It's only fitting that on the first full-force day of the 2005 Bonnaroo Music Festival - the closest thing we have on U.S. soil to England's notoriously rain-soaked multiday music celebrations like the Glastonbury and Reading festivals - it's already a mud bath.
An intermittent sprinkle throughout the day on Friday was enough to turn much of this 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tennessee, into a murky, waterlogged mess. And believe me this: From my vantage point on the cozy, sink-into-me-and-forever-hold-your-peace couch that I find myself lounging on in the mock living room inside the very dry Artist Hospitality Tent, it sure doesn't look like much fun.
The weatherman is predicting nearly five inches of rain (and a few tornadoes) by weekend's end, mostly thanks to Tropical Storm Arlene, which is bearing down on Mobile, Alabama, some 425 miles to the south. That means most of the festival's 80,000 concertgoers will spend a good portion of this four-day weekend soaked and miserable, while those with the right access passes (guests, artists, journalists, and a wealth of additional - and often questionable - VIPs) will be enjoying an entirely different festival - warm, dry, and happy as pie.
IF YOU'VE EVER attended a concert or are a fan of music, there's little doubt you have, at some point, wondered what goes on backstage. So, here's what you should know - there's much more to backstage than you might think (and we know what you might think). There are, of course, the usual suspects (bands and their entourages partying it up, production crews scrambling to make sure Dave Matthews doesn't trip on his way to the stage, PR people making sure journalists don't see anything festival organizers might not want the world at large to know about), but there are also unsuspecting surprises like adorable girls from Lee Jeans handing out free denims, and batting cages courtesy of Major League Baseball. If music festivals of this magnitude functioned as self-contained cities - let's say Omaha - then the backstage area would be a parallel universe more akin to Las Vegas.
"As a punter [regular Joe], I've been to Glastonbury, and I really enjoyed it," says Frames singer Glen Hansard, whose band of Irish lads spit out a blistering set of emotive rock in the That Tent (for the record, there's also the What Stage, Which Stage, This Tent, and the Other Tent) on Saturday. "But I must say, it's very different to have a pass, because you can go to a proper toilet; you can go to the artist's bar. Basically, when you're a punter, you spend your whole day queuing. You queue to use the bathroom, you're on a queue to drink, and you're on a queue to eat. Depending on how big the band is, you're even on a queue to see them."
Having covered music and entertainment for nearly 10 years, I've seen my share of backstage and hospitality areas. I watched Rage Against the Machine sonically pulverize the masses from the stage at Woodstock '97. I've eaten lunch across a cafeteria-style table from Blur/Gorillaz singer Damon Albarn and watched in curious wonder as Korn's Jonathan Davis paraded his toddler around a backstage area in New York on a leash. Really, I've seen it all. But nowhere have I seen things like King of Leon's Caleb Followill stepping up to the plate in a life-size batting cage or one of the members of Modest Mouse enraptured by a complimentary massage - both of which I happened to see at Bonnaroo '05.