Bonnaroo 2012: I Am Not On Drugs (But Everyone Else Is)


Hippies, henna and hula hoops all lived up to their stereotypes during a dusty weekend at Bonnaroo. (All photos courtesy of Mary Morgan.)

Have you ever stood in a crowd of 80,000 people and realized you are most likely the only person not on drugs? I just did that for four days.

When people hear the name “Bonnaroo,” three things come to mind: hippies, music and drugs.  I’m here to tell you that I defeated the impossible, and managed to hang out with these hippies without participating in certain extracurricular activities. I can’t tell you that these three assumptions aren’t true. The point of the festival is music, and it is indeed overflowing with hippies. And drugs. A lot of hippies on drugs.  And being totally sober for the entirety of the weekend resulted in witnessing more than one ridiculous shenanigan.

If you’re wondering why someone who has never done any drug – ever – decided to go to such a place, I have a simple answer for you: I love music, I love people and I love a good story. This seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And that it was. Let the record show that I had an unbelievably good time at Bonnaroo with my 11 hooligan friends who hopped in an RV along with me and made the trip from Washington, D.C. to Manchester, Tenn.

The stereotype of Bonnaroovian hippies exists for a reason. Let me run down the list of the most stereotypically hippie things that I ran across at Bonnaroo: sporadic groups of hula-hoopers (it was as if the official hula hooping society of Bonnaroo sent out a daily memo to all hula-hoopers telling them when and where to have a spontaneous hoop party); random spots dedicated to meditation; so many bare feet you wonder if somewhere there’s a pile of shoes that was blown up; multiple henna tattoo tents; dreadlocks of every size and color; women who decided they didn’t want to wear shirts or bras anymore; topless women covering up with a very thin layer of body paint; belly shirts – everywhere; signs saying “unregister to vote here;” massive pillar signs pleading you to recycle; the fact that there are three sections to garbage cans: recycle, compost and landfill; multiple make-your-own-drum tents; a whole booth dedicated to telling the horrors of Kentucky Fried Chicken; morning yoga sessions; the smell of incense around every corner; oh, and of course, tie dye EVERYTHING. And honestly, I feel like I’m only skimming the top of the hippie pool with that list. But I shall continue anyway.

The creators of Bonnaroo know exactly what is happening out in the fields. There are literally signs begging Bonnaroovians not to die.  I watched two police officers on an ATV drive by a dude blatantly smoking a bowl outside of his tent. They did not arrest him. They didn’t even stop, actually. They just looked at him and continued to drive away. It was probably at this point that I realized Bonnaroo is not just a casual festival, it is a whole different world. Once the cell phones are turned off and computers are unplugged, the outside world is suddenly forgotten and the only schedule you’re concerned about is the one about this tent, that tent and the other tent. (Yes, those are actually the names of the tents. Not at all confusing.)

The Other Tent, which as you may deduce, is not This Tent or That Tent.

Walking around with one of my friends at the end of Friday night, we came across a guy passed out literally in the middle of nowhere. There were no nearby tents or vendors or stages or RVs, just some dust and grass.  And there he was, passed out spread-eagle having what could have only been the best sleep of his entire life. My friend wondered if we should make sure he was okay. Perhaps check for a pulse. But then we looked up and realized that scattered every 50 feet or so was someone else passed out like a weird connect-the-hippies puzzle. I’m still not sure if passing out literally anywhere is acceptable Bonnaroo behavior, but no one was running around waking these people up. I’m starting to think they just left them there until Monday, when it became some poor volunteer’s job to scour the grounds for sleeping hippies and tell them the weekend was over and they had to go home.

And sure, the festival is about music, but at some point you need to figure out if it’s more important to see specific shows or to have an experience. I could have run around all day and all night to every show that interested me, but instead I made compromises in order to stay with my friends. It is with confidence I say this decision led to the best time possible. We had a silly good time. Don’t get me wrong, I saw a lot of music, but it would not have nearly compared if I had been without my circle of hooligans accompanying me.

As for the assumption that Bonnaroo is filled with exclusively hippies, that is certainly not true. You can decipher the true hippies from those who dressed to the Bonnaroo trend.  The vast majority is clearly people who took Thursday through Monday off from their real world responsibilities to grunge it hippie-style in Tennessee.

