[This was sent out to various news outlets in 2009.]
Dear Ashley Capps,
I speak for everyone when I say:
What are you thinking, relegating the workers of Bonnaroo to Plebian Catering? Some of them live on site for a month!
When I started working the festival in 2003, site workers had a full salad bar, the meals were hearty, and every man and woman got ice cream. As the years went on—and profits soared—our sustenance has degenerated. Now the catering is divided between the plebians and patricians.
In Plebian Catering we got powdered eggs, burnt meatloaf leftovers, soggy french fries, and a wilted pile of iceberg lettuce turning brown in the heat. Of course, no ice cream. We would sit down to our gruel, praying to be spared from gastroenteritis, as the scent of savory delights wafted over to us from Patrician Catering next door. Walking out into the hot sun, we saw toga-wrapped nobles filing out of their dining tent with ice cream dripping in hand.
Ideals aside, Bonnaroo is not aloof from iniquity. Your burly security guards beat the living damnit out of that skinny, spun-out kid after Radiohead’s show in 2006—every year the independent vendors get shut down because they have failed to pay tribute to your bottom-line trolls—a dead body or two is always swept under the hay-bales. That’s all water off this duck’s back, man. But when I found out that our shitty, mushed-up broccoli casserole was delicious days ago in Patrician Catering—before coming down to us plebians—I became furious.
The manual laborers of Bonnaroo live in that poison ivy strewn field, slaving in the muggy heat day after day, only to find two-day-old dried chicken on their plate. Granted, Bonnaroo pays better than the average gig: 8-hour minis, decent hourly rates, air-conditioned circus tents for us to build our Wal-Mart furnished version of Mexico City in. But this isn’t some privilege for us—it is our due compensation. We get paid more because we don’t go home. And if we are forced to feed from your trough by proxy, then surely the 80,000 tickets sold at $250 (plus merch, plus vending fees) could pay for healthy meals.
We tighten every shackle in the rigging, dude. We unload every truck, bolt every truss, fly every speaker cluster. Every nutritionist knows that hard work requires vitamins and minerals. How does that elude AC Entertainment and Superfly?
When we eat Aldi-style corned beef while watching the Whole Foods truck kick up dust through the site, drinking bitter NASA-grade Gatorade mix from unwashed coolers as your preferred brood saunters about with popsicles in hand, it kills morale. Who wants to push road cases through dirt for a withered carrot?
This sort of indifferent elitism has become a dominant trend in the music industry. The workers, even the touring personnel, often land on the shit side of the bottom line. Blanketed as a human resource, we are paid—but paid no respect; encouraged—but encouraged to stay out of sight; and fed—a lot of corporate bullshit.
Maybe we (the stagehands, security guards, trash cleaners, site crew, and death-defying riggers—shout out!) seem like scumbags to you. Pack mules for your mountaintop circus. I can’t deny that. We are selfish bastards, one and all. But if I recall correctly, you and I attended the same Religious Studies department at the University of Tennessee (myself a few years behind.)
You obviously learned that the opiate of the masses will line your pockets if accompanied by enough light and sound. But what about the guys strapping the lighting truss or hoisting your two-ton Bonnaroo sign on Whatever-the-Fuck Stage? Surely, if God can cause his sun to rise on the evil and the good, to send the rain onto the righteous and the unrighteous, your profit-saturated production office could budget in a decent bite to eat for the hired hands.
You might have missed this one from class—out of the Gnostic Gospels—those secret teachings of Jesus that were hidden for centuries at Nag Hammadi:
Said the disciples to the Master: “But if we give them a salad bar, they will ask for more dressing.”
To which Jesus replied: “Perhaps. But even scumbags deserve ice cream.”
Peace, Love, and Deck Chain,
[Though no one published the piece, someone did send it on to Mr. Capps. I am told that he considered my point-of-view carefully.]