ann hale braved the elements, food poisoning and smelly people for Pop-Break …
This past weekend, I covered Bonnaroo for Pop-Break. Now, since we are a smaller website (having fewer than 100,000 viewers a day, for now) Bonnaroo wouldn’t grant us a press pass. We are going to show them that a smaller site, equipped with only a cell phone camera as we weren’t allowed any fancy cameras, can and will cover a festival of its caliber.
I will start at the beginning. I have looked at the Bonnaroo line up for a few years now, never really seeing any names that truly excited me. Yes, there were fantastic names (e.g. Radiohead, Tori Amos, Red Hot Chili Peppers) but every one of them comes to North Carolina, where I will gladly see them. This year, however, I saw one name and one name only that would force me out of my state and comfort zone to see. Upon viewing this name, I sent a text message to my wife Jenny saying six words: “Bjork at Bonnaroo. We are going!”
Without my shiny press pass bracelet, I had to pop for a wrist band of my own. Being that I am a bit of a spoiled suburban female, I did not like the idea of going four days without a shower or being around people that haven’t showered for four days. There are several levels of packages you can buy but we sprung for the VIP bracelets as the camp site was close to the venue and showers were included. Throughout this piece, I will explain the various reasons why VIP is the way to go.
The trip on Thursday the 13th was about 8 hours total with rain and traffic (from North Carolina). We actually drove through a town with a tornado to get there. The VIP campsite opened at 7 a.m. on Thursday. We got there around 7 p.m. This ended up being a blessing as we avoided festival traffic, had an amazing view of the stage and we were close to the bathrooms and showers that were free thanks to Garnier. We set up our tent and put up an easy up tent so we would have a shady spot to relax in. As we were relaxing under our easy up, we heard Sir Paul McCartney sound check with “Lady Madonna”. Naturally, we headed down to the stage to watch. The walk was only ten minutes as opposed to General Admission, who had to walk up to an hour to get there.
The VIP’s have their own entrances. This saves you from waiting long periods in line. Trust me, it is worth it. Your wrist band has a chip in it that you scan upon entering and exiting. If you do not scan when you exit, you cannot go back in.
So, Paul was blocked off and no one could get near the stage. We had previously attempted to get food from the VIP tent but were told that the buffet folks had left already. Since we couldn’t see Paul, we headed to the food vendors. We popped ten bucks for two corn dogs (brutal) and eight for a plate of Greek food that ended up giving Jenny food poisoning.
Friday morning, we were awakened to the sound of Les Claypool playing “My Name is Mud”. Whether it was actually him or just a song blasting through the speakers, we don’t know but it sure sounded live.
Friday was spent in our campsite. Jenny was beyond sick so I stayed with her listening to the bands playing at the What Stage near our tent.
I’m getting ahead of myself. I should explain the stages. The What Stage is for the headliners and other big names that really sold the tickets. This stage was only a few hundred yards from our tent. Then there is the Which Stage. Which Stage also has bigger names but these are older groups or names that just aren’t big enough to have drawn in the big bucks. This Tent is smaller names but big enough to be recognized. That Stage was mostly bluegrass and The Other Tent was DJ’s and people I have never heard of. Then there was the Comedy Tent with big name comedians performing such as Daniel Tosh and David Cross.
At our camp site, the What Stage sounded like you were hearing the music through headphones. The sound was flawless. I sat and listened to bands like Passion Pit and Local Natives while Jenny slept. I did head down to the VIP tent to pick up the GAP shirts and posters that came with our tickets and to pick up some ice as our coolers kind of sucked. Now, being that I am 5 foot 9 and all of 125 pounds, I was carrying 44lbs of ice by myself. I must have passed at least a dozen staffers who saw me and never offered to help. That was disappointing. However, a nice guy that was staying in a tent a few down from us saw me and grabbed a bag from me as I’m sure I looked like I was dying.
Eventually Jenny rallied and we saw Wu-Tang play at the Which Stage before heading to the VIP section to see Sir Paul McCartney play. Yes, the VIP’s had their own section, separate from the General Admission people. I lovingly dubbed the spots Emerald City and Gen Pop. If you don’t get it, watch Oz. Em City spots were to the side of the stages with relatively good views. I couldn’t understand why the VIP section wasn’t directly in front of the stage since we paid four times the amount that Gen Pop paid. Later I would find out that you have to wait in line to get into that front area.
Paul played a three plus hour set including songs from The Beatles and Wings. He told great stories about Jimmy Hendrix, John Lennon and George Harrison. He talked about how great the weed in the crowd smelled and about how important it is to let people know you love them because you don’t know when they will be gone (Lennon). He brought out guitars he used in original recordings in the 60’s and played like the icon that he very much deserves to be. I guarantee that Paul’s songs boosted sales on iTunes after that show.
