40 Bonnaroo Moments (part 1)

It's always an intimidatingly huge task, to try and recap Bonnaroo. Just reviewing the performances doesn't really get you there. And anyway, music blogs and mags do a much better job of that than me.

With festivals, it comes down to moments. Blissful moments. Stressful moments. Carefree moments. Surprised moments. Annoyed moments. Amused moments. Playful moments. Pissed-off moments. Those are what stay with me. So those are what I'm sharing today, albeit a solid month after they've cooled off. Forty moments and forty images to keep them company in my memory. In no particular order, because order is taking the summer off.



1. An industrial truck is rolling through the middle of the grounds. It inches past picnic tables where the sweaty and sun-drenched scarf down pizza and donuts. The cab's windows are lowered; two tanned young men sit inside, looking surprisingly cheerful considering the circumstances. These men are doing god's work: hauling pumped-out waste from the Porta Potties. Their heroics are not lost on the crowd, many of whom rush up to high-five them in appreciation. Bonnaroooooo! they call to one another, slapping palms and exchanging smiles, respect, germs. I have a hard time picturing such a scene happening at Coachella.



2. The things you hear, as you move through the throng. Snippets of conversations, shouts of greeting, laughter. You wonder about the stories behind some of them. I really don't think they have chicken soup, says a male voice doubtfully, and I'm intrigued enough to make a note of it in my phone. Is his girlfriend sick? Cold? It's ninety degrees out, middle of the day. Hot soup hardly seems a refreshing choice for overheated revelers. I hope she finds a pot pie or fried chicken, something more likely to be around but just as comforting.



3. They like to say Bonnaroo fills up your spirit for the year ahead. I think of this as we're laying on our sheet, at the edge of a relatively empty tent, listening to the opening song of Who Is William Onyeabor. It's especially dry and dirty over here. As people drift in to check out the music, they kick up dust and inadvertently add to the thin layer of Tennessee that hovers then settles lightly on our skin. I love it, though. It's part and parcel of the experience. We're especially close right now, maybe that's why. Joking and cuddling, flat on our backs, removed but involved, enjoying what's on offer but also making something for ourselves. These are the best Bonnaroo moments. Taking it in but creating at the same time. I love him so much at this instant, fist propped behind his head, tapping a foot while I slap his leg to the beat. All our small cuts and hurts forgotten, lovingly bandaged up with music and sunshine.



4. We're enjoying one of the few gaps in our schedule. Wandering, catching bits of shows here and there, gravitating to whatever draws us in. Something funky's going down at This Tent. We slide into the back corner, where the reds and purples of stage lights hit the black wall of night, washing us in a pink haze. We dance, and I can't tell if we're being ironic with our ridiculous moves or not. A man approaches us and wordlessly, wondrously hands us a pineapple. He gestures emphatically for us to hold it together, which we do, glancing at one another and at him in amazement. So, this is happening. He still doesn't speak and neither do we, other than to say thank you and laugh. All three of dance for a few moments before I sense that I'm expected to return the pineapple. I do so, and he dances out of sight with it. I think we're festival-married now, says Terence. I think that was some kind of ceremony. I suspect Pastor Pineapple will be in a lot of Bonnaroo stories.



5. Another overheard tidbit. This time I see the speakers: a girl skipping ten steps behind two of her friends - a girl and guy - who lean on one another with linked arms as they walk. Crossing an expanse of grass in front of us, so young and fresh they make my heart ache. There's a softness about them I can't explain, as if the light breaking just now was cleared by the clouds especially for them. Where are you gooooing, Katie, where are you going? sings the second girl to her friend ahead. Joy and friendship twinkle in her voice. We're going to make halos! comes the reply, over a freckled shoulder, equally singsong and inviting. Somehow they've managed to write Bonnaroo in fourteen words.



6. Turquoise braids so close I can see where the blond fades in. A gauzy floral kimono, also turquoise, wisping across my ankles. Funky sunglasses, red lipstick, a smile wider than the sky. Girlfriends on either side of her, but she's obviously the beloved ringleader. They sit practically on our feet, so smashed up against them are we. Row after row of us, cross-legged, facing the Jumbotron where Bleacher's lead singer is torturing a tent full of millennial women. He's one part one emo, one part bro. "Ebro," Terence calls him. Braids and Co., shifting positions, notice how much they're on top of us. They apologize, try to make room. We assure them it's no problem, they're welcome to what few inches of space we're all sharing. Braids is effusive, bubbling with thanks and her goofy stoner's grin. She loves us, she says. I love her hair, I say. If we want any of her, you know (she holds up a small pipe), we're welcome to partake. Seriously, it's the good shit. Terence gives her an orange, which he obtained from the VIP tent but which we have no use for. Braids is delighted, hugs him in thanks. I get a hug, too. If nothing else, I won't get scurvy! There's a topless hula hooper over Terence's shoulder. I discreetly point her out to him and my expression says See? I told you they do that here. I've been thinking about ditching the itchy bra under my tank top, so I'm building my case. Bleachers, a world away from NYC, are a blast.



