It was certainly an interesting week out at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. Since I was there all week, I don't have much else to write about today. It was both wonderful and strange to park my van for a week and just leave it there, but it didn't move an inch from when I arrived last Tuesday until I left "The Farm" the following Monday. When I did leave, it was hot and I was pretty tired and had already seen what I had come to see in Tennessee, so I pretty much made a beeline towards home. And that is where I am writing this from today - home sweet home, Washington D.C. Two things happened out in the world while I was tucked away in Manchester though, both of which brought out some pretty strong emotions. First, my Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup for the first time, which was long overdue and very well deserved, so congratulations to them. Sadly that same night we lost one of our own as Anthony Bourdain took his own life in France. I had met Tony once, and he seemed to be the same in person as he was on TV. His books and his shows had a deep impact, not just on me but on many. He changed the whole travel show genre by focusing on real people and real places - places I've been and places I'd like to go. Before Tony travel shows all seemed to be about 5 star resorts and palm trees and umbrella drinks - places I couldn't afford and didn't really want to go anyway. His shows were raw and gritty and real and game changing. They showed the world as it really is: challenging, sometimes ugly but full of good people, delicious and always beautiful. Thank you Tony for all your inspiration through the years, and I hope you're resting easy somewhere tonight. Those being said, this is how I spent this week on (or more accurately off) the road. As a side note, they didn't allow big cameras into Bonnaroo, so I apologize for the photo quality this week, but they all came from my iPhone. I had planned on bringing in my GoPro, but just forgot all about it in all of the craziness.
Last Tuesday morning I made my way from Nashville down to Manchester. I checked in for my volunteer position at the local high school and then headed over to the local Walmart to pick up some last minute supplies. I had done my research and knew that things would be expensive inside the festival, so I wanted to be as prepared as possible when it came to food and (perhaps more importantly) beer. The parking lot and store were both packed with people obviously on their way to Bonnaroo, which gave it a festive feel. The store seemed pretty prepared for the whole thing with the biggest selling items like tents, coolers and sun/rain shelters right up front. I picked up the few last minute supplies I could think of and made my way into the festival grounds, commonly referred to simply as The Farm.
When I arrived, I had to wait in line for a half-hour or so to get through security. They went through every vehicle searching for weapons and contraband, which may have been a bit of a hassle, but with the way the world is today, I was willing to wait. It seemed like I waited a long time, but when I saw how long the lines got later in the day, I was really glad I had gotten there early. After being searched, I was directed to my camping spot for the week.
Where you camp and who you camp next to is basically luck of the draw, especially if you show up alone like I did. As it turned out, I feel like I hit the jackpot in both categories. I ended up camping right at the end of the row, near the bathroom and showers and right on the main road into the festival grounds. My two sets of neighbors were awesome. Right next to me were three women from New England and next to them were two young men, one from Atlanta and the other from San Diego. Once we had all set up our respective campsites, we sat down together and had a few beers. It was hot out and a cold beer went down well. I found I really liked all five of these people right from jump and was happy to hang out with them at various points throughout the weekend. It was also nice to feel like someone else was watching my stuff and I was watching theirs. There were various times throughout the weekend where I saw young people doing or saying something that made me shake my head and worry about the future. Then I would come back to camp and hang out with one of my intelligent, articulate young neighbors and feel okay again about where we're all headed.
Tuesday night there was a barbecue for those of us working the festival, and it was much appreciated. Free food is free food, and this was good free food. Other than that though, it was really just a day for settling in and making friends.
Wednesday wasn't much different. We had a 30 minute meeting in the afternoon, but otherwise we just hung out and listened to music and got to know each other. For me, it was amazing to just have a couple of days to chill out. My camera and computer were safely tucked away with friends in Nashville, so there wasn't much work I could get done even if I wanted to. I did work on my podcast a bit, but mostly I just relaxed and put my feet up for a couple of days.
By Thursday, I think we were all ready for the festival to kick off. "Centeroo", the main festival area, opened in the morning, and I went in to wander around for a while. I had my first 5 hour shift starting at 4 p.m., soon after the music got going, as I wanted to get my first two shifts out of the way as soon as possible.
My job for the weekend was basically picking up trash and being sure everything that was recyclable or compostable made its was into the right receptacle. I could say that my experience could have probably been used better elsewhere, but I signed up late and this was all that was available. I don't think the job was below me, though, and if I was going to pick up trash, I was going to be the best trash picker-upper I could be. I have to admit it was a little disappointing how careless and messy the people there were. That first shift I just walked in a big circle. Every 15-20 minutes I would be back where I started and the place would be trashed again. I've always been baffled by people who just throw their trash on the ground. Yes, it was my job to pick up after them, but if you've ever been in the position of that person, you'd think twice. Some people are just entitled and I guess some people just don't care. No wonder our country and world are so overrun with trash.
