a handful of impressions: bonnaroo 2013

In no particular order, other than that in which I wrote them.

Grief

Sunday, early afternoon, still at the hotel. I'm in a state. I've barely slept the past three nights. I've taken loads of drugs. I've hardly eaten a thing in four days. I'm depleted, exhausted, starving, and dehydrated. I've sent David* on ahead of me since a) my stomach is threatening revolt and b) I'm feeling like I need some time alone to get emotionally centered for the day. It's the second Father's Day since my dad died. Normally I'd not let myself sink into that hole, but my body is pissed at what I've been doing to it, and has nothing extra to give me, to keep me afloat.

On the shuttle to the festival, I send text messages to all my friends who are dads. I text David to remind him to call his father. He answers almost immediately. Sent him the sweetest text in history. An ugly, ungenerous part of me responds back in my head. Must be nice. At the fest, I spend the first hour struggling to dial into a happy spot. I watch The Mowgli's, the most upbeat of bands, from the back of the tent, leaning my face against the poles of a raised lounge area. I cling to the posts and mouth the words as I listen to The Great Divide and San Francisco, tracks I've been looping for weeks back at home. I can't sing, because my lips are inches from the ear of a guy reclined on a sofa in front of me. Instead I just press my forehead to the bars like a prisoner, close my eyes, and will myself to count the blessings of the moment until genuine gratitude takes hold. But my throat is tight with grief, and I miss him with an inexplicable fierceness. I wish I could tell him about it, all of it, even the drugs. He'd shake his head and chastise me, but half-heartedly. He'd get it. And he'd delight in my delight. I miss him.

The Mowgli's = very happy, but Ellie = very sad. Worst festival math evar.

Joy

Two a.m. Sunday morning. That Tent. Billy Idol has just finished playing. Most of the crowd is staying exactly where they are, holding fast to their good spots. It's been a strange Saturday evening. The cancellation of Mumford and Sons cast a bit of a pall on the festival, which, by and large, is vocal about its dissatisfaction with the replacement act of Jack Johnson. Lots of bitter, sarcastic jokes being cracked. Lots of disappointed Mumford fans. There's been a weird hole in the evening where the much-anticipated headliner should have been. People have been wandering, ambivalent about what they wanted to do or see instead. Energy has been low for a couple of hours, as clusters of bummed out fans trickle around the festival grounds in search of something to keep them going. But now the buzz and hum are starting to build again. Empire of the Sun is about to start, and the crowd is fidgety with excitement, despite the late hour, and despite the fact that they're going on nearly half an hour late.

And then they do start. And the roar of the crowd ripples out from in front of the stage, back through and over us, and electrifies several thousand people, all eager to be recharged for the late-late shift. They sound absolutely amazing live, and I'm instantly transported. Everything is blue lights, lasers, and fog. The Australian duo are outfitted in psychedelic costumes, with LED lights lining their instruments. It feels like being in a video. We've somehow, miraculously managed to carve out enough room to dance, cornered against a railing near the back of the tent. While we're not close enough to make out all of the action on stage, we've got a decent view and incredible sound, and I'm beyond thrilled to be able to move and jump like a maniac when Alive comes on. Everyone who knows the words is throwing his or her head back and belting them out. I'm turned around, facing David, dancing with him, singing to him again, smiling and laughing and out of my head with joy.

Some form of pre-performance prayer, I think.



It doesn't look like we had a good spot, but trust, it was amazing.

Affection

It's the Saturday night hole. The empty place where Mumford and Sons should have been. We've just left The Lumineers, but we don't know what we want to do until Billy Idol, at midnight. There aren't any shows going at the moment that are particularly compelling to us. Neither of us is interested in Jack Johnson; in fact, I'm terrified that watching him will actually bring me further down and put me to sleep. We briefly consider the Ferris wheel, but the line is outrageous. Should we take a pill? he asks. I'm unsure about starting on ecstasy this early. It's only a bit after nine, and I'm planning on going all the way until morning. Pretty Lights played until sunrise the night before, so I'm guessing Empire of the Sun and Boyz Noise will go just as late. I want to time my high to maximize on those shows. We could just get high and hang out in the Christmas barn, he suggests. Fuck it, I say, realizing there's nothing else to do. But two caveats, I say. If we start now, it'll be a two pill night for me. He nods. And the other? I reach into my bag, pulling out the tiny baggy from my coin purse. I'm a handful on two pills. Like, I will need to dance. And I might disappear to go do just that, no matter what's on. 

