Music sounds better live. It just does. Something about the immediacy, and the lack of producers and recording equipment and mp3 formats and space and time and all of the other things separating you from the artist. And so, with this in mind, we drove 2,000 miles in the past week, to one of the biggest music festivals in America.
Not everything was wonderful, including car troubles and our 7-hour wait in traffic before finally being able to get in, but all of this seemed to disappear on Friday morning when we woke up in our tent, almost smothered by the heat, and set about figuring out our schedule for the day.
The thing that the nice, crisp SPIN and Rolling Stone and NPR pictures of Bonnaroo don’t show you is that living in close proximity to 69,999 other people for four days gets disgustingly smelly and grungy, especially in the heat. The dumpster and Port-a-Potty and sweat smells followed us pretty much wherever we went. I usually take pretty meticulous care with my appearance, out of habit and a touch of OCD if nothing else, but there was little I could do here. Any and all makeup melted off of my face within a few minutes, and modest, (fashionable) attire was just too hot to keep on for very long. Swimsuits were really the only option. So, John and I wandered around the 700 acre farm like perspiring, unkempt zombies, our Camelbaks strapped to our backs, not in search of brains, but rock n’ roll.
Let me just say that, while we do have overlapping musical tastes that made the trip worth it in the first place, there are some differences also. My current obsession with The National is not shared by John, nor my long-standing love for Tori Amos. In our last few minutes, he ran to watch Against Me! while I inhaled a bottle of Dasani near one of the Budweiser stands. But, with some tolerance and give-and-take, we made that shit work. I didn’t see a single show that I didn’t enjoy, and I think he can say the same.
My favorite, by far, was the Dead Weather. I wasn’t really expecting this; I like their albums, and I respect good ol’ Jack White as a modern rock institution, but, much like I need to temper Led Zeppelin with some vagina music every once in awhile, the Dead Weather always came off as too testosterone-heavy. This was possibly due to the fact that Alison Mosshart, of The Kills fame, can sound oddly like Jack White, and when they do duets on Dead Weather albums, sometimes you can’t tell whose voice is whose. (It’s eerie.) She never seemed like enough of a presence; she was always getting drowned out by the bass, or the kick drum, or some other guy’s voice.
On stage, though, she was astounding and powerful. She was unlike any female musician I have ever seen before. Not open and earnest, like Ani DiFranco, or playful and mischievous like Tegan and Sara. Not sultry and in-control, like Tori Amos, although she was very self-possessed. She was just wild. She threw everything into that performance, and you could tell. It was hot and miserable out in the audience, and I don’t imagine the stage was much different; she was wearing dark jeans, a black camisole of some kind, and a leopard-print jacket. (Jack White is very into color schemes, and all of the male band members were just wearing black and white; she, however, was allowed the leopard print. It certainly helped her stand out.) She was very quickly soaked with sweat, and her long dark hair was disheveled and stringy. You would think that this would be an unattractive look, but it really, really wasn’t.
My camera is shitty, but I think you get the idea. She also gave Jack White some of the sultriest looks ever seen on a Jumbotron, but I was too slow to catch them.
So that was my favorite part. I told John that I thought it was cool because The Kills never would have attracted the same kind of stadium audience; they would have been in one of the smaller, more intimate tents, and her performance might just have seemed over-the-top and odd. But there, in the stadium of Bonnaroo stages, with the Dead Weather, she was absolutely amazing.
Other than the Dead Weather, I think Regina Spektor might have been my favorite, despite our hour-long wait in miserable heat to see her.
I was so sad to leave. This had been my dream for years, and now it was over — all that was left was the long, arduous drive back to Upper Michigan (slightly tempered by a visit to our friend Lauren in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.) I don’t have much besides these pictures, a Regina Spektor t-shirt, and a few other things — my dirty wristband, my water-soaked festival guide. But now I’m back, and everything feels just a little bit different.
I do think I want a new camera for my birthday, though.