Bonnaroo: Dresses, Porta-Potties and the Quest for a Name

Rachel Antonoff

For most attendees, Bonnaroo is a kaleidoscope of acid, porta-potties, painted boobs, festy-sex (doing it in a field) and general all around ‘headiness’. For me, it’s a family vacation. Over the past four years my brother Jack’s band, Steel Train has played all but one Bonnaroo, and being that my parents level of groupie-dom rivals that of Pamela Des Barres (minus, of course, the BJs), we’ve loyally attended all three. We don’t exactly rough it with our rooms at the Double Tree and clean underwear and whatnot, but we have our own reckless family fun. (A highlight I can’t seem to live down was the time two years ago when I smoked pot in front of my parents at the Radiohead show, earning the nickname "The Family Stone.")

So I was pretty jazzed this year to have a new reason to head down to Manchester. Having just finished the first round of samples for my new line, it was the perfect opportunity for me to dress some of the lovely girls playing the festival and document it for PAPERMAG. Also, the line was in need of a name and I figured the trip could be the perfect source of inspiration. So -- with my parents and a bunch of dresses in tow -- I was off.

Still nameless, I fly into Nashville with my brother and my best friend Alia (who conveniently happen to be dating each other) and we head to the Double Tree in Murfreesboro Tennessee to drop off our shit and grab a cookie. (Have you had a DT chocolate chip cookie? They’re ridiculous. They keep them in a drawer behind the front desk and they’re somehow in a perpetual state of warm meltiness. They’re magic.) We head to the festival grounds after a possible Vampire Weekend sighting, although I’m pretty sure it’s just a guy in Lacoste. The noteworthy shows for the night are MGMT, possible Double Tree guests Vampire Weekend and Superdrag. Most important on the agenda however, is the mind-bendingly wonderful Nicole Atkins, who will be gracing the stage in my first dress, appropriately named after her.

Watching Nicole perform is an experience unto itself. She is Judy Garland incarnate; with her bleating, honey-warm voice sounding something you might hear drifting out of a phonograph in an old movie.

“This is the best night of my life!” she breathlessly tells me post-show. We discuss possible company names and she’s a fan of "Dolly" and "Family Band." She also tells me that her father is the running champion of the Point Pleasant fishing tournament farting contest (although he hasn’t competed since ’01) and this makes me love her more than I thought possible.

The rest of Thursday night is a blur. We see the great (comic) Mike Birbiglia and loiter briefly around the Vampire Weekend stage before going back to Murfreesboro for cookies/bed.

I’m not supposed to dress anyone playing today, so it’s a swell surprise to see that the epic Jenny Lewis is wearing a Mooka Kinney jumper (the line I had with my partner Alison Lewis). Hooray! She looks like a bombshell in it and their show is by far my favorite of the day. Nothing brilliant has come to me name-wise, but Family Band takes a hit when Jenny wrinkles her nose and shakes her head upon hearing it. I must admit, I agree. Out with Family Band.

More dress up and potential monikers comes in the form of the equally lovely and hysterical Janeane Garofalo, who sorts through dresses while recommending names like ‘She dates my brother’ and ‘E. Braun’ (in response to a joke of hers referencing Hitler’s girlfriend that killed me and Alia).

Alia, my mom and I catch the end of what is allegedly M.I.A’s last show and it’s pretty outrageous. Before I know what’s happening, we are being ushered onstage to “dance with M.I.A!," which you should know is something I would never elect to do. (I am truly a terrible dancer). Maybe its because I’m now completely stoned, but I decide to go with the flow and follow Alia (who is an incredible dancer. Borderline gifted.) onto the stage and more or less do my Elaine impression for the next 20 minutes before we are herded back off. My mother is doubled over in hysterics and has texted anyone she can think of.

Of course the highlight of my day is watching Jack’s band Steel Train play. I know I’m biased, but I love them and am pretty sure I would feel the same way if I wasn’t related to any of the members. I scream like a teenager at a Jonas Brothers show when my Dad hops onstage, grabs a guitar and plays with them.

Our evening comes to a close with family dinner. The artists catering tent is like your high school cafeteria only instead of cool kids and their cliques the room is spotted with Tegan & Sarah and Chris Rock with their entourages. Which more or less makes me the cool equivalent of Screech. Honestly, I think that tent perfectly sums up just how bizarre and surreal of an experience Bonnaroo is; sitting at a long table, completely stoned, eating ribs off the bone with my parents to my left and M.I.A to my right.

After dinner we forego Metallica for more DT cookies and Semi Pro in bed. (Still no name)

List of possible names now includes; Mildred (after a young witch in a movie I used to love), Maude (after a writer I loved as a child) and Dolly (like Parton or "Hello"). Today I am to dress the exquisite songstress Jessie Baylin, who randomly enough, is also a high school friend of mine. Jessie, who may be the only Bonnaroo performer actually from Nashville, is reminiscent of a sassy modern day Nancy Sinatra. Her debut record comes out this week on Blue Note, yay! She looks like a dream in the Raffles dress and her awesome mom Dori serves as photographer for our makeshift photo shoot. Jessie’s advocating for the name Henry & Hicks, definitely a contender.

Today’s highlight comes in the form of custom spray painted converse with my initials on them. They’ve since lost a bit of their glamour after getting home and being mercilessly made fun of by my boyfriend (‘You look like the sixth member of Cobra Starship.”). But in the moment, they totally make my day.

The rest of the day flies. Our parents have left which is a bummer. We see comic extraordinaire Reggie Watts who is so unbelievable I would need words that don’t exist to adequately describe him. We catch a bit of Iron & Wine, have one last dinner in the "cafeteria" and climb, exhausted into the Steel Train van to make the night drive to Baltimore. In one hour it will be my birthday. After three days of non-stop noise, the peace in our car is almost unnerving. Just before midnight we stop at a rest stop with huge, incredible neon fireworks signs and buy "birthday fireworks." Still nameless, I turn 27 in the van. Jack sings and Alia rubs my foot and it’s the nicest birthday ever.

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