By Mark Guarino
“I smell patchouli.”
With those opening words, singer Maynard Keenan of Tool neatly summed up Friday at Bonnaroo, the annual neo-hippie festival held each June in Manchester, Tennessee.
Indeed, a wide spectrum of scents wafted through the acres of rolling farmland — microbiologists would say that’s what happens when 80,000 people camp out for four days in a row in the couture of peasant dresses and flip-flops. In that period, real life stops and life through the lens of Willy Wonka begins. Anyone who has trekked this far south of Nashville knows that Bonnaroo is more a mushroom-enhanced village than concert facility. In addition to making your way to concert stages featuring certified rock stars (The Police) and publicist-driven phenoms (Alexa Ray Joel?), you can shop for clothes, surf the Internet, take a shower, throw Frisbees, ride a Ferris Wheel, see a movie and — oh, yeah — paint your entire body with blue paint and walk around naked.
Just like home.
This ADD-addled generation gets bored quickly, a quirk Bonnaroo is designed to accommodate. In addition to the music, the festival operates several dance tents, a comedy hall and an intimate jazz club. On Friday, comedian David Cross complained about the sound bleed (Manu Chao was playing right next door) and said the sea of wiggling twentysomethings “looks like people getting tasered in slow motion.”
Clearly, it’s a jam band crowd. What other segment of society would find themselves dancing without irony to a cover of “C is For Cookie” performed by Michael Franti & Spearhead?
Temperatures hovered near 90 degrees all day, perfect weather for grilling hipsters. Trucker hats melted into scalps and ironic T-shirts looked particularly tight as the sun baked all day. Dancing became the primary afternoon activity, from the synth pop of Hot Chip to the Latin polyrhythm of Manu Chao to the electro-thud of the Brazilian Girls. Lead Brazilian Girl Sabina Sciubba surveyed the crowd and asked, “how many of you are assholes?” Then she paid them a compliment: “Well, it makes you sexy assholes.”
Next to Tool, the biggest draw Friday was Lily Allen, the British pop princess who looked slightly worn by the heat. She mostly paced back and forth during her set and sluggishly followed the ska-pop drive of her band (including a three-piece horn section) by, no coincidence I’m sure, slugging Jagermeister between songs.
Perhaps the sweetest moment of Bonnaroo Friday took place at the “Silent Disco,” a small, non-descript tent where people silently grooved together. It was all in their heads: As a DJ spun, the music broadcast directly to each dancer’s headphone, creating the best-kept secret of the day. In a way, it was the perfect metaphor for Bonnaroo so far this weekend: Passing by, it looked like a blur, but once you got into it, you couldn’t help but move.
Tomorrow: The Police! The Flaming Lips! More naked people painted blue!