When I first decided to go to Bonnaroo, I had a major misconception. I anticipated a camping crowd similar to the ones I was used to at Bristol. Had I thought about it ahead of time, I would have known better. Obviously a festival crowd is a lot different than a race crowd. I just didn't appreciate how different. I've never seen so many dreadlocks and so much tie dye in one place. It's rainbows and snakes as far as the eye can see.
Not to mention the bikinis everywhere, some delightful, others frightful. Due to the heat, minimal attire is the rule of the day, and most of the female crowd is following the rule. In fact, there's a burlesque show here that's probably going to close down because even after the stripper finishes stripping, she's wearing more than most of the audience.
One piece of apparel noticeably lacking is the bra. In fact, I've seen more guys wearing a bra than girls.
I wish I were kidding.
The personality of the Bonnaroo camper is a little bit different as well. I've been camping at Bristol for several years now and today was the first day I'd ever been offered a double lap dance for a stick of butter. Unfortunately, along with such generosity in spirit, comes some less desirable traits as well. Once I got my campsite set up, I got many admiring remarks, particularly on the shower and the kitchen, but I also got some warnings to hide anything portable, like my grill and stove, otherwise they might get stolen. Now I'm sure that there are difficulties with thievery at Bristol races as well, but I've never worried about leaving my grill out before.
Ah well, we must adapt to the modern times, so I lock up my grill when I leave camp.
Getting from your campsite to the venue can be tricky, particularly on the first day, since gates may be open or locked at seemingly random intervals. Like yesterday, when I asked why, I got:
"I don't know."
So you walk around following the crowd, which is also wandering around semi aimlessly, because they don't know either, then one of them stumbles across an open gate, and like lemmings over the cliff, everybody converges on that spot. As you work your way through the crowd, you come to the security checkpoint, where you will be checked for contraband. The interesting thing about the search isn't the full contact pat down, it's the fact that the definition of "contraband" changes from day to day, from gate to gate, and from security guy to security guy. Apparently some security guys take their jobs very seriously because I saw two young ladies walking around without bikini tops. I guess the guards thought they could be used to strangle somebody.
While it may be annoying to be told that the camera you brought in yesterday is no longer allowed today, it does result in hours of entertainment for everybody else trapped in line behind you. Think of yourself as being part of the show, and you know you always wanted to be in show business, right?
When you get through the gate tip your security guy if you enjoyed the service, then head through the vendors into the main area. Don't expect your usual carnival vendors here. The items for sale are usually handmade, and run the gamut from wooden puzzle boxes to hand tied hammocks to a place that lets you build your own drum. The food also offers more choices than your average carnival or fair, including Cuban food, Greek, several varieties of Asian, and for the true Vol fan, gator tail. If you're cheap like me, you'll bring most of your food to eat in camp, but leave a meal or two open for experimentation. Besides, it's such a long walk back to camp that you'll probably want to eat at the venue to save a little wear and tear on the feet.
Thursday's shows started off around 3:30 or so, and there weren't a lot of acts I wanted to see, except for some Knoxville groups like Smokin Dave and the Primo Dopes, and the Westside Daredevils. The Dopes show was pretty good until politics took over, but what else would you expect from Todd Steed? I stayed with him right up until he tried to put himself in the place of a soldier, apparently without ever actually speaking to a real soldier. Considering my son is about to ship off to Iraq in the next few months, I lost patience with Smokin’ Dave and skipped the rest of his show. I'm sure he didn't mind.
From the Dave debacle, I wandered around and sampled music from all of the tents operating before winding up listening to another Knoxville group, the Tenderhooks. They had a lot of trouble getting the mix right, which made it hard to hear the lead singer's vocals, but the female base player sang some lovely harmonies. It sounds like they have promise, and they're playing another set later in the weekend so I may try to catch them again.
And that brings me to a major dilemma that will face every Bonnaroo goer: trying to decide which groups to see when there are 8 playing at the same time. And don’t even dare to hope that your two favorites won't be scheduled to play at the same time. They will be.
My first night ended early, about midnight. At that point I'd been awake for 38 hours and I was ready to sleep. I had to miss the Westside Daredevils, but they too will be playing later in the festival, so I'll catch them then.
Tips from Day 1
- Plan ahead. Use your schedule to pick the acts you really want to see. Fill in the gaps with shopping, eating, or hearing an act youve never heard of. Challenge yourself.
- Be careful what you bring in to the venue. Just because they let you bring it in yesterday doesn’t mean they'll let you in today.
- If you get turned away from one gate, try another.
- Take your time. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ve got three more days of this ahead of you.
- Try food you've never had before. Yeah, it's a little pricey, but it's nowhere near as bad as Disneyland.
- If you’re turned away from the gate for carrying something you shouldn't, try another gate.
- Get to know the folks camping near you. You're neighbors for the next 96 hours; you might as well be friendly.
- Drink plenty of water before you leave your campsite, and keep drinking it while you're at the venue. Bonnaroo provides free water stations, or you can spend $2.50 for a bottle.
By the way, to answer your question, the young ladies got their butter. I did not however accept their generous offer.