Have you ever been to Bonnaroo? If you’re a 20-something who enjoys outdoor recreation, mild bacchanalia and stacked lineups of very accessible rock bands, then of course you have. Around this time each year, 80,000 people trudge cattle-like into a radar blip called Manchester, Tenn., forming a pop-up refugee camp for underemployed bachelors of arts and myriad subspecies of hippies and bros. There is music and camping and food and body paint -- upsetting, ill-advised, NSFanywhere body paint, used liberally by many, on all sorts of horrible folds. Let’s not talk about it.
This year’s fest featured acts like Radiohead, Bon Iver, Phish, Muppet collaborator Kenny Rogers and something called a Skrillex. Also: this. It was hot and sunny for most of the weekend, and while not as hot as previous years, it was still hot enough that a Popsicle left unattended in an armpit would be reduced to its stick within 20 seconds.
I suppose this should come as little surprise, but the sporting scene at ‘Roo was pretty meager. No Randy Johnson working the flashbulb. No Bronson Arroyo channeling his inner Goo Goo. Just the constant nuisance of hacky sacks and Frisbees narrowly missing your face, the occasional Straight Cash Homey candidate and all the balletic footwork required to maneuver a heavily used portable potty at the end of a day.
Oh, and near the back of the Radiohead crowd, some guy was whipping around one of those glow-in-the-dark Vortex footballs to produce a psychedelic effect. When was the last time you saw one of those things? It made me wonder if John Elway, in his senescence, could still huck a Vortex 90 yards and hit Thom Yorke in the head. I’m afraid we’ll never know.
The timing of this year’s Bonnaroo was a bit of a nightmare for the sports fans in attendance. You were missing the Stanley Cup finals. You were missing the Celtics trying to finish off LeBron. You were missing Pacquiao’s inevitable dismantling of Timothy Bradley. You were missing a lot. But only if you were a good friend.
A selfish few of us regularly chose to abandon our comrades and significant others to crowd into a tiny tent and watch sports. Why celebrate your youth when there are TVs to stare at, right? The tent reached its maximum occupancy on Saturday night when 300 or so packed in claustrophobically to watch the Heat-Celtics Game 7 in lieu of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Or 288, rather. Twelve were there watching Game 5 of the Kings-Devils series, with one lone Kings fan in a bucket hat overpowered by 11 boisterous Devils supporters. Bucket-hat guy was meek, clearly rattled by the "LET’S GO DEVILS" chants coming at him from every angle, but his resolve to stick it out and watch his team battle to the end was nothing short of inspirational. Best wishes to him and his family.
Alternately, there was no imbalance between the Heat and Celtics fans. The split was pretty much 50-50, with an equal measure of "END THE HEAT" chants to offset the loud "M-V-P"s coming from the Miami faithful. But as Erik Spoelstra’s intensity dimples emerged and the Heat started pulling away down the stretch, the Boston folks got quiet, and even a little angry. One guy took off a Larry Bird jersey and threw it at the wall, accomplishing much.
Another was sitting cross-legged and sobbing, smashing two empty water bottles together and yelling the word “maybe” over and over again. Reefer madness, perhaps? Nope. That’s just basketball.
Meanwhile, in Vegas, Pacquiao was getting taped up in preparation for his fight after reportedly making Bradley wait for him to finish watching the Heat-Celtics game. Though the bout wasn’t being aired at ‘Roo, word would quickly spread in the next hour and a half from guys with smartphones that there had been a robbery. Travesty, outrage, conspiracy. A Jedi inexplicably felled after a measured, commanding performance, putting the kibosh on seven years of uninterrupted victory. Shortly after midnight, Manny would leave the ring a loser, and it wouldn’t feel right to most people in most places.
Yet shortly after midnight at Bonnaroo, something felt very right. Magical, even. It was the surprise presence of D’Angelo, a felled Jedi in his own right, who took to a U.S. stage for the first time in 12 years, inducing shivers in everyone present with the subtle electricity of his tenor. Taking part in the annual Superjam with Questlove and a nine-piece crew of funk heavyweights, the singer ripped through the cobwebs of a turbulent decade with his startlingly intimate flow, lending some soulful gravity to a weekend of unchecked hedonism.
How elevating it is to see someone liberated from the throes of self-destruction, their talent undiminished, their voice surging forth like a spotlight into the smoky Tennessee sky. I really hope the bummed-out Celtics guys were there listening. Not just because it was good music and it might cheer them up, but because they might feel the hope in the performance, and then they might realize that there’s no joy sweeter than that which follows suffering.
Unless your team actually wins. That joy might be sweeter.