Finals week is ending and I’ve just about lost my mind. Economic graphs and accounting budgets are the only constant figures inside my cranium. I can’t sleep due to nerves and drank just enough coffee so that I have the overwhelming sensation of rushing waterfalls moving south of my pelvis. I turn in the test with an uncertainty of knowledge, but a surety that I will not fail. I run into the bathroom, release myself, and head down the corridor to the doors to the outside world. I am free. My last final, my last class – spring quarter is done and the summer is mine. I walk to the pub, catch bus 66 heading for downtown, and then board bus 44 heading for the south hill. I walk through my apartment doors and look at the clock. In less than 24 hours I will be catching a plane for Tennessee. I haven’t even started packing.
The next day I am exhausted. I get no sleep on account of staying up all night packing. But I’ve been flying my whole life and I think I’ll fall asleep on the plane. Ironically enough, both flights I am on have people sitting next to me that feel compelled to share their live stories with me. I am in good spirits so despite my fatigue I listen intently. An older woman on my first plane has a brother who was stung by a jellyfish and drowned for 5 minutes, but miraculously survived. She has three sons that work in cities that differ from the cities they lived in. Her husband has passed away, but she says his passing gave her more time for herself. It’s beautiful to hear a person have such a positive outlook on their spouse’s death. A middle aged man on my second plane majored in economics only to find out that he didn’t really care about economics. So instead he started a business of sorts and his family is currently wealthy enough that they are trying to buy music festivals. I should also add that he has a brilliant mustache.
My dad meets me at the Nashville Airport, and as usual he has to drive around three times. My dad’s been picking me up at the airport for years, but we still never discuss whether he’s going to park and come inside to meet me, or if he’s just going to drive around the arrivals area. Every year I have to borrow someone’s cell phone, call him, and give him directions to where I’m located. For future time periods, the month is June, the day is the 12th, and the year is 2013. Almost everyone has a cell phone in present day. I am one of a very small group of people that do not carry the device. I believe that cell phones are the government’s human tracking devices. I have yet to be proved wrong.
Upon arriving home I use my father’s landline phone to call my friend from high school John. We both graduated from LaVergne High School in 2008 and I haven’t seen him since. He answers the phone and immediately I realize that I’m back in the south. You see, in my head John doesn’t have an accent. I went to school with him for 4 years and I don’t remember him talking like this. Come to think of it, I don’t remember almost anyone at my high school having a southern accent. I suppose going to my high school reunion will be like going to a farm or a KKK gathering, or an anti-gay rally, or being a guest star on the adult swim show Squidbillies. Don’t get me wrong, I love southern accents. Every time I hear them I think of huffing air dust when I was in high school, and who doesn’t want to think of that.
John finishes his sentence and I pause. He is giving me directions to the grocery store and listing off street names that sound familiar like Sam Ridley and Old Nashville Highway, but for some reason I have no idea where these streets are. I haven’t been back to Tennessee in two years and I can barely remember where my old high school is. “John, you’re just going to have to come get me.”
I get off the phone and walk into the living room where my dad decides to tell me about all the people that die at music festivals every year. I assure him that even though it would be a really cool way to go, I could only wish to die someplace that cool. I’ll probably die choking on a sandwich at a gas station or something. John pulls into the driveway and I pile my black duffel bag and Hershey’s backpack into his vehicle. We then proceed to Kroger’s. For the record, I am the world’s worst food shopper. Unless I make out a list, get a recipe book, or plan every meal I have no idea what to buy. So I walk down every aisle and ask John if he thought I needed something. He is talking on the phone the whole time and his answer is always “I don’t know, do you think you need it.” As a result of my horrendous shopping skills and John’s awful assistance, I end up buying apples, plums, oranges, pickles, spicy tomato juice, pop tarts, cookies, chips, and six boxes of granola bars. Oh, and I bought 6% beer, the highest percentage you can legally buy in Tennessee. You heard right, 6%.
I load up my groceries and we drive just down the road over to a house. I could see a lot of guys sitting and standing on the front porch. I didn’t recognize any of them except for John’s little brother Joe, Joe’s friend Kalon, and this guy Chad. Back when I was in high school I was in this group called Campus Life; we would meet once a week to play games and talk about God. Chad was one of the volunteers. I pack all of my food and stuff into Chad’s van.