And grunge we did.  The dust in the normal camping areas was exceptional. Cars became dust-caked. I kid you not, every car was sporting a new matching dusty tan color by the end of the first night.  Don’t worry though, some prick ran around and drew ten thousand penises on every car he passed, so at least we had some art to look at on the walk from the RV campground to Centeroo.  (Originality at its finest!)

And even though the 12 of us drove an RV, we ran into a few grunge problems. It was a task and a half to hunt down the water and sewage truck brigade. As far as our water supply went, everyone was limited to a few minutes of ice cold shower time, which was just enough time to scrub off half of the never-ending layers of mud and dirt caked on your feet, and realize there’s mysterious sand in your hair. You could pay for a shower, but our one friend who did it said it was a horrible experience and that she felt dirtier, colder and just weirder. She did not elaborate.

We used the first tank of water within 36 hours, and couldn’t figure out why the shower wasn’t draining. Turned out our sewage tank was full. I’m sure you can imagine how awesome that smelled. We found that sewage truck as fast as humanly possible to fix that situation. I can’t imagine the exponential levels of impressive dirtiness that would be acquired from the normal tent campgrounds, or from not showering a couple times during the four days.

(Side note: The biggest mistake we made at Bonnaroo was not emptying our sewage RV tank before leaving the campground. For the 13-hour drive home, anytime we hit a bump the delicious smell of urine would waft through the RV. You would have thought we dangled a little air freshener tree off the rear view mirror that was Porta-Potty scented. Yay!)

But the dirt and grunge somehow becomes part of the experience. You are not alone in your dirtiness, that’s for sure. At some point during the weekend, you stop obsessing about attempting to get clean or trying to avoid getting dust everywhere. (Really, really cannot stress how much dust is involved.)   And suddenly, it’s like you’re a little kid again playing outside. Bonnaroo is summer camp for grown-ups.

The sun sets over Bonnaroo on Thursday, the first day of the festival.

And there is so much more to the ‘Roo than drugs, hippies and dirt. The 700-acre farm turns into a community for the extended weekend. I cannot even begin to explain the friendliness oozing from every individual. People shared everything they brought with pretty much whomever happened to be nearby.  While standing behind a couple strangers at SBTRKT, a guy turned around and asked me if I would like to share his joint. “No thanks, I’m okay,” I said. He smiled and said: “No worries brah… where are you from? Do you like this jam?” And you know what? I did indeed like that jam. Thank you for asking.

Meeting people was an experience in itself. Between the neighbors you shared everything with, the concert goers you packed into a tent with and the vendors in the little tent shops, there was great room for random conversation. I spent 10 minutes talking to a henna tattoo artist about how weird license pictures are. (Note: I did not get a henna tattoo.)

Also, some of the shops were just awesome. I bought a camera strap made out of the same fabric used in the 60’s to make Jimi Hendrix’s guitar strap he wore at Woodstock. That’s not something you stumble across every day.

It started raining on Saturday night, and lasted into the morning. Sunday was filled with random sprinkles and a general misty, hazy weather pattern. The rain turned the dust to clay-colored mud. I saw a lot of people pack up and leave, but our group didn’t even consider it. If you go to Bonnaroo, you stay for the whole festival, no matter what. COME ON PEOPLE.

The rain very politely held off for the majority of the day on Sunday. Phish was the last act at Bonnaroo, playing from 8 to midnight on Sunday. At the end of the last song they jammed, Bonnaroo set off a bunch of fireworks. So just picture this: We are all standing in very casual rain, kind of weirdly damp, watching Phish explode from the stage and suddenly, actual explosions. Everyone was cheering well through the end of the song and fireworks. In a massive, wet herd, we moved towards the picturesque Bonnaroo archway that leads you to the campgrounds. And sporadically, someone somewhere in the crowd would scream “BONNAROOOOOOOOOO!” And in a wave of sound, everyone started cheering. We went stomping through the mud as the rain started to come down harder, cheering “ROOO!!!” You would have thought that the 80,000 people we were surrounded by weren’t strangers, but comrades. Bonnaroo is a community.

