By Sierra Foltz
“Welcome to The Farm!” cheers the lady who has just finished searching my car with a blacklight just in case I might be trying to sneak a bomb into a music festival. But I guess “Three Days of Love and Music” doesn’t apply to Bonnaroo the same way it applied to Woodstock. I appreciate that the festival’s primary security focus is bombs and guns rather than drugs or alcohol.
“The farm?” I ask my friends as we follow a series of arrows deeper into the middle-of-nowhere Manchester, Tennessee campground which, to my knowledge, exists solely to host Bonnaroo each year.
“Yeah, it’s what they call the grounds because the only thing around are barns and cows,” replies Savannah. She’s a Tennessee native and her brother has been to (and arrested at) Bonnaroo, so she’s the most reliable source of festival-related information at my disposal.
We finally get to our camping row and park, hidden in an overwhelming sea of cars, tents, canopies, trailers, converted school buses, tapestries, beautiful people, drunk people, and people who at this very moment could not tell the difference between a tent and another human. Note: not a single roll of toilet paper to be found.
For a minute, I wonder if my parents would be proud of me. I’ve always loved their wild stories about Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd concerts. They would tell me about the people who’d camp out and travel the country following the bands and making money by selling nitrous oxide balloons to people like my parents, about the hitchhikers along the way who’d repay them for the ride by providing them with foot massages, and about getting arrested and spending the night in jail, which isn’t so bad, because everyone spends a night in jail from time to time, and who are we to judge?
“I think everyone should have to spend a night in jail at least once in their lives, just so they know what it’s like,” says Yogi. Yogi is my roommate’s “boyfriend’s” (term used loosely) friend’s friend. So at Bonnaroo, he is my friend, too.
Of all of us currently sitting around a tiny makeshift card table under a sad canopy trying its hardest to protect us from the smothering Tennessee midday sun, Yogi is by far the most interesting to me. Well, Olivia’s story about an undercover cop trying to elicit cocaine from her outside of a line of porta potties was exciting. Her command over narrative and dramatic conflict struck me. She also explained to us that she had come to Bonnaroo from Atlanta alone because the friends she had planned to bring dropped out at the last minute. I want to feel bad for her, but her I-don’t-give-a-fuck energy is somehow immune to pity.
But, for the last fifteen minutes or so, Yogi has been ranting about institutionalized racism in the criminal justice system and mass incarceration. “I’ve been arrested 4 times” he explains, “for dumb shit.” His voice is smooth and deep and demands attention, but never ventures into condescending. “Just a few months ago I spent three nights in jail ‘cause I had my pitbull tied up in my yard and some white woman went right up to him and it fuckin’ scared him, so he bit her. Anyways, she called the police and, you know, I’m the wrong skin tone to have that kinda dog so of course, I got arrested.” Maybe it’s the effects of the heat, but my body feels like it’s filling with fire. Amazingly, Yogi never seems mad. His monologue never even hinted at resentful. He’s not trying to convince anyone that racism exists. He’s simply telling his story.
Just then, Yogi pops open a bag of Fritos and starts digging in. It’s about 1:00pm, so it’s time for breakfast.
Our other camp neighbors, Dylan and Katie, were disconcertingly prepared for the camping experience. Under their canopy, they had a large table with a massive assortment of fresh fruits, canned foods, chips, eggs, juices, etc. and a portable electric skillet which they used to make beautiful breakfast feasts each morning of the festival. I survived the week eating only Clif Bars and a jar of peanuts.
Dylan was a Post Malone super fan and Katie was a nurse.
On the night of Post Malone’s set the couple joined us, bringing a deck of cards and orange juice to complement our makeshift card table and abundance of vodka, respectively. In the matter of an hour, we’d gotten through several rounds of a card game I didn’t know how to play and still don’t.
Somehow, we got to the stage Post Malone was playing on just in time. Thousands of dirty, hot, and most likely inebriated people pressed up against each other in front of the stage, excited to see the tattoo-faced musician perform.
Before this day, I had never intentionally listened to Post Malone’s music. I was vaguely familiar with some of his more popular songs, but by no stretch of the imagination could consider myself a fan of his. Really, I wouldn’t have even come to his set if it hadn’t been for my new friends and camp neighbors.
He came out as fire exploded from the fronts and sides of the stage. Between the heat of the flying flames, the thundering bass pulsing through my body, and the communal joy pumping through the crowd, I had never felt better in my life. Like all of the best things in life, probably, the feeling is essentially ineffable.
To some degree, my sudden and random knowledge of all of Post Malone’s lyrics, can probably be explained away by my blood alcohol content.
In that bizarre moment of awareness and overwhelming connection to my environment and those around me, I felt a fulfillment of my genetic calling. But, instead of Van Halen, my musical, drug-induced, surrounded-by-strangers-I-love moment was with Post Malone.