@shiftywhiteguy: If you read all of part one, then congratulations, you either have a lot of free time, or some kind of weird crush on me. Both are admirable. Here’s Part 2, the end of the weekend.
9:30 am: My sunburn has reached epic proportions. Waking up is kind of painful, and today is obviously a day to stay the fuck out of the sun. I’m tempted to start pounding beers to make sure I’m nice and warmed up, but this is going to be a long day. The last thing you want on the Saturday night of Bonnaroo is for a same-day hangover to hamper your progress. Instead, I try to force a little bit of extra sleep.
11:30: @andlaurasays sends the day’s first text. She’s getting her Latin dance fix with Bomba Estereo. I would love to, but it’s way too sunny. Besides, I have a very important life event coming up in a few hours. I have to get prepared.
2:00: There is one thing on my mind: get close for ISIS. So, I go to This tent and get in the crowd for a band I’ve never heard of, Circa Survive. I wish there was a better way.
I have sat through scores of crappy bands for this exact purpose, but Circa Survive takes the cake. The fans are lame. The music is lame. The lyrics are lame. The performance is lame. Generic all around, and for whatever reason, the crowd is actually heavy with people singing along to everything. It’s kind of depressing. At one point, their hilariously cliché singer leans into the crowd, and then repeatedly shouts “We hold each other up! Do you understand? We hold each other up!” The moronic crowd goes crazy as if he just espoused something profound. I giggle.
The good news is I’m able to gradually move up towards the stage, and on the last song, a miracle! The lead singer of this emo shit box starts demanding the crowd pass him back towards the Centeroo fountain. Great success! Hundreds of emo arms fly up, and start moving away from the stage. Lo and behold, I am literally front-and-center. I don’t think I’ve ever leaned on the security railing for an entire show.
3:10: The calm before the storm. The 15 feet behind me are now filled in with ISIS fans that all understand the magnitude of the performance they’re about to see. Everyone kicks their ISIS stories back and forth, and we communally lament the fact that this is the last chance we’ll ever have. I feel very at home. On a related note, ISIS, like Local Natives, has no roadies. They set up their own stage. Am I alone in being really impressed by this?
3:30: Holy mother of god. I am in awe, ecstasy, and stupor. One of the many reasons I’m a huge ISIS fan is their amazing production value. They layer guitars like nothing I’ve ever heard before, and on recorded versions, everything is mixed cleanly and flawlessly. This is a more impressive feat for dark, distortion-heavy bands than it is for clean, acoustic-based bands, as distortion and feedback tend to erase or at least muddy-up any kind of harmony you attempt. ISIS has a god-like ability to overcome this problem. I often wondered while listening to ISIS albums exactly how the hell they were doing what I was listening to. The answers blew my mind.
Guitarist Michael Gallagher spends half of the set facing away from the audience, face-to-face with his amps, very intently manipulating his guitar to stay in control of the feedback. Hendrix was the first to really master this skill, but Gallagher is the best I’ve seen at adapting the idea to heavy, effects-laden guitars. I watched bassist Jeff Caxide very intently, as the use of bass in ISIS is unlike any band I’ve ever heard.
Caxide does exactly what you’re supposed to do during the heavy measures of songs: sticks to frets 1-7. It’s simple, it’s proven, and it’s the right way to hold down the low-end in metal. But, it’s what he does in their extended instrumental measures that blows my mind. Caxide’s awesome combination of bass effects pedals allows him to essentially take the melody on bass while the guitars keep a drone to build on. A lot of things I saw him do I thought were coming from samples or standard guitars in the recorded versions. As their set progresses, I become more and more entranced.
And about half-way through the set, I had one of those moments where your brain clicks a little, and you get the feeling that there’s a voice in your head whispering “This is going to be important, pay attention.” That sensation culminated with the last two songs of the set: “In Fiction” and “So Did We,” two of the best songs from their best album, Panopticon. The musical journey of these two songs put me in a catatonic state. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. I started to understand what my “Pay attention” moment really meant. The regret of missing that first ISIS show nine years ago slid away. I had absolved myself. I got a chance to see ISIS, and they were everything I ever thought they could be. It was like having a lifelong mystery answered. I felt very at peace, yet very bittersweet. This band made my life better for a long time, and they finished off that effort by giving me one of the best live music experiences I’ve ever had. Now, they’re gone. It makes me want to shed a tear.
