Bonnaroos Power, Fathers Day, Mortality, and the Joy of Bonnaroo A.D.D.
Reaching out to embrace the random,
reaching out to embrace whatever may come.
- Tool, Lateralus
For me, the one mainstay of Bonnaroo, other than great music, has been my father. From the first Bonnaroo, when he decided to buy a travel-trailer rather than rent one, he has been constantly cooking out, hanging out, going out, and doing everything else a father does on a family vacation in a cow pasture.
Wed spent months discussing who to see, as he prefers to sit at the RV and listen to whoever played What Stage while cooking steaks. I was going to pull some teeth and get him to Tool and the Flaming Lips. Simple acts of love and kindness were buying our tickets, providing the air-conditioned shelter, the showers, a dignified place to pinch a loaf, and, most of all, the bonding experience that came from doing Bonnaroo as a family.
Last Bonnaroo, for the Fathers Day edition, I wrote a short column on spending Fathers Day at Bonnaroo with my parents, and, for the surprisingly many doing the same, the importance of knowing that we wont always have parents to go with.
This year, I found the truth in that.
On Tuesday, June 12, my father was involved in a horrific one-car wreck when he fell asleep at the wheel and careened into a stack of telephone poles. One of his lumbar vertebra burst-fractured and his spine destabilized. Emergency spinal fusion surgery was scheduled for Thursday, but Dad tried to talk them out of it so that he could go to Bonnaroo with his family.
What is it about this festival that makes it so powerful that my father would try and choose it over necessary spinal fusion? The doctors mentioned a common complication of his injury called paraplegia and he stopped being an idiot, but the question remains. He insisted repeatedly that I go to the festival so that he wouldnt have to deal with his guilt. So, on Wednesday, I picked up my old college roommate from the airport, drove to the hospital, gave my father the speech I would give if I would never see him again, bought a tent and an air mattress, and left on the back roads that he, a land surveyor, had known and plotted the route with.
It was in this atmosphere, facing a sudden change in conditions and the possible impending death of my father, that I tried to sell his tickets and set up a tent in guest camping. I think I did a good job of providing moral support as my friend set up the tent, but I think Ive blocked that out. We poured ourselves and our neighbor some apple martinis, and called it a night.
Thursday came, and I caught dad on the phone before the wheeled him in and knocked him out. I embraced my powerlessness and focused on being a Bonnaroo Media Jedi convincing security people to change their photo policies, annoying my editor and the festivals publicist (sorry Dean and Ken, I was a little frazzled at the festival this year), running around like a hamster to try and shoot photos for three songs of every last damn band in the tents, getting photos with random artists walking around (Thanks Rodrigo y Gabriela!), getting Danny Clinch to do a photo shoot of me and a friend, and otherwise trying to distract myself from the fact that metal pins were being hammered into my fathers spine. My editor let me pretend that Id get to do some copy editing, so I spent nights up until 6 a.m., when the Beacon was finally submitted, and natures alarm clock woke me every morning as the heat would become unbearable inside the tent and wake me at about 10:30.
Most importantly, I was able to run around like a hamster on crystal meth, shooting and seeing every band possible, going to multiple, amazing press conferences, drinking lots of water, eating when I could handle it, enjoying apple martinis (which to hydration at Bonnaroo like eating popcorn is in the desert), and pestering the shit out of Dean, who endured it like the Yankee Buddha he can be when his laptop isnt locked in the press trailer.
Even the worries about my father were unable to shatter the basic goodness of the trip running around with Randy Ray, getting Danny Clinch to do a brief photo shoot of us, the incredible kabuki theatre/cowboy ballet of James Maynard Keenan at Tool, the Flaming Lips going all-out and double-encoring with Moonlight Mile, staying up until six in the morning fact-checking and trading memories of the day, getting the cover shot of The Police, playing the Roxanne Drinking Game live to the song with my old roommate, getting streaker photos at Mute Math, giving Mavis Staples a hug, seeing the last of the String Cheese Incident Ill ever get to see, bequeathing the remaining apple martinis to the press trailer on Sunday, and, most of all, getting to spend time with my old roommate, who endured my neuroses about seeing and doing absolutely everything.
I would have given them all up instantly to sit in that cow pasture with my father, cook steaks, and listen to the main stage music.
But I will take what I got.
If you have parents, take them to Bonnaroo if you can and when you can. There will be a time when that is not possible. Whether or not you think they will cramp your style, I can guarantee you this: you will never have a better Bonnaroo experience. The quality of the festival and the work I did there, coming at the scariest time of my life, was able to get me through what Im sure would have been a few days spent in a fetal position watching time slow only for me as the tip of the second hand on the clock became times middle finger.
Instead, I got through it, and even enjoyed myself, because of the power of that festival.
_ I embrace my desire to_
_ feel the rhythm, to feel connected_
_ enough to step aside and weep like a widow_
_ to feel inspired, to fathom the power, _
_ to witness the beauty, to bathe in the fountain_