American Eats: Locavore Bonnaroo as Pop Community

IMG_1246Food is culture, that’s a given.  But what about food as pop culture?  Is there a second tier of American food, an equivalent of The Bay City Rollers occupying some déclassé rank beneath Flannery O’Connor, Mark Rothko, Paul Robeson?  And what do we do with that which is both, people like Chuck D. and Jack White, pizzas topped with baby arugula and farm-fresh cheese, hamburgers made of Kobe beef? Is the cuisine of the United States spread across the low- to middle- to high-brow?

At Bonnaroo this year, Mr. White twisted the universe into songs simultaneously brand new and immutably old, smudging all concepts of sonic social class out of existence.  The food for sale, however, presented a more complicated arrangement. You could at the beer stands spend seven bucks on a tallboy of Coors, but also spend eight on one of dozens of microbrews in the Broo’ers Festival tent. You could spend six bucks on a slice of pepperoni pizza or eight on a bowl of green veggie curry over rice.  Bonnaroo’s food, vastly more diverse than that of most public events of this size, included both the low- and middle-brow.

Except Bonnaroo is always trying something new, and this year a few lucky folks jumped on the festival’s first high-brow dining experience open to the general public. Bonnaroots, a four-course, farm-to-table dinner made entirely of ingredients sourced within 100 miles of the site, was a collaboration between the festival, Oxfam, and a non-profit named Eat for Equity. Eaters sat at long tables beneath an arbor while on a nearby stage a woman in a frog-green bodysuit played trumpet to the beat of a drummer with more hair than “Islands in the Stream”-era Dolly Parton. Cultural tiers converged. Continue reading

Jim and Nick and The Fatback Collective: Fresh Pig at the Food Truck Oasis

This is probably not the kind of image that comes to mind when you think about Bonnaroo.

This woman, who was as nice as could be, is named Banjo. That's not her christened name, but it's the one Bonnaroo folks gave her when she brought the heaviest Southern accent to Jim and Nick's. She seemed proud to carry it.

But it’s an image I saw my first night there.   I snapped it just after I watched a couple of people saw the head off a hog with something that sounded and looked a lot like the circa-1980 Sears hedge clipper we had growing up.  Off the body, the head looked almost rubber, almost like a cartoon.  Except for the eyes.  The eyes were tiny and wet.

“Ya’ll are sick, taking pictures of pig torture,” somebody next to me said, snapping a picture of his own.  Two guys stuck the end of the hedge clipper into the hog’s neck and started going to town on the ribs.  A man walking by trotted up and licked the head’s cheek.  Thursday night at the Food Truck Oasis.

This was not pig torture.  It was Alabama-based Jim and Nick’s Bar-B-Q taking the lead in the Fatback’s Collective Bonnaroo debut.   The Collective is a community of politically progressive chefs, restaurateurs, and gourmands who really dig their pork.  They share with Bonnaroo, according to Melany Mullens, one of a multiple publicists pushing Bonnaroo’s world of food, “a dedication to sustainability and pork.”

I like this coupling.  It sounds silly, but typed out it reads as simultaneously down-home and high-minded, which I figure is pretty much the point.  Bonnaroo is carbon neutral; it gets 20% of its electricity from solar panels; I could go on.  Bonnaroo is also a champion of the Southern culture of food and hospitality.  Welcome to Bonnaroo’s Tennessee, a land of new kinds of partnerships. Continue reading

Bonnaroo 2013: She-Said/He-Said

A kind stranger named Jake took this picture of us during the Wilco set. His wife (lower left) kind of dogged his photography skills beforehand, but I think it turned out quite well.

Shannon says…

Jason says…

The kale, feta and parmesan mac and cheese from Dan’s Gourmet was incredibly flavorful, and it gave me the energy to walk back to the campsite late at night.

Best thing I ate all weekend

The Amish donut.  Duh.  But, yeah, that mac and cheese was sick.
The David Lynch coffee that I got for free at the screening of his meditation documentary was really good: very nutty tasting with dried fruit at the end. Perfect cup for a misty Tennessee morning.

Best coffee to be found

We switched from regular coffee to the iced version.  I suppose this sullies the purity of the comparison, but it was something like 90 degrees.   So I will just have to accept the sullying.  Nashville’s Frothy Monkey sold us black iced coffee that was delicious: dark, thick-tasting, and spicy on a level usually reserved for coffees with a sharp bite, which this coffee did not have.  Excellent festival coffee for those people who are into coffee like other people are into homebrewed beer.
The dancing of the man in the Taco Supply booth was so earnest and passionate that I ordered a veggie taco even though I wasn’t hungry.

Most endearing food vendor

The ladies out in Tent City blasting “Misty Mountain Hop.”  I didn’t eat their food, don’t even recall what they were selling, but by Saturday it was about time I heard some cranked Zeppelin.
I loved those hefeweizens in the summer heat, especially the banana-y one from Yazoo and the orange-y Razor Wit from Highland.

Tastiest beer on tap

Terrapin Maggie’s Peach Farmhouse Ale out of Athens.  Super peachy without being sweet, super smooth without being light, super refreshing, even for this IPA man. Continue reading

Bonnaroo 2013: Anticipation for Fat Factories and Roadkill Balls


We’re ramping up our Bonnaroo output this year.  Shannon’s won some behind-the-counter time at Eat Box, one of our favorite food trucks from last year, and we’re really hoping the wilderness survival guru who grew starry eyed when discussing the consumption of roadkill testicles returns.  I have been thinking about my favorite summer fat factory—the Amish doughnuts and butter-dipped pretzels—at least a few times a week for the past two months, and we’re going to spend more time in Tent City this year seeking out far-flung late night delicacies and being propositioned by young men selling pot banana bread.

And, keeping in step with the growing national fetishizing (Spellcheck suggestion: “fetish zing”) of all things pig, the incomparable Rusty Odum of Knoxville’s Blank News is going to be chowing on one of the hogs being roasted in its entirety each day of the festival and give us the low down.  Because we don’t eat them mammals.  We’re also looking forward to drinking Yazoo the only Volunteer State brewer represented, and learning just what is to be learned from the Living Cuisine workshop at the Roo Academy.

Oh, and seeing if every living Wu-Tang member shows up.

We’ll check back in with ya’ll next week.

Lunch at the End of the Line: Bonnaroo Edition

Andrew at Solar CafeThere is a lot of good food at the annual Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, Tennessee. Much of it, along with dozens of good bands giving it their all, can be found in the central area of the festival, but for a perennial favorite of my brother-in-law Andrew (of Andrew Leahey and the Homestead), we were going to have to venture out into the great beyond. We were headed to the end of the line, and we were on the hunt for a mean tofu scramble.

A little background here: because both Andrew and my husband write about the festival for various publications, I have become an exceedingly spoiled Bonnaroo-goer over the past few years. They had once again managed to land us in “guest” camping, which boasted benefits like free showers and actual trees to shade our tents from the broiling Tennessee heat. (“Oh, no! This weekend, we’re like the one percent!” Andrew said, with a tiny bit of genuine class guilt.) But to get a taste of a particular dish that Andrew and his wife, Emily, had come to crave in Bonnaroos past, we needed to wander into the melee of the general camping area, where the great ninety-nine percent were partying in every conceivable fashion.

It is almost impossible to describe the verve, conviviality and downright filthiness of general camping. “I bet the best food is somewhere out here,” Andrew proclaimed with authority. Continue reading