Everyone meets up in the Murfreesboro Walmart parking lot. It’s nice to meet a group of new and friendly faces – people with good energy, good vibes. The first person to shake my hand and introduce themselves is a girl named Dana. She plays violin and is going to school for audio engineering. Then I meet a guy named Matthew. He’s constantly smiling with enough positive energy to light a light bulb. Taylor (red man) is the same way, except he doesn’t just radiate happiness – he looks ecstatic the way someone does when they’re smoking crack. A guy named Ferdinand is here – his name speaks for itself. I meet two guys who look really similar to me: Clint and Jeff. I will probably confuse the two of them the whole trip. Then there’s Emily who I know since we went to Roy Waldron Middle School together about ten years ago. With her is her boyfriend Dakota. John’s ex-girlfriend Danielle is here too. She went to LHS and we had American Government together. She hugs me and we reminisce for a minute about Coach Willis’s class. She’s nice, but I’m not sure if she wants me here. Oh, and a guy named Lloyd is here too.
We reach Manchester and make one more stop before Bonnaroo. In the Walgreens parking lot we stop and get out stretching our legs. We’ve only been on the road for 45 minutes. We wait on Danielle’s cousins. I meet two more people: Cathy and Jessica. I like them both a lot – they’ll probably be my favorites. Chad and I catch up a little bit. He tells me about his life and the changes he’s made since we saw each other last, and he talks about ancient aliens. We seem to be on similar pages in the book of life.
The entrance for Bonnaroo has me so anxious. It’s early in the morning and I’m surprisingly restless. There are cars backed up for miles and people are hanging out their windows screaming “Bonnaroo!” with emphasis on the “roo” part. Everyone is so energetic. There are cops/guards directing traffic. People are coming from the interstate and from in town. When we get to the security part there are at least ten lines of cars and everyone in our group gets separated. We have at least seven vehicles.
As an environmentalist, I find the carpooling situation utterly ridiculous. Danielle, Dana, and one other person drove by themselves. We have 14 people besides Danielle’s cousins and their boyfriends – all four of them rode in one car. With a van, a pick-up truck, and one other car we could have fit everyone else. Chad is concerned on the way up the security line. John hid his weed in a jar of peanut butter, but he still shows a little bit of concern. He doesn’t want anyone looking through his van. Luckily, we get through security without the van being searched, thanks to a black man in dire need of a Black & Mild.
When we all get to camp I finally realize why having so many cars is a good idea. The cars park on both sides of the camping area. They line up making two longs rows, and in between those rows is where the tents go. Having so many vehicles actually gives us more camping space. Everyone gets to camp together except Taylor and Lloyd who somehow got separated. Everyone’s impressed though because in past years they didn’t get to stay together this well.
I attempt to help Matthew setup his tent, but it’s missing a pole. I try to help him set up his other tent, but it’s inside out for over 30 minutes. After turning it right side in the tent magically comes together. I crack open a beer at 5am and watch the sunrise. It’s so beautiful. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Everyone’s sitting around in camping chairs talking about whether they think they’ll sleep or stay up all day. My mind wants to stay up all day, but my body needs to sleep. I smoke a little bud with Chad, Dakota, Emily, Joe and Kalon. It’s my first time getting high in over a year. After one hit I become a puffy white cloud floating above my body. I like it, but it makes me really fucking hungry.
John is getting high in Danielle’s tent and he eventually stumbles out. He says that he’s going to go with me over to Lloyd and Taylor’s camp to get a sleeping bag for me to borrow. John normally talks really fast, but when he’s high he talks even faster. My mind can’t keep up with all the consonants and vowels coming out of his mouth. He’s walking really fast too, or I’m just moving at a slower pace than time itself. He talks to me about his and Danielle’s past relationship. I guess there was cheating, pregnancy, and jail time involved. I know that all of these things are normally critical deal breakers, but I just say, “John, life is too short to be worrying about all of that. Why can’t you just forgive her? It’s in the past.” I’m obviously lacking sensitivity, or I’m trying to help him live in the present and move on with his life. In either case, he says that he can’t, and I understand. The human condition is full of hypocrisies and I’m no exception. I still think my ex-boyfriend is walking, talking diarrhea.
We reach the area where Lloyd and Taylor are supposed to be, but they’re not answering their phones. John hits up Joe and Joe says there asleep. So we walked all the way over here for two people who were sleeping. I’m still hungry as hell so we go get some food. We get cheesy steak burritos. It’s the best thing I’ve ever devoured. Food tastes so good when I’m stoned. I actually forgot how good. I’m glad I don’t smoke anymore because I would be really, really fat.
We get back to camp and I throw away the tin foil from the burrito and go lay down in the tent. I’m attempting to sleep, but it’s so damn hot – so much hotter than Spokane. All I can feel is heat and sweat. I will surely roast to death. Kalon is completely inside his sleeping bag, Joe has a sweatshirt over his face, and John sleeps inside his bear suit from the show Workaholics. I’m on top of John’s sleeping bag with nothing covering me. How are they even asleep?
