AS WITH MOST three- and four-day music festivals, the vibe out in the crowd by Sunday is somewhere between "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "I Don't Like Mondays." Backstage, it's more like "Rockin' in the Free World." In the Press Tent, the media is treated to bagels and lox and all the fixings - a meal the general populace couldn't dream of getting.

I wander over to the comedy trailer - yes, you need a pass for that too - where ex-Saturday Night Live comedian Jim Breuer is goofing off with some fellow jokesters. Breuer is doubled over in laughter as he remembers a Wiffle-ball match he and his cohorts had with a group of fans earlier in the festival. In order to have the match, he had to invite the fans from festival land to candy land for a few hours. (He wasn't about to cross over the opposite way.)

"Let me tell you something," he says. "Right now, I need some rest. I'm in my 30s, so I'll gladly take the backstage with the pass and rest. When I'm in my 40s, I'll venture out and go back to the mud side."

Later that afternoon, one of Bonnaroo 2005's biggest draws, Modest Mouse, is pounding out one indie-rock staple after another on the Which Stage. In the VIP rafters next to it, I meet a rare breed at a festival like this: a genuine fan who has managed to finagle a pass, getting a taste of both worlds in the same festival. Dylan Stacey is a 19-year-old University of Kentucky freshman - who better qualified to have the final word?

"Being out with everybody else, it sort of felt like you were more at home and could actually meet and understand where everyone else is coming from," he tells me. "Out there, people will say, 'Do you want to stand with us? Share our mat?' In here, you find your own table, get your own drinks, and nobody really pays attention to you."

Welcome to the music business. So having experienced both sides, where will he be in 2006? "If I had to choose, I would love to be out with the masses - if everything were free like it is when you have a pass. But it's not," he says. "When you can walk in here and get a bottle of water for free - and it costs $2 out there - it's awesome. So, I'd choose in here because it's free. That's just the kind of guy I am."

Me too, Dylan. Me too.


When: June 16 to 18, 2006

Where: Manchester, Tennessee

Who: Radiohead, Beck, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Bonnie Raitt, Death Cab for Cutie, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Sonic Youth, Son Volt, Matisyahu, Blues Traveler, Gomez, and Medeski Martin and Wood, among others.

What to Bring: According to, rain gear, a hood, and an extra pair of shoes, sneakers, or mud boots; bug spray, blanket, sunscreen, hat, plastic containers, extra toilet paper, lantern or flashlight with extra batteries, portable radio, a flag or balloon to identify your campsite, a small luggage lock for your tent, earplugs, extra trash bags, a camera (disposable), and a pen and paper for names and addresses, memories, and set lists.

Info and Tickets: