sprouting a forest of heavy metal salutes
Sunday, June 15 2008
setting: Bonnaroo Music Festival, Coffee County, Tennessee (35.47683N, 86.05218W)
This morning at Bonnaroo, I finally discovered the key to a reasonably-pleasant and low-effort defecation. While everyone in your campground is waiting in line to drop their loaves upon the many loaves of those who have stood in line in front of them, the portapotties of Centeroo are largely fallow. Sure, the seats are uniformly spattered with urine or whatever fluid they use for bathing the turds, but there is no line and there are no other feces staring back at you listlessly as you're getting your bearings.
I'd already perfected a method for chilling my beers by soaking them in heavy-duty plastic bags containing several gallons of tap water, which, as provided, is surprisingly cold. Today I drank the last of my beers at the entrance gate to Centeroo, sitting under a shady oak tree and casing the joint to see what was and wasn't getting through. I'd already determined that the homophobic Centeroo gate guards never touch a man's ass when doing a security pat-down, so I could put anything I wanted in my back pockets. A couple of girls joined me beneath the tree and lightened their smuggled load by drinking a beer each. I asked how they planned to get the other beers in, and they said they'd stuff them down their pants just below their lower back. Evidently the Centeroo gate guards, in addition to not wanting to be thought gay, don't want a sexual harrassment lawsuit either.
I came back later with an opaque plastic squeeze bottle containing about a cup of that shitty Bonnaroo White wine and had no trouble getting it through security into Centeroo. For me at least, a bustling, crowded experience like Centeroo is always a lot more enjoyable when I'm drinking.
I wandered over to the fence beside "the Other Tent" and nonchalantly pissed against it, as I had seen dozens of men do yesterday during Levon Helm. The day had yet to reach the point where an endless stream of men were taking similar action.
As I walked away from "the Other Tent," the reggæ inside stopped and I heard an announcer proclaim that up next would be Ladytron. Now that's a band I actually know, so I immediately joined the mass of people mobbed in front of the stage.
Ladytron turned out to be more of a standard rock and roll band than I'd expected. Their songs sound like gothy electronica through a powerful retro-disco prism. But they have all the standard rock and roll equipment: drums, bass, electric guitar. They also have at least two sets of keyboards and a workstation comprised of a sampler and an array of guitar pedals, all at desktop height. The most organic of the band members are the ones playing the rock instruments. The drummer, playing the least electronic instrument of all, is so hideously organic he's difficult to look at. Two women unsmilingly front the band, although one (the principle vocalist) is much more vivaceous and lifelike than the other.
The more sullenly robotic of the two Ladytron women is the one who operates the sampler and effect pedals. Today she was wearing a black dress that was either futuristic or retro-Victorian (I couldn't decide). It featured silvery adornments across the shoulders and a shiny pleated skirt that abruptly stopped at her knees. If it weren't for the scab on her right knee, about the diameter of a nickel and the exact shape of Iceland, I could have been convinced she was entirely animatronic. Even the little dance she broke into a couple times seemed to be best explained in terms of subroutines. She was there only to meticulously follow her script. Entertainment, if it happened at all, was merely a side-effect. If there was any doubt about this, it dissolved with Ladytron's first song, completely unknown by the crowd and sung entirely in Bulgarian by Iceland Scab Girl. At times it definitely felt like the crowd was on the submissive end of dominatrices' lashes.
Despite the coldness of the music and the muddy sound system of "the Other Tent," I had a good time.
Next up was Aimee Mann on the same stage, but I had enough time between shows to go back to the campsite and refill my squeezebottle of wine. I knew Gretchen would be in the crowd, and though I nearly made it to the front center (where Gretchen was), I never saw her.
On stage, Aimee Mann comes across as shy, deliberate, and intelligent. She's careful and sincere, except (perhaps) when responding to marriage proposals shouted from the crowd. "I'm sure I'd love you to if I got to know you," she said at one point. Someone also demanded that she get right with Jesus, though I don't know the backstory on that. Aimee Mann looks good for her 47 years, and I thought that (as well as the general expressionlessness of her face) might be on account of botox, but at one point I saw her furrow her brow, so it's hard to say.
