Special Report: Bewilderoo, TN

A not so common look at the not so common festival.

by Phillip Fairbanks

Though the festivities didn’t begin until June, my Bonnaroo story begins in March, when I got my confirmation that I would indeed be receiving press credentials and tickets for the big show. In a way, here in early July, I’m coming full circle as I put pen to paper in attempts to capture some literary tincture of that magic something, that “temporary autonomous zone” that for four days in Manchester, Tennessee is known as Bonnaroo.

The first elements are preparation and anticipation. March through June were a whirlwind of consciousness expansion including, but not limited to, ingestion of obscure, legal herbs from the Oaxacan, Mayan and Aztec canon, shadowboxing, glossolalia, yoga and failed attempts at emulating the painfully intricate moving meditation of Master Li Hongzhi’s Falun Dafa. At about the same time, I was working on a sort of counterculture Tony Robbins, a la Tim Leary and Robert Anton Wilson that resulted in pages of maps, models, schemas, tips, tricks, mantras and insufferably incoherent psychobabble based on anchoring intense states for ready retrieval. Here I was treading on dangerous waters. My roommates at the time, who had dealt with this quasi-psychotic behavior since March had had enough by the time May rolled around.

Armed with new and activated knowledge, or as Bob Wilson deems it “neuro-somatic knowhow,” I didn’t let this snag steal the momentum of the movement, but consciously down-shifted at this point. Besides, after a frightening Salvia Divinorum experiment gone awry, it seemed high time to arc down my emotional parabola.

Being a small town boy from a rural area, having something as big as Bonnaroo breeze through once a year next door, so to speak, is a dreamlike experience. Being at times, a pretentious performance artist for an audience of one, constantly crafting an opus I like to call, my life, the annual festival down on the farm down the road is always an ordeal, a crucible and a rite, not merely a convergence of people, art, music and drugs (though these are typical cornerstones of many ancient ritual festivals as well). Needless to say I got no sleep Wednesday night and word comes that they’re letting folks in to set up camp so we head to Manchester.

I get dropped off Thrusday morning around 3:30 in the A.M. By the time sun comes up my tent is stilll unpacked. It’s hot and there are thousands of people surrounding me in every direction. I’m closed in. Bonnaroo has become overnight. A rush of adrenaline tinged terror wraps icy tendrils about me. I know that my notorious lack of direction will ensure that I will lose my site if I leave. After meeting Will and his group, I decide it might be safe to leave as long as I don’t get separated from them and lose all chance of ever rediscovering my campsite. Already I’m feeling that soft sadness that accompanies this small town boy’s Bonnaroo experience. It’s beautiful, like life, but like life its over before its begun, and I make sure to soak up every ounce of that weird tincture of emotions that infectiously spreads. Like Norman from New Jersey had corroborated earlier. The world is a strange and weird place.

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