We place the capsules on one another's tongues and toast with our water. See ya later, I say, like always.

The Christmas barn is going strong, and we hang out there for a bit, bobbing to the beat and smiling at all the weirdness of it. It's a barn, in the middle of a farm in Tennessee, in June, decked out like the North Pole, and filled with ravers. It's spectacularly bizarre.

Christmas barn, covered in Christmas lights. Just the right amount of weird.



They weren't really this grumpy, I promise. That was just their schtick for photos.

I know the moon rocks have kicked in when I start to obsess about the Silent Disco. Jared Dietch is starting at eleven, and I want to catch as much of his set as possible before Billy Idol. I caught some of his set the night before and it was a blast. But I know that with the fest crowd largely disbanded by the cancellation, there'll probably be a line to get in to the Disco. A very, very long one that starts early. So I ask David if we can go sit on the grass near it, to make sure we don't miss out. He agrees, and we step out of the Christmas chaos into the cold night.

My high ramps up noticeably as we do so.

Cold. I run to the locker to get my hoodie. I return to find the line has grown. David is socializing with some other very high people. A guy and a girl, who, a moment after introducing herself to me, literally crawls off on all fours, disappearing back into the dark. She just fell into my lap, he says. We sit cross-legged. We chat. We chat faster. Moon rock. Heart thumping. My eyes are wide and I'm rocking to a beat somewhere. I run to the bathroom again. I refill our water bottles. David waits for me. I'm thankful for my warm layers. Recorded music pours over us from a nearby tower. Something awful. Some awful artist. We're too far away from everything live, it's all we hear. What it is? Why aren't they changing it? We laugh. We sit closer to one another. Watch out, I say. I'm coming up. I climb onto his lap and wrap my limbs around him. Cozy. Warmth. I do not love this man. I barely know this man. But he's strong and he's kind and he's here with me, and we're having a good time. We're in a great mood now, the headliner hole forgotten. We're ready to dance. The line grows long behind us, and I feel a rush of gratitude and relief that I'm not going to miss my DJ, that David has patiently waited an hour with me, in the cold grass. He holds me. I bury my face against his shoulder, his neck, this man I do not know or love.

I'm glad he's here.

In the Disco, I cut loose fast and hard. He keeps up with me for a while. We retreat to the grass behind the tent. Room for us to goof, to spread out, to sing to one another. The music is a mix, and frustrates me. Some spectacular EDM tracks, some randoms from the 90s. David sits and watches me. Takes photos of me. He points at me, licks his finger, makes it sizzle on his shirtsleeve. I laugh and dance harder. The line to get in has quadrupled. They watch us enviously. I'm giddy. This is my zone. When fireworks start over my shoulder I can't even stop to watch. Alive comes on and I explode into movement and laughter. I sing the words to David, ecstatic. I mean them. Loving every minute cuz you make me feel so alive, alive. And I do feel incredibly alive. I never feel more alive than when I'm dancing to music I love, and here I am, at Bonnaroo, my god, what an amazing thing, what an incredible experience, out here among the stars, thousands of joyful people around us, listening to musical thrill after musical thrill. My heart fills with affection for this person, for being here with me, witnessing and sharing in my joy. He's made it real, more real than when I do it alone, and even though I don't love him, I love him for being with me in this moment.



Oh Silent Disco, how I love thee. 


Stalkers will need to do their own exposure adjustments, sorry.

Drugs 

Friday, late afternoon. The sun is slowly dripping into the magic hour. The weather is a gift - a godsend really. Nowhere near as hot or humid as last year. There's even a light breeze valiantly working its way through an eighty thousand-strong mass of bodies, lifting skirts, hair, and spirits even higher than they already are. David's younger brother has joined us for the day, with a one-day ticket so they can rock out to Paul McCartney and ZZ Top together. They haven't seen one another in two years. Lots of laughter, smiling, teasing.

The three of us grab a patch of grass near a hip hop show. We sit only long enough to share a truly wretched soft pretzel and a handful of shrooms before we get up and wander the grounds, soaking up the chill sunset vibes of the festival. They're not attached to anything until the classic rock shows starts a few hours later, and I'm content to meander and take in the sights while the mushrooms gently, slowly curl their fingers around my senses. I let my gaze linger on things as we pass. Colorful clothes, face paint, signage, the oversized grotesque statues spiked in the ground. Everything has the potential to be a playground for my mind. I loosen my thoughts and relax my body into the drugs, letting them take me where they will.





