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The Boro Beat: Have music festivals improved? Bonnaroo hopes so

With the Woodstock ’99 festival still in the hearts and minds of concert promoters, they understand that convincing a small, rural town that hosting a large-scale concert festival is a tricky task.

Bonnaroo NE will do just that.

Scheduled to be held Aug. 8 through Aug. 10 at Calverton Enterprise Park in Riverhead, L.I., the event will draw close to 100,000 ticketholders, and perhaps twice as many may try to show up without a ticket.

Of course anybody going is not only going to have to pass through Queens at some point on their journey, but they could potentially turn the Long Island Expressway into a parking lot and jam up the Long Island Rail Road so much as to make it excruciating — if not impossible — for those who had been planning to spend that weekend in the Hamptons to actually make their destination.

There will probably be hundreds — if not thousands — from Queens who plan to attend the festival. But rest assured, parents of those who head out for a weekend of fun in Riverhead, Bonnaroo NE will not be a replay of the violence and mayhem that ensued at the heavily commercialized and publicized 30th anniversary of the Woodstock festival.

With some of the biggest names in music headlining in 1999, tens of thousands of young fans paid more than $120 a ticket to go to the three-day event held at a decommissioned Air Force base outside of Rome, N.Y.

There were no basic amenities given to the fans. Water was being sold at $8 for a half-liter, food prices were outrageous, the Port-a-Potties were uncleaned and the temperature was in the high 90s.

Add to that the fact that the crowd was very young, with people in their late teens and early 20s, and that they were listening to music that was either heavy with guitar, overpowering with bass or just simply being screamed at them, and the situation turned ugly very quickly. A full-scale riot broke out with looting, fires, assaults and rapes.

The MTV generation proved that the carefree, hippie days of the original Woodstock in 1969 were long over and could not be manufactured 30 years later and in a new location, no matter how much the sponsors paid.

In the few years that have passed since the debacle upstate, concert festivals have started to return. The heavier groups, such as Korn, Limp Bizkit, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Marilyn Manson and Rage Against the Machine have been mostly replaced on the airwaves by bands with a similar sound but not quite such high-volume intensity. Their concerts have also moved to more appropriate, secure venues.

A look at the big-draw headliners at summer concert venues this year shows that there has been a musical mellowing blended with a feeling of nostalgia. At Jones Beach this summer, the majority of the bands are safe, suburban pop and retro throwbacks. Counting Crows and John Mayer will play in August, as will such standards as Aerosmith, Kiss and Peter Gabriel. There will also be Chicago, Kansas, Santana, the Allman Brothers, Neil Young and Crosby, Stills and Nash for the older crowd.

The same is pretty much the norm throughout the other metropolitan-area venues, such as Giants Stadium and the PNC Bank Arts Center, with perhaps Ozzfest (featuring Ozzy Osbourne and the aforementioned Marilyn Manson and Korn) and Lollapalooza (featuring Audioslave and Jane’s Addiction) pushing the limits for those who prefer their music louder and faster.

But these are in very controlled environments — well-tested venues with thick-bodied security guards and plenty of clean bathrooms.

Outside from the popular venues, however, are bands that lie on the fringe of popular music. Many of them, such as Phish, moe., Particle, String Cheese Incident and even the Dave Matthews Band, play to sold-out audiences wherever they go — but they do it without corporate sponsors, without screaming lunatic fans and, frankly, without people just showing up to get drunk and start fights.

It is this type of band that has reinvented the music festival. In recent years the moe.down, Jammin on Jersey, the 10,000 Lakes Music Festival and Bonnaroo have attracted tens of thousands of music fans from all over the country to the most out-of-the-way spots in the nation for a few days of music, fun and partying.

Bonnaroo, as a matter of fact, was such a success last year in Manchester, Tenn., that when the line-up for this year’s Bonnaroo was announced, more than 80,000 tickets sold out in less than 19 days.

Imagine that. In the middle of June, 80,000 people of all ages will trek to the absolute middle of nowhere in Tennessee to spend three days without bathing, eating grill-made veggie burritos and drinking bottled water while listening to more than 60 of the best (though not the most popular) bands, individual artists, D.J.s and improvisational jams that modern music has to offer.

Given the success of such a musical juggernaut, the organizers of Bonnaroo have decided to take their festival on the road.

And as it was true in the turn of the 20th century for immigrants, so is it still true for musicians today — all roads go through New York.

With fans jamming up the roads and bands jamming for the fans, Bonnaroo NE will offer a bit of someting for everyone.

The bands playing are a mix of old and new: The Dead (formerly the Grateful Dead), Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, String Cheese Incident, Ween, Government Mule, Medeski Martin & Wood, moe., Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade, Yo La Tengo, Talib Kweli, Rusted Root, Soulive, North Mississippi Allstars, Yonder Mountain String Band, Disco Biscuits, Cut Chemist, Grandaddy, X-ecutioners, Kings of Leon and Los Amigos Invisibles have already been announced. More bands will be added as the date grows closer.

There are two ways to look at Bonnaroo NE — the first is as a unique event, and the second is as an invitation to disaster.

Quite frankly, there has not been such a massive planned gathering of humanity (outside of New York City) for a single metropolitan-area event since the first Woodstock in 1969.

The funny thing is the vibe is very much the same. No, I’m not talking about peace, free love, lots of LSD and Janis Joplin. Rather, this is a gathering of cultures — a blend of three generations uniting as one for three days. The Dead and Dylan represent the early Beatnik and Hippie generation of the ’60s, though their music is emulated through Petty, Mule and Matthews.

The in-between generation is also brought to bear by Matthews with some help from Yo La Tengo’s Caribbean rhythms, Tom Petty’s rock and String Cheese’s jam style. The younger generation is represented by Kweli’s style, Cut Chemist’s turntables, Disco Biscuits’ progressive rock and moe.’s blending of it all.

So instead of pitching a fit about what this festival will mean to the main transportation arteries connecting Queens and Long Island, buy your tickets now. This festival is going to be a great success and offer something for just about every type of music lover. In other words, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Tickets are on sale at www.bonnaroo.com — not at all through Ticketmaster or any other source!

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