Prior to 1990 if you wanted to see big time music, chances are it meant spending 3 hours in the molded seats of a professional sports arena. Fortunately, thanks to visionaries like Perry Farrell, music festivals such as Lollapalooza, Burning Man and Coachella have sprung up around the country, giving fans an opportunity to see a wide range of shows over multiple days in a more natural environment. Located in Manchester, Tennessee, Bonnaroo has become one of the most popular of the mega-festivals and would serve as my first experience into the world of multi-day music.
Like many 30 somethings (or in my case 40 somethings), music festivals sound good on paper but actually going to one seems overwhelming. I am now happy to report that Bonnaroo is, in fact, not just for the kids, and with a little planning, it can be an amazing 4 day get-away for adults.
Bonnaroo survival guide and tips
Spring for the VIP Package, it is worth every penny: Here is a quick test: Go down to your local construction site, open the porta-potty and ask yourself if you and your significant other will be content knowing that this will be the finest bathroom facility you will use for nearly a week. Yea, that’s what I thought. With the VIP Package you can say goodbye to the blue one-seaters and hello to some of the freshest, biggest and cleanest loos I have ever seen (plus they are air conditioned and regularly cleaned).
Beyond that awesome perk, VIP allows you to camp much closer to the venue so that walking in at out of the shows becomes a 10 minute stroll rather than a 45 hike. VIP also gives you access to a separate side-stage area at two of the main stages. This way you can be near the stage without having to feel like a sardine.
Other amenities include VIP rest tents where they have complimentary Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, couches, TV’s, and phone charging stands. Plus, because your campsite is within clear earshot of the main stage, you have the opportunity to be woken up by Jack Johnson preforming a sound check.
See bands you have never heard of: Depending on your level of musical interest, the Bonnaroo lineup may read like a who’s who of music legends or a Mad Lib, but either way there are sure to be unfamiliar bands. My advice is to not shy away from checking out unknown bands as there is a good chance are you will end up finding a new favorite performer. This leads me to my next point.
There are no bad shows and everyone brings their “A Game”: Look, the Bonnaroo selection committee are no dummies and they do an awesome job of creating diverse lineups chock full of quality musicians. So whether you prefer rock legends like Paul McCartney or the hottest DJ’s like Pretty Lights, the list of performers is comprised of the best of the best. Moreover, bands seem to understand the unique opportunity to grow their fan base so the set list and stage shows are power packed.
Pack creatively: Beyond making sure you pack for every possible weather situation, consider that you will be setting up a four day home. Most important is to have shade so any kind of “easy-up” or tarp is a must. Then, depending on how big your car is, think about throwing in items like: carpet, colored lights, lounge chairs, hanging plants, windmill or anything else that will add some fun and comfort to your stay. Bonnaroo is not a come and go situation, and since you will be living in a 15 x 10 foot space for 4 days, take the opportunity to jazz up the joint.
Naps are key: With 16 hours of music each day you will never make it past 8pm unless you nap wisely. Whether you choose to catch some z’s under a tree, in the VIP ten or back to the camp site, getting a couple of hours of shut eye each day is critical.
Bonnaroo is way ahead of the curve environmentally: With 80,000 people you would think the venue would look like a frat house after a weekend kegger, but between the legion of volunteers helping folks find the correct sorted trash barrel and the general “leave it as you found it” mantra, the grounds remain incredibly clean. Moreover, Bonnaroo is big on recycling and they even built a solar grid which produces 20% of the power required for the festival.
Food is yummy, varied, fairly priced and served in large portions. Vendors are carefully selected and they nearly universally serve healthy and tasty dishes for about $9.00, most often are large enough to feed two people. There are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan options available.
Check out the non-music activities: I make this point even though I did not adhere to it. Believe it or not, Bonnaroo has tons of other activities besides music. For example, they have a comedy tent, a film room, a Roo Run and even an Apples to Apples game center where the performing comedians act as judges.
Stay up for late night music: Music at Bonnaroo lasts from noon till 4:30 in the morning. My advice, save some energy for the post midnight bands which must include any “Super-jams” where you will get a once in a lifetime opportunity to see legends from different eras and musical genres perform on the same stage. And don’t forget tip #1: VIP is worth every penny, which means you don’t have to fight the crowds to get close to all the kids raving without actually having to be amongst them.
Bonnaroo has a cool vibe, find yours: The biggest difference between a concert and a festival is the fact that Bonnarroo runs four full days. The sheer number of hours you spend on the grounds allows you to break from normal habits and routines. While I am not suggesting you try to temporarily morph into a hippie or raver, I do think it’s a perfect opportunity to let go of your day to day normalcy.
That’s it. See you at Bonnaroo 2014!
By Adam Staelin