BONNAROO: When The Music’s Over

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EDITOR’S NOTE: All weekend long, assistant editor EVA LIAO and her trusty sidekick, book critic MAVIS LINNEMANN, hung out with guys named Dude and That Other Dude, consumed mind-bending substances and blogged photos and scene reports straight from the primeval muck of Bonnaroo to your mind’s eye. Hope you appreciated that these chicks were sweating their tits off in Vietnam-like conditions so you didn’t have to. I sure did.

BY EVA LIAO AND MAVIS LINNEMANN LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY — We’re here at the airport, waiting to catch our flight back to Philadelphia. Frankly we don’t have the brain cells left to find the words to describe how it feels when 80,000 people come together in an environment in which everything and anything is permissible other than to say it’s like being at a four-day, nonstop party where everyone is your friend, and, like, the White Stripes and Wilco are the house band. People came from all corners of the country, yet the vibe remained amazingly loving and genuine and positive. The event itself was extremely well organized; despite the madness, the campgrounds remained impressively clean, due to the efforts of the Clean Vibes organization — they somehow managed to get all the stoners to separate glass, plastics and cans. Amazing. Maybe some day Bonnaroo will teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.

1 p.m. We somehow manage to make it into Centeroo to catch one of the first shows of the day, Pete Yorn. He performs a kickass cover of The Smiths’ “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” Just like his first album’s title implies, this is great music for the morning after.

3 p.m. Mavis trips running towards the water cooler in the press tent. Breaks her sandal. Eva laughs.

4 p.m. On our way to the Decemberists show, we overhear Bob Weir & Ratdog doing a cover of “Come Together.” Both seem to be putting on a good show, but the heat and the need for burritos that are bigger than our heads distracts us. Not to mention, crunch time is approaching: Two of our most highly anticipated shows of the festival are getting ready to play back to back. Mavis creams her pants waiting for Jack White of The White Stripes and Eva squeals like a little school girl waiting for Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.

5:30 p.m. We realize we can make it into the pit of the main stage where Wilco is performing. Eva, frantic with fanxiety*, is almost immobile so Mavis takes charge. We pile into the pit and get close enough to see Nels Cline’s nose hairs dance as he shreds his guitar to dust with some heavy, improvisational noise. The pianist’s hands are beating on the piano with such violent speed, they become a blur. The camera spans over the crowd, capturing thousands upon thousands of faces looking absolutely astounded as they stand motionless against the sounds of Wilco’s experimental live performance. Surprisingly, they play many songs from their new album Sky Blue Sky — maybe too many. But there are crowd pleasers too, with songs such as “Via Chicago,” “Handshake Drugs,” and “Jesus, Etc.” As expected, Tweedy starts going into one of his tirades in which he tries to be funny and assures the crowd that they’re having fun, which isn’t always the case he says. By now, Eva has practically pissed herself with excitement, but alas, we must leave this show early to catch yet another amazing band.

7:15 p.m. We beeline it to the White Stripes stage only to find that more than half the festival field is elbow to elbow, pushing and shoving to see Jack and Meg. Fanatical fans are appropriately dressed in red and white stripes. With a determined look on her face and lust in her heart, Mavis lowers her shoulders and commences an unstoppable push through the crowd. Unfortunately, the stage setup isn’t equipped with screens, making it difficult to see, especially with the stage almost bare, save for the few instruments. Jack rocked a tight red ensemble and white guitar (aptly named Rita) while Meg remained shy but sultry in the corner with her drums. The set list was choice from beginning to end, comprised of personal faves like “I Think I Smell a Rat,” “Blue Orchid,” and “Ball and Biscuit,” along with songs off their new album Icky Thump. Amusingly, Jack still referred to Meg as his sister, playing up their shtick as the mysterious drum-and-guitar duo. Even live, you can’t get a grasp on their true personalities. Jack doesn’t stop long enough to give us a moment to analyze; he just plays and plays and plays, the way a proper rock star should. Crowd sing-alongs and Jack’s high-pitched guitar shred made it one of the most lively shows of the weekend. In a bittersweet ending, they play “We’re Going to be Friends.” Jack asks the crowd, “Are we all friends now?” and the response is a deafening roar.

10:00 p.m. From here, Widespread Panic starts to play, but most people, including ourselves, make a mad dash to leave. Despite our efforts to beat the crowd, we’re stuck in grid-lock for an hour. Making the best of it, we catch catnaps in the car and dream of doing it all over again next year.

*yes, we made that word up out of thin air, sue us

[All photos by EVA LIAO and MAVIS LINNEMANN]

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