I crawl from my tent at 8:30 am the monday following Bonnaroo to a ghost town of sorts. Within the field of discarded shade canopies, chairs, blankets and coolers, the few remaining campers are solemn and withdrawn. There is water in the shower trailers today. Yesterday I washed by cupping my hands under the meager trickle from the nozzle and carefully dousing my body with the precious fluid. Those who arrived after me wouldn't even be that lucky.
The previous night I had sat at the camp site with my travel mate Carrie and reminisced about my Bonnaroo experience while the festival's final act, renown jam-band Wide Spread Panic, drifted over to us from the distant "What Stage".
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A suit of Crown Royal Bags
This cat had a watermelon on his head for days
Dancing to Ozomatli
Bonnaroo began for me with a email from photographer Carrie Musgrave a scant three weeks before the festival. Did I want to go, would I drive? I said yes, and spent the next 20 days buying camping gear and wondering what I was getting myself in for.
What I got myself in for was one of the most wonderful experiences I've ever had. Bonnaroo the festival began in 2002 as a small hippie jam band festival featuring the likes of Wide Spread Panic, The Grateful Dead's Phil Lesh, Les Claypool, and Gov't Mule. It has grown tremendously in the ensuing 6 years but the ethos has remained the same. A peaceful, accepting tent city of 80,000 erected overnight on 700 acres in rural Tennessee with a diverse group of musicians providing the soundtrack for the whole thing.
As early as the first day it became apparent that the most important commodities at Bonnaroo were water, shade, and sleep. Water was easy to come by, but you could make a friend instantly if you could offer cold water. Shade was in shorter supply for the general 'Rooer. "This Tent", "That Tent", "The Other Tent" offered shaded viewing areas in front of the stages and there were a few trees scattered throughout the site. All of this shade was greedily consumed by the hot and dusty concert goers. The third commodity, sleep, was irrevocably tied to the shade. With My Morning Jacket and Kanye West performing until sunrise a tent is no a place to sleep after the music is over and the Tennessee sun begins beating down. As early as the first day men and women were sprawled out on the floor of the XBox 360 tent, in the Fuse TV barn, and under the trees in the hope of capturing what was violently ripped from them at sunrise.
Sleep where/when you can was no more evident than when at 5:00 AM Sunday morning Carrie spotted a girl, who most likely imbibed in a little too much of one substance or another, sleeping on the ground next to the Garnier Fructis table by the shower trailers. After checking her vitals Carrie left her to her slumber. As I made an early morning trip to the port-a-lets I was pleased to see that someone else had covered her in the Day-Glo green Garnier table cloth. Carrie had remarked that maybe she really wanted to be at the front of the line for a shower in the morning?
At no time during the festival did I witness any violence or even anger. What I saw was security (labeled "Safety" on their shirts), allowing the concert goers to do what they wanted so long as it was not endangering themselves or those around them.
People slept, danced, sang, ate and drank where, when, how they wanted. For 4 days a beautiful utopia sprang up in rural Tennessee.
My neighbours to the East are up now too. As I began to disassemble my camp I put some on some water to boil. It's the camp stove coffee I plan to make and share which has helped us to bond over the weekend. The neighbour on the other side wonders if I have any jumper cables. These were the last supply to be packed and among the most important. The coffee klatch would also require a boost before their drive home to Virginia. A girl strolls by and asks if we'd like to update our voter information and if we might be able to give her a ride to New York. Another nearby camper asks if I have any water. I'm glad to share what we have left. About this time I receive a text message from home that my 2 year-old has peed on the toilet for the first time. This is the strange afterglow of Bonnaroo.
Edit: I found this photo on my camera this morning (June 20, 2008). It was taken as we sat in our camp listening to the aformentioned Wide Spread Panic set and my last photo of Bonnaroo.
The view from our camp toward the Which Stage on the last night of Bonnaroo
All photos by clint gilders - staff photographer except where noted