Diamond Member
Nov 22, 2003

“Bonnaroo!” For a word that’s not in the dictionary, it’s doing pretty well. People chant it from the tops of RVs; people wear it on T-shirts, paint it on their cars, and on their flesh.

Bonnaroo is, of course, the four-day music festival held in Coffee County, at Manchester, Tennessee. It is something to behold.

This year, the lineup of bands was more impressive than ever: Beck, whom some consider the musical genius of his generation; Elvis Costello, the punk icon who has remained relevant for 30 years without changing the soul of his music; Radiohead, the British neopsychedelic aeronauts; Tom Petty, the hitmaker of the ‘70s and ‘80s; Bonnie Raitt, Sonic Youth. Lots of younger, trendier bands, with intuitive names, My Morning Jacket, Death Cab for Cutie, Rusted Root, the Disco Biscuits, moe. [sic], Electric Eel Shock.

In previous years, I have thought of Bonnaroo as something you enjoy at younger, stinkier ages. Last year, I was surprised to hear some people my age were regulars, and suffered the first prickling anxieties that I might be next.
My friend Jack Rentfro and I are a couple of years on either side of 50; he talked me into going, a couple of middleaged guys, to Bonnaroo, to see what we could make of it.

When we were young, the giant rock festival, the thing where kids sleep in the mud to see lots of electric rock bands, was a thing of the past. When we were teenagers, Woodstock was already a legend, something never to be duplicated. Altamont was also a legend, and a tragedy, and the sign there shall be no more big rock festivals ever. I saw Gimme Shelter at the student union. As kids, we knew what kids without sufficient adult supervision did. Put that many of us in one big field, give us some drugs, and some crazy music, and we’re going to start killing each other.

Altamont was the rock’n’roll version of Lord of the Flies. We would henceforward be content to hear rock music mostly indoors. By the time arrogant kids younger than we were, kids who’d probably never even seen Gimme Shelter, started going to rock festivals again named Lollapalooza or Lilith Fair, Jack and I had jobs and mortgages and responsibilities.

Out of nowhere, though, Jack wanted to go this year. He’s a little older than I am, barely old enough to have credibly fallen under the Hippie umbrella. (Last month he organized a very successful birthday commemoration for Bob Dylan.) We’ve been pals since UT Daily Beacon days, sometime during the Carter administration. We hadn’t made a road trip since a drive to Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden in Georgia in the ‘80s.

We were going to Bonnaroo in 2006. Our working title for the tongue-in-cheek project was, “You Call That Music?” It turned out to be something different than the program we had in mind.
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