After obtaining press credentials for Bonnaroo 2012 in Manchester, TN this spring, I decided it would be fun to take my 18-year-old daughter along as my intern.  So this post is not about politics (haven’t we all had enough of that in Wisconsin anyway?) and a post about our amazing Bonnaroo adventure.

If you’re not familiar with Bonnaroo, it is a music festival held each June for the past 11 years in the foot hills of the Great Smokey Mountains.  Mainly featuring alternative music acts, this year the big headliners include Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beach Boys (on their 50th anniversary tour), Alice Cooper and jam-band Phish.

I though I would be out-of-place at such a music fest – alt is the typical genre of the younger high school and college crowd.  But give it a chance. Remember the alt-rock of our day?  Pink Floyd, Yes, Rush, Kate Bush are all represented in the chords and rhythms of today’s new bands.

So here it goes – what’s good and what’s bad on Katie and Patti’s Excellent Adventure (with apologies to Bill and Ted.)

Bonnaroo day 1 (Thursday, June 7): What a clusterfuck and what fun.

Woke up early and packed, but later discovered I forgot to throw in a sweatshirt, socks or pajamas for the trip. Wouldn’t be too bad if the Tennessee valleys didn’t get cool and damp at night.

S0 it’s 3.30 am on Friday morning and instead of sleeping, I’m up – cold and shivering, still wearing yesterday’s clothes (Thank God I decided to wear jeans) and a denim jacket that is more stylish than warm. The cold, damp air has exacerbated my bronchitis and the noise of the constant golf carts and garbage trucks patrolling the Bonnaroo grounds has kept me wide awake.

I think there was some bonding happening with Katie, or it could just be my wishful thinking. She eagerly helped me pack up the van in the morning for the trip; was pleasant for most of the day (and that is an accomplishment in and of itself) and she worked with me to put up the tent we borrowed from Kim, even though we had no clue as to what we were doing and it was 9:30 p.m.

She shared some of her (actually her boyfriend’s) favorite music with me on the drive – the John Butler Trio – funk/blues band with a finger picking guitar lead. Gaige had made her a mix disc and she played it for me. Pretty good stuff.

She also insisted on bumming around the festival even though it was late. We marveled at the crowds, especially the guy with an epic (and when I say epic, I mean the size of a large beach ball) white-man fro and Fu Manchu ‘stache. We both laughed at the lameness of henna tattoos, really laughed at the glass booth where the man was selling glass dildos and danced to a band consisting of two large drums, German bagpipes and a wicked recorder.

After sharing an awful Miller Lite and some tasty apple cider mini-donuts, it was time to head back to our little campsite.

It still was okay at 11 p.m. because the fog and dampness had yet to roll into the valley. So we fired up the grill, seasoned the pudgy pie maker and grilled up a pizza pocket and some hot dogs. We had the Bonnaroo radio station on and were desperate to charge our phones with the electric car converter I bought for the trip.Katie filling a water bottle at Bonnaroo. This was a regular and required duty in the Tennessee heat. All photo by Patti Wenzel

But then came the cold and crawling into a “warm” beds in the tent seemed prudent. Katie is still sleeping like a baby, while I’m awake at 4 a.m. trying to stay warm and writing this blog.

Maybe this camping wasn’t such a good idea. Typically, camping in my opinion is when the hotel doesn’t have room service. We could look for a hotel nearby that would be warm enough at night and stay for the shows we would like to see.

Oh maybe I should admit this was a sad and epic event meant to provide a bonding experience with my daughter that she is just not ready or willing to have. Cut my losses. Meander home and crawl into my own bed.

That might be the best idea I’ve had all year.

Day 2: Katie is now awake and I made her and I some Pudgy Pies for breakfast. I had a bad start to the day and told Katie I would rather go home. But she insisted we stay since she wanted to see Radiohead tonight. Secretly, so did I.

There was an orientation for the press at lunch time and they give us a nice tent with air conditioning, electricity and Wi-FI. The AC was welcome on a day that saw the temperature climb above 85 with no cloud cover.