Where we sat to do The Deed.

As usual, it starts with water. Water has always been the gateway for me, with shrooms. Especially in the fading light of dusk. The twinkle and sparkle, the splatter and trickle. When water suddenly takes on an extra dimensionality, I know I'm high. The water of the Centeroo mushroom fountain captivates me as we come upon it. I jump on a bench as the guys walk ahead, snapping pics, entranced by the sound and sight of it, which blend together. Synesthesia, my favorite thing about mushrooms.

Mild giggles kick in as we walk up to This Tent, where Jim James is just starting. It's the perfect musical backdrop. A. E. I. O. U. sounds lush in my ears, drippy and loopy and sexy and silly all at once. I post to Instagram with one hand, my other arm wrapped around David as we half-dance, nodding and smiling and laughing.



Weird stuff to look at when you're high. Thanks, Bonnaroo!


Surprise

Here's what I expect of watching Paul McCartney: I expect it will be a ton of fun. I expect an eighty thousand person singalong. I expect to enjoy it and appreciate it for what it is: a once in a lifetime experience. I'm a Beatles fan, but I'm certainly not a rabid one.

Well, I get the singalong, and I absolutely get the fun. We end up in a very cool little cluster of people with whom we sing, dance, and high-five throughout the show. But the whole experience is heightened by the fact that while I'm not a rabid Beatles fan, my companion, David, is. And watching any show in the company of a die-hard fan is always much more fun. He knows every word to every tune, and is just generally beside himself, he's so into it. He sings the ballads in my ear and plays the guitar solos on my hip and my arm. And somewhere along the way I get hit with a wave of holy shit emotion, as in holy shit, I'm watching one of the most famous musicians in the world, a man who's not going to be up to doing these shows for too many more years. I think of all the times I've listened to The Beatles either by myself or with friends who were fans.

I think of the fact that my brother was the one who introduced me to them.

And as Sir Paul pauses in between songs to muse about "his friend John", it dawns on me what an amazing, momentous thing it is, to be living at a time when I can watch this incredibly famous and influential man perform. A man whose life and experiences and connections and friendships are so intermeshed with the 20th century historical musical narrative that it's hard to think of someone more important, or integral to, well, the whole fucking thing.

And it moves me, tremendously. And I think of friends that I love, and who I would be crushed to lose, in the way that Paul lost John. And I cry. Unexpectedly, I cry. And I'm strangely happy to be surprised by this moment.

I'm not a fan of pushing up through crowds, but push up we did, and we got pretty close...

See?

Not too horrible a view of Sir Paul. 

Peace

I don't meet up with David on Sunday. I don't want to. I'm burned out physically and emotionally. We talk about meeting up for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which is the final show, but he's already buried deep in the crowd when I get to the field. I'm feeling really low at this point in the evening. So low, in fact, that I actually consider skipping the show and just going home. Everyone else just seems so connected, and I feel so incredibly alone. There's a special kind of bittersweet energy at the last show on the last night of a festival. People stand closer to one another. They're quieter. It seems like they listen to one another more, perhaps soaking up the last of their interaction with each other before saying goodbye forever. It honestly feels like 79,999 people, and then me.

And then it starts raining.

It isn't pouring, but it isn't misting either. The covered tents at the back of the field quickly fill up, as some people retreat for shelter. But most just hold their ground, some in rain gear, though most not. I'm waiting in line for the bathroom, pulling my ninety-nine cent poncho out of my bag, when the band starts to play. And I know instantly that I'm not going anywhere. The sound is so good, so rich and full and pretty, even way back where I stand, at the far end of the field. It lights up the night and grabs a hold of me and says Hey, look, don't leave yet, ok? It's Tom fucking Petty after all. You can be sad, but just be sad to Tom Petty is all's we're saying.

So I don't leave. I go to the bathroom, where I unfold and don a flimsy, transparent triangle of plastic, and then I step back out into a massive, moonlit singalong. I wander around the field for the entire show, socializing a bit, but mostly just stopping in one section long enough to listen to a song or two before moving on to another area. I watch lanterns being lit, and set out to float off into the night sky amidst cheers and applause. I watch fire breathers and glow stick dancers and hula hoopers. I spend a few minutes running in circles with a group of people who are just randomly running in circles, for the sheer fun of it, in the rain. I do all of this alone, and my heart, which has felt so empty and hollow all day, suddenly is full again. I throw my head back and yell out lyrics along with everyone else. Heyyyyyy baby, there ain't no easy way out. Heyyyyyyy I will stand my ground. And I won't back down. 

