a patch of wood for pooing
Friday, June 13 2008
setting: Bonnaroo Music Festival, Coffee County, Tennessee (35.47683N, 86.05218W)
Bonnaroo is in Central Time, but my clock was still on Eastern Time, so I woke up at around 7:30 local time. The first matter of business was separating myself from some of the entropy that thermodynamics dictates that I must generate. The portapotties were already in a horrible state, and already at this hour there were long lines in front of them. There's nothing nastier than a portapotty undergoing continual use, and I wanted to entirely opt out. So I walked north from our campsite until I found a break in the fence separating the festival from New Bush Branch Road. I busted a left and headed west, walking over a half mile, beyond the main Bonnaroo security checkpoint, past a series of off-brand concessions in various private yards. Eventually I found a patch of woods, into which I vanished. For whatever reason, none of the leaves of the available vegetation made for very good toilet paper, but I did what I had to. Soon after I emerged from the woods, a young woman with a strong Tennessee accent suggested that my Bonnaroo wrist band would look good on her. "I'm sure it would," I agreed, turning to walk away. "It was worth a shot," she replied. I didn't really think it had been, though I suppose she hoped that I might have been tripping out of my mind and open to such suggestions.
I re-entered Bonnaroo at the main checkpoint, where vehicles seemed to be getting a much more meticulous inspection than the one we'd endured yesterday. Now it wasn't just Bonnaroo guys in "SAFETY" teeshirts looking at the vehicles. A team of guys with ominous "DEA" shirts were doing the inspections, and nobody, particularly those sitting on the grass as their RV was gone over, looked very happy about it. Still, I was just a walker, and the inspection of my person was perfunctory.
At Bonnaroo, music goes until the wee hours grow large, but it doesn't start up again until noon. One of the first acts today was the Drive-By Truckers, a country-rock band sort of like the Bottle Rockets. Both Gretchen and I found our way down there at different times, though the crowd was far too big for us to find each other. Unlike most people, we couldn't stay in contact because only one of us had a cell phone. I should mention that I wasn't particularly impressed by the Drive-By Truckers, although I will say they seemed like authentic blue collar guys, the kind who know what people mean by down and out.
I'd said good things to Gretchen about Tegan and Sara, so she and I both continued on to that tent separately and enjoyed the show without seeing one another. Tegan and Sara are two identical twins from Calgary, Alberta who have unusual reedy voices and sing songs with weird harmonies. With their frequent inter-song banter, they project self-effacingly-intelligent stage charisma. With their band, their music can alternate between cry-in-your-beer subdued to the sort of rocking worthy, in the eyes of some at least, of a heavy metal salute. These weren't the least-appropriate heavy metal salutes I would see this weekend either.
Gretchen spent most of the afternoon enjoying the Bluegrass Allstars while I spent most of that time back at the tent. Eventually she came back and we sat around in the shade of our bedsheet reading our various reading materials while the racous rock and roll of the Raconteurs wafted in from the enormous "What" stage 3/4 of a mile away.
We waded into Centeroo again at around dinner time, bought some overpriced festival food, and took up a position at the base of a tree some distance from the "Which" stage, where Willie Nelson was giving a performance. Willie, who had probably just emerged from a cannabis cumulonimbus cloud, was just phoning it in tonight, hurrying through the lyrics in complete disregard for where they should fall in the melody. I went to take a piss at one point and waited in line for a portapotty for fifteen minutes. By the time I got back to Gretchen, she was ready to head for the "What" stage so as to stake out a good spot to see first Chris Rock and then Metallica. Yes, only at Bonnaroo, Chris Rock was opening for Metallica.
We squirmed our way through the crowd as far forward as we could, ending up among a couple friendly guys who were all about Metallica. There was one beefy guy with long black hair who decided to heckle Chris Rock the moment he started dissing George W. Bush. Evidently the Venn diagram of late-term Bush supporters and post St. Anger Metallica fans results in a polygon of overlap. Gretchen quickly became annoyed and told the beefy guy to be quiet, that she was trying to listen. Eventually he told her to shut up, but then he stopped heckling too. At that point, the a new probelm appeared: a group of annoying sorority sisters behind me who were loudly conversing about whatever inane things they found interesting. Despite all this, Mr. Rock was keeping us entertained. The highlight of his performance was his advice to the mostly-white audience on when, if ever, it was appropriate to use the word "nigger." Also memorable was his riffing on the unbridled blackness of Barack Obama's name. "If his name was Bob Jones, it would take a week before most white people knew he was black. But 'Barack Obama'? — that sounds like the name of the bass player of the Commodores!"
Hetfield and Ulrich had introduced Chris Rock, and when, after their prolonged setup, Metallica was about to take the stage, Chris Rock came out again to introdue them as the "baddest motherfucking band ever." It's difficult for me to hold Chris Rock and Metallica in the same mental space, but here they were acting like good friends and mutual admirers.
There's nothing that can be said about a live Metallica show except whoah! These guys, they don't just know how to rock, they know how to entertain. They're such virtuosos of their subgenre, most of which they singlehandedly invented, that they elicit only pity for lesser bands. Back when I heard my first Metallica tape back in 1989, I didn't really know if it was music. Now I acknowledge them as the rock and roll gods they are. Still, they could benefit from being a little more dark and mysterious. I for one find Hetfield's call-and-response rallyings of the crowd neurologically grating. I didn't come to Bonnaroo to hear a bunch of stoned frat boys shout (presumably with regard to their zits) "Searching...Seak and destroy!" Despite all that, it was an incredible show.
The crowd could barely contain itself. There were plenty of fucked-up hippies who, for want of a mellow space jam, were propelled into bad trips. But there were people who had come to Bonnaroo only to see Metallica, and they couldn't get enough. Heavy metal salutes weren't enough of a proclamation, so some took to crowd surfing and slam dancing, both of which were dealt with harshly by security -er- "safety." If they could reach him, they'd pull a guy off the crowd and drag him out of the venue. Or they'd reach over the barricade to extract slam dance instigators. Every few seconds it seemed like someone was either being ejected or voluntarily leaving. Some people looked positively shaken up and others looked to be in a drug-addled daze. One guy was covered in deep scratches.
As for us, we were crammed amid strangers, had been standing for hours, and are not as young as we used to be. At some point Gretchen couldn't take it anymore. And Metallica had quit being a tribute band of itself and was wading into more recent songs. I feared that if I stayed too long I was going to have to hear Hetfield cover that Bob Seeger song, the one where he sings, "Turn the page-ayhhhh!" So we extricated ourselves and headed away from the stage. As I passed him, the beefy guy with the long hair, the one Gretchen had reprimanded, patted me on the shoulder as if to say, "Sorry dude, I know what it's like to be pussy whipped by a total bitch, and it sucks to be dragged away from METALLICA!" And he wasn't the only guy who showed me signs of sympathy as I picked my way through that huge crowd. I flashed them all heavy metal salutes and continued singing along and banging my head. I was happy to be getting the fuck out of there.
The Drive-By Truckers.
The crowd at the Drive-By Truckers show.
Tegan and Sara.
RV parking near our campsite.
A field for shitting.
Willie Nelson phones it in.
Willie Nelson's crowd.
Chris Rock on the What stage.
The Metallica crowd.
A woman being hustled out, either for slam dancing or because she couldn't take it anymore.
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