World-famous Bonnaroo, the quintessential music festival. Held in a field in rural Tennessee (don’t even try using your phone), Bonnaroo is one of the nation’s largest music and arts gatherings, featuring up-and-coming artists, music legends and internationally-renowned comedians. Attendees are invited to set up camp on a 700-acre farm located just outside Manchester, Tennessee (about an hour’s drive southeast of Nashville), to enjoy four days of live music, dancing, food and entertainment. The name Bonnaroo means “a really good time,” and is a spin on the French “bon,” for “good” and “rue” for “street,” literally translating to “the best on the streets.”
It would be hard to surpass last year’s lineup that even included Paul McCartney — does it get any bigger than a former Beatle? Perhaps an Elvis appearance, but that would be a different kind of show altogether. Somehow the lineup for 2014’s show does look to be just as legendary. Performing from Thursday, June 12, through Sunday, June 15, a few of the headlining acts include Elton John, Jack White, Kanye West, The Flaming Lips, Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend, Lionel Richie, Lauryn Hill, Cake, Cage the Elephant plus a very long list of others – 130 bands and comedians in total!
Although this festival is known for its laid-back atmosphere, it may not be for everyone. Remember, this is Tennessee, and it typically gets pretty hot in the South this time of year. You’ll be staying in a tent surrounded by nearly 100,000 other people – so you will get dirty. But so does everyone else, so if you can let loose, let your hair down and drink plenty of water, you’re sure to have an amazing time. (And seriously, trust us on the water.) In order to avoid illness or worse, don’t forget to stay hydrated. Even if you’re drinking beer, always drink water, too, as it gets very hot and you don’t want to be that guy (or that girl) who has to get carted back to the campsite, or even carted away by ambulance. Bring more water than you think you’ll need. Five-gallon jugs from the grocery store are cheap and easy to manage, and you can refill at one of the water stations available throughout the site.
Keep in mind that while hotels are also an option, you’ll miss out on half the experience. Camping really is a must. If you’re concerned about cleanliness, bring a portable shower or baby wipes. There are also a number of wash bins and faucets throughout the property.
In addition to water and other basic camping supplies, you’ll want to be able to bring a tent to make your own shade, as there’s little available. Sunblock, bug spray and comfortable shoes are also a must.. Many festivalgoers have found that barefoot shoes, such as Vibram’s five fingers, are the best option. You may be considering flip-flops, but keep in mind that they don’t typically hold up very well and usually mean blisters. If you’re going with a large group of friends, you may want to invest in cheap hand radios for communication, as your cell phones may not have a signal.
Most people arrive by driving, which is easiest, as you’ll need to have all of your camping supplies with you. The best thing to do is park, walk to your campsite and settle in for the adventure. Bring all that you need with you for the entirety of the festival — driving in and out will cause you to miss out on the action! Keep in mind that the site is essentially a miniature city, complete with convenience stores, so there is really no reason to have to leave.
Expect your vehicle to be searched thoroughly, which means every nook and cranny. The last thing that you want to have happen is drive 10 or 20 hours and find yourself thrown in the slammer. While there are very few arrests here each year, it can happen, particularly if there is a large amount of any type of illegal substance. They are especially strict about open container violations, so just don’t take the risk — it’s not worth it.
If you have to fly in, shuttles are available on both Thursday and Friday from the Nashville International Airport for the 90-minute trip to the festival site. On the Monday after the show, shuttles will return to the airport periodically throughout the day.
With so many acts and over 10 different stages, it’s essential to make a plan before you go. Create a list of the acts that you can’t miss and then make another list of those you’d like to see if you can fit them into your schedule. Once that’s done, you’ll find that navigating Bonnaroo is much easier. At the same time, festivals are about discovery, so you don’t need to treat your plan like a class schedule. If you forget to catch a favorite band (which is easier than you’d think), you may kick yourself later. But, by the same token, one of the thrills of the festival is to “do the ’Roo” – local lingo for discovering up-and-coming bands.
Most importantly, remember that this is a quintessential hippy festival. It’s filled with friendly, easygoing people, and it’s also all about sharing — it’s not a place to be stingy. If someone needs water, or anything else, give it to them. Someone else is bound to come along and share something with you — that’s just how it works. Make friends with your neighbors, and you may just make a friend for life.