Maximum Performance

Bonnaroo ’08: Business As Unusual

Maximum Performance

Notes from mid-afternoon, Friday.

More than a music festival, Bonnaroo is a city-sized carnival teeming with music, people--and commerce.

From the press trailer--where I'm furiously writing to satisfy my time-conscious editor--the low end of Stephen Marley's bass is rumbling through the thin, woodgrain paneling. It's definitely hot but nothing like the 95-plus temps last week and a stiff breeze is helping keep the temperature down. On the horizon, a bank of dark clouds is bringing in what looks to be a good-sized rain storm. I'm trying not to imagine what this place will look like after a downpour.

Moments ago, from atop the Ferris wheel ($6), I got an eyeful of the entire Bonnaroo spread. An incredible sight, really.... 700 acres I hear... more than half of which is covered in tents and RVs.

At the wheel's peak, we could hear Adele wailing from "The Other Tent" while an aspiring singer (keep your day job) was belting out Steve Miller's "Joker" from the Karaoke Bay. The ride, a tip off to the carnival side of the fest, offered a welcome respite to the sea of people and the non-stop music--which fades in and out as you walk between stages.

Weird? Not really... just a near-perfect confluence of stimulus, capitalism and "culture." In short, Bonnaroo has assembled all the idea that hatched in the '60s and with incredible organization and marketing created the ultimate gated consumer community. The approximately 80,000 people who are passing through the gates cross most demographics. Yeah, mostly white and on the young side, there is still a surprisingly diverse element, drawn perhaps more by the scene than the particular artists. Nonetheless, the music is ever-present and, tonight, runs until 4 a.m. with My Morning Jacket, Testo, Disco Biscuits and the New Orleans Super Jam closing out the night.

Drive By Truckers were delivering their tepid, rough-edged rock 'n' roll to more than 20,000 people on the second stage. A hundred or so yards away, Swedish singer-songwriter Jose Gonzalez was captivating 5,000 or so listeners with nothing more than a nylon-stringed acoustic (bet you can't guess who was my fave).

At the other end of the festival grounds, Big Sam's Funky Nation was blowing up the "Somethin' Else" tent with some seriously intense funk. It's definitely not the New Orleans funk of old but fast, hard and fused with free-form jazz. The tent is the only venue to have a cover charge ($5) which is a donation to a Katrina relief fund.

But back to the commerce--it's everywhere. A "shave tent" sponsored by Gillette offers potential customers the opportunity to try out the company's new "Fusion" razor. The air-conditioning seemed to be the biggest draw, but at least one guy was using the Fusion to shave his head at one of the half-dozen sinks. Food midways offer all manners of eats--from African and kabobs to veggie corn dogs, and falafel and humus ($10). There's a tent dedicated to beer (in addition to dozens of beer kiosks), a staffed post office tent, a fountain sprinkler to keep cool (with a scary geyser of brown water gushing from the top) and the ubiquitous Ben & Jerry's. One of the first things festival-goers encounter is gaggle of ATMs. The last thing promoters (and vendors) want is for anyone to run out of cash so there are plenty of ATMs throughout the festival grounds.

That's all for now. I have to decide who to catch: Les Claypool (doesn't he make fun of festivals?), the Raconteurs, Willie Nelson, Chris Rock, My Morning Jacket and Metallica. And what did you say you were doing tonight?

The buzz is that Kanye West was rescheduled for 2 a.m. Saturday night. Apparently he only plays after dark (explained one of the festival workers), and he's got his entire stage set in tow--which is all neon/glow-in-the-dark--and will take 2 hours to set up.

Remember: The only thing lamer than writing a blog is reading one.

Catch the 2008 LIVE webcast on the AT&T blue room June 13-15. For more info on Bonnaroo, click here.

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