The festival ended Sunday night with a four-hour set from Phish, accompanied by fireworks.

It was also on this walk that I came across my favorite person of the weekend. As we all came stampeding out of Centeroo, there appeared a 70-year-old drugged-out hippie man walking slowly in the opposite direction of the other 79,999 of us. And he just looked around with such confusion, it was as if he just popped up out of the ground and had missed the whole festival. “Wooaahhh!” He shouted, swaying around in place. “Look at allll these f*cking peeeooopple!” He screamed. “Where did aaalllll these peeeeooople come from?!”

You would have thought we were marching across his front porch.

That was the last Bonnaroovian I saw besides the other 11 people I traveled with in the awesome-smelling RV. And oh man, he was everything I could have hoped and dreamed for.

In total, it was absolutely an experience I would recommend to anyone. And if you think Bonnaroo isn’t right for you, you’re probably wrong. It may not be for everyone, but it could be. You just have to have an open mind.

We packed up in the rain on Monday morning, and by 8 we were driving through the massive once-farmland, watching the silo that sat near our camping pod drift smaller and smaller away into the background. And suddenly, we turned a corner and were magically back on a highway. It was as if Bonnaroo was a totally different secret realm.

On the way home, we watched the South Park episode “Hippie Music Festival.” It wasn’t that far off. There were definitely a lot of drum circles.

A hazy ending to a hazy weekend for the 80,000 attendees.


Apathy and Loathing On Super Tuesday (How I Learned To Stop Caring and Love Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball”)


Bruce Springsteen's latest album "Wrecking Ball" was released last month. (Credit: Columbia Records)


A millionaire, a glutton and a disgusting bodily excretion walk into a bar. The bartender asks “What can I get for you?” and then I stopped listening. The truth of the matter is this bar happens to have a pretty killer jukebox. And I’ve seen these three characters before, maybe not exactly them, but slightly tweaked iterations that slightly tweak my usually optimistic psyche. They all hang out in a gangster’s paradise halfway down the American Eastern Coast. They meet and argue and think they make changes for the betterment of a half-wrecked society when, in truth, the cogs are slightly slowed, but they keep churning onward. Like fixing a broken clock with a piece of chewing gum as adhesive. It’s not going to work a-hole, put it back in your mouth.

So in an attempt to disavow myself from these creatures, I peruse the jukebox. It’s dusty on the inside and the technology is dated, qualities and characteristics that I find admirable in a jukebox. Thin Lizzy’s “Live and Dangerous” is already playing, but it’s not loud enough to drown out the three stooges arguing at the bar. I can tell that the topic is freedom. I can also tell they aren’t sure about it. I start to worry, but mostly that “The Boys Are Back In Town” isn’t going to follow “Cowboy Song” as it rightly should. I have the numeral selection for “The Boys Are Back In Town” primed in my mind if I am forced to make an aural emergency input. “Cowboy Song” may be the final choice by my minstrel predecessor. I will need to keep the dream alive, two quarters at a time. If he chose a different song altogether I may need to observe whomever in the joint makes the greatest reaction to the new song and then give them a swift kick to the shins.

Some poor sucker’s shins are saved tonight. I’m equal parts relieved and surprised as “The Boys Are Back In Town” strums into the bar room. It trumpets over the low murmur of chattering people and clinking glasses. It’s then, in the comfort of Phil Lynott, that I discover a newly released album gracing the jukebox tiny stage. I rush to the bartender hoping he will overlook the annoyance of giving me five dollars in quarters (which he does) and rush back to the jukebox trying to decide if I have the balls to play an unheard album from start to finish in such place of varied personnel (which I do). I squeeze the full payment into the coin slot and quickly select numbers 501 through 511 hoping that no one notices the bar faux pas that I’m about to commit.

I stagger across the bar. As I pass the three vile leviathans, I can hear them begin to fight with an adjacent bar patron about family values. He’s much younger and I catch him say something about his future being sold for the profit of the venerable. I pause to think about this conversation, but only for a moment. There’s no time for the quarrels of a decrepit reality. After all, Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” is about to play and somehow just the thought of it rises me from the murky shit where those three beasts are kings. I sit down in a small corner table in the shadow of a neon beer sign, and I do so just in time. The harsh and pounding drums of the first tune fill the room, much louder than the previous Thin Lizzy live album, which suddenly seems like an archaic recording. I’m sent into an American trance.

