When I was growing up, I found it a major point of fascination that my father went to Woodstock. It still kind of blows me away that my dad was there for the most legendary outdoor festival of all time -- with his purchased suitcase and his luggage. As a little girl I used to scan the album cover of the people in the mud looking for Dad, not really believing that my father, the one who came home from his job at the bank each night, got all muddy up in that farm.

So I've always had a potentially genetic predilection for music festivals. And since turnabout is fair play, I asked Dad to drive me to my first one: Lollapalooza '93, Orlando. Truthfully, riding to the festival in our family's Custom Cruiser station wagon wasn't my first choice ("But I can get a ride from insert name of bad news friend!") So Dad drove us, and I wore Doc Martens and thick tights because I was a festival rookie and was trying quite hard, as 16 year old aspiring indie rockers do. 

Fast forward nearly 20 years and I have a kid (who will surely one day torment me by wanting to go to music festivals that scream "Danger Will Robinson!") Yet I am still the same girl obsessed with the lure of live music, which is how I found myself packing my insurance card into a side pocket of my purse (I have a little more sense than when I went to Lollapalooza back then) and jumping into Bonnaroo.

An explanation: Bonnaroo, held in a huge field in Manchester, Tennessee, is a four-day event that involves camping and 24-hour music and fancy New York corn dogs. I went for one afternoon and evening, then rested my head at the home of a sweet friend (thanks Kristen!) where I thanked my lucky stars for fresh linens and soft pillows. I am not a concert camper. 

But there is nothing like a summer music festival that brings together people from all walks of life. That said, I honestly wouldn't have gone to Bonnaroo had not a repoting assignment put me in that neck of the woods. And I hesitated at going -- I was tired from being on the road, exhausted from some recent, frequent headaches. I thought about just driving home. Maybe I was too tired to do it. 

But something said that I needed to see what draws 80,000 -- among them, some of the most recognized musicians in the world -- to middle Tennessee in June.


Luckily I had a fantastic tourguide. Kristen, who grew up not far from the site, is a seasoned pro. (Also, thanks to her for the photos in this post. All but the Avett closeup is hers. In other words, she's a good photographer.)

We got in to the festival easily, scanning our super high tech bracelet passes, each embedded with a chip -- the entrance ticket (a far cry from Dad's Woodstock tickets.)

Non super high tech was the signal inside, which for me was non-existent. I kept trying in vain, but there was no use. I did the old "maybe this is a good thing for me to be in the moment and not writing about it." Yeah, not so into that. But I survived.

Understanding of my momentary tech withdrawl was the lovely Jen West and the handsome James Martin, who we met up with to see the Avett Brothers. I was excited for them to meet Kristen and vice versa, for when creative worlds collide good things happen.

Jen and James

The Avetts weren't bad either -- actually they were incredible. Their live stuff is some of my favorite, but I'd never seen them till that afternoon (which admitting in public could have ben been an immediate revocation of my Southern hipster card, but is now remedied). 

Kristen and I were able to watch part of the show from the stage. An incredible view:

Avett Brothers up close

It was from that vantage point I about had a heart attack when I saw Radiohead's gear. So close to greatness ... 


After that show we sampled some of the fine food (actually it was quite good). The NY-based Crif Dogs and tater tots were delicious. 

With time to kill we people watched. I was somewhat surprised by the makeup of the crowd -- seemed a lot younger (early/mid 20s) than I'd expected, though there were certainly people of all ages. Standard wear was bathing suit and face paint, with a bandana to protect oneself from the dust and a Camelback for staying hydrated. (Smart.)

It was funny to watch these young whipper snappers know all the words to Ludacris songs, many of which came out when they were in elementary school. Luda himself was incredible, though I felt guilty for seeing him without his #1 fan, Amy, and have promised to recreate his act for her. 

We made a brief stop at the campsite, during which the words of several friends came to me. "Camping at Bonnaroo is not your scene," the cautioned. Confirmed. Kristen's lovely sister visiting friends in the not-so-lovely camping site:


While at the campsite I did have a partially ironic conversation with some new friends about my "spirit animal." It was decided I was a peacock. Insert peacock noises.

After climbing out of the campsite (and yes, I was wearing gold shoes) came the moment I'd been waiting for: Radiohead. It was absolutely packed, and there were some tense moments as we worked our way up.  Thankfully we were able to get into the bleachers about halfway into their show.

There aren't words to describe that moment for when you finally see one of your favorite bands perform live. Hearing Thom Yorke and the music I've listened to for so long made me want to cry and smile at the same time. It was a feeling which was only permeated by the dude standing next to me who said, "Um, are they a British band or something?" Ha.

I listened to Radiohead all the way back to Birmingham. I thought about how lucky I was to have the experience of Bonnaroo. Then I rolled back home and took Nate to the park and wondered if the whole thing had really happened. Glad it did, and that I stepped into the dust for just a bit. To quote Radiohead (whose set I linked to after the photo below): "Everything in its right place." Which includes a much needed break.

So is my kid gonna want to go to music festivals? He better. 


Related Links:

My First Jazz Fest