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31 Dec 1969: 15 June 2006
My head is a punch bowl full of anxiety and adrenaline, as 18-wheelers cruise by—stealth ghosts—blowing the RV and my six co-passengers five feet to the right. My depth perception is completely askew. High above the ground with tons of machinery in tow, I don’t have blind spots—I am blind.
My mind returns to earlier this morning and the ease with which the Virginia Slim-smoking woman at the RV depot threw me the keys with a smirk on her face that read: I have all of your personal information on file—I own your ass. I’m doing everything in my power to focus my energy on the road, but I sense beers opening and joints burning behind me.
We are no Merry Pranksters, just a group of young professionals in search of great music and “good vibes”. This is not a bus skittering through the mountains of the Pacific Northwest; it’s the Rolls Royce of recreational vehicles humming through a clear Tennessee night. The fear and innate sense of responsibility that runs through my body makes me well aware that I am no Neal Cassady.
As we make the 17-hour trip from New York down to Manchester, we are all very much in the “now”, possessed by the feeling that things can be in the present. That “things” can sometimes become ideas, and ideas can sometimes force reactions when surrounded by other creative forces.
My six co-passengers and I have all been looking forward to the Bonnaroo Arts & Music Festival for some time now, all for different reasons. As I drive this boat of a machine through the barely lit highways of the great American south—one mistake away from careening over a bridge or getting clipped by the few vehicles on the road bigger than mine—I’ve never felt more alive.
We arrive at the festival 3 am and watch the car ahead of us get its entire microbrew supply confiscated. We’re all torn between feelings of sympathy and ridicule; after all the rules are clearly stated, and shame on those who don’t know how to hide their goodies.
All of the campsites are named after characters from famous movies. I immediately decide our being placed in Camp Vincent Vega is a good sign. The cuteness factor is taken a step too far, though, when we realize that all of the stages and tents are named to evoke an Abbott & Costello type of stoner frustration: What Stage, Which Stage, That Tent, and This Tent. At first this wins laughs as we consult the map, but this name game becomes increasingly irritating throughout the course of the weekend.
Everyone attending this year’s festival knew it would be an interesting one from the moment the lineup was announced. Long considered a jam-band festival, this year the organizers took a page from the increasingly successful Coachella Music & Arts festival, so the bill also features a handful of hip-hop’s heavy hitters (Common, Cypress Hill) and a large number of indie and college rock acts (Bright Eyes, Devendra Banhart).
But what seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue this weekend is, of course, Radiohead. On their current tour, the band is not only debuting a handful of new tracks from their upcoming untitled project, but also digging deep in their catalogue and playing older songs that have long been retired from the live set. Every few minutes, I overhear somebody mentioning how excited he or she is to see the band. The addition of a group like Radiohead to a festival like Bonnaroo certainly points to a changing of the guard, as I observe as many snug-jean-fitting hipsters as flower child hippies. How these two distinct factions will co-exist will be revealed as the weekend progresses.
Radiohead - Street Spirit [Live at Bonnaroo 2006]