ON SATURDAY MORNING, the media is treated to a private acoustic set from singer-songwriter Iron & Wine in the Press Tent, located across a muddy road from the Artist Hospitality Tent. This Bonnaroo tradition is a gem for those with access to the tent, which begins with journalists but extends on up the VIP-pass ladder, mainly because musicians see it as a much more casual gig than the one in front of the masses. Samuel Beam, who is for all intents and purposes Iron & Wine, didn't even prepare a set list.

"What do you all want to hear?" he asks. Of course, one reporter just has to say it: "Freebird!" "Don't tempt me," answers Beam, before checking to see who's ringing him on his cell phone. Try getting that kind of intimacy on the main stage. Later that afternoon, both Kings of Leon and professional surfer/singer/songwriter Jack Johnson work the masses into a frenzy from the Which Stage.

Johnson, who has segued professional beach bumming into a multiplatinum recording career, sees the benefits of both sides of the pass debate. "When you're out in the crowd and you don't have a pass, you're a part of the energy of the crowd, and it's always fun," he says. "When you have a pass, you get to watch from the side. It's a lot more comfortable sometimes, but you don't feel the energy quite the same."

He has a point. I've seen some of the greatest bands in the world from the side of the stage, where the sound leaves much to be desired. On the other hand, watching 50,000 people from the same angle as the band is pretty cool- plus, you don't have to pay $5 for a Budweiser. At Bonnaroo, though, it all comes down to the Artist Hospitality Tent.

"The difference at Bonnaroo is, it's really a fun festival to be backstage," continues Johnson. "A lot of festivals have uptight security and the interaction between the bands isn't all that great. Everybody is being hurried everywhere. [But here] it's really laid-back. They are more concerned with the vibe than with everything running perfectly."