About 70,000 people bought tickets for this year”s Bonnaro, which features a musical and comedy lineup equal to such a population.
As for the feel of the fest itself, it starts with the weather. Tennessee was obviously beaten by a detrimentally wet spring, but the default mode at Bonnaroo every year – including this one – is mud. It smells like mud, except when it smells like cooking food and chemical toilets, but the M.O. is mud.
It hasn”t rained a drop, but the threat has existed each day, leaving campers no choice but to leave their muggy rainflies up over their gear as they roll into the grounds.
By 5 p.m. on Thursday, people were already painfully poking at their own developing sunburns, so early in the day and the festival. By evening today, the awkward finger lines of missing SPF spots on backs and backs of necks burn brighter.
Very few clothes are worn. Ill-fated flip-flops resigned to their role as sacrificial offering, many feet going bare one opting for thie wardrobe”s ugliest shoewear – for me, its thick hiking boots and ringer socks, others its Crocs, Tevas, hot Wellies folded down from the tops. Those well-versed in Festival refrain from decking jewelry should it be torn from them or submerge as an awkward tan mark, sporting straw fedoras and cowboy hats as cheap as they are crushable, combined with a reusable bottle for water (for which one waits half an hour to refill at stations) and perhaps an aluminum balloon so friends can find them easily.
There is an abundance of tattoos to soak in, considering the little amount of clothes folks wear. Some standouts were a full-color smoking caterpillar from “Alice in Wonderland”; the game piece of the green house from the board game Monopoly; an old school Nintendo console with the button of a controller the button of the one dude”s belly; and a map of Narnia spanning the width and length of another dude”s back. There is an abundance of ill-fated wrap-around tribal ink.
It was 87% humidity last I checked, and today the “actual” temp reached 93 (heat index, according to one co-withering journo, was 112). Again, nobody wears any clothes anyway.
My camping plot is situated between two vast gullies of brown road mud, but under a tree. I”m flanked by some Okies and a first year post-college reunion of twins and their girlfriends. Stinky shoes are stowed underneath nylon tent floors and the wait is half an hour for a shower power hour minute in the morning. I woke this morning to someone saying “f*cked up” repeatedly, and I assume that is the state at which that person will arrive around 5 a.m., after LCD sends everyone to bed.
When the field and (which they often were, completely), folks lay on their backs or curl around each other”s bodies on straw mats with friends, respectfully distant from others, smoking cigarettes and grass on the grass.
There”s a devastatingly serene “beer garden,” home to 20 or so regional and national breweries, and a pair of spots for drum circles. There”s only been a handful of hoola hoopers and those ex-rave kids who still swing those whip thingies that light up.
Only few flood lights for the mud-covered grasses after it turns dark, so folks stumblebum with the help of their instincts, a lighter, a flashlight or headlamp perhaps, though one inebriated attendee I saw walked straight into the lights of a golf cart.
There”s a ferris wheel for $6, the general crop of kettle corn and empanadas, a mist-spray hut and more college and post-college kids than I thought existed. Many are happy to be done with their semester, some are probably just now entering the job-search process. They”re all taking pictures the whole time, even the ones who waited all day for front row of whatever. I hope they don”t miss anything by doing so.