Rivaled only by folksy alt-rockers My Morning Jacket and jam-band gurus Phish, the Flaming Lips are the quintessential music festival band. It’s been that way for the better part of the last decade.
Boom Island Park
From preeminent U.S. soiree’s like Bonnaroo and Coachella to international joints like England’s Glastonbury and Ireland’s Kilkenny fest, the Flaming Lips — who will headline Rock the Garden on Saturday — never seem to disappear from the fest circuit. So it’s no surprise the psychedelic rock band's ever-affable and freewheelin’ frontman, Wayne Coyne, has endured his fair share of weird and wonderful.
We chatted with Coyne ahead of RTG to talk about smoking a joint with Sir Paul McCartney, sleeping in a gypsy caravan in Tasmania, and getting snubbed by Prince at an awards show (not a festival, but the story was too good to pass up).
On smoking a joint with Sir Paul McCartney ...
"When we first started doing festivals it would be quite a big deal to meet famous people. So, you’d be back there and see Smashing Pumpkins and Jane’s Addiction and Beastie Boys and stuff. But we were at a festival — it was an ill-conceived festival — somewhere in the outskirts of England.
I remember the Barenaked Ladies, of all groups, were with us. They had already played their set and we were playing later on. There was a gap, so all of us were there together. We were talking to dudes in the Barenaked Ladies and one guy went to his van that was parked outside the festival to get some pot.
And as we were getting the pot out of the van, a big group of people pulled up — it was Paul McCartney and his entourage. They pulled up and just started walking alongside us as we made our way back to the stage. Neil Young was about to play, and we just ended up [walking alongside] Paul McCartney and his crew.
Then I remember we were standing, watching Neil Young, and [McCartney] was smoking a joint and passed it to me. I don’t smoke pot, but I pretended I smoked so I could smoke a joint with Paul McCartney. It was a strange, surreal moment standing right next to this guy. He’s a mythic figure to me and then there he is.
I was so close to him that I could see his ear and his hair wasn’t long enough to go over his ear. I remember looking at his ear, thinking it was a very dried-up flaky ear, and thinking, “Oh, he’s just a man.” I was also taller than he was, which surprised me.
So, that kind of stuff would happen a lot when we were beginning to do festivals."
On naked guy at Bonnaroo …
"It was 2010, I think. We did two sets and we went to go see LCD Soundsystem play. They didn’t start playing until about 2:30 in the morning.
Immediately we were on the side of the stage because we came through the back. I remember looking out and there was this naked, sweaty dude reasonably close to the front of the crowd. He was kind of on top of people. Somehow he was wobbling around.
He was a big guy, kind of chubby. Everyone was very annoyed by him because he was all sweaty and naked. And we saw the security people in the front row, in the pit, and they grab him and take him away. Then LCD Soundsystem continued to play. Then, out of nowhere, he comes from behind the pit and runs onto the stage.
This big, red, sweaty, freaky naked guy just bursts through and tries to dance on the stage. And we all had to tackle him. The security guards came by and they tackled him as well. We were struggling with him for what seemed like forever. He was trying to get up there and do something to [LCD Soundsystem frontman] James Murphy. I don’t think James really knew the extent of what was happening.
[Murphy] realized a naked guy was now on the side of the stage. They were mid-song in one of their fairly long songs, so I don’t think he could really tell what exactly was going on. He was so sweaty and I could see how he could have escaped your grasp because he was so slimy and sweaty.
So, every year when Bonnaroo would come around, I would reach out to people on Twitter and Instagram being like, ‘Does anyone know what happened to the naked guy?’ Because it was a fairly big part of the fest, and there were a lot of people at this LCD Soundsystem show.
Eventually, I got [naked guy's] number and I called him and we talked. I asked him what happened and he explained that he, if I recall correctly, was on mushrooms. He remembered taking off his clothes and then he woke up later thinking, ‘Why am I naked and what have I done?’ He was pretty embarrassed about the whole thing but he wasn’t hurt, which was amazing.
He actually texted me a couple of months ago. We still kind of keep in touch."
On waiting for Michael Jackson only for Bob Dylan to show up ...
"In 2006 we did a festival in Ireland called Kilkenny. I remember being in the airport and seeing the headlines in this little town. The newspaper said, ‘Michael Jackson spotted.’ We were like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ And the article was implying that he came to the festival to see Bob Dylan.
So, it was bizarre, of all people, of all places — the whole thing, it felt like we were being punked. So, there were, like, 20,000 people there and we’ve been playing and the sun goes down. We just got done playing and people are rushing us to get out of there. We didn’t know why at first, but then we figured out the only reason we could think of was — ‘Michael Jackson must be here?’
We get out to the parking area and we see eight or nine of these Hummer limousines that are driving directly toward the stage. We’re just like, ‘This has to be Michael Jackson and his crazy entourage.’ And lo and behold, as soon as we get there, everybody has to be sanctioned off ... and it just ends up being Bob Dylan. It’s Bob Dylan and his group and everything.
There were about 12 guys and they’re all wearing black hats and black shirts. You can’t actually tell which one's Bob Dylan anyway. They all look like they could be Bob Dylan. It was the craziest thing.
We had been backstage with R.E.M. and Pete Townsend and all of these mega rock stars of the time. And here we were backstage at another giant festival and Bob Dylan shows up. You could picture someone like Jackson doing this over-the-top entrance.
It was just a strange situation. I don’t think we realized how excited we would have been to have met Michael Jackson in this weird place. But never did. We never got to."
On waking up in a Tasmanian gypsy caravan ...
"In Tasmania, we were doing a New Year's Eve show. And in Tasmania on New Year's Eve it’s like summer, weather-wise. It was almost midnight and we were just getting started doing our set. There were these strange gypsy caravan things. I’m not sure what they were for. I think they were dressing rooms or something you could be in.
We were at the bottom of some mountains at the edge of this foggy lake, and it was the last night of the festival. The festival was shutting down and we fell asleep in this gypsy caravan. We woke up the next day and this festival was over. We were the last remaining weirdos in this caravan. It just felt so crazy.
I remember laying there and feeling like I was in the middle of absolutely nowhere. We didn’t know if the caravan was going to be taken away or what. It was just very absurd. One of the more strange intercontinental experiences of my life."
On getting snubbed by Prince …
"We were at the Brit Awards in 2006. We were just hanging around and Prince was supposed to perform or accept an award. It was this huge deal.
There was an announcement that he was there, and we were just sitting around and kept to ourselves. Then, all of a sudden, Prince walked in and he was accompanied by two security guards. He went into his dressing room. I remember our manager had this huge stack of our CDs, and walked over to the security guard, and handed him our CDs [to give to Prince].
Then another hour goes by, the security guard comes back and says, 'Prince doesn’t want these.' It was hilarious. I’ll never forget that."
Rock the Garden
With: Flaming Lips, Chance the Rapper, Poliça, M. Ward, Hippo Campus, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, GRRRL PRTY, Plague Vendor.
When: 2:30 p.m. Sat., June 18.
Where: Boom Island Park, 724 Sibley St. NE, Minneapolis.
Tickets: Sold out; more info here.
Boom Island Park