If You Can’t Take the Heat, Get Your Ass off the Main Stage

(As originally appeared in The Guide, 6/20/08) — You will never, ever hear anyone say the following sentence: “I just returned from a summer music festival and the temperatures were absolutely amenable. I kept a light shawl by my side at night and sipped cocoa at night under the stars. I smelled lovely each day.”
If you meet this person, punch them, as they are lying to you.
Summer music festivals are required to be hot. This is, I’ve come to learn, because the festivals are actually organized and run by a secret underground joint cabal of bottled water and Port-A-Potty companies, who have been lining their pockets with your sweaty cash since the first Woodstock.
More likely, you’ll soon cross paths with one of the 80,000 people who attended Bonnaroo in rural Tennessee this past weekend. They’ll be easy to spot, as they’ll be wearing a tattered Ratdog 1996 tour T-shirt (RIP JERRY!), most likely because they sweated through half their wardrobe last week, using the other half to wipe mud off their wineskins, treat injuries suffered while twirling in a circle for three hours straight and repairing hula hoops.
The heat is as much a staple of summer festivals as the overpriced food and the collective and potent crowd fragrance, commonly referred to as “Eau d’Pleaseshower.” Case studies from my own personal files:

1. Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, 2004: Average temperature: 101 degrees. Lesson: the way to get free water is to pass out on the grounds from heat fatigue, as our friend Ally did.
2. Austin City Limits, 2005: Top temperature: 108 degrees (seriously). Consequences: The parched earth turned against the festivalgoers by the last day, kicking up a dust storm that led some to walk around in medical masks like the park was the scene of a SARS epidemic. Lessons: Texas has a beer called “Lonestar” that somehow tastes better when mixed with dirt.
Bonnaroo — which started in 2002 and initially focused on jam bands and other Grateful Dead wannabes but has since expanded to include indie, mainstream and folk acts and is quickly turning into the king of North American fests — is designed to ensure you are the dirtiest hippie that has ever lived by the end of Day One. The festival scoffs at your attempts at preparedness: “Oh, young professional with a salary, 401(k) and iPhone, you think you’re better than Patchouli McHempants here? Well, take this! 98-degree days without a shower in sight! Then, a torrential downpour during the act you really wanted to see (My Morning Jacket)! Now, walk five miles back to your campsite through the mud and don’t come back without a bandana, hippie.”
So with all of this heat, copious free samples of Eau d’Pleaseshower and the general endurance test that is four days of rock festival, it’s understandable why the Kanye West Incident turned into such a low point for all the Boos in Bonnarooville.

The Kanye West Incident, if you missed Page 3, involved the Higher-Education-Hating One’s failure to take the stage until the absurd hour of 4:30 a.m., precisely the time the sun comes up in Tennessee and all the guys dressed like spacemen and the girls in cat costumes turn back into pumpkins.
The show was decent, but Kanye never addressed the crowd: not an apology, not a thanks, not even a “What’s up, Bonnaroo?” (and then he skimped on an encore). The spawned a sizable anti-Kanye movement the following day, which continues unabated on the Internet to this day.
That says a lot. The masses can handle the heat, the mud, the sub-civilized living conditions. But we’ll take the heat over an unchecked ego. At least the sun comes back for an encore.

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