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Death of Sensitivity

The author of last week’s Artvoice cover story, “Death at Bonnaroo,” Andrew Blake, should have thought twice about even attending the music festival, let alone writing about it. I myself have never attended Bonnaroo, but even I know that it is a modern-day Woodstock knock-off, fueled by drugs, high temperatures, and free love. Blake begins and ends his article with such snarky negativity; one wonders why he bothered at all.

In the first few paragraphs of his article, Blake gives readers the impression that every single person who attends Bonnaroo is a hacky-sack carrying member of the Coalition of Hippie Drug Dealers. He regales us with tales from past years at the festival, when there were nights that “dealers” would be outside of his tent with nitrous tanks all night.

Among his sweeping generalizations, Blake introduces us to his new friend, David Matthew Sloan. Matt, as he went by, was described as a pretty laid-back guy who somehow got trapped with this stick in the mud as a camp-mate. You see, Blake had posted a classified ad of sorts, inviting strangers on the road trip to Bonnaroo with him. Why someone would do this, when said person seems to dislike people in general, is beyond me. Don’t ask strangers along for the ride, kids. It’s akin to picking up hitchhikers, which is dangerous and illegal.

Soon after we meet Matt, we are subjected to a page and a half of Blake lamenting his previous years at Bonnaroo: the shitty bands, the pricey food, the sweltering heat, and the endless drugs. By the time we get to the point of this article, we are once again left wondering why he attended in the first place, and why we are still reading.

At one point, when giving us more background about his new buddy Matt, Blake mentions that Matt has wanted to see Dave Matthews Band at Bonnaroo for years and cannot wait until Sunday to hear them close the show. After this, we are reminded—more than once—how much Blake cannot wait to leave the festival before Dave Matthews hits the stage; yet another example of the author’s blatant disrespect throughout the article.

After one short paragraph about the bands he did enjoy—and another mention of hightailing it before DMB began their set—Blake hits on the real reason for his article: On the last day of the festival, he awakens to find that Matt has died. While the reader digests this sad news, Blake makes sure to mention that he is “the only person not knocked out hard still by rolls, ‘shrooms, molly, and everything else in that gargantuan galaxy of designer drugs that are so abundantly named.” Just so we, the readers, are clear—that means he was the only one awake and not “on something” of almost 100,000 people.

After the news of Matt’s untimely passing sets in, Blake paces around, and then goes to sit and wait for the cops to come and “scrape Matt’s Honda Element with a fine-tooth comb and inquire about every last incident from the night before.” Sorry to inconvenience you, pal. Thank God you got your full eight hours of sleep the night before, or how ever would you have made it through the questions about a 29-year-old man’s sudden death? Poor Blake.

The author then tells us what he found on the internet about Matt’s death: that Matt’s core body temperature had been 108 degrees and he had collapsed. Blake goes on to point out that toxicology reports could take weeks to come back, almost in the same breath as mentioning that Matt’s brothers made the drive to Bonnaroo to retrieve Matt’s camping gear. What was Blake’s only comment about this touching and sad moment?

“I apologized for their loss and swore, yet again, that this would be my last Bonnaroo.”

Then Blake decides to tell the readers how many drugs Matt was seen taking over the course of the festival. That the young man had been “shaking, sweating, and grabbing people” while watching a band. Blake wanted us to know just how hard Matt was partying. He wanted us to realize that he had planned to party even more, telling us about “the bag of mushrooms the cops didn’t catch when they went through [Matt’s] stuff.” And most of all, Blake wanted us to know how much this whole ordeal put him out by saying, “…and now Matt was dead and I was alone on the hood of my car…listening to goddamn Dave Matthews Band on Sunday night.” Well if that’s not the worst thing that could happen to a person, I don’t know what is, except for maybe accidently overdosing at a festival with thousands of people watching and doing absolutely nothing to stop you or help. That would kind of suck, too.

Of course, the obvious conclusion would be to blame Matt for his own death. He was obviously having too good of a time, not monitoring his drug intake, and overdoing it. He wasn’t staying hydrated properly in the stifling heat. Perhaps he also didn’t get enough sleep over the weekend. It was irresponsible, to say the least. But what of the other festival attendees? Could no one have stopped this young man? Not one person could have stepped in and said, “That’s enough, bro”? The person he slept next to, Blake, had to have seen him at least a few times. So perhaps some blame can fall on his shoulders, as well. The bottom line here is this: The cops at Bonnaroo need to be more diligent; security needs to beef up and be more aware of what is happening at the festival; concertgoers have to act more responsibly and take care of themselves; and vendors need to give away cups of water when the temperature rises. Perhaps Blake could have made these points instead of sullying a young man’s memory by recounting the ways he was responsible for his own death. While Matt had a hand in his demise, there were many other factors involved, and Blake certainly didn’t have to recount Matt’s final days for his family to read with such judgment. Ultimately, I understand where the author is coming from—I just think he could have gotten the message across in a more positive, productive, and respectful manner.

My prayers go out to the family and friends of David Matthew Sloane; I hope that he did not die in vain and as a result, next year’s Bonnaroo will be an enjoyable—and safe—place for the Coalition of (Now Reformed) Hippie Drug Dealers.

Brittne Rehrauer, Buffalo

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