A Tale of Two Festivals

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Over the past couple of weeks, promoters have announced the headliners for the upcoming 2013 spring and summer music festivals. So far, so good in my opinion. Firefly in Delaware has the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Governor’s Ball in New York has Guns ‘N Roses. Coachella in California has Vampire Weekend. SXSW in Austin has Cold War Kids. And as my colleague revealed yesterday in his poll, Bonnaroo has Mumford & Sons. Wow. I have so many flights to book and so many camper vans to reserve! Eh, who am I kidding? I’ll be lucky if I make it to the Governor’s Ball right here in New York. Adult responsibilities will undoubtedly keep me from rocking a bandana in tent city but I can share with you two of my music-festival-going experiences that could not have been more different.

On July 24, 1999, I arrived at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, NY, for Woodstock 99, the second large-scale music festival that attempted to emulate the original festival of 1969. In an effort to keep out the riffraff that gate-crashed previous festivals, organizers installed plywood fences and employed 500 state troopers for security. Our group managed to sideline the security efforts by taking bracelets from people who were already on their way out. They complained that the temperature was 100 degrees (airforce base = no shade), water was $5 and the camping area was uninhabitable. While all of that was true, we were traveling with a performer who was set to play on the Emerging Artist stage, so we parked and camped in a reserved area that had access to showers and running water. Rage Against the Machine, Metallica, Dave Matthews Band, Rusted Root and Red Hot Chili Peppers were my highlights. The plywood turned out to not have been the greatest idea as they were stripped and used as kindling in a series of bonfires that surrounded the crowd during the RHCP set. While I don’t condone the fire setting, I understand that people were pissed. The bathrooms were overflowing, tent city had become a literal mud pit and garbage layered – I’m talking coated – the ground. The post event media coverage focused on all the negatives which, as you can see, there were plenty of. The music played on to the delight of a quarter of a million fans but, I’m not surprised that we didn’t see a third emulation.

On June 16, 2006 I arrived at Great Stage Park in Manchester, Tennessee, for Bonnaroo 2006. This was the 5th time artists and fans gathered at the 700 acre farm to have a “really good time,” which as it turns out, is the definition of “Bonnaroo.” We showed our tickets to the guys in yellow T-shirts on the way in, and that was the extent of the security efforts I witnessed. While it was still blistering hot, the vibe was much different than at Woodstock 99, and the facilities much cleaner. Before we set out to hear the music, we shared food and drink with our neighbors at the campsite and familiarized ourselves with the nearest bathrooms — which were equipped with troughs to rinse an armpit if desired. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Radiohead, Phil Lesh, Les Claypool, Blackalicious, Cypress Hill, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley and Bonnie Raitt were my highlights. For Bonnie, I ventured out on my own to the Which stage (as opposed to the What, This, That and The Other stages) where I was embraced by the swaying crowd. It was beautiful. Because of the extreme heat I mentioned earlier, sleeping proved quite difficult and when I set out at 6:00 am one morning in search of an open store (tent that sells organic things) the whole place was peacefully quiet. The 12th annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival will take place this June, proving that it has not surprisingly become a tradition that looks to be staying around.

Do you have a festival story, or two, to share? Tell us about it and in the meantime, tell us which upcoming music festival is your favorite.


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