The lineup for the 2008 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival (June 12-15) was recently announced. One act in particular caught my eye. It wasn’t Jack Johnson, Pearl Jam, or even Kanye West — it was Metallica. Yes, Creeping-Death-Bell-Tolling-Damage-Incorporated Metallica.
Since its humble beginnings in 2002, Bonnaroo (in many music circles) has been referred to as “the hippie festival”. Each year, I’d watch as my hippie friends and back-pack hip-hop comrades would leave home and venture down south to Manchester, Tennessee. For three days and nights, they would camp out with thousands of strangers on a 700-acre farm of mud. During the day, they could catch their favorite band jamming out on 15-minute songs, then cap off the evening by twirling some glow sticks in one of Bonnaroo’s dance tents. Hemp jewelry stands, amateur drum circles, burrito booths–sounded like a great time to me. That’s why I’d always decline the invite, and wait from the comforts of my own apartment to hear all about their mud-drenched Bonnaroo experience. Surprisingly, everyone always seemed to have a good time (despite having to drop their #2’s in a porta-john and going a weekend without taking a shower).
For the first few years of the festival, it was almost guaranteed that you could catch a performance from Trey Anastasio (Phish), Widespread Panic, Gov’t Mule, and/or Medeski Martin & Wood. Besides having the Grateful Dead or Crosby, Stills & Nash on the bill, what more could a hippie ask for? Though the festival grew in popularity each year, the line-up stayed pretty consistent with the jam-band philosophy (Dave Matthews, O.A.R., Robert Randolph, etc.). Even when Radiohead played Bonnaroo in 2006, it seemed to make sense (Jonny Greenwood, with all his electronic knobs and distortion pedals is pretty much a one-man jam-band himself).
Last year, Bonnaroo’s lineup included both The Police and Tool–sort of a stretch, but I could still rationalize it. Sting, like many of the festival’s patrons, goes barefoot a lot of the time–and going barefoot–is a pretty hippie thing to do. Also, it’s not out of the question to think that some of the young concert-goers could have been conceived while their parents were listening to a Police album back in the 80’s. Then there’s Tool. A lot of their songs clock in over five minutes, and all of their music videos are pretty darn trippy. Judges? Jam-band certified!
Though Bonnaroo has slightly veered from the course over the last couple of years, I’ve been racking my brain trying to justify Metallica’s spot on the line-up card this year. Yeah, I know their new album is supposed to feature lengthy eight-to-nine-minute songs with lots of guitar solos, but with previous album titles Kill ‘Em All and St. Anger and songs like “Seek and Destroy”, “Creeping Death”, and “Damage Inc.”, it’s kind of tough to throw them in that hippie/jam-band category. They do have two Woodstock appearances on their resume, however, during their first one in ’94, James Hetfield was seen walking the concert grounds in a Smith & Wesson (a handgun manufacturer) shirt, and then, we all know what happened at Woodstock ’99.
I have found hippies, at least in my travels, to be a loving, sharing bunch. Among other things, they like to share grilled-cheese sandwiches, beaded jewelry, incense sticks, and of course, music. In the late ’90’s, instead of trading cassettes at concerts, people began sharing music via the internet. Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich didn’t take kindly to this practice, so he and a team of lawyers helped put an end to mainstream music file sharing. It’s not like the hippies were downloading Metallica songs, but with Napster out of commission, it probably became more difficult to share rare MP3’s from groups like The String Cheese Incident or Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals.
For the life of me, I just can’t figure out how the patron saints of thrash metal belong at Bonnaroo 2008. Maybe the hippie faithful won’t even notice. To help soften the blow, organizers have also signed on Grateful Dead alum, Phil Lesh and Friends, as well as Willie Nelson, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, The Allman Brothers Band, and college faves Death Cab For Cutie, Sigur Ros, and Iron & Wine. I guess if you have a member of the Grateful Dead playing your hippie festival, things haven’t gotten too out of hand (yet).