0617BONNAROOAUDHear Robert Plant and Alison Krauss perform at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
Sweltering heat and miles of mud can't keep nearly 100,000 music fans from flocking to the fields of Manchester, Tenn., each June.
Since 2002, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival has been host to roughly 150 bands each summer playing music of all flavors - rock, blues, country, bluegrass and indie.
This year, even more spice was added to the mix with hard-rock outfit Metallica and hip-hop act Kanye West among the headliners.
Although this weekend marks the third year I have attended the giant festival, it was the first year I haven't had to trudge through mud to catch a glimpse of my favorite guitarist or forego a shower for four days. I scored VIP tickets, which offer air-conditioned bathrooms complete with a woman handing you a paper towel to dry your hands, as well as a full buffet and private showers.
This luxury contrasts sharply with the overused portable toilets dotting the rolling campsites on the 700-acre farm south of Nashville, Tenn.
In years past, rain dampened the party by creating debilitating, calf-deep mud. One year I even threw in the towel a day early; my tent was leaking, my sleeping bag was caked in mud and my clothes were soaked.
Festival fun has a fine line, and as I packed up my soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in 2004, I reluctantly acknowledged my friends and I had crossed it.
But this weekend, soft rain cooled the stifling daytime temperatures. And the diverse lineup drew an eclectic crowd that was, surprisingly, pleasant.
Young hippies, old hippies, hipsters and black-clad metal fans joined families at the festival to see artists like Jack Johnson, 82-year-old blues legend B.B. King and Led Zeppelin's resurrected rocker Robert Plant take the stage. Willie Nelson, 75, also performed.
Usually fueled by electronic and pop acts such as My Morning Jacket or Death Cab for Cutie - who could have easily stolen the show - several stars of yesteryear not only brought the diverse crowd together but also solidified their legendary status. Metallica, for example, is known for its legions of black T-shirt-wearing fans, all of whom meshed perfectly with shirtless men riding a mechanical bull in the middle of the festival's grounds.
King proved he and his trusty guitar "Lucille" are still among the finest blues pair around. Nelson performed to an enthusiastic crowd, his gray braids dangling below his cowboy hat. And Plant, who is no longer an ebullient rocker jumping around the stage but a focused singer, performed a gentle set with the enchanting singer/songwriter Alison Krauss.
And everyone came together Saturday night for Pearl Jam's three-hour performance.
Lead singer Eddie Vedder's voice rang out over the throng of fans listening under the light of a nearly full moon. With respect to rising gas prices and the war in Iraq, Vedder seized the moment onstage to challenge festivalgoers to become agents of positive change in the United States.
"It is welded into the Constitution that people have not only the right, but the responsibility to make change," Vedder said. "It can't get any worse. We're right here in the middle of America. We can change the whole world. Do you agree that this is the time and place for this kind of talk?"
While Vedder acknowledged some may not agree with his perspectives on the war, he said he was grateful for the peace pervading the sprawling festival.
In this time of war and economic uncertainty, music still soothes the American soul and brings people together.