Monday, June 29, 2009


Perhaps it's been growing, inch by inch this entire trip. The wheels of the Greyhound bus used to grind into the highway like a evangelical minister into that plush purple pulpit carpet; full of sweaty reverence and fist pounding passion. Now, they just grind like knuckles into my back.

I was bent over a toilet somewhere between Montana and Wyoming when I split in half. That's what I'll tell them if they come looking for a skinny girl with a backpack. The last time I saw her she was taping up her hiking boot as I was putting on a pair of folded jeans. She was scrawling poetry on the wall as I was brushing my teeth. She never had time for hygene. Too busy smoking borrowed butts and running around bus station dumpsters with maniacs.

She removed herself from me gently, and is still half there. The ratty poetry books, long conversations, wild eyes-- still there.

I've just traded in her gangly arms for hips,
her engine blood for roots.

I pull long, white, fresh ciggerettes from my own pack now, and smoke them like a Woman.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


The Southern sky is smashing into itself. Pulsing lightning, earth bending thunder, and drowning downpours all aid in exhuming armies of crawdads and fireflies from the wet-warm soil. Just north of Nashville, a 700 acre farm gets pounded every June with thundering feet that give even the worst Southern storm competition. For eight years now, the small town of Manchester, Tennessee is infiltrated with 80,000 migrants from June 11-14, each one coming for music, magic and good ol’ Tennessee dew.

Welcome to Bonnaroo.

The cars heading into Bonnaroo are almost at a standstill, whereas the people inside are already well adjusted into festival mode. Bill White, 65, (pictured) walks the four miles from his Manchester TN home into the Bonnaroo grounds every year. Why? “I just like to get twisted and listen to Phish.” White must be one of the lucky few, stuck somewhere between 1967 and 1972, still having a really, really good time.

Bonnaroo has the notoriety of being a festival “by the festies, for the festies” and on first arrival, it’s easy to see why. Street names in the campgrounds? Massive numbered balloons floating above a sea of identical tents? Security guards that simply ask you if you have anything illegal, and then trust your answer? Yes! My naive Canadian fear of the gun-toting, drug-hating south is shockingly unfounded! Here I was, expecting DEA agents armed to the teeth, intent on ripping apart my possessions and dignity, preparing to succumb to a treatment so brutal, that I end up sobbing a pitiful confession of selling crack to six year olds.

Obviously, I was delighted when my “interrogation” was simply a friendly man in a Rasta hat asking “Y’all got anything y’all shouldn’t? Cuz’ if you do, and I find it, I’ll take it. But, if you just tell me that you have it, I’ll just be jealous as sin and let y’all go”

With apologies to apple pie, Bonnaroo may just be the perfect realization of the American Dream. Bless my God given right to smuggle and consume at will!

After setting up a pitiful excuse for a tent, I descended into the Garden of Eden; Centeroo. If multi-stage festivals are the Universe’s gift to mankind, then the Bonnaroo stage layout is a cosmic joke. The stages in Centeroo are: What stage, Which stage, This tent, That tent, and The Other Tent. Perhaps that’s why the security is so lax; the Bonnaroo big wigs just want to sit in some secret tower and watch people stumble around, lost in an acid fueled “Who’s on First” living hell.

Aside from the screaming teenage girl attempting to claw her way into the ground, or the man who broke his ankle jumping off of a porta-potty, the Bonnaroo medic I spoke to said that this year was no worse than any other for drug overdoses, freak outs or “seemed like a good idea at the time” situations. One man was discovered dead in his tent after the festival, from a previous medical condition. Not bad, considering the Bonnaroo campground is centered around “Shakedown Street”, (after the Grateful Dead song) a veritable pharmacy to delight the far reaching corners of ones mind (for better or for worse.)

The first day of the festival whirred slowly into action, until darkness fell and People Under the Stairs and Passion Pit gave consecutive explosions of energy, and like starting pistols, got the insanity of the ‘roo underway.

Friday morning groaned awake like an uninvited fat man sitting on my chest. The Tennessee heat is oppressive, but couldn’t stifle the electric feeling in the air, as Friday was host to some of the most anticipated acts of the weekend.

“I love Animal Collective, but I guess I don’t love watching Animal Collective?” says a confused Sydney Weststed, of the band’s early afternoon set. The 20 year old college student’s sentiment was all too shared, as incredibly high expectations for the Animal Collective set were dashed. Long, slow, meandering versions of what could have been upbeat crowd pumping classics left the crowd waiting for more. Perhaps it was the 2:45 p.m timing, the large stage, or the outdoor atmosphere, but for having such a full, resonating recorded sound, Animal Collective could barely control the stage. Fortunately, the day was quickly rectified with the YEAH.

The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s nearly drove the “Which” stage into the ground, performing in front of a huge glittering eyeball, with Karen O wearing an amped-up version of Grace Slicks 1969 white leather Woodstock ensemble . Well arranged, the set mixed all three albums flawlessly, opening with “Runaway”, featuring an acoustic “Maps” and closing with “Date With the Night.” Ms.O put the icing on the cake, saying “We don’t usually smash instruments after a show but, fuck it!” and smashed her mic into the stage. Karen-O fullfilled every inch of my feminist rock-and-roll fantasy. Even though running over to the Santigold set without so much of a trickle of Karen-O’s beer, sweat or spit in my hair left a small dark hole in my heart, there’s still nothing hotter than a woman, on a stage, smashing shit up. Nothing.