We went to Centeroo, which as it states is the center of the Bonnaroo universe. We checked out some of the art and sales booths, took pictures of some of the more “colorful” characters on the grounds and went to a few tents to listen to the bands. We did get close enough to see Katie’s choice, Two Door Cinema Club, but we were able to sit close enough to hear a good show.

And of course we did some shopping and I did some paying. We both got some hippie headbands and Katie picked out a tie-dyed wrap skirt. I bought a small blue pottery shot glass to go with my collection of blue stuff.

We tried to see Aziz Asinri at the Comedy Stage, but the entrance line we got in was for guests with tickets handed out at Noon for the 4 p.m. show. No wonder we were able to move so quickly to the head of the line.

Instead we were given the option of standing in a line of approximately 500 people waiting to possibly receive tickets to the comedian’s 6 p.m. show. We decided to instead walk back to our little campsite and maybe eat some dinner.

I don’t know how we would eat, since we had eaten two fajitas, a ¼ of a muffaletta sandwich, a frozen Baby Ruth Mocha and a mango lemonade.

I made up some hamburgers, but Katie was only interested in having chips and salsa, so at half of the burgers. After cleaning up the “kitchen” (amazing Katie doesn’t clean up camp kitchens either). Katie left on her own to see Ludacris; I took a nap and organized some stuff.

I also decided to venture to the camp showers, for a much-needed rinse. The water was cold, even colder than the showers at 4-H camp at the Wisconsin Dells which drew directly from the Wisconsin River. And the cleanliness left a lot to be desired.

The showers were nicer and cleaner than the port-a-potties, but well below the sleaziest hotel room. The $5 charge was worth it to rinse two days of dust and sweat on me, but I probably won’t take another shower until I get home.

After Ludacris, Katie returned to Camp TCD Wenzel to pick me up for the Radiohead concert, WHICH ROCKED.

They played many of their classics, a lot of material from last year’s release, The King of Limbs, and some new material.  I find it quite ironic that when a band play new pieces members of the audience get pissed off yelling that they didn’t come to hear the new stuff.  The stuff they want to hear was new once and they learned to love it.  If you like the band, you’ll like the new stuff – shut the hell up Texas guy in the trucker hat.

Katie always tells me she hates people and doesn’t like to talk to strangers. That is why she wants to be a librarian so she can sit among books all day and read about strangers.  But here she is open to everyone.  Talking about her piercings (two guages in the ears, a second set of small ear piercings, a tongue ring, a septum piercing and a belly ring. She also readily shares her glass when asked and strikes up long discussions about her background, schooling and even telling people the girl sitting with her is NOT her sister (I’m flattered because we do look-alike) but her mom.

The two groups of 20-somethings we “shared glass” with were pleasantly surprised that “mom” was joining in. They told Katie that her mom is pretty cool and she agreed. A pretty high (hee,hee) compliment from Katie indeed.

After the concert it was back to camp to rearrange the sleeping arrangements so I could have the van as a private (and warm) bedroom.

Tomorrow – RHCP!

Day 3: After sleeping in later than normal – 8:30 is pretty late for me – I headed down to the press tent for some early morning work. Unfortunately I have to say Red Hot Chili Peppers were less than stellar.  The sound was poorly done for the outdoor festival, so many of us listening from up on the hill heard very little of Anthony’s Kiedis’ vocals and only muffled solos. Plus, they group played a lot of new material or just jammed.

The talk among the sea of attendees following the performance was one of disappointment.

But the day ended well for me. I got to see Alice Cooper live!  He entered the stage from a giant web-like structure dressed as a Black Widow spider to go with the set opener.

