Act 1: The Arrival
Arriving with the other volunteers and workers gave a false first impression. Through security and short-lines, it would be easy to think this day may define what’s to come, but that’s just not true. The journey starts when the GA gates open; like the first inundation in the spring, 90,000 people flood into miles of ground waiting to be trampled. I work first and my shift is slow but keeps me alert, flirting with the possibilities of whats to come.
I’m surprised, not once but twice, by those I’ve met at the festy’s before. I adore those moments of unexpected reminiscence, but as the clock ticks, and my shift ceases to exist, new memories are going to be made.
I venture solo, only accompanied by communal herbal remedies and a belief I’ll meet the right people. Whenever I feel lonely, I find a new stage. I get Down and Stay Down with Thao, before a glowstick lure hooks me into Banks. I’m stopped before I get to the stage by someone who thinks I’m a photographer. I try and amend this mistake, but she won’t take no for an answer, and I give her my contact. I find my first real conversation in breaks between beats during Policsia. They play great, but I decided to stay decently straight this evening, and venture home at a decent hour. The nearly turgid moon guides me down the dusty path to my dew-doused home.
Act 2: The Time I chose mastodon over Kanye
I wake with the sounds of golf carts and orders, but the breeze on the ride to work feels nice. No one wants to wake up at 8 for a music festival, but the divine feel of freedom at noon doesn’t hurt. The clock ticks, and as the yoga and mediation ends in front of me, its time to quit.
Even though I was sitting in the dirt, the conversation was great as we anxiously anticipated what awaited in the comedy tent. With black nerd jokes by Sasheer, and failed attempts at jeers while TJ miller walked on stage dripping wet, which he never really did address, my short walk to the next tent to visit my Wood Brother friends finally saw the end of my laughter. They sang about their Muse, and I was confused how a band of this capacity could have such an awful time slot.
Friday is my day for music. The bands I want to see are stacked, back-to-back, on a plethora of stages, and I’m determined to see them all. I haul to Which stage to catch Ben Howard. Beforehand I see kids doing headstands, so I immediately make friends. In the minutes leading up to the show, I grow aware of life outside of immediate desires, as I lose my granola-girl conversationalist to her boyfriend with tattoos from arm to wrist, in complete juxtaposition to my own sleeve. I’m relived when I realize he has substance underneath blood, skull, and tank tats, and I wonder how this old soul ended up serving in the barracks. Ben Howard starts, they begin to show affection. Ben Howard plays soft and slow, and I realize I’m the only other letter in a pool of x’s and o’s. I leave before I hear all my favorite songs.
Theophilius meets me for Janelle Monae, unbeknownst to either of us that we were about the see the best performance of the day. I two-step and stand on tippy toes to see the stage, as he whirls, turns, and squeaks in between cracks in the crowd. So proud to hold his arms in the air, spreading love in the manner he believes his God wants him to employ. I’m overjoyed to watch as the crowd sees this atypical spectacle, yet embraces with a reciprocal show of affection. Janelle Monae does not take direction at all. In light of her being the coolest person on the planet, she exits the stage through the crowd. Her band plays until she can no longer be found in the masses. I think i’m in love.
The Head and the Heart plays next. While I don’t dig their new work, I was employed by someone I wouldn’t even give the distinction of being ex, maybe just a fling, to give their new album a chance live. I arrive to an oldie, but I see a band I used to adore look like a shell of their previous selves. They seem lost; even their banter with the crowd is devoid of any identity. They butcher my favorite song as their finale.
