Ruing missing out on the 'Roo (well, sort of)

Ruing missing out on the 'Roo (well, sort of)

June 3rd, 2011 by Casey Phillips in Fyi Bonnaroo 2011

Every year as the summer festival season approaches, I'm inevitably asked, "Are you going to attend/cover Bonnaroo?" Actually, most people don't ask so much as take it as a foregone conclusion.

They assume, not illogically, that because Chattanooga is just 70 miles away from Manchester and because I love and write about music that, "Of course, he's going. Why wouldn't he?"

I almost feel bad about disappointing them.

Maybe it's sacrilegious to say so, but as excited as I generally am about the lineup - this year's being exceptionally rife with killer artists - I have little desire to actually go to Bonnaroo.

Part of the reason boils down to timing.

Depending on when they start, Riverbend and Bonnaroo are scheduled in such a way that they either take place concurrently or bleed into one another to create a bloated musical super-entity. As a result, I'm faced with not experiencing either event fully or going for 10 straight days, which would probably leave me a burnt-out, drooling husk.

Neither of those options appeals to me.

That's only a half-hearted defense, however. To be completely truthful, my biggest beef is with the living conditions.

Based on descriptions I've been given by friends who have been to Bonnaroo, it sounds like a mud-wrestling match set in the hottest, most-miserable circle of hell. By all accounts, at the end of four days, the festival grounds are a 700-acre swamp populated by 80,000 people, who are, at best, only moderately dirty.

After more than a week wandering around Riverbend sweating to the oldies, the last thing I want is to forgo the nightly comforts of bed, shower and air conditioning for a sweltering field that may or may not become a mud pit if the weather takes a turn for the worst. This being Tennessee, experiencing untrustworthy summer weather is one foregone conclusion borne out by historical evidence.

No, thank you. I know myself too well to think I would enjoy that. The only problem is, I would love it if it could be otherwise.

Every year, I have friends who come from all over to camp/rock out at Bonnaroo. Two years ago, my cousin carpooled 850 miles from Brooklyn, pulling driving shifts to make it there in one day. Even though I could never see doing that myself, I envy that kind of fervor and fortitude.

Of course, then there's the music. Where to begin? I would shell out to see solo performances by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Arcade Fire, Iron & Wine, Mumford & Sons, Robyn, Scissor Sisters or The Decemberists. The fact that Bonnaroo has all of them, plus about 170 other artists is kind of mind-boggling.

On some level, I hate myself for not being willing to put up with it. Even as I tell people I'm not going, I can't help but wonder whether I'm letting my love of creature comforts get in the way of attending my generation's equivalent of Woodstock.

Maybe I am, and maybe my future self is tsk-tsking at my folly. But if he is, I can't hear him over the air conditioner. That's just the way I like it.

Contact Casey Phillips at or 423-757-6205.