Katie bugged out from Alice early and hooked up with another new friend to take in the Skrillex performance.  Skrillex is one of the biggest names in Dubstep, musical movement that emphasizes bass drop outs and syncopated drum lines. She said it was awesome and glad she stayed up until 4:30 on Sunday morning to see the entire set. The sites you will see at Bonnaroo

Earlier in the day, the TCD pair headed to Centeroo to see Flogging Molly at That Stage. We grabbed some food and I got my ears gauged (asked to see when I get home). After alternately in the shade and sun, the show finally started. Katie left me to get as close as possible and as the crowd shifted forward I was pushed to the back row.

I took that as my cue and headed down to What Stage where the Punch Brothers were playing. I saw them perform on Late Night with David Letterman a few months ago and recommended everyone take a listen. Now that I have seen and heard them in person, YOU MUST LISTEN TO THIS MUSIC. Alt, bluegrass, finger picking, rock and blues all rolled into one. Plus they dress pretty damn sharp.
Katie loved Flogging Molly and has now gone to the other extreme to see Danzig. Pure heavy metal, not something I thought she was into too much, but to each their own.

Day 4: Last day of Bonnaroo. The day started early when Katie arrived back at the van/tent compound soaking wet from the rain that had been falling for the earlier two hours.  I was oblivious since I had been sleeping since the end of the Alice Cooper set.

We just sat and laughed at the idea of having to clean up the muddy mess of coolers and the tent, but we did grab some z’s before tackling the packing.  But once at it, it went smoothly and decided that being drenched all day in the Tennessee humidity and grass would not be pleasant.  So off to Milwaukee it was.

I’ll admit I was skeptical and sort of under the weather when I arrived but I have enjoyed the Bonnaroo experience. So did Katie, and now that we have our virgin Bonnaroo under our belts, we are experienced Bonnaroovians.

I’m sure you’re asking “What is Bonnaroo?” Well as I said in my opening comments it’s a music, art, comedy and movie festival. As I have sat here for four days the best way I can describe it is a Grateful Dead caravan parked at Summerfest 35 years ago.

Hair styling at the Garnier boothFestival officials put attendance at Bonnaroo at close to 100,000 over the four days and many people stay the entire time camping across the farm that hosts the festival. Every imaginable body shape is on display and most people are not ashamed to display most of it in the Tennessee sun. And if it’s not on display, it is covered in some of the craziest get-ups you’ve seen in a long time. That is the Grateful Dead nation part of the fest.

It also has the vibe of Summerfest before Bo Black polished it up and corporatized it. Bonnaroo has 5 “main” stages, a few minor stages and little impromptu set ups for music. You can relax and sit and listen from the back of the audience or brave the crowds and dance in the front. There is a laid back vibe with hippie shops, artists and music for everybody that is not cleansed within an inch of its life to appeal to Boomers or their teenie-bopper kids.

There is a small corporate presence on the grounds.  Garnier hair care had a booth where you could have your hair washed and styled for free; a welcome service when your only shower is a cold-water one that you’re sharing with 10,000 other women. FUSE cable television also had a building on the ground, where they offered free cell phone charging and WI-FI.  And Miller Lite had a small stage and the beer vendorship. Other than that, this was truly an independent event.

Plus, there is a lot of hands on projects for attendees to do.  Some learned renewable gardening skills, yoga, drum making and dance.  And there is always the opening of your mind to new musical experiences and loving them.

Unfortunately, we were unable to catch the Beach Boys 50th (yes, I said 50th) Anniversary Tour. I was looking forward to that show to expose Katie to some “old-time” music.  Plus there was a rumor of the vocal performance the boys do with a video of Carl Wilson.

I also owe Katie a Bon Iver concert, since she missed his late Sunday evening show. Since he’s from Wisconsin I don’t think that will be much of a problem.

So, how did the adventure go?  I learned I’m not much of a camper. Camping to me still refers to staying at a Motel 6 with no room service or pool.  This was like living in the dark ages. Katie spend a lot of time laughing at my lack of camping skills and the whining I did concerning it.

I also did bond a little bit with my daughter. She admitted she had a good time, even with her mom. We talked about a lot of different things, tried new foods, listened to some new music (for each of us) and came out no worse for the wear.

This was an excellent adventure worth taking.

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