I get out of the tent a few hours later at about 11am. Everyone is asleep with no regard for the temperature. I brush my teeth and as I gargle and spit some people rise from the dead. John and Chad are some of the first ones up. I tell them I’m anxious to go to Centeroo and they are too. We’re the first ones to leave the camp.
There are little stands all over the place similar to a flea market, filled with arts, crafts, clothing, food, bongs, pipes, and hula hoops. People are so colorful and vibrant. There are more dreadlocks than I’ve ever seen anywhere. It makes me less self-conscious about my own free forming dreads. At six months old they still look like a birds nest with dead birds in it. We get in line waiting for Centeroo to open. There are two girls in front of us chatting. We’re all sitting on the grass in a circle because the line isn’t moving. A girl with purple hair explains her hatred of people who cut the line. She says it isn’t the “Bonnaroo way.” Her cute Latino friend with a bun nods in agreement. The line starts moving and these two girls are now one hundred people ahead of us.
We reach the gated area and that’s when it really becomes a festival. We walk up and down four rows with gates around them, high fiving everyone we pass. I’m an enthusiastic high-fiver. My hands are beat red. We then hop in a line to go through security. The term ‘security’ as far as Bonnaroo is concerned is just for legal purposes. Everybody sneaks in drugs and the security people tend to be my age or younger. Most of them are volunteering so they can be at Bonnaroo for free, and most of them don’t actually take this job seriously. They look at me and nod for me to go through. I don’t have a bag so they don’t check anything. Chad carries the little that I bring with me in his hydration pack – it’s sweet.
Laying down in the grass and sending green smoke into the air is so serene and peaceful. We lay under a large tree with plenty of shade for us and many other people. Vibes are spread around the entire tree and beyond. It didn’t feel like 5 years had gone by. Chad and John are so familiar I could have seen them last week. Time hadn’t changed them the way they are in my memory. Have I changed? I feel like 17 year old me wouldn’t even like 22 year old me, but that didn’t seem to matter to anyone else.
“I’m pasty, I need to tan,” John says with no shirt on. He’s not pasty at all – he’s tanner than I’ll ever be. Chad has these sideways oval checkered white and black sunglasses on. I feel he’s the only person who can pull them off. Anyone else would just look ridiculous. John eats some food and Chad and I go back to camp to eat lunch.
Around 4pm the vast majority of the group, including myself, goes to Centeroo. The line is a lot longer than it was previously. 90,000 people are at this festival. Seeing so many people concentrated in such a small area reminds me of China. And just like in China, where lines don’t exist, this line for Centeroo is somewhat of an allusion. But this is America – if we cut would somebody try to fight us? Americans stand in line. Emily goes right to the front where the gates begin. The whole group slides in and the high fives commence.
The first show we all see is Milo Greene. We’re pretty far back sitting in the grass so it sounds like background noise, but that’s ok because I don’t even know who Milo Greene is. John’s cousin McKenzie is there too. She has a really cute pixie haircut. I think I see my ex-boyfriend so I look away and keep my face away until he passes. I’m ready to vacate this area.
We go over to Futurebirds and once again we’re too far back to really hear them. By this point the group has dispersed and gone in different directions. Emily, Dakota, Chad, and I are the only ones still together when Ariel Pink starts playing at 7pm. We go over to the right side of “This Tent” and actually go under the tent and towards the stage where there’s a really nice sound. I feel that this is the first real music experience I’m having at Bonnaroo. He doesn’t have pink hair right now like in his popular music video “Only in my Dreams.” He has blonde hair that looks like Elton John’s – he acts like him too. His egotistical persona is somehow endearing. He says, “I’m not saying that this is the only show worth seeing, but it’s a fact.”
After the show all of us get Petro’s chili & chips and I get barbeque chicken. It is an orgasm in my mouth – so damn delicious. We sit down in the grass on the right side of This Tent, and while we eat the sun sets. Deap Vally starts to play and I want to get closer. I’m really anxious to see them. They’re a two female group with a blonde singing and playing guitar and a redhead playing drums. As if he’s reading my mind Chad says, “Let’s get closer.” We get closer than we were for Ariel Pink. They sound amazing and the song I really wanted to hear was of course the last one they played: “End of the World.”
The show ends at about 9:30pm and it’s fairly early, but I am so tired and all I want to do is sleep. I should take a caffeine pill, but I left them back at camp. “Chad, I’m exhausted. I’m going back to camp to sleep, but I’ll see you later.” He wants to go with me. I keep asking if he’s sure, and he keeps saying yes. “Chad, are you sure you don’t want to see another show?” He says that he’s good till tomorrow.
