From this year’s Bonnaroo Beacon (year 15)…

First off, let me say that the Beacon has evolved considerably since we started in 2002. The idea for paper came to me early that year when I received a call from Superfly’s Rick Farman telling about a new festival they soon would be announcing and asking whether there might be anything that the Relix/ home team could contribute. My first thought was an on site radio station similar to what Phish had done at their festivals. (At the time I co-hosted the Jam Nation radio show with Jeff Waful on 104.1 in Hartford and on XM Satellite radio in the pre-SIRIUS merger days—Jeff was then a fellow Relix staffer and is now lighting designer for Umphrey’s McGee and director of their new documentary film Reel to Real ). But the technical side was beyond me, so instead, I suggested that we create what I still believe was the first of its kind—a daily festival newspaper that covered all the action on site. Rick agreed and that set us down a path that subsequently led us to produce papers for the Phish fests, the Dead’s Terrapin Station reunion, DMB’s Randall’s Island Getaway, Lockn’ Festival and much more.

While we now have an incredible Beacon team, for the first year of the festival I really was something of a one-man band on the editorial/production side. I was the photographer, the principal reporter and thanks to a few weeks of PageMaker lessons, I was also the designer. Rather than just deliver the material electronically, I saved the files on a zip drive and hand-delivered them to Total Graphics, the printer I had located in downtown Manchester. Watching them print the Beacons old-school style on their press was quite a marvel to behold. It’s captured in Danny Clinch’s 2004 Bonnaroo film We Have Arrived, which also has some insane My Morning Jacket footage, so I’d encourage you to seek it out.

By the time Sunday morning arrived that first year, I was crispy and exhausted, which is why I was late with my delivery. Plenty late. Late enough that by the time I arrived at Total Graphics everyone had left. Since the title of this story is “The Year I Committed B & E to Finish the Sunday Beacon ,” you may be thinking that I busted in, fired up the press and printed 15,000 papers. That didn’t happen (alas?) but thankfully, as Ray from Total Graphics was driving home, he happened to notice my car flying past and called everyone back in to work. He saved the day, they printed the paper and I’m thrilled that we’ve been working with them ever since.

But while that was the first time we nearly didn’t have a Sunday Beacon, it wasn’t the last. In 2007 a series of events required me to do my best work as a greaseman (think The Amazing Yen from Ocean’s 11 ). At the time we shared a trailer with Big Hassle, the folks who handle the festival’s press. I would amble in at some point after midnight and typically stay until dawn—writing, editing and assembling photographs. By 2007, although I had a key to the trailer, a separate key was required for the front office where Ken Weinstein and the Big Hassle guys did their work and locked their gear when they were done for the night.

All was otherwise going well at 2:30 a.m. on that Saturday night/early Sunday morning when I walked in to their still open and unlocked office to print out my boarding passes for my upcoming return flight (I was leaving late the next evening). I brought in my laptop—which had all the files for the Sunday paper on it—and then began to transfer the printer driver from an installation disc. While this was happening, one of my photographers called to me from the other room to look at some of his images for potential use in the Sunday Beacon. I joined him and became so involved in the process that I failed to notice one of the younger Big Hassle guys walk into the front of the trailer, turn off the lights and leave, locking the door behind him. I didn’t realize what had transpired for another 10 or 15 minutes and by then the Hassler was long gone.

What to do? We sent someone after him to no avail. We couldn’t roust anyone else from Big Hassle nor could we locate anyone on the operations side of the festival who had a key. A few folks in the trailer made an effort to pick the lock but somehow I didn’t have the proper team assembled for this sort of caper. However while people fiddled with the knob, I noticed a small grate, held on by a couple of screws, at the bottom of the door. Out of options, I decided to give it go. After I removed the screws and examined the opening, I had my doubts if I’d make it through but I was out of ideas and on deadline. I couldn’t seem to do it feet first but when I turned around and extended my arms, victory was mine! Laptop reclaimed and the 2007 Sunday Bonnaroo Beacon was back on track…