Santigold was performing as part of the David Byrne curated stage, and as I arrived, was leading the ecstatic audience in an acapella war chant of “I’ve got to be unstoppable”, to which she replied “I believe you Bonnaroo, one hundred percent.”

Dripping sweat in a pink denim tuxedo, Santigold was fleeced by her two robotic Ray-Banned dancers and a three piece band. It may have been any number of the chemicals pulsing through my veins that were affecting my vision, but I swear I saw sparks shooting from her fingers during “Creator.” Call it technical difficulties if you must, I call it festival magic.

Santgiold was followed by TV on the Radio, whose sound and collective stage presence managed to make the expansive space around the "Which" stage feel like an intimate club setting. TOTR exploded through favorites such as “Wolf Like Me” and “Halfway Home”, and radiated exaltation for being at Bonnaroo, a sentiment so obviously shared by the crowd that their set created the intimate feeling of a conversation so often lost at festivals. Friday night flowed on in a hot, electric blur, sets by Crystal Castles, Girl Talk and Paul Oakenfold drawing to a close well after the sun rise.

Saturday saw Bon Iver holding an entire tent of broken, bleeding hearts in his hand. During “Wolves”, I found myself surrounded by four waiflike girls, each in a tear stained t-shirt, swaying with eyes closed, bodies wracked with sobs.


Granted, there are now photos circulating Facebook of me sobbing with joy and ripping off my clothes during Bruce Springsteen’s set, (guilty pleasure) but that was a happenstance occurance involving too much gin. This unification of experience, lies in a songwriting power that is almost un-bearably moving to see live.

Massaging the crowd playing “Skinny Love” through to “Blood Bank” Vernon was humble onstage, even surprised, as the audience's unified voice often overpowered his own. Playing nearly all of For Emma, Forever ago, and much of Blood Bank, Bon Iver left “This” tent hypnotized and stunned into submission, at least for the forty five minute layover between acts.

Festival legend Beatle Bob brought Of Montreal onstage just after Bon Iver, promising a trip of “psychedelic” wonderment. If an Of Montreal live show is what psychedelics are supposed to be like, then it’s a wonder anyone made it out of the Sixties alive. Above the expected highlights, (like Of Montreal looking incredible in flamboyant, otherworldly costumes) there was a dancing Christmas tree, assistants in gas masks, and the gas poisoning of a child, to name a few. Andy Kiel of Consequence of Sound describes it best— “If you weren’t a fan of Montreal before the performance, you certainly left as one. If you were under the influence before the performance, you left scared shitless.”

By the time The Decemberists went on, a mere half an hour later, I was wondering if I need a heart (or liver) transplant to keep going. I was busy cursing my weak mortal flesh, trying to scrape some semblance of energy together by chain smoking , when the epic “Hazards of Love” set began, and assuaged all my worries. “This” tent filled with ethereal beauty, the concept performance landing somewhere between high school musical theatrics and an opera quivering with beauty. Returning for the encore, front man Colin Meloy quipped “We’ll try not to piss off the Boss too much” as Bruce Springsteen’s set was already underway. Their encore was a Decemberists fan’s wet dream, with “The Engine Driver”, July, July!” and “Oh Valencia” leading up to a hilarious, and flawless rendition of “Crazy on You” by Heart. Saturday night was alive and very, very high, as MGMT and Yeasayer turning Centeroo into a burst of glow sticks and teenagers with massive pupils flapping fairy wings.

The weakest of the flock had dropped out and headed home by the fourth day, and the dedicated that remained were so strung out that Centeroo filled with a lazy Sunday vibe. Andrew Bird’s Sunday afternoon set is easily one of the most memorable shows of the weekend. Easing us into the evening with tracks like “Fitz and the Dizzyspells”, “Oh, no” and “Why?” Bird sent us on our way flattered, as he said, “Y’all are like one person, one really cool person.”

Although the Bonnaroo line up gets more diverse every year, Bonnaroo is and always has been a jam-band focused festival. Proof? 2009 is the first year that not a single member of the Grateful Dead has played, and jam bands Phish and Moe played for over twelve hours combined. Now, I’m a Victoria girl, I understand hippies, my parents were Dead Heads and I visited Shakedown street (perhaps too many times), but I cannot, try as I may, understand the cultish following that pulls droves of hippies into trances for rambling six hours sets. However, biggest benefit to Bonnaroo’s jam band nature reaches to even the most skeptical republican in the ‘roo crowd; namely, you don’t need to be a “jam band” to jam.

Sunday was the holy day for Bonnaroo exclusive jams. Erykah Badu mixed “Rappers Delight” and “DP Gangsta” into her set (wearing a Public Enemy hoodie, no less), and then later joined Snoop Dogg on stage for “Lodi Dodi.” A legion of dedicated Neko Case fans were shaking in their sundresses when Triumph the Insult Comic Dog came onstage during her set for a duet and, speaking of her animal rights activism asked her, “Do any of those dogs that you rescue get to watch you shower?”

Bonnaroo walks the thin line between Coachella and Shambala, with enough organization and foresight to keep its gears turning, but with enough freedom and psychedelic drugs to keep the fights and vandalism at bay. There is a distinct fervor in which the South attacks life, and the approach to Southern festivals is no different. Bonnaroo will beat the shit out of you, call you “Honey” and then ask if you want some more sweet tea.

The answer is always yes, you always, always want more.

Thursday, June 25, 2009