“We Take Care of Our Own” sets off Springsteen’s album with an emotional complexity that is simultaneously an angry rally cry and a cheerful sing-a-long. Background cheers of “Hey! Hey!” and a strings riff that you can immediately hum along to are juxtaposed with drums that fire like pistons. Meanwhile, a pissed off American son mumbles directions to his rebel troops and wonders, “Where’s the promise from sea to shinning sea?” as the pomp and circumstance distracts the foolish.

But then, as if in an entirely different part of town, song two, “Easy Money”, follows. The man singing this ditty brings a comforting cynicism to his current circumstances. Like the dark enjoyment of a sinister laugh, it is as if the fiddles and the hand-claps are the perfect soundtrack for a man who has reached a blissfully violent breaking point. This is Bruce’s version of “Why so serious?”

Just then, a fight out in the bar. The enraged youth that began arguing with the three-headed dog throws a punch at the skinniest and wormiest of them. Immediately, a battalion of wannabe G-Men rush to the aid of the worm as the other two heads, one a flagrant walrus-type and the other a smooth hawk with distrusting eyes, watch on and comment on radicalism. Seems apropos that it is at this very moment that the Boss’ marching orders come blaring through the sound system.

“Shackled and Drawn,”, aka Springsteen’s March, is the third song on the album and plays into the first two as yet another narrative from this decaying reality that he has created, those this tale is told from the perspective of the people. If “We Take Care of Own” is a rumbling rebellion under the vail of celebration and “Easy Money” is the semi-crazy musings of a man dragged to villainy, then “Shackled and Drawn” is the rebel yell of the masses. It is enthusiastically versed by their patriotic leader who is joined by the congregation during an emblazoned chorus. Another question is posed: “What’s a poor boy to do but keep singin’ his song?” The answer comes at the end in the forceful words of some kind of “second in command” type, voiced by a back up singer. “I want everybody to stand up, I want everybody to stand up and be counted tonight!” A major motif in Springsteen universe rears its head: stand up, sing, be counted. Work hard and make something of yourself, dammit!

I realize now that Bruce is looking to whip up a cocktail of emotion. So far it is equal parts galvanized and infuriated, but he’s about to splash that with some bitter defeat. “Jack of All Trades” and it’s slow piano walk creeps into my soul from the very first note. It takes an entire listen, focusing hard to hear it over the rumble of the bar, before I can fully grasp the sobering truth buried deep inside simple lyrics. The anger, betrayal, rebellion, hope, enthusiasm and promise of the first three songs each take a respective blow. The narrator this time seems to not only be reassuring the audience, but also himself, as he keeps repeating “We’ll be alright” at the end of every stanza. The pep rally has become a funeral. A dazed Springsteen closes the ceremony saying “If I had me a gun, I’d find the bastards and shoot ’em on sight. I’m a jack of all trades, honey we’ll be alright.” After a pause for reflection, the calm is broken by a steady snare and Tom Morello, the Nightwatchman himself, as his howling guitar leads the procession out.

I don’t know if it is because of the song, but I imagine that the angry youth that caused trouble at the bar is probably bleeding out in the gutter. It’s an unpleasant thought, but there is no time to hark on it. “Death to My Hometown” closes out the album’s victorious Side A. This is the arming of the rebels, the rising from the ashes. All that remains are banjos and penny whistles and shotguns and shouts. Lyrically, Bruce is focusing on the battle between Wall Street and Main Street and the desecration of the American middle class, not a physical attack but a social one. Yet, musically he evokes stomping feet and swelling fists bloodied by marauders of corruption. “Death to My Hometown” is the open-ended conclusion to the five-song story arch that fuels the kick ass return of an enraged Bruce Springsteen.

Check back later this week for the conclusion of this tale.

Your Ultimate Guide To Ultra 2012


Avicii will spin Saturday, but that's just one reason the crowds will be feeling the energy at Ultra this weekend.

Welcome to the most wonderful week in the world of electronic dance music. The place to be is Miami, where the pools glisten like glow sticks. The Winter Music Conference is highlighted by Ultra, one of the biggest music festivals in the world.