Tonight is the full moon. The first full moon on a Friday the 13th in an absurd amount of time. I’m in prime shape after a nap and shower (perks of living in the vendor lot!), and ready to get weird. I’m torn, but I fear that I’m gonna act with the masses to see what Kanye has to offer. Though I used to be fan I can’t say I really like anything he’s done in nearly decade. There is no one else playing in his time slot. It would be a lie to say I wasn’t blown away by his furry on stage as he played “Black Skinhead,” to spark up the set. The LED screen was a three-dimensional, rectangular display. I couldn’t even tell if that was him on stage, but that song is one I respect. After this, though, the set turned into a mess. Negativity spewed from both crowd and stage, with chants of fishdicks, retorted by Kanye saying, “ I’m the number one mother fucking rockstar on the planet.” I couldn’t stay much past when he tried to say he was on par with Hendrix. The entire scene was not what one wants to see at a weekend of music, love, and peace…
Which brings me to the defense of metal! I won’t belittle the power of aggression and pain, but its insane to me that someone could cast off Mastodon as angry when you have only rage and anger pouring from any stage where Kanye steps foot. Heavy music doesn’t have to mean hate, in fact, it’s a source of raw, untapped energy. The fans may be hard and the guitars fast, and the drums may beat like thunder cracking right above your head, but the dead truth is this book can’t be judged by the cover. No one oozed aggression in This Tent. While the circle pits went back and fourth, if someone dropped to the floor, they were immediately picked up, dusted off, and sent back to a safe ground. I found this scene much less abrasive, and threw a bone to my past self who used to live for this stuff.
One of the most interesting aspects was walking from This Tent to Which Stage, in the perfect place where one could hear both Mastodon and Ice Cube play. Maybe Girl Talk once walked in this same spot and heard the power of mash-ups. I reveled in the adjoining intersection of two completely different walks of life. Ice Cube played the hits, and it never seemed to click that this man has been able to shout “fuck the police,” and trapeze into a starring role in kids films. Middle finger up, Ice Cube does not give a P-H fuck about what anyone thinks. He played “new shit,” about girls dropping it on command like a light switch.
I found a bench where a man was laying. I sat down on the opposite side. A few moments later he would rise to open up a small bag and see if I wanted a small lick, or more accurately, to a rail a pinch of the sack’s remnants. I declined, deciding maybe 1:30 am on this night was not the best place to first try MDMA. He smiled, took key to nose, then bailed. I inhaled the surroundings, breathing in Skrillex beats, Deaf Haven’s screams, and the beaming moon smiling down on my slightly burned face. I laid until I feared I would fall asleep, then rose to my feet to make the long walk back to my tent.
Act 3: A New Ingredient added to the Potent Potion
There’s no snooze button for small land vehicles and strong suggestions, but there is consolation in a free ride to the Solar Stage. Today is my morning to play, in a way only yogis know how. The class isn’t serious, in fact, its led but two folks who may be wed (and if so they’re definitely swingers), and have a knack for incorporating animals into the mix. I’m a lion, no I’m a snail, no I’m a snakepidegonturtleowleopard who attacks the day with fervor. We take the class further by doing moves only possible with two. To my left is a blonde; we exchange names and begin to work on a handstand. She seems shy, or a bit nervous, and I’m curious as it seems she has some life behind those eyes. I later find out she’s a 30-some who looks no older than 24, but lost someone she adored, now leading her on a new path. We finish the class with an adulterated pranayama, where we all link arms and oscillate like leaves on the trees. I feel a new arm join from the right. A brunette sits down. We don’t speak until we are no longer leaves on trees. With an arm on two contrasting hair colors, my gaze shifts right. I won’t realize until later in the night, this small act will change everything. I’ll never dream of thinking back on where the lefthand side would have led.
We lock eyes and realize that we posses the same shade. Only a select view are invited to see the covert hazel. We seek shade under a fabricated tree, and she asks me my plans for the night. I say they are open, and she tells me hers. I feel assured when I ask if I can join, and she agrees its a good idea. I drop her off at her tent, run back to camp, and prepare for the day. The entire process devours nearly an hour away from the dwindling time here, but I find the walk somewhat soothing. A little alone time never hurt anyone.