I won't say that I feel joyful, exactly. Not akin to other, higher moments of the fest. But I find peace back there, in the dark, aimlessly wandering and singing to myself, to the crowd, to the band, to the sky, to my past, to my present, and to my future. It isn't some great revelatory moment. I'm not high, and I haven't had a single drop of alcohol. It's just a clean, peaceful feeling, standing there in the rain, being alone, and being anything but at the same time.








Connection

Thursday night. We've got our festival legs. It's the warm-up day. No major shows, none of the big stages are open, but there are several smaller or lesser-known acts scheduled to kick the weekend off. Last year A. and I missed Thursday entirely, so it feels like a bonus to even be here tonight.

We drift and sample shows at will, having fun and enjoying the scene but not getting too amped up about anything. Until we stumble upon Django Django. And that's when our festival starts. I've never heard them before, and David has only briefly checked them out online when making his schedule. They're indescribable. Part EDM, part funk, part question mark, and one more part question mark. I've since listened to them on Spotify and something definitely gets lost in their studio recordings. But live? Live they are unreal. So fun, so funky and danceable.

We catch the show from the outside of the tent, nowhere near close enough to see the stage, but the sound hits us - and the crowd around us - just right. We have a blast dancing with one another, laughing and goofing around to the music we can't for the life of us describe or classify, but which is rocking us hard. Some guy near where we stand shines a handheld disco laser under our feet, twisting the grip to change the pattern as we dance. I'm mesmerized and delighted. David is loving the music, loving dancing, loving his first taste of Bonnaroo.

There aren't a lot of moments during the weekend, that he and I truly connect over the music we're watching. But we connect over Django Django, and it's the perfect sleeper hit start to the weekend.

Luck

I lucked out so many times throughout the festival, in terms of catching the one or two songs I'd wanted to see, at shows that I wasn't otherwise interested in. This happened with Maps and Atlases, Beach House, Wilco, ZZ Top, David Byrne, Divine Fits, and at least a couple more I'm not remembering. I just happened to be walking by, or walking up, or on my way to another show, and I caught some of my favorite randoms this way. Super lucky timing.



Regrets

I missed On an On entirely, because we got to Paul McCartney so early. That's my biggest regret. I also missed The XX completely (I missed them at Coachella, too - double fail).

I wish I'd been much closer for Of Monsters and Men and The Lumineers. The Lumineers put on an awesome show, but their sound got completely lost in the back. We could barely hear them. I would have been much more bummed about it if I hadn't seen them here in LA last year, and smack up against the stage at that. And I can't really complain about the Of Monsters and Men show, since this is the third time I've seen them, and both times before were really amazing for me, emotionally.



About how close we were for Of Monsters and Men. Bummer, but damn, that crowd was THICK and it was HOT. Would have been hellish to try and get much closer. 

There are a couple other smaller bands/performers I wanted to see that were earlier in the day, but I was just way too trashed from being up until 6am the night before to get back up early enough to catch them. C'est la festival vie.

EDM

Porter Robinson, Wolfgang Gartner, Boyz Noise, and Pretty Lights are all, predictably, incredible. Danced my face off, loved every minute of them.

Standard issue blurry EDM photo. Could be Christ himself up there and no one would know. Good job Ellie.

David got this amazing shot of Pretty Lights which I may Instagram, because it is so fantastic.

Romance

Negative. Chemistry, yes. Lots of laughs and great conversation, definitely. Romance, no. Ellie is officially still single, kids. Hide your menfolk.

Moment of Random Dancing In the Middle of Everything

One particularly Bonnaroo-esque moment was actually on Thursday night. We took moon rocks, which neither of us had ever had before, and it hit us like a tsunami. I consider myself, for lolz or for lolsobs, to be a pretty savvy user of ecstasy/MDMA at this point. And I've never experienced anything like it. It was nearly incapacitating. We both had to sit down when it hit, lest our legs give out from under us. This happened as we were walking through the middle of the festival. We just plopped down right where we stood. That lasted about thirty seconds for me, at which point, I, of course, needed to dance. The closest music source was the crazy Christmas barn, and it was perfect. David just sat watching, dazed but laughing, as I broke it down right there, in the middle of foot traffic. I didn't have a choice. Then we just sat there for a while marveling at how unbelievably high we were, and every few minutes I'd pop back up to dance some more of it off.

