BONNAROO 2006: A CITY IN THE HILLS

Words by Dennis Cook
Images by Dave Vann & Pamela Martinez

Bonnaroo 2006 :: 06.16-18.06 :: Manchester, TN


Planet Roo by Pamela Martinez
Bonnaroo is a temporary city, something slipped from the imaginations of Jules Verne and Jimi Hendrix. It fills the Tennessee landscape for a brief, happy time with ferris wheels, flowering fountains, and dusky children moving to a multi-hued, ever-shifting soundtrack. Equal parts imagination and reality, this festival gathers the hard work of thousands into a spectacular party that also tries to honor the earth we dance upon. Each year gets smoother, adding more options as the old routines become smooth like clockwork. What follows is a flipbook of images and impressions from this year's festivities. There's no way to touch upon it all. Bonnaroo is too vast, challenging, and diverse to hit every moment. Each of the 80,000+ attendees took a slightly different route through the thick, summery pathways, finding their own reasons to spin beneath starry skies.

The Load In
I stopped counting at 30 churches as I traveled the back roads of rural Tennessee. I passed dilapidated general store signs and cars on blocks. One banner announced, "God wants spiritual fruits not religious nuts," where another a few miles later asked, "Have you been washed in the blood of Jesus?" Having the question appear next to a billboard for a water park made me chuckle.


Bonnaroo 2006 by Pamela Martinez
The physical scale of Bonnaroo is monumental. That's always the word that springs to mind as I crane my neck upwards to follow the lines of steel that make up the five main stages. 'Monumental' - it sprung to mind as I stood below 20-foot tall bobble heads or a gigantic umbrella sculpture. It's one of the few times one feels glad to be small, content to be merely part of this buzzing 24-hour enterprise. Each year it gets a little bigger with an air- conditioned Comedy Tent, Internet cafes, and more club-like venues to further exacerbate any attempts at scheduling one's time. Quite unlike the places that lead to it, Bonnaroo is a modern metropolis as envisioned by carneys, with plenty of bread and circuses to distract the hordes.

From "Which Stage" (one of the colorful Abbott and Costello-esque names for the main stages) you could hear the sound check man saying, "Love...hate...love...hate," as he tested microphones. For what is ostensibly a music festival, Bonnaroo asks us in subtle ways which side of this equation we choose. There were lectures and handouts on how we might make the Earth better, and even the between-song patter often tries to fuel compassion and sidestep our natural inclination for selfishness. Call it "hippy dippy" if you want. I'll just call it cool.


Bonnaroo 2006 by Pamela Martinez
With a full line-up beginning at 7 pm on Thursday, Bonnaroo is really a four-day event now. The acts this night are generally not as well known but therein lies the huge potential for happy surprise – a defining Bonnaroo trait. As the sun slipped below the skyline Thursday, everyone hugging shade and guzzling water like Foreign Legionnaires emerged with a sigh. Huge black smoke rings, like the exhalation of some hill giant, floated above us at twilight, courtesy of the Fire Garden folks that lit up our nights. Couples stirred in their hammocks outside the VW Garage, a new addition this year where anyone with some musical chops was encouraged to jam in the makeshift garage complete with thrift store couches and a refrigerator. Just walking around one feels a tickle in their pleasure center, the whole landscape designed to outwit the constrictions we bring in. Through abstraction and organic non sequiturs, Bonnaroo invites us to play, albeit responsibly, for days on end.

Make with the Laugh Laugh
Journeys that begin with laughter are often blessed. That in mind, I started my own revels with a luxurious sit in the Yet Another (Comedy) Tent. The lines to get into this calm oasis stretched out like an amusement park ride the whole weekend. And it wasn't just the lure of cold air that brought 'em in. The organizers really beefed up the line-up this year with major talent like Lewis Black, Patton Oswalt, Demetri Martin, and the Upright Citizen's Brigade. Strangely, the stage set was a barn door, which I was pleased opening MC Vic Henley found as strange as I did. Nothing says humor like telling jokes in front of a barn! Paintings of Charlie Chaplin and banana peels graced the walls of the otherwise tastefully decorated space.

You couldn't ask for a more primed, ready-to-party audience, and the comedians flourished in front of the sweaty, slightly toasted crowds. Things began with Henley saying, "I've been here three hours and I'm already out of pot. I gotta plan better," and the shouldn't-be-funny-but-is style of Morgan Murphy, who joked about how the Jamba Juice guy who slipped a roofie into her smoothie tried to pass it off as a "rape boost." Drugs – in all their myriad, candy-colored variety – cropped up all weekend. For better or worse, Bonnaroo is a hallucination nation but an overwhelmingly good-natured one for the most part.

White Boys With Guitars


David Ford by Pamela Martinez
The first music to hit my ears was fast-up-and-coming UK singer-songwriter David Ford. I walked in to hear him cry, "I've thrown rocks at the Devil but I won't scream down St. Peter when he won't let me in." Nice. In a short-sleeved Oxford shirt and tiny cap, Ford had the makings of a geek rock centerfold, something the squeals and coos of the many ladies in the audience confirmed. In fact, Ford was but one of many performers this year that seemed to have strong female followings, which made for a much more balanced mix of the sexes than the usual phallic assault. Ford played guitar with simple, highly effective keyboard and percussion loops, used to near U2 effect on "State of the Union," which he introduced as "for those mornings you wake up and clap your hands to your head and say, 'What the fuck is going on?'" With a gentle disposition and a gift for a clever turn of phrase, Ford is a fine addition to what he called "white boys with guitars complaining about things you can do nothing about."

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