4:55: In a daze. After shouting some incoherent yelps for encores at ISIS as they tear down their own stage, I send some kind of silly tweet to the Festival Crashers that parallels my ISIS experience to 2001: A Space Odyssey. But suddenly, I have a dilemma on my hands. I have this amazing, prime spot front and center at This Tent. And the Melvins are coming on next. Believe me, if I were at an ISIS/Melvins show, I wouldn’t leave that spot if Zooey Deschannel was flashing her tits at me from stage left. But, this is Bonnaroo, and so many decisions must be made. @andlaurasays sends me a text to tell me she’s close to the front of the line for the pit at Dead Weather. I am so sorry to all of my old school rock pals, but I had to do it.
5:50: Sure enough, after a quick wait at the pit line, and a little miscommunication by the Bonnaroo video display guys, we’re leaning against the rail up front for The Dead Weather. A lifetime of not being this close for great shows, and here I am for two in a row. For the first time since the opening minutes of day one, the clouds start to gather. The rain starts in at a drizzle, but nothing serious. No strong winds, no thunder, no lightning. It’s just enough to cool off the late afternoon audience. I will again mention The DEAD WEATHER is about to play. How funny is life?
6:30: @zackteibloom has such a fascination with Jack White that I won’t even start on that end of the performance. Honestly, I was 100% locked in on Allison Mosshart anyway. I used to work in a pizzeria with a big Kills fan, so it’s not like I was unfamiliar with the woman. She just never seemed like a drop-dead sexy rock star type. But her stage presence is incredible. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen out of a female performer. Earlier, I wrote about Franti transcending his music with his live performance. Mosshart transcends her sexiness with her live performance. Her movements, voice, and mannerisms on stage are so raw and passionate. Oh yeah, and the band rocked. Jack still shreds when he wants. But, the thing you come away with from a Dead Weather show is undoubtedly Allison and her one-of-a-kind on-stage sultriness.
7:40: There’s a really annoying bottleneck that happens when you go from What Stage to Which Stage. It was hotly debated, but in the end, Weezer just hasn’t had enough to offer recently for us to muscle into their enormous crowd. But, as we’re working our way though to This Tent for Jeff Beck, I hear the opening of “My Name is Jonas.” You can’t pass this up. It doesn’t take much to talk MML into hanging out for just a couple of songs. Shortly after a really good rendition of “Jonas” that leaves me feeling nostalgic, they start into “Beverly Hills.” Oh yeah, that’s why we were going to Jeff Beck.
8:00: It seems like as good a time as any to sit down. We settle for the lawn and don’t bother getting under the tent for Jeff Beck, which is entirely OK. My favorite part of this show was the delightful display of old hippies losing their shit. It was amazing. As Beck shredded, the crowd of festival old-schoolers collectively danced in a fashion resembling an ancient Celtic summer solstice celebration.
8:30: We get a semi-decent spot for Stevie Wonder. Conan does the introduction, but seems very nervous when he says “Stevie will be out in just a few minutes, guys.” Just a few minutes? What’s wrong with Stevie?
It all starts to make sense when he comes on stage about ten minutes late. He was just waiting for the sun to set completely. The man can’t even experience this aspect of the performance, but he still realizes how important it is.
What a special showman. Stevie kills for two hours, and the dancing shoes are coming alive, but fatigue is really setting in, and by the end of the set, MML and I are sitting down in a sparsely populated part of the back lawn.
