Bonnaroo Music Festival, Manchester, TN, 6/21-23
The ultimate around-the-clock jam band "show" was Bonnaroo, where you could continuously wander from stage to stage for three days and catch some of each act. If I have to narrow it down to one act or top musical moment then it’s down to three choices:
1. Trey Anastasio doing that 35 minute Sand -> Drifting as the gigantic full moon slid up out of the trees into the milky way cosmos unfurled above us. ("We got the moon and the stars above".)
2. Bela Fleck doing those delicate 16th century acoustic compositions while a gentle summer rain sprinkled out of the puffy white clouds, rinsing our dust covered bodies and cooling us down after three days of ninety five degree heat.
3. moe. kicking our asses Sunday morning around 5:15 am when they brought the String Cheese boys out and began the encores as dawn emerged. The crowd went absolutely WILD with boundless enthusiasm, thanking these musicians for giving us the time of our lives. No curfews were in effect out there in farm country and the crowd became ecstatic with the realization that this was going to go all night long! It was the quintessential moment of interaction between band and audience that lifts both right off the planet. They whip us into our frenzy that drives their music to a higher plane, in turn lifting us further, wilder, louder until our collective mind explodes with emotion. Its hard to understand until you’ve been there… The band remarked that they appreciated our "stamina", and brother did we ever appreciate theirs! We jammed until the cows came home (or went back out to pasture I suppose). The entire moe. show was the most memorable.
The first set exploded into grinding, driving rhythms that just about blew the walls off the tent with deep-dish extra-crispy rock & roll! (It was our first moe. show so I don’t really know what they played.) I do know that they jammed hard for 2 solid hours and then closed the set with a delicious Meat, seasoned with Robert Randolph’s pedal steel guitar. We all needed a break allowing us to recuperate and catch our breath.
Around 3 am. it began again. The non-stop second set seemed more light and airy, with the spaces between songs full of mind tickling textures and intensely sweet flavors that warped into a new song, picking up the crowd and fluffing up the tent again. Seamlessly into the stream slipped a few Disco Biscuits for some Recreational Chemistry. Around 4 am. I remembered our icy cold Sierra-Nevada pale ales and Newcastles, so we dug a few out and shared them around with our neighbors. Later, as a cosmic reward, Umphrey’s McGee materialized to intensify Rebubula. The set finally came to a climactic closure shortly after 5 am. Encores are usually a bummer because you know it’s almost over. But when we saw Michael Kang and Travis from SCI walk out with moe. our hearts soared. This brings us back to my musical moment #3. I choose this as the top musical moment of 2002. Ten thousand sleepless musical fanatics let out a resounding roar that must have woken up half of the lot. I sincerely hope a few sleeping campers got up and came down for an electric breakfast. They served up a double encore that lasted until sunrise!!!
After being moe.‘d down and blown away from midnight until dawn, I will never forget walking out of the ballroom, into the red-orange sunburst rays spreading upward and outward like a phoenix arising through cerulean blue Tennessee morning skies. While still glowing hot, we breathed in the cool moist morning air and silently wandered into the fog as the sun eased on up, silhouetting the dew-coated trees. Wholly exhausted, and with barely enough time to get a few hours of sleep before the next ten performances, I couldn’t muster the energy to chat with the band, who honored fans with a visit behind the tent. We shuffled on toward our camp. It was a good-kind-of-tired.
Through a satisfied smile I mumbled something about how I felt as though I had just summitted Mount Everest to attend a raving party on top of the world with thousands of friends jumping, dancing, swaying, swirling about all light-headed in the low oxygen ionosphere. I was completely fulfilled; pleased to have endured the intense overnight sonic battering, shattering, and reassembling that the band executed. Thank you moe.
I wished everyone I knew had been there, but many neighboring campers were just waking up. So I didn’t tell them that they had just missed the performance of the year. They probably heard it as they dreamt, waking periodically as the roar of the crowd peaked on and off during the wee hours. If not, I hope you all slept well.
P.S. I wish to thank the Bonnaroo staff for allowing us to bring our chairs, recording equipment, beverages and supplies without hassle. The event rivaled Phish’s Big Cypress New Years Eve millennium party, but that’s another very long story.