Bonnaroo or Bust!

The best rock party of the year is just a road trip away.

Abandon sobriety, all ye who enter here. - GETTY  IMAGES
Abandon sobriety, all ye who enter here.
A topless woman masturbating, hand in her shorts, as a crowd looks on. A sea of empties and discarded clothing. The omnipresent hiss of nearby nitrous containers.

Welcome to the Bonnaroo Music Festival.

If you can snort, shoot, drink, or smoke it, someone out here has it, and often they're fucked up enough to share it with you. Originally more of a jam-band scene, Bonnaroo began to change direction three years ago, bringing in a wider and more challenging array of artists. This year it's essentially Coachella East, matching the legendary California music fest's breadth of talent.

Just a few of the big names performing at this year's three-day event: Common, Sonic Youth, Tom Petty, Beck, Death Cab for Cutie, Buddy Guy, Ben Folds, Blackalicious, Cat Power, Devendra Banhart, the Streets, Bettye LaVette, Atmosphere, Andrew Bird, Matisyahu, Nickel Creek, My Morning Jacket, Lucero, Elvis Costello, Bright Eyes, Robert Randolph's Family Band, and Medeski Martin & Wood.

Oh, did we mention Radiohead?

But music is just part of the equation. What makes Bonnaroo so amazing -- perhaps a holdover from its original hippie incarnation -- is the freewheeling atmosphere on the grounds: topless, tit-painted girls, open smoking of marijuana, numerous tripping-balls types laughing maniacally while staring moon-eyed at their hands. There's multiple stages going into the early morning, plenty of food, and other attractions like a batting cage and a classic arcade.

This is the reward for an eight-hour drive, the shortest trip to see Radiohead you'll ever take. The fifth annual Bonnaroo will be held June 16-18 in Manchester, Tennessee. Because of the dearth of nearby accommodations, most people camp on the grounds, an endless field that unfolds like the iconic overhead shot from Gettysburg.

Before you pack, there are a few things you should know. First, tickets are going fast. Log on to to purchase a three-day pass and, if needed, an RV pass. Second, get beer before Manchester and be prepared to wait as long as four hours to get into your camping spot -- particularly if you arrive the day of the show. (There are actually a few shows on Thursday, the night before the festival officially starts.)

Finally, be prepared for the smell coming off your fellow campers by the third day of nonstop debauchery. And look out for rain, which almost inevitably arrives in hour-long outbursts during the late afternoon.

If you're not willing to drop $200 for a ticket to Bonnaroo, perhaps you'd be interested in a show closer to home.

You're in luck: June 14-18, Cleveland will play host to the CMJ/Rock Hall Music Fest. The five-day festival can't boast the star power of Bonnaroo, but if you're a fan of underground and college rock, there's a lot to love. And metalheads, rejoice: Chimaira and Mushroomhead will perform on the same stage for the first time ever.

The fest marks the triumphant return of Alejandro Escovedo, who nearly succumbed to a bout of hepatitis C a couple years ago. He's recovered enough to release The Boxing Mirror, possibly the best album of his long career. (Escovedo played in '70s punk legends the Nuns, as well as '80s cowpunkers Rank and File and True Believers, before embarking on a solo career in the '90s.)

But the best show of the weekend is the sizzling garage-rock double bill of Detroit Cobras and the Dirtbombs. You haven't witnessed soulful, edgy rock and roll until you've seen this pair of Motown bands live -- particularly the Dirtbombs, led by Mick Collins, the black Elvis of garage soul.

The weekend will also focus attention on some of our best local acts, such as Rosavelt's Chris Allen, Blush, Machine Go Boom, and Audiblethread.

And you don't have to buy a ticket to enjoy the festivities. The Rock Hall is hosting a pair of stages Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons, with a mix of local and national talent, including the New Lou Reeds, Roué, View From Everest, Heavenly States, Wussy, BellRays, and Nebula.

Bottom line: There's no excuse for not seeing live music this month.

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