11:25: I nodded off for probably twenty minutes after the Stevie Wonder set. Once the sun goes down, and you don’t have to worry about roasting if you fall asleep in the wrong place, your body cries for a little rest. Once I spring up from my power nap, I realize Jigga Man is next, and the second wind kicks me in the junk. The Mix-Master doesn’t look so fortunate. She’s also sprawled on the lawn, but seems like she’s giving up. I can’t blame her. By Saturday night, the Bonnaroo experience starts to weigh on you like an anchor. She’s timid when she tells me she’s going to quit on the night after Jay-Z. You could hear the shame in her voice. She knew she was disappointing herself. I made it a personal mission to not let her give up. Deadmau5 was coming later, and I didn’t want her to have that painful moment in the morning when everyone tells you what you missed out on. Plus, I didn’t want to let her go that soon. Bonnaroo had become so much more fulfilling by having a dedicated, fun, entertaining, and super-cute festival partner. I make a deal with her. If Jay-Z brings out Jack White to debut “Ray-Bans,” she promises to suck it up for the late-night sets. This is, of course, unnecessary, as I know if this actually happens, the Mix-Master will catch a momentous second wind.
11:30: Jay-Z’s set is incredible. He starts with all of the lights down, and a countdown from ten on the two huge screens on either side of the stage. Hova is a master showman. His command over the audience is exceptional, his band is terrific, he involves the crowd, and has enough hits to fill an entire set with crowd movers. Not to mention, his light show is magnificent. During “Empire State of Mind,” his skyline lights turn into a rotating helicopter view of Manhattan.
It’s spectacular. During his extended “I see you” shout-outs to the crowd, Jay-Z pulls a girl on stage from the front row. He announces to her that he heard it was her birthday, and gets the B-roo audience to sing “Happy Birthday” to her. It was Maggie’s best birthday ever, and a great example of how much Jay-Z understands the need to interact with the audience to be a true performer. Throughout the show, I see the Jigga’s beats start to breathe a little life into MML.
He keeps shouting out to Stevie Wonder and Jack White, who are hanging out in stage left. I’m starting to feel a little bit of reality in the deal I placed with Laura, but alas, Jack makes no on-stage appearance. Seriously, you’re there. He’s there. Hand the man a goddamn guitar, and let’s hear this track you’ve been plugging. What better place to debut “Ray-Bans” than for 70,000 people at Bonnaroo? Jay-Z shockingly leaves 20 minutes of his set time on the table, a practice I’ve already voiced displeasure about. But, he literally ends the show with fireworks. What did you do with your Saturday night?
1:15 am: Laura tells me she’s changed her mind. Throughout Jay-Z, I was goading her into joining me for Deadmau5. The Mix-Master is a reasonable person. I had many more valid reasons for finishing the night than she had for ending it, and she knew it. But the kicker was a little guilt trip I gave her about going to LCD on her urging the night prior. Molly time, and we’re off to fight the logjam leaving What Stage. The mud has gotten pretty bad, and we’re getting nowhere. I have no intention of missing any of Deadmau5, and I’d really like to catch some of Dan Deacon, so I grab MML by the hand and rush through the masses towards This Tent.
1:30 am: My west-coast neighbors raved about Dan Deacon, so I’m feeling fortunate when his set goes a little over, and I get to see at least a few songs. Deacon is renowned for the games he plays with the audience, and his performance-art type live show. But by the time we got to his show I think the really fun parts had already transpired. Throughout Deacon’s set, we move gradually closer to the stage, and by the time they wrap up, we’re within thirty feet of the stage.
2:20 am: Definitely molly time. Deadmau5 starts a little late, as there are some malfunctioning LED’s on his W-shaped platform of lights, but the problem gets fixed, and the show starts with an amazing energy.
Deadmau5 is a Canadian producer whose take on electronic music is refreshingly unique. His live show is a sensational multi-media onslaught that floods your experience. You can’t help but move and smile. About half-way through the show, he switches out his trademark mouse helmet for a new version completely faced with LED’s that compliment the light show behind him and on his platform. We couldn’t tell from where we were at, but I was told later that Deadmau5 drew a crowd that went almost all the way back to Centeroo fountain. It was an all-standing, all-dancing mass of people captured by this unmistakable stage presence. There are relatively few electronic shows I’ve ever been to that truly feel like a performance, but Deadmau5 killed it.