After Aimee Mann, I hurried over to the "What" stage to secure a place at the entrance to the pit so I could be there during the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss show. Gretchen and I had discussed this and had both agreed to try to get into the pit for that show. But I ran into Gretchen before even pre-positioning myself. I'd just bought a plate of vegetarian curry from one of the vendors and she thought it looked good, so she went off to get one too.
At this stage of the festival it wasn't hard to get into the pit. Nobody had any energy to wait or push, and many didn't even have energy to attend the performances. (The gay neighbors in our campground had already left the festival, having taken advantage of their proximity to "7th Avenue.")
I don't know how Robert Plant started hanging out with Alison Krauss, though it seems to be rooted in the discovery of Celtic music traditions foreshadowed by all the pagan and Middle Earth imagery in early Led Zeppelin albums. Most of the people gathered in the pit were there for only one thing: Led Zeppelin, but Robert Plant was going to have to do. Plant & Krauss did their best to please, crooning a swingy half-tempo version of "Black Dog," and later doing an astounding version of "The Battle of Evermore," as well as several familiar songs from Plant's solo career such as "I'm in the Mood (for a Melody)." Krauss has a voice every bit as powerful of Plant's in his prime, and she could fill in in the places Plant had gone deficient. For the early part of the show, Plant was reserved in his singing, letting Krauss sing the leads and doing little more than providing backing vocals. Later though, he couldn't help himself, and a certain amout of Led got out. Any time this happened, or hinted it might happen, the crowd around us went absolutely nuts, sprouting a forest of heavy metal salutes.
Alison Krauss is a virtuosic fiddle player, but she was never so haunting as when she sang. She did a solo performance of some Celtic tune that even impressed the guys craning their necks to see where Robert Plant had disappeared to.
Aimee Mann had looked like a bird to me, but (what with her helmet-like haircut), Alison Krauss resembled a fish. The former had had tattoos on her upper arms, while it seemed very unlikely there were any on the latter.
The only serious sour note of the show was when the guitarist was given permission to sing a song about the Bon Ton Roulez. The poor guy had a vocal range of precisely one note. There's a reason some musicians aren't provided a microphone.
At a certain point we'd had enough, and we also wanted to catch the Death Cab for Cutie show, already in progress on the "Which" stage. When we emerged from the Plant/Krauss din, we could hear Gretchen's favorite Death Cab song, "Soul Meets Body." Eventually we found a spot in the grass to lie down and rest our legs, which were far too old to be spending so much time standing in one spot.
I only like a few Death Cab for Cutie songs, generally finding the singer's voice slightly annoying. We weren't in the audience long before I asked Gretchen if she wanted to leave, as in leave Bonnaroo. I knew people were already leaving, and I didn't want us to get stuck in traffic trying to get out. There was no way in hell we'd be staying to see Widespread Panic (no music festival is complete without that band), and I thought we might miss the burst of alternakid traffic if we hit the road before the conclusion of Death Cab for Cutie. Reluctantly, Gretchen agreed, and we slowly made our way out of Centeroo, stopping along the way to buy food at various concessions, some of which were reduced to selling quesadillas, which I jokingly referred to as "stoner food."
"Third Street" defines one side of the block that includes our campground, and when we walked up to it, we found it was already jammed with traffic leaving the festival. "Oh shit!" Gretchen had already packed up our campsite, so it didn't take much for us to get on the road. We decided to drive away from "Third Street" up to "Fourth Street," where a break in the fence might have allowed us to reach New Bushy Branch Road directly. But I got out and looked at the ditch we'd have to cross and proclaimed we'd have to buy a new car if we tried that. So we went down fourth, eventually joining the stream of cars well in advance of what we'd seen on "Third Street." Before long we were on New Bushy Branch Road, taking advantage of the fact that it had temporarily been made one-way (away from the festival).
Getting out of Bonnaroo took about a third or a fourth the time it had taken to get in. Heading north up Tennessee Route 55, it was clear sailing all the way.
Getting up to I-40 was our main goal for the evening. Once there, we looked for a motel and quickly settled on the Scottish Inn in Crossville, where the rate was only a little more than $40/night, complete with free WiFi and complimentary morning coffee. The Scottish Inn was a sturdy rectangular building with walls made entirely of concrete blocks. It was like sleeping in a bomb shelter. Before climbing in bed, though, we both took prolonged showers and scrubbed away the accumulated festival grime.
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