Held at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami, Ultra is a three-day marathon of house, techno, trance, progressive, dubstep and ‘trouse,’ featuring the most famous DJs and premieres of the most massive tracks. There will be parties before and after the shows at some of Miami Beach’s sexiest clubs – Mansion, Fontainebleu and Liv, to name  a few. DJs will spin until sunrise, as fans beg for one more song.

The 2012 installation sold out in record fashion, and for good reason. Ultra is a sensation for your senses. The people are as beautiful as the music.

You will be blinded by the lights. You will be encased in clouds of smoke. Your ears will be ringing like no tomorrow.

Feel the energy. Feel the Heineken draft on your upper lip. Feel the sweat drip down your inner thigh.

Dance like you never have before. Your cell phone won’t work, but you won’t need it. Turn off your brain and turn on your heart.

This is Ultra 2012.

Below are the must-see acts of 2012, encompassing a variety of styles and tastes from mainstream to bizarre. There are countless names I have regretfully left off this list. Make sure to download all of these tracks.

Friday, March 23

  • Tiesto – This legend puts on 250 shows per year. His megawatt production matches his infectious smile on stage. Key Tracks: “Zero 76”, “Maximal Crazy.”
  • Afrojack – He finds time to produce his classic Dirty Dutch style while dating Paris Hilton. He will be chugging Grey Goose. One memorable quote from Ultra 2011 on the microphone: “I just jizzed my pants…but this is Ultra, so who gives a f*ck?” Key Tracks: “Can’t Stop me Now,” “Lunar” (ft. David Guetta), “No Beef” (ft. Steve Aoki).
  • Nicky Romero – This youngin isn’t even legal to drink in the U.S, but he is still crushing it. His remix of Green Velvet’s “Flash” was the anthem of Ultra 2011. Key Tracks: “Toulouse”, “Generation 303,” “Wild Ones.”
  • Dada Life – These guys are crazy. They like champagne and bananas. You can’t not have fun at their shows. Key Tracks: “Kick Out the epic Motherf..,” “Happy Violence.”
  • Dirty South – The soft-spoken Aussie has some of the smoothest tracks in the game. His remix of P. Diddy’s “Coming Home” was huge last year. Oh, and you might have heard his collaboration with Axwell on the Temper Trap’s “Sweet Disposition.” Key Tracks: “Walking Alone,” “Alive,” “Eyes Wide Open.”
  • Tommy Trash – The trash makes the track. His remixes and original productions are ridiculous. Try and not raij to his tunes, I dare you. Key Tracks: “Cascade,” “The End.”

Saturday, March 24

  • Avicii – 2011 was his year. I saw him four times. Wasn’t enough. Expect even bigger things in 2012. Key Tracks: “F*ck School Party Instead,” “Dancing in my Head,”  “Fade into Darkness” (ft. Eric Turner).
  • Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike – So underrated. Key Tracks: “Madagascar,” “Rej,” “Roll the Dice.
  • Deniz Koyu – I love this man. His style is totally unique and will make you jump. Think Dee Brown + Reebok Pumps. Key Tracks: “Hydra,” “Hertz,” “Tung.”
  • Flux Pavilion – If you are looking to get weird and womp with it; go see these guys, you will be in for a treat. Key Tracks: “I Can’t Stop,” “Bass Cannon.”

Sunday, March 25

  • Kaskade – The biggest American DJ in the world has been on fire lately. Key Tracks: “Eyes,” “Turn it Down,” “Invisible.”
  • Steve Aoki – One of the best performers I’ve ever seen. He will be jumping onto river rafts, throwing birthday cakes at you and spitting out champagne onto the crowd. And you will love it. Key Tracks: “Ladi Dadi” (ft. Winter Gordon), “Tornado” (ft. Tiesto).
  • Sander Van Doorn – I ended Ultra 2011 with S.V.D and he did not disappoint. Listening to his music feels like sitting on a cloud. Key Tracks: “Chasin,” “Eagles.”
  • Knife Party – These guys are nuts! Tread carefully- certainly not for David Guetta fans. Key Tracks: “Internet Friends,” “Antidote.”