Manchester, England England…Oh Wait, It’s In Tennessee
I went to Bonnaroo for all of the wrong reasons. Most people went
because they were blown away by the lineup or because they love
festivals or because they really like Tennessee. Me? I went because
Well it started out as a rumor. When Bonnaroo was announced, one of
the rumored additions to Sunday’s set was Vida Blue. I did the math
and asked some of my friends if they wanted to go. J’eliz said, ‘I’ll
go if you go.’ Of course I would go. There’s going to be Phish!
There’s going to be Phish! There’s goi… About a day later I came to
my senses and asked myself why in the world I believed in that rumor,
but it was too late. ‘What do you mean you don’t want to go? I
bought a plane ticket.’ Plans were made then. I would meet J’eliz, a
bunch of her friends, and fellow Mockingbird member/control hippie
Mama Kat at the Nashville airport. We’d rent an SUV and drive on in.
While I still was having some trouble psyching myself up for the
event, I had a way of cheering myself up. Either it will be amazing
or it will be a complete disaster. In either case, you have to go see
Don’t get me wrong. I love my friend J’eliz. She’s exciting and fun
and upbeat and can liven up a road trip the way that few people can.
She was even bringing a Hello Kitty singing hand puppet, which is a
crucial article for camping. However, there is a reason I have
written a little ditty titled, ‘Someone’s Gonna Die and Her Name Is
Elizabeth.’  The day before our flights, she suddenly had a
complete change of plans. One of her friends had his wallet stolen (3
weeks previous but Chicago is apparently very slow about reissuing new
SSN cards), so he didn’t have a driver’s license. No license, no
flying. They were going to have to drive down. Now normally this
would be no problem. We’d talk it out and make a slight change of
plans. However, J’eliz was going straight to the festival from
Europe. We had no way of reaching her. The lack of regular
internet access for her, and her jetlag upon arrival (Kat and I
called her after we landed to try to make plans but she was in no
condition to do so), led to us having to make a backup plan. Kat and
I rented a car and we’d just hope to meet J’eliz there. This was
complicated by the fact that – due to a bone spur in her foot – Kat
had a handicapped pass and needed to park in special needs camping.
Oh well, I figured it would work out. As it turns out, apart from one
five minute meeting, I never really did see J’eliz the entire time I
was there. This was largely my fault as I wandered a lot but still
that was frustrating.
Much like Big Cypress, I drove in with the expectation of having 3-4
hours of traffic. We didn’t hit the jam until about fifteen miles
from our exit so I figured it wouldn’t be too bad. Of course I was
wrong. Traffic creeped on by, with lots of stopping breaks. As in
the Cypress traffic jam, people started using the shoulder to drive
on. They ended up being blocked by our hero. A guy drove onto the
shoulder himself and wouldn’t let anyone around him. Good job!
Around 7 AM, I figured I wouldn’t get to the venue in time to try to
see the US/Germany game, so I turned on the radio to try to find a
score. I found a sports radio station. The experience was eye
opening. They constantly were making jokes about Bonnaroo – it came
up during every traffic report. No one in Nashville had any idea that
this festival was happening. Someone called in and asked what it was.
One of the djs, trying to sound knowledgeable, said, ‘It’s a music
festival in Manchester. They’ve had it for four years now.’ I must
have missed the first three somehow.
We had finally almost made it. We were a mere mile from the exit.
However, we were completely stopped. I literally hadn’t moved for 45
minutes. I was getting tired and frustrated. A cop right next to us
was directing traffic. Another policeman walked by and they started
talking. ‘If I were driving to this, I’d just get off at the next
exit, turn around, and go from the other way where there’s no
traffic.’ Hey I figured that sounded like a plan. Sure enough, we
sailed right into the entrance line, saving us about four hours of
At this point I was starting to expect that the disaster prediction
was going to come true. The traffic was 3/4 of a Cypress. The people
whose job it was to direct us had no clue where special needs parking
was; I had to navigate myself through the map . Once I settled in
and went to Centeroo though, my opinion changed. The best description of
the festival grounds was that it was like a Phish festival that sold
out a little. There was a playground there that was very nice; it
turns out that The Big Wu sound really good when listening from a
sliding board. There was a movie tent that showed videos all hours of
the night. There was an arcade with classic games – alas you did have
to feed them quarters. However, there were also lots of corporate
sponsors. That threw me off guard. Once I got a sense that this was
a Phish festival type space, I had certain expectations. Seeing a big
tent for Gateway threw it off, even if I loved the fact that I could
check my email. This is what I get for reading No Logo during
Jazzfest I suppose.
Exhausted from the drive, I bunkered down in the video tent. They
were showing The Harder They Come there. I fell asleep in the middle
of it, and woke up completely confused as to what was going on.
Adding to the surrealism was that the Big Wu were covering ‘Won’t Get
Fooled Again’ on top of the movie. The contrast actually worked
better than you would expect and was one of the highlights of the
event. That and Donna The Buffalo were my favorites from the first
I had spent the entire day at Centeroo, never venturing into the
stadium part of the grounds. Before Widespread, I found Camp Phunky
 and mentioned that I didn’t really think that there were that many
people there. There were no real lines anywhere. Centeroo was pretty
empty. Then they took me to the stadium. Oh that’s where everyone
was. The whole stadium was kind of hidden in the grounds. If you
didn’t care about seeing the mainstage bands, it would have been easy
to have gone on all weekend and not really know that it was there.
