Edgar Allen Poe until I heard a cry of "what you smoking it looks good." Seeking out the needy, I meet my new buddy ... we'll call him Karl. That's what I called him, and seeing as we never got each other's real names, Karl will have to suffice. We rapped about politics, beatniks and philosophy for a while until we were all so baked all we could do was sing harmony on "Tonight, you belong to me." After a rousing rendition of Mack the Knife (which was what Karl called me from then on), Karl explained he'd heard all about me. I was the guy who came just for Springsteen and that myself and my group of culties had planned a mass-suicide during "Born in the U.S.A," to which I responded: "Who have you been talking to, and can you keep it on the d.l." The Springsteen suicide cult became an inside joke that I shared with a few people throughout the show. (i.e. "You see that big tower, that's where the guys with the guns will be when the play "Born"). My only hope was that it was merely a joke.


Day two and I finally find my good bud, Herb. The friendly DMT loving RV-ers that hooked me up had an interesting sales ploy that I can only describe as "no-you-can't economics." Anybody who asked them for the hook was subject to a mandatory five minute minimum of yes we do, no we don't, yes you can, no you can't before being served. After the hassle and a sip of apple pie moonshine moonshine I put the Kushzilla in the Whitman's box (perfect place to keep your candy safe from the elements) and headed out to finally enter the Centeroo gates, entering for the first time, the festival proper. 6:30 day two, and I head towards the mist tents to make notes and soak up the scene. Then it hits me. I've lost my candy box, which means I've lost my candy. I head back to the Deemsters' RV in search of a miracle. As a testament to humanity's goodness, the festival pros returned my candy. I swear if God were seeking a few good folk to spare the Gomorrah of Bacchanalia that is Bonnaroo, he needed look no further than my festival pro friends in the RV camp.

My wallet at this point was dangerously thin, but seeing as any combustible or property is potential Monopoly money, I decided it was time to put the corollary axiom of currency = drugs to the test and do the hustle. Here's where the Kaiser of Rolls entered the scene. I knew Matt was my kind of people when I noticed his manner of generally heckling everyone and annoying or frightening whoever he could or in any possible way generally being a disturbance.

Matt, aka the Kaiser, decided that my name should be changed for the show, and from here on out I answer only to Jezebel. Feeling very bitchy and Bette Davis in my highfalutin new monicker Kaiser and Jezzy head out to wreck the Roo. Randomly uttering nonsequiturs ("It's inevitable, you know." "Is this good for thetins?"), detrancing the tranced, sneaking up on the unsuspecting and scaring as many festies as possible.

My goal for the show was to make Crystal Castles and NIN, and everything else was a sideline. Zero hour for show one was approaching so I trade in three vitamins for a ten spot and a bag of fungi. It's early Saturday morning and approximately 23% of the show has commenced. It's time to see the Castles. We head to the cluster of candy kids equipped with glow sticks and flashing strobes of every sort. We worm our way as close to the stage as possible and become cells in a chemically charged organelle. At this point I realize I am but one cell in an organ, in a system in a body that is a town that is Bonnaroo. This is the height of the show.

At the first flash of "Alice Practice" the crowd goes electric. Then silence. Nothing but silence from the stage for what seems like an eternity. All around me I hear the spoiled whining kids whining and complaining about the wait. Now, I know why the terrorists hate us, and my one patriotic bone tingles in pride as I realize that the Castles are fighting the good fight against spoiled ugly Americanism. Momentum builds up to a crescendo and the Atari warriors animate the crowd with 8-bit video game noise and shrill shrieks. As I look back now, I realize that had I pulled a George Costanza and left on a high note, I might have escaped with at least some candy left in my pocket and no lobster skin.


All reality is perception, and all perception is a result of the chemicals in our heads. After a burst of inspiration derived from the vitamin tabs, I retreat to my tent to go over notes and generally babble aloud as my ideas congeal. At one point, I find myself repeating "Stop whispering so loud, it amuses me and I can't determine the truth value of this statement." All of a sudden things start to get a little bit heavy, and I run out of my zippered cell wall to find a friend to share some bud with.

