Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Bonnaroo, the new Woodstock

One of the things I can legitimately brag about is the fact I actually attended the 1969 Woodstock festival. Really. My teenage son is a music lover in the same way I was. So to take him to this generation's equivalent of the massive camp-out/rock'n'roll show, I couldn't resist.


Date: Thursday, June 16, 2005
Edition: Palm Beach Section: LOCAL Page: 1B

The mud smell was familiar.

I recognized it from 36 years ago. The same mixture of sulphury earth, rainwater, sandal leather and foot sweat was Woodstock 1969, intact.

The scent of patchouli and marijuana was the same, too.

And so was the descent into a life of grime: The lack of showers for five days, the revolting Port-a-Sans, the problematic sleeping.

Ah, yes. That brotherly feeling of bonding with thousands, all getting gross together.

I was living it again, this time with my 15-year-old son, Ben.

He holds an enthusiastic, if exaggerated, reverence for the fact that his old man attended the original Woodstock Festival, the 400,000-strong crest of the counterculture.

So, obliging and music-loving dad that I am, I was glad to take him to the closest modern equivalent, a festival in Tennessee called Bonnaroo.

Bonnaroo is an annual event, created in the spirit of the old Grateful Dead. The fourth rendition began Thursday evening and ran practically non-stop until midnight Sunday. About 80 bands played on five stages on farmland 65 miles south of Nashville. About 80,000 people set up camp.

Everyone seemed to be 20, wearing tie-dye and capable of dancing for hours at a stretch.

"I haven't seen anyone as young as me," Ben said after we'd walked around awhile.

"I haven't seen anyone as old as me," I said back.

Woodstock was notable for the kindly vibes amid disaster conditions. That, and the killer lineup (Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, et al.).

I remember one day's diet consisting solely of dry oatmeal and water.

But at the well-organized Bonnaroo, there was plentiful pizza, shish kebob, chicken teriyaki and local barbecue. You could even get the comfort of a morning latte.

At Woodstock, the apotheosis of the Generation Gap, we were rebelling against established American values.

At Bonnaroo, my son and I were bonding generations. Reveling without rebelling, I showed him how to decline the friendly offers of intoxicants. We did this party drug-free.

The music was great. And Bonnaroo did retain that Woodstock warmth.

One guy came up to me and asked, "How old are you?"

I told him.

He said, "Boy, when I get to be 56, I sure hope I'm still out here."

He was 42. A periodontist from Nashville.

That was flattering. I didn't tell him I was feeling my age.

My feet ached. My back hurt. Dancing was effort.

I never heard of three-quarters of the groups.

I saw a new music magazine called HARP. At home, I get something called AARP.

The weather woke us one morning when another tent crashed on ours. The college-kid owners had been better at chugging down beers than staking down tent supports.

That gust was a worry because of predictions we'd get hit by Tropical Storm Arlene. I thought:
Great. I leave Florida and a hurricane follows me.

Luckily, the forecasts erred. The only disaster was a sitar player named Gabby La La.

Ben felt awkward the first day or two. He was embarrassed to tire at 2 a.m., just when thousands of partiers were revving up.

I said they were college students and veterans of all-nighters, whereas he was still a teenager who had a biological need for sleep. Besides, they had spent many hours at Bonnaroo getting high and drunk, something he was too young to start vexing me about.

I said he should think of this as a preview of college, when his parents would go broke so he could live with peers who will dedicate themselves to getting wasted every weekend.

The next day he was more at ease, and by Sunday was dancing with the best of 'em.

My bones were aching. But his only got looser and looser.

"It was amazing!" he tells all his friends.

He wants to go next year.

I say I've had enough.

Then again, maybe if I had a good portable lawn chair. And proper mud boots.

And an RV.

And if The Dead were on the bill.

I'd think about it.

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