A couple weeks ago, I attended the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, courtesy of the Manchester, Tennessee, paper that carries my column.
Bonnaroo is an amazing series of concerts on a 700-acre farm between Nashville and Chattanooga. It is like an annual Woodstock, where hippies and hipsters go camping and watch top bands play for four days. I did not camp, however, because camping outdoors involves the outdoors, and in my opinion, the outdoors is best left outdoors.
I was initially told that Bonnaroo is a made-up word that means nothing, just like "lollapalooza" or "congressional ethics." Later, I found out that "bonnaroo" is Cajun slang for fun. And it was.
There were lots of kids with nose rings and tattoos. Many were wearing bathing suits that they should have reconsidered. In fact, although I am steadfastly against more government, I really think some of these people should have to apply for a permit to wear a two-piece. Bill Clinton could chair the committee to review applicants; he'd like that.
One person died, and I am sure countless kids had to be untangled from making out with another joyous soul wearing a nose ring. There was more sex going on than Paris Hilton's last night before jail. (I bet some attendees are checking their crotches this week, just hoping that itch is only a bug bite.)
As you might imagine, the Birkenstock crowd was there with booths supporting all their social causes. As best I can figure, they like to "raise awareness" in hopes that someone else will actually do something about the problems. It is apparently more noble to be an activist for grand-scale issues such as the environment than cleaning up your own campsite.
Anytime young music fans get together, there will be drugs. And the drug use at Bonnaroo was so open that if a kid was arrested with pot in his system, he could probably have asked for it back.
Drug vendors on foot offered a wide array of pot, coke, and acid for reasonable prices. Capitalism at its purest. Drugs were sold at a more competitive price than the prescription drug benefit Congress gave us, because at Bonnaroo, drug dealers were forced to compete on prices.
The way dealers at Bonnaroo operated is that when they walked by, they said the name of their product. You heard the word "pot" said by a passerby. If you wanted to buy said product, then — unlike our government's drug purchases — you engaged the vendor in price negotiations. (And as with most of my purchases, the conversation began with: You ain't no cop are you?)
Being one of the oldest people at Bonnaroo, I didn't get many offers to buy drugs, although I was a little nonplussed when one dealer walked by and whispered, "Geritol."
They also registered voters at Bonnaroo. Organizers assume the young people they register are going to vote for Democrats since most of the participants probably get their political views from the drummer for Third Eye Blind. This is the same drummer who rails against 10-cents-a-gallon profit for the oil companies yet has no problem selling his band's T-shirts for $35 a piece.
One vendor said that he was for Hillary Clinton because Hillary would fight global warming. I told him that he might be onto something, since there is nothing about Hillary that is the least bit warm.
Another activist told me he was going to vote for Dennis ("Munchkin") Kucinich because of his strong environmental stance. He kept citing the fact that some scientists say the oceans will rise four feet because of global warming, which explains why Kucinich is fighting it so hard: He would probably drown.
In the end, I must admit I really enjoyed Bonnaroo. I would advise other fortysomethings to try it. On one hand, the festival made you feel old, yet the vibrant and infectious carefree atmosphere made you feel young and rejuvenated.
And it reminded me that while getting old is inevitable, acting old is optional.
Ron Hart is a columnist and investor in Atlanta. He worked for Goldman Sachs and was appointed to the Tennessee Board of Regents by Lamar Alexander. His e-mail: RevRon10@aol.com.