Bonnaroo Behind the Scenes: Let’s Get Tertiary

Editor’s Note: Reptar guitarist Jace Bartet (pictured below) will be filing behind-the-scenes reports from Bonnaroo all weekend long. Catch Reptar at Flagpole‘s AthFest showcase at the Georgia Theatre next Friday, June 21.

I left for Bonnaroo independent of my band late Thursday evening, looking forward to an uneventful drive toward the farmland hamjam going down in central Tennessee. Almost immediately upon entering Loop 10, however, blinding rain and crashing trees forced me right back off the highway.  Once the storm abated, a super-bright double rainbow high-fived my eyes with its promise of good fortune. 

Four hours later, lost in the lower Appalachians somewhere outside Coalmont, TN, I found the end of that rainbow in the form of Tennessee State Trooper Charlie Harris. As I sat stranded by poor directions on the side of some dark backroad, Trooper Harris pulled up and instructed me to follow him down highway 50 (“fifty” was spoken with three syllables), and off I went with my own personal police escort into Manchester.

Bonnaroo posed us with far more rules, regulations, and tiered levels of access (upon picking up my “tertiary” artist pass at check-in I looked up the unfamiliar word and discovered among its many potential meanings: third class) than any other music festival we’ve played. I passed through five security checkpoints and was subject to a full two-man car search before being allowed into our campground.

The sheer volume of people, cars and RVs (even in this area reserved just for artists and their guests) was astonishing, and I realized immediately that Bonnaroo operates as a full-fledged town, not just a place for performing and listening to music. It was about 2 a.m. when we pulled up to a decent site among some trees, and ALO was really jamming it out on some stage or other nearby.  After an hour and a half of setting up camp in the dark, however, the urge to wander around and dive headfirst into partying (or at least find my band) was overtaken by exhaustion, and sleep came heavily.

Unfortunately, I was mentally ill-prepared for the sheer partython of Bonnaroo reality, and was startled to find myself awakened at 7:15 a.m. by two seperate nearby campsites blaring jam-band noodle soup from their cars. Not long after, the large stage on the other side of our campsite started checking their P.A. with Primus’ “My Name is Mud,” and I was forced to submit to the reality at hand. I’m not sure what tricked me into thinking that I was going to get more than four hours of sleep at any point. 

My grumps were soon replaced with adrenaline, however, as I found the rest of Reptar and we prepared to load in at The Other Tent, the smallest of Bonnaroo’s five primary stages, where we would open the day at 12:30 p.m. A golf cart hauling a wooden trailer that looked like it was salvaged from a ravine met us at 10:45 a.m., and we arrived at the stage 15 minutes later, shocked to find around 100 folks already camped out right in front of the stage waiting for us an hour and a half early. 

This unexpected vote of confidence put the band in a great mood (as did the three bits of masking tape on our drum risers all labeled “Raptar.”) I know some folks who seem to find music festivals in general and their habitual patrons to be worthy of various kinds of ridicule, but I can say one positive thing about these folks (at least the ones willing to show up at the fifth-largest stage at 12:30 p.m.): they really like music, and my best evidence for this assertion is that they actually cheered whenever Graham said, “This is a new one.”

After being asked to vacate our half of a trailer behind the stage early to accommodate the arrival of some rapper I’d never heard of, my phone died and I lost touch with the rest of the boys. 

Next: Wu-Tang, John McLaughlin and that McCartney guy.