It was the best of times; it was the weirdest of times...
The good vibes that accompany a visit to Bonnaroo are all a credit to the way this festival is run, not to mention the incredible diversity of its musical offerings. While any newcomer to Bonnaroo will likely find the experience initially overwhelming -- with the vast array of acts and entertainment -- the event is remarkably well-run and expertly organized. The people are friendly, the epitome of Tennessee hospitality, and fellow festivalgoers are all too willing to share their experiences and advice. Hell, security guards are politely referred to not as overbearing watchdogs but. rather, as "safety" guards, and even when they tell you when you're not allowed access to a certain area, they exert their authority with a measure of politeness unheard of elsewhere... At least in my experience.
Granted, Bonnaroo tends to attract a young crowd overall, but age
differences don't seem to matter in the embrace of the common bond that
proves so intrinsic to the entire experience.
Unfortunate occurrence number one begins with the first day of
our journey. We embarked at 7 a.m., intending to drive straight through to
the festival site in Manchester, Tennessee, about an hour and a half south
of Nashville and just west of Chattanooga. That scenario had us driving
nearly 15 hours in all. Unfortunately, we were thwarted by a speed trap in
Georgia, courtesy of a local sheriff deputy who nailed yours truly with
a speeding ticket for allegedly going 85 in a 70-mph speed
zone. My first thought was to shout "Objection, your honor!" Although I
won't be contesting the charges, because appearing in a Georgia courtroom
in a month and a half is not an option.
Unfortunate occurrence number two had to do with the Super 8 where we were staying, giving us a home base a mere five minutes from the festival site. But convenience has its price. A hotel that would normally cost $29.95 a night was been inflated to an unheard-of $200 per night due to demand from Bonnaroo. Talk about a criminal infraction! We are talking about a $200 room at a Super 8! About as implausible an occurrence as it would be to observe Newt Gingrich giving President Obama a man hug on Election Day.
Unfortunate occurrence number three: It seems that Bonnaroo has overwhelmed the town of Manchester's sole internet provider, crippling any possibility of establishing an online connection, a critical issue for someone like me who's addicted to reading his email at hourly intervals throughout the day.
Despite being exhausted after the day's drive, we decided to check out the festival right away. Unfortunately, arriving on the grounds at 10 at night limited our options, so we opted to see a band called Glossary, native sons of Tennessee who are making their one and only appearance of the festival. They were better than we expected, and I expected them to achieve a pretty high bar. In performance, they're fairly energetic, much more so than their somewhat sedate albums might otherwise suggest.
Likewise, a conversation with an amiable fellow named Rick had us making our first friend. He gave us some idea of the lay of the land. Rick has traveled from New Hampshire, making Bonnaroo an obligatory part of his summer festival circuit. "Are you guys planning to do anything crazy?" he asks the wife and me. "Like what?" I inquired. Rick didn't answer, seemingly anxious to leave that to our imagination.
After about half an hour or so, we decided to catch a portion of the performance by Alabama Shakes, an up-and-coming band whose singer wails with the ferocity of Janis Joplin. However, as we soon learned, one of the hazards of the festival experience is that there are so many good bands offered simultaneously, critical decisions must be made to commit to a show without hesitation. We opted for Glossary, which means that by the time we arrived at the site for Alabama Shakes, we were so far away from the stage that the band looked like tiny dots in the distance. Chalk that up to a reputation that's preceded them as well as our misguided belief that all we need do is arrive at the venue, the crowds will part, and we'll have an ideal vantage point. They proved the first show we'll regret missing this weekend. They sounded outstanding, but since we couldn't catch a glimpse of the stage, we gave way to our exhaustion and retreated to our overpriced Super 8 shortly after midnight.
Day one... is done, but our adventure is just beginning.
Tomorrow: Day two of Bonnaroo!
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