The act that I was probably most excited to see all weekend was the
Keller Incident. Alas this is the other place where the Bonnaroo
people dropped the ball a little. Unless you completely blew off
Panic, there was nowhere that you could go and hear that show. The
bleed over from the KDTU tent was so loud that you only could hear the
Incident if you in or right in front of the tent. I gave up quickly
and decided to catch up on my sleep. Next year, it would be nice if
we could have more distance between the secondary tents.
My plans for Saturday mainly involved Robert Randolph and SCI. Before
Robert Randolph came on, an MC hit the stage and gave some
introduction. Those always annoy me. If we’re going to have fun,
we’re going to have fun. Ordering us to do so, won’t make things
better. Speaking of things that didn’t translate well, during ‘Press
On’ Randolph tried to get us to think of examples of times when things
would be rough. ‘Think about what you have to go through when
you’re out here camping,’ he said. Um good try, but no. Yeah
traffic was bad, and the heat could have been turned down a notch,
but I don’t think too many people had complaints… well other than
the ‘J5 is being louder than SCI during Windy Mountain’ type.
Panic’s first show was so mediocre, that I spent the first set on
Saturday sitting in Camp Phunky and listening there. There were
people there who I never get to hang out with. We were having fun.
Momapoe has this nonsense word (‘Blerp’) that she likes to say a lot.
I spent the first set trying to clear people off of the Talk About
channel I had chosen to use by singing along to the songs, changing
various words to ‘Blerp.’ ‘As long as there’s blerping, cool clear
blerping.’ ‘It says ‘Blerp’ to me.’ I didn’t know it at the time,
but I was making a huge mistake. I heard the ‘Tall Boy’ from the
campground, but all I noticed about it was that it was a weird
version. Only when I got home did I hear the majesty that Dottie
Peoples brought to this version. It would have been the highlight of
the ‘roo for me, and I was oblivious.
I woke Sunday morning to some good music. Who could possibly be
playing at 7 AM? Is that still moe.? It turned out to be a surprise
set by Particle. It drove me to Centeroo. There I talked for a while
with a security guard woman. She claimed that someone had been shot
on Saturday night. If that’s true, it would have been the only bad
incident that I heard about all weekend.
While we were talking, a woman came up to us and told us about a
contest she was having. She and a friend were having an argument
about who was more ‘hardcore.’ Her current task was to get a conga
line going. After ten minutes or so, she finally got enough people,
including two security guards. During our conga line, some security
supervisors drove by. The conga-ing guards just waved at them. No
problem. Laid back security definitely has its pluses.
As a bit of a joke about my non-love of the Trey Band, I was wearing
my ‘Worst Show Ever’ shirt. While in Centeroo, a cameraman for the
official DVD tried to get me to mock them on camera.
‘Are you hoping for special guests?’
‘If they don’t show up, will this be the worst show ever?’
‘I’m not going to say that on camera.’
I was having a conversation with someone else there, and whenever I
said something bad, I saw the camera suddenly appear and start filming
me. If you hear me bad mouthing anyone on the DVD, I swear it’s not
my fault. I loved everyone there! Really. I swear! I wouldn’t lie
On a day with Phil and Friends, a Superjam, and Trey, the highlight of
the day surprised me. It was Dottie Peoples. Her band rocks hard, so
hard that they managed to bring rain to the festival. Between them
and Robert Randolph, for the first time in a while I see a movement in
the jamband community away from the groove funk repetition. Maybe
we’ll start seeing some gospel based bands. That gives me hope for
Getting out of the venue turned out to be surprisingly easy, so easy
in fact that I managed to catch a standby flight and land 10 hours
earlier than planned. While flying back, I reflected on the event.
I figured it was either going to be completely amazing or a complete
disaster. It was neither. It was both better (Outside of the
traffic, you’d never have known that this was the first time this
festival was held. Gathering of the Vibes had much more problems with
a fifth of the crowd of Bonnaroo.) and worse (The music, while having
some peaks, didn’t blow me away as much as I was hoping. In part
that’s because I was too tired for the late night tents where a lot of
the better sets were from what I’ve heard.) I went in hoping for a
great story; instead I got a festival. There’s nothing wrong with
 That song was written on the way to the Lemonwheel. J’eliz and I
were to meet in Bangor. She arrived in the Atlanta airport in plenty
of time for her flight… her connecting flight from Boston that is.
I had to kill 8 hours in the airport which was plenty of time to write
a little song. About 4 months later I noticed that I had ripped off
the melody of ‘Lonesome Fiddle Blues.’
 This wasn’t as bad as the experience that Henry and -t had. They
arrived late and drove around looking for parking. They were having
trouble finding any but it looked like they were going to be bailed
out. A man in a golf cart drove up to them. Great, he would be able
to explain where they could park.
‘Is there any parking back there?’
‘Ok, thanks.’ He then drove off.
 As in the Phunky Bitches. This camp ended up being where I spent
most of my time.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New
Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live
music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His
Phish stats website is at
and he was the stats section editor for
The Phish Companion.