In the summer of 2006, my younger brother and I decided to drive the 600 miles from Detroit to Manchester, Tenn., for the Bonnaroo Music Festival.
We may as well have not packed clothes (God knows we wouldn't have been the only ones), for Tennessee is not all that chilly in June. With little more than a van, a tent, some crackers and select beverages, we prepared for something we were so very unprepared for.
For those who have been, you know Bonnaroo is quite a ridiculous scene. You are all too familiar with 21st-century hippies, stark-white/translucent nudists covered in mud, overflowing port-a-potties and the sheer visual calamity of drug-addled masses. But in those four hazy, dirty, downright filthy days, you also probably saw and heard some great musical performances, which, after all, is what brought you to a 700-acre farm in Tennessee, right?
After setting up our tent the wrong way (and deciding not to do it over again correctly), Drew and I found out just how muggy, sweltering and disgusting Tennessee, or any place for that matter, can get. That evening, behemoth mosquitoes came out of the fields and forests with rebel force.
All Drew and I had to protect and defend ourselves was our poorly constructed tent and two citronella candles, which we at first wielded, which we then swung around like light sabers, which ultimately failed us quite miserably. We were being consumed.
So what would have been the next logical solution? Sleep in the car or a port-a-potty, perhaps? Barter with nearby hippie hoards for mosquito repellent? Smear mud all over ourselves as a cloaking agent?
Unfortunately we didn't consider a single one of these. No, instead we chose to zip ourselves in our tent with the citronella candles. Smart!
Sometime around 4 a.m. Drew and I completely passed out, exhausted, tattered with bites and probably a couple quarts shy of the average or preferred human-blood level. The blood feast was one that would have made the Red Cross jealous, and we later felt the itchy repercussions.
I was the first to come to, and I immediately noticed the remnants of the citronella candles lying next to me, smoldering in a black pile of ashes. Those candles had burned like cannon fire all night, and had completely torched themselves into oblivion... all within the confines of our tent. How the entire thing didn't burn to the ground is beyond my comprehension.
When I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes I noticed a thick black film on my fingers. And then I saw poor Drew and his face. Oh, his face!
I soon realized we had slept in a smoke incubator throughout night. Drew's face was just absolutely tarnished, completely covered in soot. He looked like he was wearing one of those mud masks you get at a spa, or had been up all night sweeping Tennessee's chimneys, or had been mining for coal deep within the bowels of the earth, or was some sort of human phoenix birthed from the ashes of his former fiery self.
He awoke, and the whites of his eyes had the most magnificent contrast with the sheer blackness of his soiled face. And then he saw me! I had the same thing going on! We thought this was hilarious, but then were dismayed at how stupid we were/are. We started coughing and blowing our noses and discovered the soot was not just on us, but in us as well. Our noses, our throats, our lungs, our eyes, our ears, under our nails.
Since there is little to no water at Bonnaroo, we washed ourselves with Budweiser, which made even less sense, and only attracted other creepy-crawly things in the coming days.