Early tomorrow morning I venture back to a place near and dear to me, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, for what will be the final time. I’ve said this a few times in the past but this is definitely the last for the foreseeable future. It’s bittersweet but I plan on going out with a bang.
Why does this festival in particular mean so much to me? I get asked this question quite often but I’ve never really given an honest answer, until now.
In early 2002 I was fresh off a divorce. A divorce that left me an emotional wreck. It wasn’t the most pleasant of marriages. Looking back we were young, stupid, and obviously not right for each other. I was verbally abused, mistreated, and looked down upon. I avoided conflict at all costs and was a quiet guy so I never fought back. I just remained a punching bag. It wasn’t until I found she was having an affair, of sorts, it was more emotional than physical since they lived apart from each other, that I finally was fed up and we separated. Two years of my life gone. I felt alone, depressed, I was physically a wreck where I was weighing over 360 lbs., I worked at a job where I made good friends but headed nowhere, I was smoking almost two packs a day, and drinking regularly. I was lost.
Then a friend told me about this new festival happening in Tennessee. One where every band we loved was going to be in one place for three solid days. Reluctantly I bought a ticket even though I really couldn’t afford it.
June came and we headed down to this 500-acre farm literally in the middle of nowhere. At that time it was one road in, one road out but we timed it perfect and were only in line for maybe an hour. At the first Bonnaroo everyone was parked together: tents and RVs. We camped next to an RV which belonged to a professor of philosophy somewhere in Pennsylvania. We made friends quickly and spent the evening drinking, smoking and sitting on top of his RV watching the endless stream of cars. I told him about what I was going through and he offered a lot of sage advice including to “take this weekend, away from all the shit in the world, and discover something about yourself.” (Side note, thanks to this gentleman I have a love for philosophy to this day) We met more and more people. Everyone seemed to be there for the same reason: to discover a community based on music, kindness, and love. I immediately knew I was in the right place.
Needless to say the weekend was a dream. We knew the festival would be big but I don’t think we ever imagined it would be what it is today. I discovered a community of friends that I still feel connected to years later. More importantly, I discovered myself that weekend. I knew what I wanted to do with my life and I was going to do it no matter how long it took.
The Bonnaroo experience changed my life and gave me focus in a time when I had none.
After getting back home I immediately started working on street teams for bands like Galactic, North Mississippi Allstars, Widespread Panic, and more. I became an ambassador for the Home Grown Music Network. I started painting and drawing again. I knew I wanted to work in music.
Then a few months later I met the love of my life. Her drive and encouragement drove me to go back to school where I started concentrating on design, more importantly, interactive and web. I learned to develop websites as well as design because I knew web was going to be the next big thing.
Years went by and through some lucky breaks, and jumping on opportunities as soon as they arose, I found myself working on some of the biggest festivals in the nation, including the one that started it all, Bonnaroo. I still have to pinch myself.
Bonnaroo was the catalyst that got me to where I am today. That one weekend changed, and saved, my life.
But now, why am I saying goodbye?
I could say it’s how the festival has changed over the years and doesn’t appeal to my musical tastes but that’s not true. Honestly I don’t have a musical taste. True music fans don’t limit themselves to one genre.
I could say it’s because of the younger fanbase the festival caters to but that’s not it either. Young kids at their first festival makes for great people watching. Also, you never know, one of those kids may be on a similar journey like I was over 10 years ago.
No, the reason it’s my last is simple: family. I have such a great wife and wonderful kids and spending time with them means the world to me. I want them to experience festivals with me. My priorities in life have changed. I work on festivals and in the music industry but when it comes to attending events, I want them to experience it as well. Going to Bonnaroo takes me away from them for several days and during those days are two important dates: Fathers Day and my wedding anniversary. I want to be here for those.
I hope to one day return to the famous Bonnaroo farm after this coming weekend but when I do, it will be with my sons when they are older. I don’t see Bonnaroo dying anytime soon. It’s too big for that. It has moved from just being a festival and is now an experience, a bucket list level experience for many. Because of that it will be around when my sons are old enough to get something out of it.
So off I go. Back to the farm for one last hurrah. It’s definitely been one hell of a ride and one that will never be forgotten.