Bonnaroo Dreams and Nightmares

Music Festival season is in high gear these days.  The yearly calendar typically begins with Cochella in California each year, and carries on throughout the summer.  A music festival of some sort can mark nearly every weekend.  Some are festivals hosted by towns and cities, while other are huge corporate multi-stage festivals attracting hundreds of thousands of people.  In just a few short days, one of these, Bonnaroo, will be taking place in southern Tennessee.

I’ve been to Bonnaroo three times, and I’ve had some of the best and some of the absolute worst times of my life, often in the same trip.  That’s the thing about these festivals, they’re a strange mix of great music, extreme heat, and extreme emotions.  At first, I thought, this was simply my experience but after talking to several people and reading articles all over the internet, I’ve learned that, in fact, it’s pretty common for friends to have massive fallings out, love affairs to come to a sudden and awkward end, horrible hangovers to take root, and sunburns to be painful at Bonnaroo.  The music is nothing short of AMAZING, and in my 3 trips to “the farm” as the B’Roo natives call it, I’ve seen pretty much every up and coming artist that’s broken through into the cultural zeitgeist.

If you’re headed to Bonnaroo next weekend or any other music festivals this summer, I thought I’d put together a few of my observations to help get you ready.

  1. Expect drugs.  Drugs and binge drinking aren’t really my thing, and the idea of being drunk for days on end, is a concept that doesn’t excite me.  The first time I went to B’Roo, I was really surprised by how openly marijuana was being smoked.  For a sizable portion of the crowd in attendance, using drugs and being under their influence in public is a major draw.  However, in recent years, I’ve seen people working at Bonnaroo put forth more of an effort to quash this. Bags are now checked and the security forces ask people to put the bongs away.  Still, though, dealers freely walk around the campsites and some even find their way into the venue.  At the end of the day, it isn’t uncommon to stumble upon someone passed out in the middle of the activities.  People have even overdosed.  With so many people converging into the area, this kind of behavior is to be expected.  By and large, though, the vast majority of people are there to have a good time and see the acts.enhanced-buzz-23082-1370271715-38
  2. The heat and the dust can be bad.  You have to endure the heat of the days to enjoy the nights at Bonnaroo.  Remember, it’s June in Tennessee, and you will be staying in a pasture, with no trees.  The shade that is provided over the stages is metal awnings that tend to collect the heat.  It can be very, very hot.  Stay hydrated, and use A LOT of sunscreen.  Because of so man people walking, the ground quickly becomes very dry and dusty.  If you get an afternoon shower, it’s actually better because it keeps the dust at bay.  If you don’t get the showers, it can be dry.  Carry a bandanna with you so that you can cover your mouth and nose when you are traveling around the campsite.
  3. V.I.P. is worth every cent.  There are horror stories of waiting for hours to get into the main gate at Bonnaroo.  I mean seven to twelve hours of sitting on the interstate.  If you pay for the VIP ticket, you’ll get a private entrance, bypassing the crowds.  You also get a private campsite, with food, t-shirts, a private entrance into the venue, private concerts, air conditioned tents, and perhaps most importantly, clean, private restrooms.  Read on to see why this so important.
  4. The People watching is incredible.  There is absolutely no better place to sit and watch people.  Every kind of person you can think of will walk by.  There’s the aging  hippy still looking for a band to fill the void left in their vacation schedule since the end of the  Grateful Dead. Here comes the gaggle of drunk sorority girls dressed like an Urban Outfitter’s discount rack because they want to look like everyone else, and actually have no idea who most of the bands are.  Over there are the pre-teen boys who conned their parents into buying them a day pass.  There are the hula-hoopers and the free form “wiggle” dancers who give little thought to the tempo of the music they’re dancing too.  The rare birds  are there too– those people that are truly living to the beat of their own drummers.  These are the people that are the epitome of cool.  They aren’t posers, and have come for the music, because that’s what feeds their souls.  These are the people to keep an eye out for, and these are the people that you want to meet. b27IMG_1022 IMG_1035
  5. Be sure you are going with people who share your goals.  If you’re going with people who are really looking forward to sitting in an altered state for a prolonged period of time, and you aren’t, these aren’t the ideal people for you to travel with.  If you enjoy a strong drink or three, but the folks you plan on hanging out with enjoy being roaring drunk before noon, and sleeping the rest of the day away, and you aren’t, rethink your plans.  If you’re goal is to see every single show for five minutes each, and the person you are with is all about getting there early to get a good position and to watch the entire set, you’ve got problems on the horizon.  Talk to the people you are going with and make sure everyone is on the same page.IMG_1040
  6. Cleanliness is paramount.  At first, the main grounds of Bonnaroo (and most other festivals) is a pleasant and clean pastorial oasis, but by the start of the third day, with portable toilets that are over flowing, and people urinating and vomiting on the edge of the venue, it loses some of it’s luster.  After my first trip to Bonnaroo I came home with a souvenir case of ringworm on my hand.  Yeah me!  After that I learned that wet wipes, and antibacterial hand sanitizer are necessity.

I do love a good music festival, and I pass all of this on to you with that love.  My experiences have definitely been a mixed bag of great and truly horrible, but in the end I wouldn’t change anything.

Follow me on Twitter @tolandtravels



Categories: Advice, My View of Things, North America, Thoughts


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

One Comment on “Bonnaroo Dreams and Nightmares”

  1. January 13, 2015 at 8:56 pm #

    It’s really a cool and helpful piece of information. I am satisfied that you just shared this useful info with us.
    Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: