The amazing thing is that even after Radiohead’s impossible-to-follow performance, the Bonnaroo party soldiered on. I found my way back to the hospitality tent and managed to scrounge up a couple of pork chops and a piece of carrot cake for dinner, and sat down with my new friend Elizabeth, who’d been taking pictures all weekend on behalf of the festival. She was heading back to work, photographing the SuperJam, which started at midnight in one of the far-flung tents. SuperJam sounded ominously like the seventh level of jam-band hell, something that might go on forever once the cosmic forces that contained it were unleashed, so in the spirit of my journalistic enterprise I promised to stop by later, and she trudged off like she’d been sentenced to a slow death being stung by wasps.
Back in the press area I hitched a ride on a golf cart headed over to see Dr. John, who after years of rehabilitating his image into a sophisticated Jazz pianist who wears expensive suits and purple fedoras, was apparently going to perform in his old psychedelic voodoo persona, replete with feathered headdress and snake charmer regalia with a bone through his nose and who knows what else. We pulled into the back of the venue and there he was, standing outside his trailer wearing a coat made of nutria pelts and raccoon tails, with so many feathers and bones and tree branches on his head he was seven feet tall. One of my fellow golf cart companions appeared to be a high-powered writer from the New York Times, because he was ushered over to meet Dr. John with a respect not many writers are afforded. I just sort of slunk in behind him until I was standing in the little semi-circle of conversation, but he and Dr. John were speaking in such low tones I couldn’t catch any of their incantations. It was an illustrative moment, that no matter how legendary a performer you become there’s always an equally legendary music journalist who wants to talk to you right before you play. Dr. John’s face was painted with stripes of ash, and his unfocused eyes indicated that he was either deep into a high-voodoo trance or had been drinking Muscat wine all day. His band came out of the trailer all dressed in tunics like Sun Rah’s Arkestra, and there were a couple of young Cajun girls in some kind of loose-fitting costumes, one of whom was smoking a cheroot.
The band were introduced by St. Louis’ own Beatle Bob, and commenced to playing a very low down and dirty, Hammond organ-driven funk music, while the Cajun girls danced wickedly and Dr. John appeared to be high on zombie powder. After a while he came out from behind the organ to dance with one of the girls, keeping time by clacking some kind of shin bone, (undoubtedly a “black cat bone”), on a bleached lobster claw, which was fairly voodoo, I must admit. If this had been in a dark club somewhere it might have been illegal, given that the local police generally frown upon voodoo rituals, but in this oversized tent it had the character of delightful camp. That’s another thing about seeing so many shows back to back: so many of these performances would have been completely consuming if they had been the ONLY attraction, but considering it was my tenth performance of the day it just wasn’t possible to be completely absorbed. I could only watch from the sidelines, wondering where you get a bleached lobster claw and if, after the show, you go back to your trailer and laugh.
After Dr. John I meandered around the festival grounds, stepping over thousands of exhausted kids who had either just passed out in the grass, or intentionally fallen asleep underfoot. The were strewn everywhere, like victims of a terrible massacre, except even more of their ilk were still standing, still partying. There were powerful blue lasers firing into the night sky, and off to my left a huge column of flame erupted. Some sculptors had designed a series of iron fire-monsters, which were spitting flames and burning red-hot while people wandered among them quietly amazed. I was starting to get worn out, but after a few minutes lying on a picnic table I realized that it would be all too easy in the warm Tennessee night to just doze off, and the last time I passed out around this many hippies I woke up two days later on the Green Tortoise outside of Redding, California carrying a briefcase full of blueberry pancakes. That was NOT going to happen again.
My last stop of the night was going to be SuperJam, and I steeled myself for the descent into chaos. The tent was overflowing with thousands of dancing trippers, and as I approached I could see that none other than Trey Anastacio was leading the charge with some of his old Phish cronies. What a sight to see. I had always remained willfully ignorant of Phish, just out of complete prejudice against the way they spelled their band name, but now I was going to catch some seriously Phishy jamming. The music they were playing had all the concision of the Grateful Dead, with all of the note economy of Joe Satriani. It sounded to me like one of those random tone generators that we used to program in Basic on our Apple II’s, except with less “feel”. The hour I stood there they essentially played side two of Terrapin Station, as interpreted by Robert Fripp, if Fripp was forced to use Dimebag Darrell’s guitar rig. Mesmerizing. I could see Elizabeth the photographer climbing on the rigging, trying to get some compelling shots, and her body language attested to the futility of her task. Most hilarious of all was the fact that Matisyahu and his four Hasidic horsemen were down in the pit eating it up like they were at the Yeshiva of twiddle-rama.
Eventually I could take it no more, and stumbled back across the fair grounds to my waiting mini-van. I am not exaggerating at all when I say that, at seven o’clock in the morning the following day, I could still hear echoing across the festival the wheedly-wheedly, noodly-noodly, of the SuperJam, still in progress.