IN JUST FIVE SHORT YEARS, Bonnaroo (a Creole word for "good times") has established itself as one of the very few landmark, mainstream-music destination festivals in the nation (only California's Coachella Valley Music Festival comes close in status or popularity). It has done so by specializing in what it calls grassroots music, known to everybody else as "jam bands." Although defining exactly what a jam band is can be quite difficult - the musicians involved often joke about not knowing what the heck it is - suffice it to say that there are several factors that are usually present.

If you can stretch a four-minute album track into a self-indulgent, 35-minute rock ramble every time you grace a stage, you are a jam band. Because of this, your fans are knee-deep in trading MP3s of your live gigs, which, of course, you encouraged the bootlegging of in the first place (yet another factor). Last, but not least, your fans put up with said rock operas because many of them not only love music but also might love other unmentionables that we don't print in family publications such as this. Wikipedia, the online dictionary, sums it up as such: "Although usually associated with psychedelic rock, jam bands often draw on various musical traditions, including funk, progressive bluegrass, blues, country music, rock and progressive rock, folk music, and jazz. Jam bands sometimes improvise around the chord progressions of precomposed songs, incorporating variations on recognizable themes, riffs, and rhythms while allowing for unexpected detours of unpredictable duration. This is arguably a progression of the guitar solo, a feature of traditional rock music."

Bands you have no doubt heard of that fall into this category, in no particular order, are the Dave Matthews Band, Widespread Panic,­ and Phish. The Grateful Dead, of course, is its founding father. Anyway, I digress. Cleverly, Bonnaroo organizers know a thing or two about pigeonholing, so they also invite a multitude of big-name acts across a diverse swath of genres (2005 saw Modest Mouse, Black Crowes, the Frames, Kings of Leon, Jurassic Five, and De La Soul), and suddenly, everyone within a 1,000-mile radius descends upon middle Tennessee as if it were a bus stop on the road to the musical heavens. Naturally, nothing short of an apocalyptic backstage will do.

WHILE THE DAVE MATTHEWS BAND is tearing through a Friday-night headlining set full of exercises in the kind of musicianship most artists only dream of (yes, they are that good live), the chosen few are living it up in Artist Hospitality, though few is a relative term. Bonnaroo reports that in 2005, some 3,000 people had access to this area, a small village located a stone's throw from the main stage. Behind its two security guards, who put up with less malarkey than a weather-beaten grandma guarding her precious, secret recipe for peach cobbler, you'll find a world that specializes in all things free.

There are Clif Builder's bars (protein), Sambazon Açai (antioxidants), and Starr Hill Amber Ale and MoJo Lager (intoxication) - which make up a meal for most musicians. There are free Xbox games and classic arcade games like Galaga and Asteroids. There are two masseuses who I'm quite sure didn't take their hands from the strained necks of musicians, production crew, and, of course, journalists, for four days straight. And while there wasn't supposed to be free Patron tequila, the Patron girl saw to it that the bar was fully stocked with that too.

Outside the tent but within the same stomping grounds, there are Lee jeans and jackets and Timberland boots, batting cages,­ and a PGA golf simulator. Did I mention this was all free? I flirt with the Lee Jeans girls for a free pair of jeans - not being a musician and all - but they only have size 31 waists left. Now, I'm normally a 33, but rock stars wear their jeans tight, right? So I decide to squeeze into them anyway. And just when I think my hips are being hugged worse than anyone else's out here, I see the members of Southern-revival-rockers Kings of Leon. Their jeans are so tight, 31s would look like clown pants. I'm told theirs are size 27s and slink off cursing their names.