I saw the Trey head before the face of the man holding it aloft. Trey was Phish's Trey Anastasio, of course and our own power trio of The Joker, BTreotch, and Professional Keno Player Neil Fontenot had just touched down at the Nashville airport. As we loaded all the luggage into the back of our rented Saturn SUV, Pauly and I finally discovered what the mystery spray adhesive was for.
The Joker is a master when it comes to creating props and costumes for concerts. Pauly told me about his UPS man routine at last year's Vegoose and mentioned The Joker had also run a recent 10K race in a Santa suit. To entertain the wasted hippies at Bonnaroo, The Joker had blown up magazine photos of a dozen celebrities and glued them to foam posterboard. Attaching the heads to wooden rulers was the final step, hence, the spray. Once our little parking lot crafts party was complete Trey, Mike Gordon (Phish), Thom Yorke (Radiohead), Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Phil, George W. Bush, Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Entourage's Turtle and Johnny Drama were all ready to scope out some dirty hippies and party.
The drive from Nashville to Manchester only took about an hour. Given my experiences at the Coachella Festival in years past, I'd been predicting a clusterfuck at the entrance to the grounds, but it was surprisingly smooth. Since day parking wasn't open yet, we found a spot on some guy's lawn maybe a mile from the entrance for $20. He had an adorable dog with a lousy disposition named Vicious.
Within five minutes of entering the festival, we spotted a completlely wasted shirtless boy of about 18 stumbling around with a plastic gallon jug of cheap vodka in one hand. Not one set of music and the kid was already totally wasted.
"Pace yourself!" warned The Joker as he waved Dr. Phil's head at him.
Our first order of business at Bonnaroo was locating the Shakedown. It's that long row of vendors you'll find in any festival parking lot where you can pick up veggie pitas, glass bowls, beaded necklaces, and a smorgasbord of mind-altering substances. (As a primer, you might want to check out Pauly's Glossary of Terms and Slang) Navigating Shakedown can be a daunting prospect, but I was lucky. I was traveling with professionals.
Pauly and The Joker can sniff out a quality narcotics salesperson from over 50 yards. It took them maybe 10 minutes to find a 16 year old kid with a messenger bag containing enormous stalks of freshly harvested Tennessee homegrown. Pauly followed him to his campsite to negotiate, while the rest of us waited in anticipation. He walked back to our cluster five minutes later with a shit eating grin on his face.
"There's good news and bad news," he said.
"The good news is we have weed. The bad news is we have nothing to put it in."
Pauly reached into the pocket on the right leg of his cargo pants and produced a stalk of weed at least eight inches long.
"We'll have to wrap it in something." He tore a page out of the Bonnaroo guidebook we'd received at the entrance and wrapped it around the thick green stalk.
"They're gonna pat me down at the entrance. Better put it in your purse." He handed the poorly wrapped pacakge to me and I buried it in the bottom of my hobo bag, beneath the blanket and my hooded jacket. After fetching a few more supplies, we headed for the entrance.
Security was a joke. The guy who checked my bag was obviously more interested in busting people for bottles of vodka than the pot farm in my purse.
"Smells good in there," he said with a smile as he waved me in.
The festival grounds were enormous. At around 80,000 concert-goers, Bonnaroo was almost twice the size of the Coachella festivals I'd attended in 2002 and 2004. Each stage or tent had a flaky hippie monkier. The Which Stage and the What Stage were the two larger venues while This Tent, That Tent and The Other Tent housed the smaller and midsize audiences. In the middle of all of it was an enormous mushroom fountain with a red cap. It seemed like a great way to cool off from the heat until the Joker warned me that all the water was recycled back out. By Sunday it would be a foul gutter brown.
I-Nine was playing as we walked around the grounds. We checked out the arcade, which was full of old-school games like Qbert and Ms. Pac-Man. Along the side wall we noticed a guy playing a poker videogame. It was STACKED.
"Dude, what are you calling with there?" Pauly chuckled as the kid turned over J8o for no pair no draw.
Pauly's phone rang and it was Molly. We headed back to the mushroom to meet up with her. Pauly hadn't seen her since their adventures in Coventry, VT at the last Phish concert two summers ago. They had a very sweet reunion. Molly is indeed very little, very brown, and thoroughly adorable. We planned to meet up at her campsite after seeing a few bands.
While the rest of our party temporarily departed in search of a World Cup score, Pauly and I checked out the Wood Brothers, who were playing in one of the three tents. I had only heard a couple of songs from them before this show, though I'm quite familiar with Chris Wood's "other" project, Medeski, Martin & Wood. Later on, we caught a performance of the Hunab Kru Breakdancers on one of the smaller stages while we chilled out on the grass. They were lily white, but a few of them could really move. I hoped that one of them would spin on his head and I got my wish. After discovering that there was a quarter-mile line for Patton Oswalt and Upright Citizens Brigade at the Comedy Tent we decided to head back to Molly's campsite to hang out.
That's when we came upon the sonic forest.
Imagine a grid of thick steel poles, jutting up from the ground like trees, adorned in blinking white lights. Dozens of tripped-out kids walked between them in a stoned daze as creepy plucking sounds emanated from surround sound speakers. Experience it for yourself on video. The clip arrives somewhere in the middle.
We capped off the evening chilling at Molly's campsite. I was impressed, as pitching a tent is not exactly part of my skill set, nor does it look easy. While Pauly, BTreotch and I toked away, the Joker disappeared into the muggy darkness, returning with three cans of Natural Light.
"I found a cooler on the side of the road. At least I didn't take the Heinekens."
Surrounded by a motley band of professional partiers, I sat back, scratching the reddening mosquito bite on my left shoulder and listened to the sound of distant music as I blew smoke rings into the night sky.
We weren't only going to survive this. We were going to shred it up.
To be continued...