Bonnaroo is one of the finest musical festivals the U.S. has to offer. Artists and attractions truly run the gamut, and people from all fun-loving demographics populate the farm in Manchester, Tenn., by the hundreds of thousands. If you venture to join them you can expect to have one of the best times of your life.
Still, however, there are many situations in the daily ‘Roo life that are less than comfortable, and if you are unprepared, you may risk spending an unnecessary amount of money, or worse, being unhappy. I’ve been a Bonnaroovian since ’09, so here are the tips and tricks I have learned from my not-insignificant experiences. These nuggets may also fair you well at any other multi-day festival. Still, you probably won’t find this insight in the pamphlet.
1. Charge Your Phone Creatively
People line up for what seems like hours to charge their phones in designated cell phone charging stations. Some plonk down their hard earned scratch on a gadget that can hand crank or use solar energy to recharge their mobile device, usually at a glacial pace. These solutions are a waste of time and/or money.
There are generators all over the place, in Centeroo where the attractions are, and by your tent out in the boondocks, and everywhere else. There are extra outlets in the medical stations, in the promotional tents, and in every food tent. Just be nice and ask politely, and the nice person behind the counter will most likely let you leave your phone with them. Trust is key at ‘Roo. Or, if you find a power strip somewhere, just use it. I found my go-to spot in a little shack nearby the Ferris Wheel.
2. Or Just Abandon Your Phone
This may seem ridiculous. Phones are essential, yes, but don’t let the compulsion to communicate tether you to the stresses of the real world. Given, there are emergencies that require a phone, like losing a friend or your entire crew. I recommend you prepare for a creative solution to the foreseeable problems. Your phone may run out of power anyway.
Make one of those crazy signs so your friends can find you. Have them make one so you can find them. Create an easy to find meeting place and time in case of separation.
You may feel naked without your phone, and that’s okay, but if you cannot live without Instagramming every photogenic moment, you might need to reconsider your priorities.
3. Eat Well
Bonnaroo, when done properly, is a massive calorie burner; Wake up earlier than you would care to, walk for miles, dance, and repeat. Proper nutrition is a worthy consideration.
For every trashy, carnival style fry-o-later joint dotting the landscape there is a quality, healthy option somewhere. I cannot recommend the smoothie stands everywhere, however, the vegan and vegetarian options are great, even for a meat lover like me. I recommend Goatacado, if you can find it.
If you are xxx-core you can go on a juice cleanse a day or two before you go. I’m talking energy for days.
4. Wear Conversation Pieces and Other Exotic Garb
You don’t have to be an odd-bird to don the neon plumage. Bonnaroo is not like your usual social event, people are really ready to have all kinds of silly, amusing conversations and interactions with one another, and a proper costume is basically an invitation.
Even if getting an impromptu hand-light show from a guy in bunny suit isn’t your bag the most universal pastime in Bonnaroo is people-watching. Be sure to give back to that culture by rocking that new-new. You should have clothing designated specifically for looking crazy good, while being disposable. A four-day camping concert binge and in the upper nineties Fahrenheit is not exactly the place for your beloved name-brand attire. I can guarantee you the Halloween costume burning a hole in back of your closet will give you good results. Or, you could just go naked.
5. Ask the Volunteers
They’ve got a neon pinny on, and they tell you where you cannot go, but that doesn’t mean they’re hall monitors. You can ask them anything. Anything.
6. Choose Your Porta Potty Wisely.
Frankly, the bathroom situation is worst part of ‘Roo, hands down. Be prepared to use your shirt as a gas mask. This is how a large part of the world still does its business; so remember to be grateful for your porcelain back home.
If you can wait, I recommend you track out the more hidden porta potties. The stalls by the trailers sometimes go unused by the fancy aristocratic camper folk, but they still have them. If your powers of observation are keen (by day 3, they might not be) you may able to tell by the presence of a maintenance truck which porta potties have recently been cleaned. Thankfully, these trucks are frequent sights.
7. Give Out Random Gifts and Perform Acts Of Kindness.
The guidebook expresses the festival organizers desire for “an economy of generosity” and my interpretation of that wish is to give out sparkly gold pipe cleaners. Silly, I know, but people are grateful, and it feels good to make people happy. I am not the only Bonnaroovian who makes this extra consideration.
A sprightly fellow in a tie-dye toga once showered me in rose petals like a psychedelic Roman Emperor Heliogabalus. That was an experience. One time, a VIP, also clad in tie-dye, straight up gave me money for no reason: $24. He probably made just as money as I do, so I bought some big bottles of water and gave them out at the front of the Nine Inch Nails show. Somebody opened a bottle and waved its contents all over the crowd. Trent Reznor looked down from his perch of existential despair, I think I caught him smiling for a second.
8. Learn the Mysteries Of ‘Bonnaroo-Time’
Musicians are not known for being the timeliest people, and neither are hippies. Add a hot summer, a dearth of motor transportation, and you’ve got a recipe for temporal confusion I have dubbed "Bonnaroo-time." I estimate a 45-minute buffer for any given time scheduled, whether that be your favorite band taking the stage, or a pre-game in your buddies’ tent.
On the contrary, if you’re gaming to get prime real estate for a show, you can expect real music fans to get their act together and show up early. Pushing to the front of the crowd when the show starts is not as common at Bonnaroo as it is at other music events. If you want to see what a headliner actually looks like when they play, bring some chairs and camp out all day. At the main stage, you won’t be the only ones posted up, and you will get a full day of good views and ear-blasting sounds. Certainly not a bad deal, especially if you have some friends to hold your spot down.
9. Camp in the Shade
The quintessential Bonnaroo moment: you collapse in your tent in the witching hours, and wake up before 10 am to the sear of the sun’s rays, which permeate the tent’s canvas in the manner in which an oven heats a turkey inside a covered roasting pan. It is actually more comfortable to go outside in direct sunlight, where at least there is a breeze.
Those sun blocking foldable structures, or, cheaper yet, some poles and a tarp are worth the hassle. Your tent may have a rain slick, but that will only make the burn worse. Failing that, you should do your civic duty and…
10. Befriend Your Neighbors
They may have shade, or a few road beers and a decent story. Even if they do not, the residential element of Bonnaroo is special. The living quarters are what separates Bonnaroo from its West Coal rival, Coachella, where everybody stays in a nearby township and drives back and forth between the party and their bungalow or whatever (why even leave LA city limits, what’s the difference? Hologram Tupac? Pfff).
11. Go to the Late-Night Show.
In Bonnaroo's past, power jam bands like Umphrey’s McGee and MOE. have taken the late night slot on Saturday at 1 a.m. and played until sunrise, Grateful Dead style. This year, there is no heir-apparent to the honorable graveyard shift, but all of the following artists are scheduled to take the coveted late net set at Bonnaroo and might at least try to go for the stretch.
This last one, a well regarded, Brooklyn-based Led Zeppelin tribute act is probably going to be the one to make it to the early morn’. Sure, your body will go limp, your buddy’s girlfriend will give you looks. Eventually, they will leave. Should you choose to stay, you will earn an experience truly worth telling somebody about.