On our way out of Centeroo I suddenly see this barn covered in Christmas lights. “Chad, look at that barn.” He says it’s cool and keeps walking. “No, stop. We must go inside this magical place.” We walk inside and it is the coolest thing at Bonnaroo. There’s a circle of people and someone’s in the middle doing the worm. A guy’s on the side encouraging people to get in the middle and show there dance moves. Everyone is clapping and cheering. Chad and I are really excited and dancing around. I’m in love with this place. One day I will own a barn and cover it in Christmas lights year round.
We walk back to camp and say goodnight. A part of me wants to stay up, hang out in his van and just talk. I hesitate though – partly because I don’t want to be weird and partly because I just told him I was too tired to do anything else. I climb into the tent, zip up John’s sleeping bag and fall straight to sleep.
I wake up Friday morning as it’s getting hot. Chad and I were the first ones asleep so we’re the only two awake right now. “Did you get a good night sleep?” I ask. He tells me that he got the best sleep he’s ever had at Bonnaroo. “Me too,” I say. “I slept like a baby.” We take a look at the schedule for today, Friday June 14. I feel conflicted because two bands I really want to see are playing at the same time: Sea Wolf and Reptar. Chad laughs at the name. Reptar is the name of a dinosaur on the TV show “The Rugrats”. I loved watching it as a kid.
Everyone else is slowly waking up and Matthew comes over to my tent and asks if I want a hook-up. A guy camping over in Pod 3 has MDMA. He tells me the price and it sounds like the guy is overcharging, but I have no problem negotiating. I walk over to Chad’s van and ask if he wants some. He gives me $10 for one point and I take $20 for two.
Matthew and I have been walking for a while now before realizing that not only have we gone the wrong direction, but we’ve actually made a complete circle. We start walking up another road and we have to turn around again. My feet are so sore. We stop by the ATM so he can get some money out and then we hit up this guy’s camp. It turns out he isn’t overcharging; it was just a miscommunication of numbers. I get a good laugh while we’re there because another guy he’s camping with got stuck in a shower with no towel or clothes. He was in there for almost five minutes.
Matthew and I take a cab (golf-cart) back to camp. They’re driving around and a ride costs $5 per person. The lady gets lost and turned around a few times, but it’s better than walking. When we get out Matthew says, “Damn, she stinks! That bitch needs to shower.” I laugh so hard.
Upon getting back to camp almost everyone else has also decided that they want MDMA, so six people are getting ready to roll up to the camp I was just at. After which everyone says they’re going to Centeroo. Chad, Cathy, Jessica, Jeff, Clint, and I all walk over to Pod 3. Everyone sits around the camp chatting and catching up, but I’m anxious to get the day started, and I don’t know any of these people. So Cathy, Chad, and I all get up to go, but first we use the porta potties.
While waiting to pee, some girl walks up to Cathy, Jessica, and me. She’s asking us how she can help her family. We’re convinced that she’s asking for drugs, but the way she puts it we honestly don’t know what she’s talking about. At a music festival like this if people want drugs they can just come right out and say it. I notice though that there is this uneven distribution of drugs across the festival. Airport security is pretty strict so the only people that really have stuff are locals and people that drove. Security is actually sending in undercover cops and tracking down dealers, so nobody deals to anybody they don’t know personally. I’m pretty lucky to be from Tennessee and know people who live here, because otherwise I’d be dried out like everyone else.
Cathy, Chad, and I get into Centeroo and before we even see our first show we notice a slip ‘n slide. So much fun! It’s great to cool off in the water with such intense summer heat. Plus, it’s free! The first show of the day is Reptar from 12:30 to 1:30pm. They are so good. They have a full band sound with drums, guitar, base, keyboards, trombone, and I think even a brass section too. In the middle Cathy leaves to go to another show, but we’ll catch up with her later.
The second show we see is Bombino. They’re from the Middle East and absolutely amazing! One of the best guitar players I’ve ever seen in my life. We walk towards The Other Tent to see Charli XCX and on the way Chad goes to the restroom. While he’s in there I hear the song of hers that I really like, but everything else sounds like covers of songs from other bands. I pass on hearing the rest. Instead we walk over to What Stage and meet up with John for Local Natives.
The three of us lay back in the grass, closing our eyes while sun rays kiss our skin. I’m seeing red on the inside of my eyelids as the sun peers through the thin flesh barrier. I open my eyes and look over at John and Chad, and then up at the stage, not lifting my head. For the first time I have this thought: maybe I am here for a reason. Maybe there’s a force in the universe that is greater than myself or my love of music. Something that brought me here, not for just an enchanting experience, but for a life-altering sequence of events, that would unfold and unravel themselves in time.
We wake up as the concert is ending.