Friday morning was cloudy, which is part of the reason I was able to sleep so well. But the other major factor was our campsite itself. It was the festival setup I've always wanted. Along the way from Jersey to 'Roo via JMaddy, we picked up my college freshman cousin and 5 of his hometown buddies. They rolled down Highway 81 from Boston in a rented minivan, and from the start clearly had no idea waht they were walking into. To the yoots' credit, they did a great job festivaling once we were down there. They all seemed to have a great time, and despite being grossly unprepared -- "Whoa, you guys brought a cooler?" -- really contributed to the campsite, namely with caffeine and liquor. Friday morning I was able to chug a mugful of Starbucks right to my brain thanks to a 150 year old device that I had never seen or heard of before. According to Wikipedia, "French pressed coffee is usually stronger and thicker and has more sediment than drip-brewed coffee." Oddly, I found myself saying the same thing about the fresh pressed product I left in the toi-toi a few minutes later.
We spent the better part of Friday morning foraging around our neighborhood for various necessities and sundry items. We found a perfect flagpole and doubled the height of our crucial campsite landmark, the sweet California bruin flag. We wandered across the campgrounds and slugged through a bunch of mud to hang out for a bit with Adam's friend from college and my homegirl Hippie Katie, then wandered back and had a delicious lunch of turkey sandwiches and ham grilled cheeses, all courtesy of the legendary Meatbag Magician. Fat and satisfied, we ventured to Centeroo and caught the end of Santigold's set.
Santi kept the crowd bouncing, but capturing the attention of myself and many of those around me were a pair of sign language interpreters perched on an edge of the soundboard area. I always find this hilarious. They were mouthing every lyric, dancing to the beat, half signing, half raving with all kinds of sassy, hearing impaired gusto. I'm not saying deaf people shouldn't go to festivals, but no matter how well somebody lip-syncs and keeps a beat... I mean... they still can't really hear the concert, right? Someone might want to send me to sensitivity training for this, but I just don't get it. It was funny. Forget it, moving on.
Adam, Mike and I agreed that Al Green was not to be missed, and we were all too happy to watch one of the true legends smiling from ear to ear as he glided and pranced around the main stage, sweating through a red-vested three-piece suit as the evening sun continued to beat down. Green may not heed the farmers' almanac, but he still has the moves. He also still has his way with the ladies (although you could say he had a rough go of it with his women at first), tossing roses into the crowd and stopping more that once to lament that he couldn't jump into the audience and spread a little bit more love. "These people came out here to love me, not to hurt nobody," he declared. And damn if I didn't want a piece of the Reverend right then and there.* The most important thing that he still had -- that voice. He can still hit those sweet soulful notes, and god bless him for it, I hope he can forever.
*Guessing this is the closest I'll ever feel to being Catholic.
As soon as Al Green waved us goodbye, we realized that we had made our way up to a great spot right up against the rail dividing the pit from the rest of the crowd, and decided to stay put and stake our claim to that land in the name of Schiff during Beastie Boys, before Phish's late night set. If I could take a mulligan on one Roo decision, I would take it right here. Beasties vs Byrne was easily the most awful scheduling conflict of the weekend going in, and I agonized over it until the moment of truth came. I made the mistake of valuing our spot on the rail over seeing the music that I knew would maximize my experience. Next time I get the chance to see the man who wears the Big Suit, I'm going to make sure to take it. It's not that I didn't enjoy the Beasties' set, but I knew exactly what was coming, having seen them once before. Always opt to see a new show for the first time, especially if it's an artist you love. I consider myself a live music veteran, but this decision was total amateur hour. I knew I flubbed it the entire time, too. I just didn't pull the trigger on it because I was so into having that spot for Phish, who were involved in the second worst Bonnaroo scheduling conflict -- against Public Enemy. It would have been cool to see P.E. perform "It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back," and everyone knows how much love I have for ya boy, but I was left uninspired to make that move after seeing the Worst Fake Flav of All Time. I must have screamed "Flava Flaaavvv!" at this assclown a dozen times, and not once did he respond. If you're out there, bullshit Fake Flav, you suck. You mean to tell me you're willing to parade yourself around dressed like an asshole, but not act the part? For chrissakes, you're sitting on your fat, useless ass reading the fucking paper! Everyone knows Flava Flav can't read! Disgraceful.
Worst. Flav. Ever. Where's EK when you need him?
Point is, you can't go back, only forward, and inevitably we made it (finally) to the first main event of the weeknd: Phish on the main stage, Friday night at 11. It was a high-energy performance right from the gate, featuring another Chalkdust Torture opener like we had seen in Camden (Best show of the early summer tour leg? Methinks yes.), and the strong set of Divided Sky, Possum and Down With Disease hyping the action in the pit and around us to its first real fever pitch of the weekend. But after 8+ hours on my feet and the never enjoyable Wading In the Velvet Sea beginning to take form, I told Adam I had to get out of there. I recharged with a festival gyro and bottle of water, and after an entire night of overvaluing our precious rail spot, packed in amongst a few particularly insufferable Phish heads, I fittingly caught the hard-charging highlight of the festival to that point from a wide open patch of grass toward the back of the field. After Wading in the Velvet Shwag mercifully wrapped, the boys rolled through Harry Hood - always a personal favorite, though this version wasn't quite the pure joy of the previous Tuesday's Jones Beach edition - then covered Highway to Hell for the first time in over 12 years, jammed into 2001, and segued from YEM > Wilson > YEM in what felt like a moment of accidental perfection to close their set at 2:15am. An appropriate cover of the Beatles' A Day in the Life shut down the main stage for Friday night (at this point Saturday morning), and we ventured over to Girl Talk to close out the late late session.
Greg Gillis provided us with a predictably fun dance party, but I think at that point, for us it was just a little bit of noise that we didn't have to think too much about. Something to keep us bobbing and energized long enough to make it back to camp and crash. Before we did, we needed one last quick conversation about our strategy for Saturday -- the big day. Bruce Day. We decided we'd drive it to Firenze (we named our camp after our second landmark flag, a purple banner bearing red fleur de lys, purchased in Florence) for a cookout dinner pregame around 5, then hit up our same spot 3 hours or so before The Boss. That same, overrated spot. We didn't know that our well-intentioned plan wouldn't come to fruition, or that this would turn out to be the best thing that could have possibly happened to us. Content with our agenda, still spinning and exhausted from our long day of music, and with the sun rising on our first nearly 36 hours of Bonnaroo, it was time to make that move.