Saturday morning we were awakened to the sound of Jack Johnson sound checking with “Breakdown”. This was when we found out that Mumford and Sons had cancelled and Jack was their replacement. We spent Saturday wandering around the venue, eating various foods, checking out different groups we had never heard of. Our tent neighbors had told us about waiting in line to be up front and as this was Bjork day, we were not going to miss it. Nas performed at the What Stage while we spent two and a half hour in line, in the sun, for Bjork. It paid off as we were second row with an incredible view at center stage. She did not allow people to take pictures or recordings and fans were thrown out of the show for breaking that rule, so I did not get any photos of her. Instead, she directed us to her website, Bjork.com, to get photos.
Bjork came out in a dress that appeared to be made out of plastic and a headdress that looked like pins were coming out of her head and face. Think Pinhead from Hellraiser. She mixed a set of older songs with her new Biophilia album. Being up front, we could see that she was drinking some sort of medication through the show. We believe this was probably why she was unable to hit any of the high notes that would normally have been cake for her. She came equipped with an all-female choir that helped cover this issue. The end of her set turned into a Bjork dance party and, from what I saw, she was the only artist to get a cheer for one more song. The only flaw of the show, that I saw, was that it was during the day time. I was unable to understand not only why she was not a headliner with a night show to begin with but why she didn’t become one when Mumford dropped out. Either way, her show was absolutely incredible and I feel very fortunate to have been as close as I was.
After Bjork, we went back to our tent to make dinner and listen to Jack Johnson. Though I am not what you would call a fan of his, he put on a great show, telling stories and pumping up the crowd. We had plans to go see R. Kelly, Billy Idol and a Superjam involving Jim James and John Oates but seeing Bjork was emotionally draining and Jack Johnson’s voice soothed us to sleep.
Sunday we were awakened to the sound of Tom Petty sound checking. The smell of the bathrooms had started to waft over to our campsite, which we had dubbed “DOWISETREPLA” from How I Met Your Mother. We headed over the VIP tent to get some breakfast, charge our cell phones and use a computer. The tent was air conditioned with a giant TV, games and beanbags spread out for people to lay on. There were four IBM laptops available to use, each having four or five cell phones plugged into them to charge. There were various power strips available to plug your phone into. I managed to find one but came back to find that someone had moved it. I had enough of a charge to ensure I could get some pictures for that day.
After breakfast, we wandered around a bit, watching people do yoga and listening to a gospel choir put on church for the religious. Staff walked around with trays of biscuits and chocolate covered strawberries for the VIP’s.
Around 2:30, we walked down to the What Stage to watch Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. The crowd was big but only got larger once he pulled out “Thrift Shop.” He then went into a rant about his support for gay marriage before performing his new song “Same Love.” There wasn’t a dry gay eye in the house.
We stayed for about four songs before it started to get really stupid. We headed deeper into the venue to see what was happening. Adult Swim was giving away free t-shirts so we waited in line for about forty minutes. You picked out what size and color shirt you wanted from bins and then there were about eight different designs to have printed on them from various Adult Swim shows. Jenny got a grey shirt with Master Shake and I got a white shirt with Adult Swim printed on it.
With the heat so awful, I had demolished all of the water in my camel back and had a severe case of the pees. Having seen how disgusting the Gen Pop bathrooms were, we trekked back to the campsite to use the nice clean bathrooms and to refill our water. Here we sat and listened to Kendrick Lamar and part of The National before heading back.
Now, what kind of Pop-Breaker would I be if I didn’t go see Ed Helms? You dedicated readers know that Pop-Break is all about The Office, so we got as close as we possibly could to watch him in a Bluegrass Superjam with various Tennessee artists. Ed Helms was amazing good. You could tell the entire crowd was surprised at just how talented he was. We couldn’t stay for the entire show, however because David Byrne from The Talking Heads was over at the Which Stage at the same time and Jenny wanted to see a little bit of his show before Tom Petty came on. About thirty minutes until Petty’s show, we left the VIP area for Byrne and headed to Em City for Petty.
We heard about three songs from Tom Petty before the sky just let out and it started pouring. Luckily we had sprung for the VIP tickets and only had a ten minute walk back to our campsite where we watched the show from our tent. Several people had left Sunday afternoon, so there were no easy up tents to block our view of the stage.
I woke up Monday morning with food poisoning from chicken tenders I had eaten before Tom Petty’s show. Lesson learned: Don’t eat from vendors. The rain hadn’t stopped so we had to pack our stuff up in the rain with me sick as a dog. Fun story though, I was in the bathroom when this bright flash of lightning and loud thunderclap happened. It sounded like a gunshot right next to my ear. All of a sudden, two female staffers came busting into the bathroom asking if everyone was okay. After our reassuring yes’s, I heard one of them say “The tires must have grounded it!” Apparently, the lightning had struck the bathroom trailer with me in it.
So, on this trip we both suffered food poisoning, a tornado, a lightning strike and some of the worst smelling people I have ever encountered; one hundred percent worth it. Bonnaroo takes you out of your comfort zone and throws you into a world of music and the difficult simplicities of nature. While this may not be something I would do every year, unless of course Bjork attends each year, I would definitely go again. Next time, we WILL have that press pass.