Enter Mojo. Mojo needs help pitching a tent. After a peace pipe ceremony I become her monkey stooge and do the idiot work which consists of simply holding poles for extended periods of time. Occasionally Mojo needs me to squat slightly while I'm doing this. Very Yoga and very relaxing. Somehow this yogic construction work and Mojo's hippie heart have healed my dis-ease and I commend my folkie friend on her expertise at brain salad psychic surgery. I explain that I too once had the hippie heart, but that I lost my flower. Now I'm on the march. "That's okay baby," she explains. "You just let your freak flag fly." That I do, Mama Mojo, that I certainly do.

The sun is up. And it's angry. It's day three, I've slept maybe 11 hours in the past 90 and with the sun and with the heat beating down there is no chance of sleep. Saturday is going to be a trial if anything.


My brain is dead. My body is weak. I can't focus or speak cogently and all I can see are floaters and what appear to be sparkling lights which I can only imagine represent individual brain cells popping one by one. I have three choices. Two are viable. I can bake in the sunlight or rest in my oven of a tent or I could walk 40 feet to the shade trees. Seeing as walking, talking or generally being human were out of the question at this point, I take turns between the blinding hell of sun outside and the solitary cleansing of my sweat lodge. All the while a ludicrous assortment of musicians are taking their time on the main stage. I hear Booker T.'s famous "Green Onions," then Jimmy Buffett is up entertaining tourists in oil as I watch myself in the sun bake. Somehow around early evening I work up enough motivation to find some shade and wait for the sun to drop. As the evening cools down I vainly attempt sleep. Closed in again in my little Coleman pup tent.

It's hard to sleep though, when you're fighting the giggles. In the background I hear the Brucester howling "Santa Claus is coming to town." Something so tawdry, something so eighties, something so sweetly sappy about B.S. and the E Street. I felt a bit of a warm blush for the Stone Poney owner when others laughed as he would attempt a firm rocking howl and come out with a squalling yelp or when the blatting fart sounds of the bari sax attempted sensual and achieved instead cloying.

Bruce rocked on solid though for a solid three and a half hours, playing all the hits. I was a bit upset that he didn't play any of those pretty murder ballads from Nebraska, but what I was really waiting for was the moment of truth. I must admit, with respectful apologies to Mr. Springsteen, there's an amazing symphony of emotions when you actually do hear Jersey's own, The Boss, performing the legendary classic, "Born to Run" echoing about live. Tramps like me, I'm thinking. Yeah man, tramps like me were born to run. Damn the suicide machines, full speed ahead!

All the while though, I'm still waiting. After all, it was the sole reason I came to the festival. Abruptly the show ends and I'm left stunned, wondering how it can be that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band can play nearly four hours without jamming out "Born in the U.S.A." Though I doubt it's true, I like to surmise a possibility that some uptight, holster sniffing security guard may have overheard rumors born of an inside joke that culminated in perhaps some short typed missive on official letterhead in regards to the possibility of an "incident" if he played the tune. Operation Wreck the Roo is a full go.


The shrooms were fake. I'm broke. No one will buy my hookah. So like a dying man, I make out my will, handed out water bottles, tortilla chips and pretty much everything I came with. Traded my tent in for a chance to get my lungs in a smoke circle. I haven't eaten. I haven't slept. I've lost or given away everything. And Nine Inch Nails is coming up. It's time to rage.

So I'm back with the Kaiser. We both agree that nothing could be cooler at this point than going nuts in the crowd and overdosing on crack cocaine while listening to Trent proselytize. At this point, my body and spirit are broken down like a young Navajo on his first spirit quest. Penetrating reality via dance, starvation, sleep deprivation and of course "the sacraments." Though I've lost five lighters, a glass pipe and a bag of greens, I'm far more concerned with sleep and rehabilitation than with party favors.

It's Sunday morning coming down and as the sun rises on the final day I make the choice (please don't judge me) to skip the denouement. It's like when you're watching a skin flick. It may last 6 or more hours, but it's only fun until it's no fun anymore, and once you're spent, it becomes slightly ridiculous and annoying as opposed to pleasurable. Then it's just time to clean up, turn off the DVD and give it a rest. So I left all my new friends and headed back to reality, back home for a nice 30 hour catnap. Seriously, sometimes it can be a hell of a hassle chasing the good times.


Tags: Bonnaroo, Festival, Salem K.

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