Shortly after writing Are Out of Town Music Festivals Worth The Hassle? I decided to embark on a cross-cultural adventure. The mission? To explore the Nashville music scene and attempt survival at the 80,000-person music festival Bonnaroo.
Four days of camping in the heat (actually, we slept in the trunk of our SUV) surrounded by dirty hippies tripping on everything from moonshine to bath salts, all contained on a 700-acre farm with carnival rides, raves, seven-plus stages, and security guards who actually help you sneak in everything from umbrellas (potential weapon) to booze? I did a pretty good job of convincing myself that I could handle it. I felt as if I would be behind hippie enemy lines, giving myself a chance to turn a couple of people to the dark side (since I missed my window with Taylor Swift when she was in town).
One thing I can say is that it was definitely worth it to go to this legendary music festival. Even as a metal fan, the chance to see musicians like Paul McCartney, David Byrne and St. Vincent, Billy Idol, Jack Johnson, Wu-Tang Clan, ZZ Top, and Tom Petty in the flesh was enough in its own right.
But it was also worth it because this was one of those festivals that can't be explained or described. Bonnaroo literally turns into the seventh-largest city in Tennessee overnight. It has its own post office, an academy that offers free classes all day, art demonstrations, even a 5K run.
It was shut off from the rest of the world and filled with people from just about every country, all of whom arrive as an escape from everyday life. And over the course of four days, almost 200 bands and musicians performed on a set of stages that had the most maddening names ever: the Which Stage, This Tent, That Tent, The Other Tent, and the What Stage.
But there was no question about what was going on. The word Bonnaroo itself translates into "a really good time." It's New Orleans Ninth Ward slang taken from the French "bon" (good) and "rue" (street), translating to "the best on the streets."
And while a good time was had by the majority, and as much as I tried to disregard the plethora of "green is the new black" buttons, among dozens of other red flags, I couldn't deny that I was treading in hippie-ville. The majority of the time I felt as though I was in a Dali painting. Guys walked by in tie-dyed Grateful Dead shorts, flipping sheets of acid around with a big sign that solely reads "trip."
There were an alarming amount of Shia LaBeouf look-alikes -- who were women -- wearing American flag hats and tank tops. It was a weird combination of anxiety, pride, and disgust. But at least I knew that no one was going to steal my whiskey.
On a musical note, there was an average of 45 bands, musicians, and comedians throughout each day and night, ranging from hip-hop to EDM to reggae to rock. I made a few lovely discoveries, like the Australia-based The Rubens and hilarious rapper Action Bronson. The latter actually has a lyric that says, "I wanna meet the bitch that invented head."
Plus, I actually sniffed out the one metal band in the lineup, Kyng. They played in a small, unmarked white tent, in a far-off corner, of course, to a gathering of about 40 people. And they kicked ass. If it weren't for Kyng, I may have had country/indie music overload.
So in light of my breach across "enemy lines," I'm here to debunk four of those ol' hippie myths.
Hippies do like to shower The lines for the portable showers, for which they charged $7 a pop, exceeded an hour at times. Lines for the faucets to refill water bottles weren't as bad, and at least the water was cold. Throughout the entire festival, there were only a couple of times when I actually smelled some bad B.O. This definitely surprised me for a festival where people were camping up to five nights in 90-degree weather with 100 percent humidity, rocking out to music all day long. Hell, even at the McDowell Mountain Music Festival, I encountered people who smelled way, way worse.
They aren't that environmental anymore The trend to be perceived as a hippie has taken over, for sure. But now it's more a fashion statement now than anything else. Though there was plenty of environmental stuff happening at this festival -- think recycling and compost bins, environmental documentary tents, solar power -- it was anything but excessive.
By the end of the first 10 hours, the festival grounds were covered in plastic bottles, cups, cigarette butts, plates, and plastic cutlery. I've seen less disarray at every music festival I've ever been to. Granted, there are at least 80,000 people practically living inside there, but Rock on the Range sees about 30,000 people a day for three days and it wasn't nearly that bad.
The drug craze for hippies hasn't changes since the '60s -- except now they are ravers What's odd to me is that hippies won't drink milk with hormones but will accept acid from strangers.
One of the stages, dubbed the Silent Disco, was one of my favorite aspects of Bonnaroo. Upon entry, you receive a pair of headphones. A DJ booth is set up (with the first one of the festival being DJ Jazzy Jeff -- yes) toward the back, and everyone's headphones are synced up with the music. All day long, you'd just see people in the most ridiculous outfits on the most terrifying drugs prancing around the area, all dancing and cheering when the beat drops. I wanna see a Silent Mosh Pit, for sure.
One aspect of Bonnaroo that was confusing was the abundance of EDM, DJs, and rave elements. Eighteen-year-olds from all the over the country had flocked to the festival just for the electronic music alone. They would sleep through headliners like McCartney and stay up with the DJs until 5 a.m. I swear, if I heard the term "molly" explained one more time, I was going to smack someone.
Also, Bjork is terrifying. Between her obnoxious instrumentals and verbal electronic sounds, she practically had an onstage rave happening with her posse. It made me feel like being on some synthetic drug that a cult master gave me. I sat there with the most terrified expression on my face while hippies fist-pumped and hula-hooped around me. It felt like I was just initiated into a cult I didn't want to be in.
"One, why is she on main stage? Two, why does she have such a following?" Pause as my friend and I look at one of the many gay couples around us, including an African-American man in a woman's dress with red wig and hippie headband. "And three, how does he have a boyfriend and I don't?"
They are resourceful -- but not in that way Head to the "Fresh Ice" cart -- not the regular "Ice" cart -- and you'll find chilled moonshine. The "I Love Vagina" brand tent? Ask for berries and you shall receive nature's bounty indeed: some super-skunky weed. For a festival community that pretty much allows any activity, the hippies had developed a great way of distributing their products.