Everything performed is an improvised mix distinct from the recorded versions of his songs, and they are all great crowd-movers. MML is thankfully enjoying herself. I knew she wouldn’t regret fighting the fatigue for this. My dancing shoes are in full effect, and I’m having a blast with Deadmau5 and The Mix-Master. I’m getting overly handsy and euphoric at this point, but I narrowly prevent myself from looking like a hedonistic lush. I think. No regrets either way. This was a very special, centerpiece part of this year’s Bonnaroo.
4:00 am: I walk Laura back to her camp site. She has the same disability to navigate around landmarks that @zackteibloom has. So, this turns into a pretty long walk. I’m completely fine with that.*
4:40 am: When I arrive back at camp, a ruddy Bob is reading out loud to the rest of my west-coast neighbors. At first, I’m concerned he’s gotten really badly sunburned, but the neighbors went to Gwar rather than Deadmau5. He’s completely stained with fake blood, and he couldn’t be more ecstatic about it. Later, when he takes off his shoes, his socks are like Neapolitan ice cream cones: the tops are stained pink, with a brown layer of Bonnaroo gunk right below, and the vanilla white sock remaining at the bottom. We all laugh uncontrollably at the sight.
After catching up on the day’s events, Bob goes back to reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I love Hunter S. Thompson, and generally, I find it a little hackneyed to harp on Fear and Loathing as though it was his only work. But, it couldn’t be more appropriate for this crew that had just rushed across the country for a little taste of the extreme end of the American experience. Bob stayed perfectly in character while reading the scene about Hunter getting pulled over in Baker, California, and as he recited the following passage, a calming sense of peace, satisfaction, and utter exhaustion fell over me. “This is how the world works. All energy flows according to the whims of the Great Magnet. What a fool I was to defy him. He knew. He knew all along…Never cross the Great Magnet. I understood this now…and with understanding came a sense of almost terminal relief.” This night, with these people, on this plot of land in Manchester, Tennessee. The Great Magnet, indeed.
10 am: The last morning of Bonnaroo. I crawl out of my oven of a tent for the final time. The morning is used to pack up empty coolers, and spend a last couple of hours hanging out with my west-coast neighbors. After a while Laura strolls up to my camp. I think it’s at this point that I realize she’s joined the list of people that make me smile simply by showing up. She’s ditched her rapidly-walking festival partners in favor of hanging with me for the day. A fortuitous swing. High hopes for the day.
12:25 pm: We head into the festival without any specific early plans. Calexico? Lucero? Japandroids? John Butler Trio? All seem equally appealing. And my equally, I mean minimally. Sunday afternoon was the most unrelenting heat and sun of the weekend. We plop down in the shade of a tree, with no intentions other than relaxing and catching our breath for awhile. After a few minutes, a group of Bonnaroo first-timers walk up, and ask if we’re in line. In line for what? It wasn’t until then that I realized our shade tree was right by the comedy tent. The line for Aziz Ansari had already backed up about 50 yards behind us. We thanked our new friends for calling our attention to this. We sure as hell were in line now.
1:30: In retrospect, the sunburned lips had to have been from this hour of waiting in the comedy tent line. But, the comedy theater is air-conditioned, and Aziz is fucking hilarious. In case you’re wondering, yes, there’s a new R Kelly bit, and a bunch of new shit about Harris and Darwish. A seriously relaxing and invigorating seventy minutes in the closest thing to “indoors” that I’ve seen in days.
3:05: Frozen strawberry lemonade? Fuck yes, that sounds delicious. Mix-Master Laura with yet another awesome and timely suggestion.
3:20: We’re at Which stage. The objective is to be close for Ween, but Regina Spektor is on first. It appears as though the Spektor effect ends at about a 20-yard radius. Anything outside that, and you were hearing Against Me!. Regina is so-so. I mean, I did already pass up an opportunity to watch Tori Amos. Ok, maybe that’s a bit harsh. She’s much less strenuous than the Circa Survive debacle endured for the same purpose.