I need to work at 9, and while her and her friends seemed to already have reached a divine plane, she says she’ll wait for me to take the next step. Their state matches Kevin’s surname as he plays on the Miller Light Stage. I’m amazed at how small the crowd is for such a cult figure in the scene. He plays my favorite song last, and we pass by the crowds to go stake out a spot for cake. We lay in the grass and listen to my new friend’s partner in crime explain the way her brain functions in her current mind frame. She wants to play, and love, and never not have fun. I adore these ideas, and encourage her to run with it, wandering what else she’ll say. I’m surprised when she decides to head to the toilette, leaving us alone for a few moments before the set. We talk about what’s to come next, and what this night may hold. Cake takes the stage. They play songs I’ve heard for so many years, to a boom of applause and cheers. Their singer exposes small glimpses of his radical beliefs, yet never gives a full portrayal.
After watching a magnificent set from Cake, we decided to appease our baking skin by gliding down the massive waterside. My vendor pass lets us cut line. I can’t help but sneak a peak at the incredibly fine individual standing in front of me only adorning a 2-piece. She turns to face me for one quick gaze, before the slide Guru releases his hand and she lands on her back; her head leads the way down the slide. I follow in suite.
We meet her friend outside the Other Tent. We don’t go in, but we can hear Bobby Womack from our station. She calls it cheesy, I ask her to slow dance. A euphoric wayfarer cuts in for a moment to tell us a we’re a beautiful couple. I laugh, she giggles. We make a plan to meet at my tent after I close, and I come in close to kiss her on the cheek. She’ll go on later to promise she was just trying to reciprocate my feat, but our lips meet in the middle. I don’t want to move, but she stops, and assures me not to worry because we’ll meet in a few hours. I float a few inches above the grass to my tent.
When 9 o’clock hits, I’m alone after relieving an under the weather (festival-style) co-worker from duty. She comes to see me. We lock the tent, and head, for a few moments, to see which Lauryn Hill will be attending this event. Ms. Hill seems in good spirits, playing reggae/island versions of the songs we all love. I wonder if she’ll stay this way the whole set. We’ll never know, as we deiced to jet back to the vendor camp to finish my responsibility. At my tent I steal another kiss, and we decide its time to partake in festival activities. A hint of kale lingers on my taste buds.
We walk swiftly to catch as much of Jack White’s set as possible. A man dances in front of us, or at least I’m under the impression that’s what he is doing. I’m fixated for a few moments, realizing I can’t discern if he is coming or going. He walks close, then takes a few steps back, only to approach once again. I pretend to not notice, and start to look out to the trees, and see that we are in a small, musical bubble. The trees surrounding us feel like barriers, guarding from anything outside this stage. They glitter and wave as if plankton swaying in the sea. She stands next to me, and I steel another glimpse of her face. She looks like a person I know, but I can’t but my finger on it. I continue to gaze around the festival. She asks if I’m OK, and I smile and squeeze her hand. We are at different states, but fate won’t let the night continue in this manner.
She takes my hand and guides us through the crowd. I’m astounded by the ease with which we weave between all these people enjoying Mr. White. Its seems that lights and patterns are emerging from the pulsating ground; we’ve found the right track to race down. A few minutes into the main festival grounds she looks at me with a grin. We realize it’s time to begin this inaugural journey together.
The balloon lights are magical. Like a scene from Wonderland, we’ve been transported to Fun Town! We walk around, engulfing all the faces and places the festival has to offer. We watch the stages sway and play songs we may or may not know. I know we had plans to see bands, but at this point it all seems irrelevant. The night and the lights are leading the way.
We plop down on her colorful sarong near the Which Stage. We lay, and her had now graces my chest. While we are at our best, we’ve become astronomers. One pair of hands engaged, while the others venture solo and play with the stars, leading them every which way. Passerbys giggle at the scene, but this all feels like a whimsical, capricious dream. It peters in and out, but now the crowds start to shout as the band takes the stage. It’s the Flaming Lips. I listen, and she tries to dance, but we find that this trance isn’t actually enhanced by the music. We return back to our horizontal state.
