Bonnaroo 2005 – Day 1

Music Reviews Bonnaroo
Bonnaroo 2005 – Day 1

(Above: The Festival Grounds as Bonnaroo-goers invade Manchester, Tenn., Thursday June 9, 2005. Photo by Marc Deley.)

Hippie hordes from all over the country poured like wine into Manchester, Tenn., and so did we. While the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival has its roots in the jam scene, it’s become more eclectic with every year. And if artists like Ray Lamontagne, De La Soul, Iron & Wine and My Morning Jacket were gonna be playing alongside bands like Widespread Panic and the Allman Brothers, then Paste sure as hell wasn’t gonna miss it.

Traffic problems—according to the festival veterans I chatted up on the first day of my maiden Bonnaroo voyage—were virtually non-existent compared to the previous year. Far as I can tell, this is one of the smoothest-running festivals I’ve ever been to.

Yesterday evening I explored the grounds, overhearing snippets of conversation with plenty of confused rambling due to the Abbott & Costello stage-name gag:

Hippie 1: It seems to me they give these festival stages nowadays very peculiar names.
Hippie 2: You mean funny names?
Hippie 1: Yeah. Like Panic’s playing on What Stage.
Hippie 2: I don’t know. Why are you asking me which stage?
Hippie 1: I’m not asking you which stage. I’m telling you What Stage.
Hippie 2: Well, go ahead, then.
Hippie 1: I just did.
Hippie 2: What?
Hippie 1: Exactly.
Hippie 2: Man, you’re killing my buzz.

Head spinning a bit from the heat and a few tasty beers, I decided the most logical thing I could do next was step into the free batting cages and take a few swings. In addition to the music, Bonnaroo has plenty to offer: The Major League Baseball Road Show, booths set up by activists raising awareness about worthy causes like air pollution and third-world debt reduction, a cinema tent, a general store, game rooms, a broadband internet village, a playground with swings, a huge fountain to cool off in, a microbrew tent where you can get beers you can drink and still respect yourself in the morning, street performers, a parade, paintings and sculptures to ponder, yoga classes, a comedy stage featuring performances by folks like Charlie Murphy and Jim Breuer, and a digital-music tent where you can download songs from Bonnaroo performers and burn your own personal mix to disc for free. There’s also plenty of quality—if a little pricey—eats on hand, from typical festival fare like corn dogs, sausages and pizza to Greek, Chinese and Mexican cuisine, not to mention exceptional smoothie stands.

Once night fell on Bonnaroo, I headed to Café Where, (to be clear: it’s neither the What or Which stage, nor This, That or The Other tent), and caught Nashville artist Trent Dabbs in the middle of a set that rocked so hard the lights went out. Literally. Who knows exactly what happened, but I’d like to think Dabbs and his cohorts pulled so much juice with their blasting amplifiers and conjured so much mojo with their performance that they blew a generator. Luckily, even though the crowd was plunged into darkness, and the PA on the blink, the amps stayed on and the band rode the final tune out as an instrumental tour de force.

On the way back toward Paste’s booth next to the tiny Sonic Stage, I overheard Stillwater-wannabees Rose Hill Drive, who I’d seen open for the Black Crowes a month earlier. To make it perfectly clear this is Cock Rock (capital “C,” capital “R”) of the most un-ironic variety—Guns N’ Roses and Alice Chains meet the Allman Brothers and Led Zeppelin. In fact, as I passed the show, the band was plowing through a seriously rocking version of Zep’s “The Immigrant Song.” But while the members of Rose Hill Drive are certainly no slouches, musically, their songs will leave you flat, and their sheer volume might leave you deaf. Plus, their bassist kind of looks like the long-lost Nelson triplet.

After more wandering, I run into my first acid casualty—“Man, I want you to understand the hand-green mornings, the hexagonal sun coming up on the river, OK?” His cadence is jarring and the volume of his voice swells up and down as if a fading radio signal. Before I can answer, he’s heading down the dirt road and into the anonymity of the Bonnaroo night. Soon, six-centimeter-tall Bronson Pinchots wearing tight, neon “I’m With Stupid” T-shirts will be scaling his legs with tiny grappling hooks, straight razors clutched in their teeth and a menacing red glow in their eyes. Poor bastard.

Making my way past one of the tents (at this point I’m not sure which), I stumble on ALO, a fun, poppy jamband incorporating large Phish, Talking Heads and ’80s-Paul Simon influences. It’s an enjoyable set that’s got the neo-hipsters up-and-dancing—and for me, it’s a perfect way to downshift before heading back to our hotel room. (OK, so maybe we’re not having the FULL Bonnaroo experience—camping with the unwashed masses—but we’re here to work, too, and it’s nice to have a place to clean up and collect your thoughts… so deal with it.)

More adventures tomorrow…

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