A Metalhead at Bonnaroo: Four Hippie Myths Debunked
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.