Bonnaroo 2016 Recap: Here’s To Never Ending Circles

Photo by Jason Gonulsen

January 23rd. Or, 1/23.

But not easy as 1, 2…3. Not for me.

Not for one of my best friends.

It was 3 AM. My dog, Tucker, was lying on the creaky hardwood floor, yelping, suffering, panting, hanging on. I hope we wasn’t like that for long. I guess I’ll never know.

I’ll admit I froze for a second — it was the first time in my life that a living, breathing creature desperately depended on me for immediate help. I waited ten seconds, thinking that somehow it would all be okay, that I hadn’t woken up, that it was all a nightmare. But this was aggressive cancer. This was real.

I carried him to the car, lied him gently in the backseat. With one hand on the wheel and the other on his head, I drove frantically for help. I didn’t fire up Spotify. I ran through three red lights.  I drove as fast as I ever have because my little guy was in pain and it needed to stop. This was goodbye.

The final thing I remember was spending a few quiet moments with him. They had given him Valium, almost to point where he was lifeless, and only one of his eyes was open. But the last thing he did was try to give me a final kiss — his tongue moved slowly and hung out of his mouth. I told him it was okay, that I loved him. I’ll always remember that fragile moment, because I would like to think it was his way of saying he knew I was there for him. One last embrace.

And then he was gone.

I wasn’t the same for three months. I avoided everyone, I avoided most concerts, I avoided alcohol, but I did take the easy way out. I slept. I gained weight.I watched so many average movies on Netflix. March Madness wasn’t the same. I was depressed. Finally, I got help.

Without help, I would not have been able to attend and photograph Bonnaroo, a four-day music festival in Manchester, Tennessee. A magical place from which I have just returned, rejuvenated with a fire in my gut and so much hope. You might think of it as a hippie haven, and that’s okay. I can’t speak for anyone else about their Bonnaroo experience, or what they might believe it is or isn’t. The truth is, it’s different for everyone. A unique 96 hours in 90+ degree weather.

And the show always goes on.

The music lasts until 4 AM. 6 AM if you count the Tiki Disco. And if you camp, like I did, the days start early. The sun is your alarm, and a puddle of sweat greets your first thought. Your breakfast is Emergen-C, a Powerbar, and dry cereal. Your line to the Porta-Potty is long. But boy do the hours fly by.

Your days are filled with moments. Charles Bradley, 67, smiling in the grueling heat. Eddie Vedder holding a bottle of wine and launching furiously into “Go.” Devonte Hynes, aka Blood Orange, dancing to “You’re Not Good Enough” at 2:15 AM. Tame Impala and confetti cannons at 1 AM. Ellie Goulding greeting her audience after a brief evacuation due to lightning. Grace Potter flying around the stage to “Turntable.” Benny Yurco’s hair. Twin Peaks opening with a rollicking “Butterfly.” Dead and Company opening the final set of the weekend with “Truckin’.”

And then there’s Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES.

I want to leave you with Lauren.

Actually, I would like to apologize to Lauren. I had too easily dismissed her as a performer who looked pissed off. Next to nothing stage presence. Because of this, I wasn’t ready when she literally charged at me during the opening seconds of CHVRCHES’ first song, “Never Ending Circles.” This was not the Lauren Mayberry I knew from two years ago. This was a focused young woman who knew what she wanted, who knew why she was on Bonnaroo’s main What Stage.

Lesson learned, Lauren. Your presence gave me energy, gave me life, gave me a desire to continue.

And most importantly: you reminded me of effort.

We control our own effort. The bad days, the good days, it’s up to us to keep moving, keep creating, keep believing.

In many ways, I’m still there. Still watching her move. Still with a beaming smile. Like a vision that only Bruce Springsteen could describe. What a joy it was to see an artist blossom before your eyes when you were expecting much less.

Thank you, Lauren.

Thank you, Bonnaroo.

Here’s to never ending circles.

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