bonnaroo

There's a mechanical problem, minutes before we're supposed to take off from LAX. Already on the tarmac, we're taxied back to the gate, where we wait for nearly two hours for a new plane. Chaos, angry passengers, frustration. We jockey for position along with the other Bonnaroo-bound: there are only so many seats available to Dallas/Forth Worth, where weather is precluding all flights to Nashville. We don't make our connection, or the next two attempts at stand-by, so we have to spend the night in Texas and miss the first evening of the festival. At the steakhouse in the hotel where we stay, A. plays up our plight to the server, who comps us a bottle of wine and desert. We take these back to our room and gorge ourselves in bed.

An early morning flight to Nashville, a hurried check-in to our hotel (where we score a jacuzzi suite), running to catch the bus to the festival. We're there by one, barely missing The Kooks. We quickly learn that our VIP upgrade affords us some huge advantages: no waiting in lines, exclusive seating for big shows, access to a large, air-conditioned tent filled with couches, cushions, free fruit, and cheap massages, incomparably cleaner/larger bathrooms, and remote concert viewing, should we choose. We stumble around, overwhelmed by the sheer size of the festival grounds, by the sensory overload of things to see, to hear, to smell, to touch, and to taste. It's a bit intimidating, like arriving a week late to summer camp. We try to get our bearings and find a sense of belonging in this pop-up community, but there's very little time to get acclimated before the first show we catch - Two Door Cinema Club. I'm excited to hear some tracks off of an unreleased album, and A. hoists me atop his shoulders during my favorite song. He pivots so I can videotape the screaming, cheering, waving crowd around us. Girls in dangerously little clothing crowd surf above us, and a guy nearby climbs the rafters for a better view.



By the end of the show, the heat has relented enough to let us really take in our surroundings for the first time.



Bonnaroo is like nothing I've experienced. Sun, skin, and sound everywhere. Carnival rides and games, food trucks, colorful tents crammed with crafts, art, and clothing, a water slide and oversized fountain, and a sprawling campsite with its own small village, all spread out over 700 grassy, tree-filled acres. Throngs of people, mostly young, many beautiful, nearly all thrilling to natural and man-made highs. Drugs everywhere: smoked, swallowed, shared and sold, all in plain view. We watch kids barely out of their teens pose for photos with acid tabs on their tongues. Over eighty thousand people are here with us, being flooded with music that pours from every corner of the grounds. It's positively surreal.



We wander in wonder at this small city, and plunge headlong into a three-day binge of our own illicit hedonism. We've come prepared, and we've been looking forward to this weekend for months. We feel no hesitancy and no shame about what we're going to do to our bodies and brains. We've earned the shit out of this weekend, emotionally, financially, and physically.



Our first roll kicks in while we watch Trampled By Turtles, and it's pure heaven. Dusk, and the sting of the sun is finally off of our bare shoulders and legs. We're sitting on a blanket-sized piece of vinyl fabric that I bought in the fashion district, just for the occasion. I picked the most colorful, silly, and happy print I could find - bright blue, green, and orange whales. This mat becomes an invaluable part of our Bonnaroo equipment: lightweight, waterproof, and fun, it's the perfect no-fly zone for when we need to carve out a little space from the crowd - not to mention put a layer between us and the dirt and bugs.



As the bluegrass notes wash over us, in the sandy area that divides the standers from the sitters, I'm physically unable to stay still. I jump up to dance while A. remains seated, chatting with our neighbor on the ground. They talk about psychology and other randomness, passing a joint back and forth, happily crossed-legged on the ground despite the fact that everyone else around them is on his or her feet. I touch the back of A.'s neck every few seconds as I dance, both to keep my bearings and to connect with him. He smiles up at me, telling me how much he loves the moment, the experience, me. It's an intense joy for both of us, that lasts song after song after song. When the opening strings of Wait So Long hit the air, everyone goes wild. A. leaps to his feet, then kneels and pulls me atop his shoulders, where I stay for the duration of the song. He bounces and sways, holding my legs tight as we both belt out the words we know and love by heart. I dip my head and kiss his face, upside down. From my vantage point I see the hundreds of frenetic, ecstatic people singing along with us. The lights are synched perfectly to the tune, and our senses are saturated in every way possible.

We leave the show electrified, and stay that way for the next three days.