I look over at her and think, “You are mysterious. You’re familiar. I feel like I’ve seen your face before, while knowing I’ve never see you at all. Damn, do I hope I see you again. and again... and again. Your face changes with sky. And the lights that each new artist provides. Its as illusive as your drive, now, your capricious ways are portrayed with each new glance I peak at that beautiful face.” I continued to let my head think and dream.
I thought the Skrillex and Janelle Monae super jam was switched to This Tent? Is it That Tent? What stage are we at? The Other Tent? Which stage? I ‘m not interested anyway, the colors aren’t anywhere near beginning to fade… and I think the earth is a little more interesting at this point. She gives me those comforting, sausage fingers, and we follow the ground’s patterns and lights; we take flight through the sprawled carcasses around the festival grounds as we venture back to her tent.
We talk like the walls weren’t so thin. We didn’t even begin to think about anything outside this space; a place where mermaids and gauchos have no problem being friends. We swim, through topics like rushing waters; we are sons and daughters of something much bigger than what we are taught to see. Her face, its beaming. It glows with its own light. I was right to follow her on this journey. I’m glad we stayed true to this path that continues to become more lucid with every step. I shouldn’t, but I can’t seem to keep my eyes open…
Act 4: Sunday Opens the door to the End
An EDM laced rendition of “Circle of Life,” ushers in the sun.
The sun. Damn! Today, it hits hard. I’m not hungover, but I’m a far cry away from getting up anytime soon to do yoga. Vendor camping is a far trek, yet the incentive of a nice shower is quite enticing….even if the water’s somewhat sulfuric smelling. I’m not dwelling on the fact it’s Sunday, but I am kinda bummed. There’s still hours left of sun at this point, but the night is when it all comes together.
The day goes by in a blur. I spend it all with her, and her friend who has engaged in Bonnaroo life 110%. She went for it, and the chemical cocktail running through her veins is taking a bit of a toll. She is mid-roll but feels somewhat like crying. I go to the stage by myself while the two of them take time to recenter.
Arctic Monkeys, Caroline Chocolate Drops, Sam Hunt, and City and Colour. I wander if we can squeeze in some Shovel’s and Rope before I’m supposed to be heading to work. Today is the last day and the higher ups want us pack it in before the mayhem of exodus begins on Monday. At least I won’t miss a second of Elton John. I’m sent a picture of a totem, raised high in the crowded air, where her and her friend stay. It’s close to the stage, but I’m able to make my way through the crowd as the sun sets and the curtain drops. The grass isn’t as colorful as the previous night, but it still seems to light up in a way I’ve never seen before.
I didn’t know if he’d play “Tiny Dancer,” but fate answered. My ears are smiling while my mind is trying to decide if I should activate my hands. I guess the Tiny Dancer is supposed to hold me close, but I can’t help but give her a squeeze. It was almost as good as when Buzz Lightyear took flight during “Rocket Man.” She takes my hand around 10:15 to go grab some food as the set still lingers. Her fingers are clasping the last morsel of food from whatever tent had was still serving as “Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting's” final note exits the stage.
The end of music comes abruptly, but the night’s still young. Tent City is still kicking, and so are the vendors near 2nd Avenue. We venture, deeper into the thick crowd. It’s loud, and we are on a much more grounded level than our counterparts. She drifts to the Moroccan leather tent, and I watch the break dancers in the vendor next store. She makes a bet about the artist of a song she was singing, and I take her up on it, knowing full well I’ll win. The prize is the best doughnut I’ve had in awhile. I smile, and we share it over a steaming hot beverage. I’m not a coffee drinker but I’ll sip espresso all night for a few more moments with you and this magnificent existence…
Act 5: This is the End
I’m resistant to open the tent even though the sun’s come and we’re baking; I’m not ready to make the move. I’m not sure how this morning will fair or what we’ll do, but I’m glad to have lived through my first Bonnaroo with her. One last kiss, a somber and sweet embrace, then back to packing up the tent. I hope this exit line doesn’t take the rest of the day. We get out quick to my dismay. As we venture into a new day, I pull off on an exit, only to see my phone’s display light up. I’d never seen her name written before…