It was in the middle of Primus' 2 a.m. set when I realized I was standing in the middle of a Tennessee hayfield, mud up to my ankles. As the day's last thunderstorm evaporated into a limp growl, the kid to my right dropped acid and the kid to my left sucked on a chocolate-covered mushroom. Every bleary soul in that field was wet, cold and exhausted from a 12-hour musical coup. And nearly every soul loved every damn minute of it.
You may think it's more kicks than pricks being a big-shot jivejammin' journalisario, but we suffer for music just like the rest. And while I despised Les Claypool for making us wait two hours in the rain to listen to his Bonnaroo set two weekends ago, I also was satiated knowing that those three giant balls hanging over the stage would soon be lit up like giant, bass-pulsating eyeballs.
Fucking cool, man. Fucking cool.
Being the city dweller I am-enjoying showers and comfy beds and not standing in shit-smelling mud and all-odds are that I, and every San Diegan I know, should hate Bonnaroo and all the patchouli, natty-haired stank of it. But here's the thing: Bonnaroo pulsates with more soul, passion and musical prowess than anything I've ever witnessed. And this year, more than 90,000 people showed up to suckle on that soul.
Most cynical metropolitan jivers are right, though, when they pompously decree that hippie culture died long before Jerry Garcia bit the eternal pixie dust. Half of the hippies posing at Bonnaroo have become caricatures of themselves: trust-funded vegetarians commingling with burned-out collegiates.
Cue Warren Haynes.
The overweight, 44-year-old songsmith with messy locks halfway down his back ain't much to look at. But give him five minutes on stage and all you schmucks be dancing the hot-ass gotta-have-him boogie for whatever musical drugs it is that Haynes peddles. He smokes like mid-afternoon Baghdad behind that there gee-tar.
So, in the searing mid-Saturday heat-this is before three consecutive rainstorms rumbled in-Haynes' trio Gov't Mule sauntered up to the main stage and blew through a snarling, two-hour rock set. It was immediately obvious, even to Hershey's mushroom victims, that Haynes and his artists-in-arms have carved a new, bubbling vivaciousness into the jam scene.
Sure, Bonnaroo and the entire jam culture still have the drawbacks of arrogance-two drug-related deaths at this year's festival, whiney rich girls with muddy heels and the druggies who forget that there's music playing, too. But beneath the jam-band surface is a palpable sense of a cultural movement that not only refuses to die, but threatens to rear back to life like some ghoulishly terrific horror flick.
On June 23, The Dead and Haynes will drag themselves into Coors Amphitheatre. It's not glamorous. It sure as hell ain't hip. It's a gaggle of burned-out former Gratefuls and a super-sized guitar genius sneaking up on a midlife crisis. But good god, if you can't feel Haynes' soul, you must be soulless yourself.
It's a soul incubated by a legion of fans who crave improvisational rock music in non-stop, four-hour doses. It's a soul that wants Dave Matthews, The Dead and Phish-ditcher Trey Anastasio on the same stage as Bob Dylan, My Morning Jacket, Chris Robinson, Ani DiFranco, Patti Smith, Wilco and Gomez. It's a soul that has yet, and may never will, dismantle the shrine they've erected for the demigods of guitar. It's a soul that practices the stale ritual of American rock as if it were a rain dance commenced just minutes before dehydration kills us all.
And while I didn't pack enough drugs that Saturday to hallucinate any more than the sun willed, by gum, I did fantasize about seeing Warren Haynes save rock 'n' roll and make a peaceful world of music lovers holding hands and singing "Beautifully Broken" in perfect harmony with the children of third- world countries blah blah blah...
Michael Jackson was even there.
We are the world, man, and what better way to experience its glorious boundaries than to paw through the mud in a Tennessee hayfield, listening to the bleeps and blips and static that have flushed out into the musical-cultural underground.
It might even be cool at an amphitheatre named after some watered down beer that burned-out collegiates drink.
The Dead and Warren Haynes play Coors Amphitheatre, 6 p.m. on June 23. $43.50-$53.50. 619-220-8497.