There are over 150 acts at Bonnaroo, and it's impossible to see every one. We follow the schedule we've set for ourselves loosely, coming and going from the eleven different stages as we please. On our way to watch some electronic, for example, a strain of lo-fi indie pop will float to me, and I'll pull A. off in its direction. This is par for the course, all weekend: we're flexible, high, and just happy to be within a minute's walk, at any time, of some of our favorite music in recent years. We follow beats as we fancy, depending on the whims of desire, hunger/thirst, and state of mind. It'd take pages to detail the entire weekend, but I can at least list some highlights:

Top Ten Eighteen Bonnaroo Moments, In No Particular Order (except #1 really was #1)

18. Sunday night, stopping randomly at a small stage, headlined by some band we've never heard. Less than a hundred people are watching, but the twangy country sound fits our mood. We dance beside a small canopy with stringed lights woven in its branches, oblivious to how we look to anyone but each other. We cross arms, grab hands, and spin, and I take one of the most vivid mental snapshots of my life: my boyfriend's laughing face, the lights and trees blurring behind him, and beyond that, paper lanterns aglow and adrift in the sky.
17. Stomping and sloshing my way through the mud on Sunday, being so glad for my rain boots, and loving the feel of the light, warm rain on my skin.



16. Watching a paper lantern being lit and launched, a few feet away from us, at Red Hot Chili Peppers (the cheers from the crowd are deafening each time one is successfully set afloat in the night sky - we see dozens over the weekend). When it dips back down into the crowd, threatening to crash, a woman catches it and gives it the push it needs to get skyward again. The crowd roars with approval and excitement.



15. The heady feeling of freedom, to be there with A. Just us, doing as we please. No obligations or responsibilities to anyone other than ourselves and our dogs, waiting for us back home. Recognizing and appreciating the fact that we can do this again - anytime we like, in fact - finances allowing. We're that free. It's intoxicating. The sense of well-being and connectedness, with my boyfriend, with the world at large - with myself. Finding the first true moments of peace and contentedness since my father died.



14. Discovering Major Lazer, based on a tip from some young'uns we meet on the bus.
13. Skrillex. Mind = blown. Dancing my face clean off.



12. Walking by Radiohead, but not actually stopping to watch them. This is strangely awesome. I don't remember where we're going or what exactly we're doing, but we just aren't feeling Radiohead enough to stop and stay at the stage. It's enough for us to be nearby, see the stage, and know we are hearing Radiohead live, and go on with our night. Totally surreal moment, getting to make that choice.
11. The Shin's performance of Simple Song, which has become my favorite track of the past few years. I'm obsessed with it. We watch the show from the VIP section, just high enough above the crowd to have a great view but still feel in the mix. It's drizzling rain, and A. wordlessly takes out his hoodie and wraps me in it.
10. Walking in to the festival one afternoon while The Beach Boys are playing. We stumble straight into the venue, packed with three or four generations of smiling, singing concert goers, chanting giddily to songs they've grown up with. The group sounds exactly the same as their records.



9. Dancing with wild abandon to Phish, with glow sticks A. has collected for us, in the misting rain. We wander the outskirts of the crowd, jumping around and laughing like children, lost in the moment and music. A. completely lets loose and dances with pure, unconscious joy.
8. Trampled By Turtles (especially the moment described above).
7. Discovering the ridiculously talented LP, who A.'s been into for some time, and now I know why. After the show, an older couple approaches us to say, "We saw you guys yesterday, and we just want you to know we think you're romantic and sexy. We'll let you figure out who we think is which." Makes our day.
6. Ritzy Bryan of The Joy Formidable smashes her guitar into the drum set, and the crowd goes bonkers. They do an amazing set, and the girl is a freaking rock star.
5. Dancing at the Silent Disco (everyone is given wireless headphones playing the same live-DJed music). I'm rolling hard, and consequently feel like the best. dancer. in the world. So, so, so much sexy fun. We had plans to go back for another round on Sunday, but it was closed. So A. proposes we make our own Silent Disco, and that's exactly what we do: we find a semi-private, relatively quiet patch of grass, put on our headphones, and just dance for a while to our own beats.
4. Watching A. during Dispatch, but especially when they play The General. He's absolutely elated.



3. Mogwai's entire set. Rocking, eyes closed, high as hell. Indescribable beyond that.



2. Young The Giant's performance of My Body, which is pretty much an out-of-body experience for me. I am beside myself. I have never seen a crowd so charged up, and it is far and away my favorite performance of the entire festival.
1. Laying on the grass, on our ridiculous whale sheet, in the middle of the festival grounds at 1:00 am, on a perfect, lovely roll, holding one another, eyes closed in the dark and cold, hearing the strains of music around us, feeling cozily tucked in amongst the thousands of blissed-out people, but special and separate at the same time, kissing for several minutes straight without breaking contact. Now when I ask him for a "Bonnaroo kiss", he knows exactly what I mean.



I've been on some truly incredible, once-in-a-lifetime vacations and adventures. I've been to five of seven continents and done some crazy cool, bucket list stuff. But after going to Bonnaroo, I would easily pass up any trip - even international - to attend another music festival like that. No question. We're already eyeing Outside Lands, in San Francisco, in August...