7. I'm going to kill him, I fume silently. I'm going to absolutely kill him. The thing I dread most, the thing I warned him against repeatedly, has happened. We've gotten separated. There's no cell reception. Texts don't go through and calls disappear into voicemail purgatory. We have a designated meeting place set but a show has just started, one we've both been looking forward to. Tears for Fears. He wanted to catch some of Ben Folds before it started, but we cut it too close and by the time we left the crowd was impossibly thick. Walking too fast ahead of me, darting around crazily, striding over the blankets of people already sitting down. I refused to follow suit, perhaps unreasonably so, but I'd rather take the long way around than be disruptive and rude. And now we're separated instead of singing along together. I'm going to kill him. And I nearly do, when we meet up afterward. Chewing him a new one by the mushroom fountain, overly loud. He counters with fierce, forced cheerfulness. These are the worst Bonarroo moments. Veering sharply off course before you know what's happened, willing yourself to shrug off anger and annoyance, intensified by heat, fatigue, hunger. But I do. I stop us walking and pull him into a hug, holding tight until I feel the tension truly release from his body. I'll hold him all night if I have to. We're not fighting at Bonnaroo. Anyway, they sounded depressingly old to me, to be honest. The whole show felt hokey. You can't go home again. You can only go forward.



8. Childish Gambino. Not my thing, but Terence is fascinated by the guy. Completely gave up a career acting. It's like if I just decided one day to.... I tune out. I can't help it. I'm distracted by thoughts of the night ahead. It's just past nine and in a little while we're going to take pills which will make us want to dance. And I can't wait to dance. Deadmau5 the night before was not enough. I'm twitching in my seat, ready for some Silent Disco, some Bassnectar and Flume. Though it could also be the fact that my ass itches horribly, when I sit on the ground in my Dance Pants. Something about the combination of cold vinyl, the hay-like grass underneath, and the sticky slick feel of my leggings. It's the worst, and I keep finding reasons to stand up, smooth my clothing out. The VIP tent is a short walk away so I make a couple trips over there to pee in relative luxury while Terence gets his rap fix. In the buzzy light of the trailer restroom, I check myself out. High neck crop top that laces up my back. Colorful, slinky jersey pants hugging my hips. Festival outfit planning always brings out my harshest inner critic. No way, Ellie. You are too fucking old for that. That too. And that? Don't even think about it. And I compromised with myself this time, balancing out the amount of skin I'm showing. But the getup is skintight and unforgiving, and I worked hard to own it. This vanity, gross and superficial, is still part of the fun of festivals for me. I'll outgrow it eventually.



9. I always forget how much I love the sprawling, sweltering afternoon shows on the main stage. The frenetic energy of late-night sets is the excitement I daydream about, leading up to festivals. But once I'm there, the truth is that the daytime headliners out at the What Stage - a massive field lined with food stalls and shops, with room enough for 90,000+ people - are what often give me the most joy. And right now, I'm giddy with it, listening to Spoon. The sizzling heat has pinned thousands of fans to the ground, where they sit or lay in various degrees of dehydration, delight, or both. Every last one of us working on a sunburn, none of us caring. The opening chords of "Do You" launch me into a frenzy. I jump up, dancing a circle around Terence, singing to him as I bounce. It's one of the songs I've most been looking forward to hearing live. Their entire set will end up being one of my favorites of the weekend. Britt Daniel's scratchy howling has been on my radar since the 90s and finally seeing him perform is a kind of coming home. Terence dances with me, the two of us jumping around like maniacs. When we collapse in a heap, defeated by the sun, I lean against him, smoothing the hair from his face as I sing.



10. Waiting to ride the Ferris Wheel. In three years of going to festivals, I've never yet managed to get on one. We're high on mushrooms and the length of the line doesn't faze me a bit. Everything is color and light and contentment, and I'm satisfied to just look around. The sun is setting, and our bodies cast twenty foot shadows across the grass. The placard at the entrance tells about the original Ferris Wheel at the World's Fair. Adjusted for inflation, a ticket to ride cost $90. Ninety dollars! I'll tell everyone I know this, back at home. Silly on psychedelics, we assign flavors to the car colors. I hope we get grape. Or lemon. When we finally board, we're amazed at how long the ride lasts. Florence and The Machine is on, way off in the distance. I'd caught her at Coachella and had encouraged Terence to go watch her himself, but he's chosen to stay with me instead. We watch a sea of people surging to the music, which we can hear clearly even at this remove. Terence takes in the vastness of Bonnaroo, the endless camping area and the size of the grounds. I duck as he takes panoramic pictures, craning around in my seat to get my own sunset shots. It's spectacular.



11. Guster is playing "Ramona." I wasn't even sure I wanted to watch their set, I had so little faith they'd play much of the older stuff I know, considering how massive their catalog is. But they're playing "Ramona" and it is absolutely making my Bonnaroo. I. Fucking. Love. This. Song. Terence films me singing along, where we sit off to the side, in the grass. When it ends I realize I'm crying. Not even sure why. Not even sure what it dragged up, from deep inside me. Not sure I want to look at it and see. But it got something, that's for sure.



12. Deadmau5 has just ended. Tens of thousands of people are shuffling back to the main grounds, to catch the rest of ODESZA. Other mau5heads like me have been stunned into silence. I stumble along, my hand hooked into the back of Terence's shorts, "Avaritia" still ringing in my ears. The set was phenomenal. Operatic. And all I can think is that I wish there was a way to make Joel Zimmerman understand - feel - what his music does to us. I wish there was a machine I could hook him up to, so that as he performed, all the emotion, all the elation his music generates in fans could be routed straight back into him. Electrify him with a heart attack of appreciation. He is like no other, to me. An innovator with the success and talent to back up his occasional attitude. One of my biggest creative idols, and whom I was most excited to see this weekend. From the opening notes of "You There" (which is exactly what I'd hoped he'd start with), I spent his entire set in an ecstasy of movement, only stopping to drink water. Heaven.