The Bonnaroo Diaries – 2012 – Day 1 By Steve Pipps

I wasn’t kidding when I said the tent would reach roughly 90 degrees right after sunrise. The sun peeks over the trees and instantly heats up the tent. It’s like a flash cooker rather than the pre-heating of an oven.

My friend and I quickly shed the sleeping bags that were becoming more like cocoons made of sweaty nylon rather than comfortable sleeping aids. We opened the tent to an already bustling community. The grass was still wet with dew but many Bonnaroovians were already many drinks and/or joints deep.

We popped the trunk and quickly devoured more Bojangles chicken while already debating the merits of paying for one of the showers, (it’s an option, but with the lines and the desire to see as many acts as possible, not one at the forefront of our plans). We quickly put on sunscreen, tipped our caps to our neighbors who were more than the average two drinks deep and headed off towards Centeroo.

Although it still didn’t open until noon, nothing had changed overnight, we were too eager. Our over eagerness damned us and we arrived at the gates hours before they would begin allowing people through so we started on our plan B which was to explore as much of the grounds as possible. 700 acres is a lot of area to cover.

There were so many different camping grounds all named cleverly after famous pop culture references. For example, there was a pod of campsites named after Zoolander characters. If I remember correctly, I was right on the edge of Camp Dr. No and Camp Dr. Holly Goodhead. You can see just how far of a walk we had daily, and how much of the grounds is covered with campsites while the size of Centeroo looks like it could never handle that many people.

But it does, somehow.

Scan courtesy of Chase the Bear

(Link to Chase the Bear)

Anyway, we walked around the grounds and tried to find Shakedown Street* (*The main thoroughfare to buy drugs) not because we wanted drugs, mainly, because we wanted to see how easy it would be to acquire them just for research purposes. Alas, we didn’t find it, but it didn’t really matter. I was readily offered: LSD, pot brownies, joints, a half smoked joint, Molly and I believe that is all. None of which I accepted, except one joint which makes for a great Friday story. Guess you’ll have to come back tomorrow.

Around the rest of the grounds are carnival food stands and vendors selling crazy bowls and bongs along with apparel and trinkets. All of the good stuff is inside Centeroo; avoid buying any of these shitty little doodads.

Finally we wasted enough time and Centeroo was accepting customers, but the first concert didn’t start until 4pm, which isn’t too big of a deal when you’re actually in Centeroo. The sanctioned vendors with festival posters and apparel were all there. Some of the vendors were selling hammocks, others, original art. Bonnaroo is as much an arts festival as it is a music festival. We talked to many people who were there almost exclusively for the arts atmosphere and to meet other artists. It’s a damn hippie convention.

Over the course of the fest my friend and I both purchased a very cool print by an artist named Chuck U along with a festival shirt. Both of us being super into art wanted to buy some of the other fantastic pieces around but travel and money permitting we were forced to hold off.

Bands of Day 1:

Danny Brown
Kendrick Lamar

It started with K-Flay, a female rapper my sister turned me onto. She was one of the opening acts of the festival and thus her crowd was thin comparatively. We headed over to That Tent and dug our feet into the sand that was the floor of the venue. She put on a pretty damn good show*. (*For the record this was three years ago and I have a terrible memory. It’s amazing I have this much memory of this weekend but I won’t be great on set lists for smaller acts unless it was a specific album the artist was promoting, or I look it up.)

We got into the set as much as we could, but Thursday was specifically Rap Night. With three stellar acts all in a row on This Tent, we geared up and sauntered over to the stage right as K-Flay finished.

We had to have sat through The Lonely Forest’s set, but I honestly cannot recall a damn thing about them. Then Danny Brown came on. If you don’t know Danny Brown, he’s a crazy Detroit rapper who has a wild backstory. He was touring for his second album XXX at the time, which includes the popular song, “Die Like a Rockstar.” It was a solid show for the first night. Maybe it’s because it was still light out, or I was too jaded by finally being at Roo to really take in a lot of his particular set, but what I do recall is that he asked what hot girls had drugs and pulled them onstage to go backstage with him after he finished. Good man.

Yelawolf came on directly after and put on a ridiculous show. I didn’t know much about him to start, just that he was a crazy white rapper. He was definitely crazy, and his energy was electric. He had released Radioactive a few months before and was touring for it. The only single I knew at the time was, “Hard White (Up in the Club).”

In the end I had hardly listened to Yelawolf and was ready to see what Kendrick had to give. Note: I had hardly listened to any of these three artists before coming to Roo. It was a dire mistake not listening to more Kendrick as he was touring for Section.80, and album I now know almost by heart.

Kendrick Lamar at This Tent. Photo by Chad Batka.

Kendrick came on after the sun had long set and my feet had long started to ache. He was the headliner for us and I specifically remember a conversation I overheard between two groups of people as they passed a joint around. It sat with my situation all too well.

“What’s your favorite Kendrick song?”

“It has to be “Rigamortis,” he goes so hard on it.”

“I mean that’s a great one but “Hol’ Up” or “A.D.H.D.” is where it’s at.”

“Yeah, those are good too.”

“Which means you haven’t listened to the album enough and can’t remember those two?”

The boy took a long drag of the joint and then answered as he blew out a long trail of smoke… “Yeahhhhhh.” The crowd laughed together and continued smoking while waiting for Kendrick.

Kendrick did put on a hell of a show. He ran through almost all of Section.80 and was electric, but if I’m being honest I walked out with a few songs left. It is still a big concert regret of mine. I gave up because I didn’t know an artist, an artist that would quickly become a favorite of mine. I would do this one more time while at Roo, the latter was a little more acceptable in my book.

Kendrick finished up and my friend and I sauntered over to a packed Big Gigantic show. There was no shot we were getting close to the stage so we admired it from afar, sitting to rest our feet. It was then that we were offered tabs of LSD, something I am highly intrigued by, but would never take from a random person at Roo. We passed and he happily went along to the next group of people. There is no pressure at Roo; it really is just one big community.

After Big G came a Bad Brains documentary in the Cinema Tent. We caught only a few minutes of the show, but would note that the tent was air-conditioned. Huge plus.

It was after midnight, and we had a long day the next day, so we started our mile-plus trek back to Camp Dr. No to relax with a drink and some Bojangles. A note on the food within Centeroo, that shit is delicious. They have a number of different food tents ranging from vegetarian to burritos to pizza. Try it all.

Back at the tent, our neighbors regaled us with stories of their tripping including one friend who was missing after taking acid, molly and smoking lots of pot. We chatted as we shared a drink with them. We eventually crept back into our tent to get a shit-tier night’s sleep.

You don’t sleep much at Bonnaroo, but that’s kind of okay. You have incredible music to keep you awake everyday. That is exactly what happened Friday along with a laced joint from a preschool teacher, Ludacris and the first headliner of the fest.

(to be continued in day-by-day diary/tips format)

Steve Pipps is a Chicago-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Step On magazine. He enjoys writing for both the screen and TV. Follow him on Twitter or check out his website. Steve wrote recently on The Films of Spike Jonze: ranked, as well as reviews of Almost Famous and High Fidelity.