To me a festival isn't complete unless at some point I'm randomly dancing in the middle of nothing/everything. So I got that covered.

Favorites

Band - The Vaccines. Holy shit they rocked. Loved loved loved seeing them, especially since they were a last minute, very exciting discovery for me. I've since added lead singer Justin Hayward-Young to my rock star crush list. I mean, come on. If The Strokes + Weezer + a dash of Vampire Weekend sounds good to you, check them out. Family Friend (just the tune, no video) is fucking amazing, I cannot stop listening to that track. Also great are If You Wanna and Norgaard. Oh, and Wetsuit, which was so, so fun to hear live.

Performer - Matt Berninger of The National, who drank his way through the show like a boss, jumped into the pit inches from where I stood, and wandered around the audience for a couple of songs, dragging and violently yanking his mic cord behind him. Such a badass. I Need My Girl almost killed me. I wish it would have. Then maybe Matt would have revived me when he plunged into my personal space, which he totes did on purpose, I'm sure of it.




Song - Alive, by Empire of The Sun. So magical. I was in heaven. One of my favorite festival moments of all time, if not THE best moment, actually. Can't wait to see them again at HardFest in August.

Were There Any Groups of People Dressed In Banana Suits?

You bet your potassium there were.



So help me god next fest I'm wearing my owl suit on the last night.

vs. 2012? 

Gah, do I have to? Put a gun to my head and I'll say 2012 was better. But that's not really fair. Such wildly different experiences. Last year I went with A., and we were pretty head over heels, though the fact is we fought terribly when we were there. Drugs and romance, I have learned, do not mix. Like, at all. 

That being said, some of my favorite moments of this year way, way trumped some of my 2012 moments. It's just too hard to compare, really.

Gonna 'Roo Again Next Year?

Honestly, I'm not sure. I'm going to wait and see what the lineup is first this time. And I'm itching to do a new festival, if I can. Maybe Osheaga, in Montreal. Or, dream fest - the Isle of Wight. And if I don't go to EDC next year, I can pretty much never go, because it'll be my last chance to go before I'm 40. And your girl really doesn't give a whole lot of fucks about age and all that nonsenserry, because she still has a blast going to EDM shows and such...but EDC is a whole 'nother kettle of (very young) fish.

I'm also thinking of maybe just taking a trip to see one of my huge favorites somewhere cool, such as Explosions in The Sky, or The Walkmen. Making a weekend out of visiting a new city, capping it off with a concert. Dunno.

How Bad Was the Comedown After Bonnaroo?

Suicidally bad. That's not an exaggeration, I'm sorry to say. I was an absolute, utter mess. Even worse than after Coachella, which was unbearably bad. Hence my silence on the blog and IG. I was in the throes of some of the deepest despair I've ever experienced. I don't know if it was the moon rocks, or the combination of lots of moon rocks plus lots of mushrooms, or the fact that I barely ate while I was there (I lost ten pounds over the weekend), or WHAT was going on, but I crashed worse than I ever have. Disastrously bad scene. Spent most of Wednesday wanting to hurl myself off of the roof. Really. Luckily friends near and far were there for me, and I had a ton of support when I needed it most. Like, unreal amounts of love and support, which probably saved my life.

Serotonin depletion is bad news for anyone, at any time. But for someone prone to depression, it's actually incredibly fucking dangerous. I've now learned this lesson twice, the very very hard way. It's something I'm factoring into consideration for all of my subsequent festival plans, including Burning Man. That much usage spells serious trouble for me. One or two nights in a row is one thing, but four nights in a row is just not doable for the Ellster.

Assorted, Leftover, Unremarkable Crowd Shots



And that will conclude your coverage of Bonnaroo 2013, which was written by your blogmistress all at once over the past few hours and therefore on no sleep, so apologies if it's not her best work, etc and so forth, and also apologies in advance for a few more IG shots she's probably going to post because they're pretty and she wants to, even if they're totally redundant (read: sunset Ferris wheel shots) and to all a goodnight zzzzzzz.....

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*Blog code name. His choice.