4:15: The sun is unrelenting at Which stage. I don’t know why this part of the festival grounds get so incredibly fucking hot, but it seems like all of my most absurdly overheated Bonnaroo moments have happened here. But Ween fans don’t get whiny when it comes time for a show. We muscle in through the departing Regina fans and get within four feet of the front railing. Never again will I do a festival without being really close for the shows I’m dying to see. About this time is when our new Ween fan friends from North Carolina made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. Read about it here:
Ween was fantastic as always. A great set list was highlighted by a mind-bending solo in “Stroker Ace,” a rare performance of “Did you see me?,” and an especially crowd-pleasing rendition of “Gabrielle.” But, Gener looked awful, and I think he must have been on weirder shit than anyone in the crowd. However, so many factors were working against us. About 45 minutes into the show, we were out of water and had already watched one girl pass out in front of us. It was dangerous to try to keep rocking out that hard in that lava pit. Besides, very interesting things were starting to happen that we didn’t necessarily need to be right next to the stage to enjoy.
6:40: Clouds. There were definitely clouds.
7:15: Despite the sun mercifully reaching the horizon, we’re way too mellow to get back up and in close for Phoenix. But, they absolutely mop up the audience. Thomas Mars is so genuine in his interaction with the crowd, and his stage-climbing ability is reminiscent of old-school Eddie Vedder’s. Plus, there’s something about his Parisian accent that I’m infinitely entertained by. “Thank eu, Beuneru. Eet is so nice to be ear in Ten-uw-say avec vous.” Ok, his English is actually much better than that, but you get the idea. Phoenix has more catchy songs than the casual listener of “1901,” would expect, and they are a ton of fun live. Speaking of “1901,” they ended the set on this hit, and then did something unique. As the song wound down and finished, the instruments never cut off, and after a very brief sojourn offstage, they came back out and picked right back up on “1901,” continuing to rock out on an improvised version for what equated to be a ten-minute encore. So many “fold it”s. It was a remarkable way to end the festival.
8:55: We stop at the Lunar stage to lay back, relax, catch a little bit of the NBA finals game five, and share a last sandwich. I don’t want to stay at B-roo for much longer, but I’m in no hurry to leave this moment in time and space.
9:40: Only a couple of items remain outside my car, but among them are two chairs the west-coasters borrowed from me. They were neatly stacked behind my car. What great neighbors. It felt a little odd to be leaving behind this campsite. For the first time in my three Bonnaroos, I wouldn’t have minded staying an extra night. The community still felt too unique to leave. At Bonnaroo, you never know who is going to run across your path. It’s a crazy puzzle with a ton of odd pieces that, as strange as they are, all feel necessary to the mosaic.
It was a van full of excited, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Bonnaroo virgins that drove ridiculous distances to get a successful crash under their belts. It was a new friend in a Boognish mask bearing gifts. It was a part-time festival partner with an unstoppable motor that saw everything humanly possible. And fortunately, it was also someone who carved out an even more special place. “The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem…I’ve started to make a tape… in my head… for Laura. Full of stuff she likes. Full of stuff that will make her happy. For the first time I can sort of see how that is done.” –the real Rob Gordon, High Fidelity
I’m sunburned from head to toe, to the extent of blistering in places. I’m exhausted and filthy, and I’m forced to retire Version 6.0 of the IU hat due to dirt and sweat overload. But I’m so incredibly giddy on my adrenaline-rush comedown that I don’t even mind the thought of the fourteen hour drive coming. As Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.” There’s no festival experience like this.
9:50: I fully expect to burn through all of Mix-Master Laura’s Thursday B-roo mix and even into Friday before even getting through the traffic jam. But, shiftiness prevails again, and with a few quick turns in the right places, I find a way to get out in seven minutes. That’s right, from campsite to I-24 westbound towards Nashville in less than ten minutes. Picture me rollin’*
5. Phoenix: 8.5
4. Jay-Z: 8.8 (after deduction for unused set time)
3. Dead Weather/Ween: 9.2
2. Deadmau5: 9.5
1. ISIS: An extremely biased 9.7
*A retro-diary that begins and ends with nods of the cap to Bill Simmons deserves at least one footnote.