Picking up trash for 5 hours was pretty tiring. When I was done I hung out for a little while but then headed out to get some sleep. The days are long in June, and I knew the sun would come up early and it would get hot soon thereafter. As much as it sucked to go to bed early when there was so much to do and see, I'm not as young as I used to be and getting a reasonable night's sleep made a big difference to me, especially that early in the weekend.
I was up early on Friday and headed into Centeroo for a morning shift. My station that morning wasn't as busy or well-trafficked as the night before so it was pretty quiet out there. I'm not particularly good at standing still though so I went out in wider and wider circles picking up cigarette butts and talking to people. It went by pretty quickly and when my shift was over I was free until late Sunday afternoon to relax and enjoy Bonnaroo.
My only real must-do plan for Friday afternoon was to catch the Trombone Shorty set. I used to see Trombone Shorty fairly regularly when I lived in New Orleans, but then he got big and I haven't seen him in a while. I was really happy to catch his set, and it was really good. After they were done but on the same stage I checked out Tash Sultana, an Australian singer/songwriter who was incredibly talented on a whole host of instruments and equipment. I was looking forward to hearing some new (to me) music while I was at Bonnaroo, and Tash was the first of many who really impressed me. Later on in the evening, I went to see Sturgill Simpson on the main stage and later Bassnectar.
Saturday I had the whole day to just enjoy the festival, and I did. I went in with my next door neighbor Mambwe and we had a good morning wandering around through the food and vendors and checking out the non-music side of the festival. I stopped for a while to talk with a group trying to save our National Parks. I was impressed with the work they were doing and they were impressed by the number of parks I've been to (308 if you're interested). We got some lunch and took a much needed nap in the shade of a big tree. Later, we went to see Billie Eilish who was pretty amazing for a 16 year old. I think we'll hear a lot from her in the future. After that we headed back to hang out in camp for a while and get ready for the evening. Mambwe had to work a night shift so I went back in later with her friends Taylor and Monica. We caught Old Crow Medicine Show, First Aid Kit, Bon Iver and Eminem. It was a really amazing day and night.
It started raining late Saturday night and continued through much of Sunday morning. It made things muddy, but also cooled it off considerably. I took the opportunity to catch up on some sleep and stayed in bed until almost 11 a.m. When the rain let up, I went in and had some lunch and wandered around a bit. I went back to camp in the afternoon and then headed in for my last shift, a 6-11 p.m. shift to wind up the festival. I got a good station which was busy but not crazy and put me in position to see Moon Taxi, Alt J, Future and The Killers. It was a good shift and went by really quickly. When I was done, I headed back to camp and hung out with my new friends late into the night.
Monday, we got up, cleaned up and packed up our camps and took off in our different directions. It was a great weekend full of good music, new friends and new experiences. I was glad I worked the festival because it gave it a little more structure for me, plus free entry and free camping which were obviously the biggest perks. My first long weekend music festival was a success, and I am already looking forward to the next one (wherever that may be). It was also a pretty awesome way to wind up my time in Tennessee and the South. It was an amazing 5 weeks in Tennessee and 5 months in the South, but it's really hot and humid down there in mid-June and it was past time to head north for the summer.
I left Bonnaroo and headed back to Nashville where I grabbed my stuff and caught up with my friends there for a minute. Then I turned my headlights north and east and headed towards home. I made it as far as the Tennessee/Virginia border and then pulled over and slept for 12 hours. Then on Tuesday, I made it all the way back home and slept for another 12 hours.
I've been home for a couple of days now, and it is great to see my family and I'm looking forward to starting to catch up with friends today. I have slept a lot. Living the vanlife is great, but most nights you have to sleep with one ear open. Plus it's been hot for the last 3 weeks or so which doesn't lend itself to the best sleeping conditions for me. It is nice to be in a cool, safe place and just be able to let go for the night.
And here I will be for the next couple of weeks. I plan to get my second Tennessee podcast out as soon as possible and do some serious writing over that time. I want to finish up all the stories I've been working on in Tennessee and some overview posts about my 5 months in the South. Then it's time to start planning where to go and what to do this summer. I'll be back on the road soon enough and looking forward to it already. But for now I'm looking forward to some home-time, some good sleep, re-configuring, cleaning and repacking my van and catching up on all of my work. Summertime is definitely here, and I'm looking forward to it. And don't worry, even if I'm home I can't sit still for too long, it's not in my nature. So my weekly updates will continue and I hope to have a lot more for you to read really soon. I know my weekly newsletter didn't come out this week, but I was just too tired to get it together. Next week will be a big one.
Thank you all for being a part of this journey. The first half-year has been incredible. I've seen and learned so much and am excited to keep going and keep growing. Until next week then, stay cool out there!