Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Guide For Your First Bonnaroo

Image from http://www.bonnaroo.com/

Back in 2006, when I was a brand new high school graduate with zero common sense and a whole lot of attitude, a bunch of my friends and I packed into an 11-person van with my crazy relatives and set out on what would become one of the coolest family traditions in the history of family traditions: Bonnaroo.

I hate to hippie out on you, but that first year at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival was seriously a magical experience. I won't get into details, but just imagine seeing Radiohead, Tom Petty, Phil Lesh, Beck, Cat Power, Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, Bright Eyes, and Buddy Guy (just to name a few), all within four days of each other. You'd use Drew Barrymore nonesense words like magical to describe the experience, too.

After this first incredible year, my family, friends, and I came to the obvious conclusion that we must return annually to the magical world of Bonnaroo. And return we did. From 2006 to 2009, we gathered our camping gear every June and headed for Tennessee with visions of nonstop concerts dancing in our heads.

Sadly, 2009 haulted the tradition. I have Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic lung disease, and had come down with a rather nasty sinus infection a few weeks before my Bonnaroo departure. Not one to be slowed down by the bully that is my disease (I'm blessed to have been quite healthy in my 23 years), I consulted my family and we decided we'd go through with our annual festival, despite my sinuses. This would have been fine, had we not arrived to Bonnaroo during a tornado warning. While luckily, no twisters ripped through the campsite to swallow us whole, it did rain like a bastard. And this torrential downpour was no friend to our camping situation. Enter soggy tents, and my eventual pneumonia.

Clearly, I recovered (I'm here writing this blog post, aren't I?) and by mid-July, I was back on my feet ready to be my regular, weird self. Though sadly, it seemed my Bonnaroo days were over.

Last week, I was perusing the internet while at work (I post events for a local music/film magazine and creepin' on Facebook is literally part of my job description), and I saw the release of Bonnaroo's 2012 lineup. Radiohead! Red Hot Chili Peppers! The Avett Brothers! Feist! The Shins! Dear God, THE BEACH BOYS?! After dislodging the bite of OTTO pizza I had choked on in a moment of sheer excitement, I decided I would become the Brett Favre of Bonnaroo: I just can't stay retired.

So, my sister and I got our tickets for 2012,* and we've already recruited some first timers to come with us (that's what she said?). As this will be my fifth year, making me something of a Bonnaroo veteran (God, I'm important), I've compiled a guide for the Bonnaroo newb. I hope you find these tips helpful.

*Apparently, we were some of the lucky ones as the Bonnaroo site encountered server issues Saturday, leaving several Bonnaroo hopefuls unable to purchase their tickets. I love Bonnaroo, but this wasn't surprising to hear. They are notorious for not having their shit together. Goddamn hippies.

Save Some Dollah Bills

Between ticket prices, travel costs, food expenses, and vendors, you're going to spend some money at this festival. While that may deter some folks, think about Bonnaroo as your vacation. It's four days (or longer if you drive from far away) and you're going to want to enjoy yourself. Sadly, in this day and age, that often means you need some money. If you show up with only $50, enjoying yourself can become difficult. No matter how well-prepared you are, you're probably going to want to buy some swag while you're there. Whether it's due to delicious vendor food, a silly memorabilia T-shirt, or some overpriced beer, your bank account will not remain static. And that's a promise.

To save yourself from buyer's remorse, or negative bank accounts, save up. Festival tickets went on sale this past Saturday, Februray 18th. If you commit to going early enough, you can financially plan accordingly. You've essentially got three and a half months to stuff your piggy bank. Get to it.

Travel Arrangements

I know that music festivals have a carefree vibe, but when it comes to your travel arrangements, I don't suggest flying by the seat of your pants. It may be tempting to say absurd things like "I think I'll just hitchhike," or "bum a ride," but I urge you to not be an idiot. Hitchhiking is illegal and bumming a ride sounds like you're not going to pay for anything, which is incredibly false.

If you're flying, lock that up ahead of time, son. Maybe not this instant, but don't wait until five days before the festival to book your flight. You will be very sad if you wait for an unreasonably priced flight, are unable to afford said outrageous flight, and must forfeit your Bonnaroo ticket to a depressingly low bidder.

If you decide you want to drive, make sure your car works.  A no-brainer, right? Maybe, but I can guarantee that several naive music fans have hopped in their 1982 mufflerless junkers and hoped for the best on their way to the festival. Don't do that--it will be awful if your car breaks down 10 hours from Manchester. And if you get stuck in the south, no one wants to help a kid on their way to a goddamn hippie festival. Make sure your car can handle the trip before you embark.

Another tip: don't travel alone. Like Ringo, you'll get by with a little help from your friends. Driving by yourself is dangerous. Plus, it won't be nearly as fun of a roadtrip without some foolish friends for company. (Did you guys see Crossroads with Britney Spears? Yeah, don't worry, it won't be anything like that.) Also, if like me you live far away from Tennessee, it's going to be a long drive--the drive from Maine is 20 hours. So sharing the wheel will probably be nice. I don't drive, but at least this is what I've been told. Also, like on any roadtrip, it's smart to plan ahead, financially. Figure out your estimated cost of gas, and split that ish up among your friends. Friends that pay together, stay together. (That's the motto for college Greek Life, at least.)

For those more financially-secure Bonnarooians (you lucky bastards), an RV is an excellent way to go. My family splurged for one in '08 and it ruled.  Keep in mind that you will typically need someone over the age of 25 to drive any rental vehicle.

Be Patient

Image from agape316.blogspot.com

The line to drive into Bonnaroo is Hell on Earth. It's long. It's crowded. You will have to pee the entire time. Prepare yourself. If your air conditioner is broken, you will be sweaty. If you bought a bunch of beer and didn't get coolers, you will drink skunked beer. If your vehicle's radio doesn't work, you will listen to your tone deaf travel buddies. But despite these atrocities, try to keep your cool. One year, we were stuck in line traffic for at least six hours. The police who "guide" you into the festival are sneaky and like to send you roundabout ways. Just accept these facts, and above all else, remember: you're going to Bonnaroo! So turn that frown upside down.

Bring A Good Tent

A good tent is crucial to your enjoyable Bonnaroo experience. This is a rain or shine festival, and as you read above, I sadly succumbed to one year's crappy weather. Make sure you have a sturdy tent that won't turn into a Slip n' Slide if it starts to rain. If it's already raining when you arrive, don't set up. Wait. Stay in your car. It won't be a comfortable night, but it will be way better than sleeping in a soggy, mildewing tent for the next four days. Pneumonia blows--I wouldn't recommend it.

Don't Count On Sleeping In

Concerts at Bonnaroo go until three, sometimes four in the morning. You may not stay out late every night, but chances are you won't be in bed by any reasonable hour. As a result, you're going to be pretty tired in the morning. Since shows don't start up again until around noon, you may think you're going to get some quality snoozing during the late hours of the morning. Think again, kid. You're in Tennessee. In the summer. It's going to be close to 100 degrees some days, and the sun is out early. Your tent is going to be even hotter. By 7am, you'll be be one sweaty mess. Your dilemma is tough; missing sweet nighttime shows is hardly an option, but getting rundown and sick from lack of sleep doesn't exactly sound like a party either. 

My advice: prepare your body for its early wake-up time. And then, take advantage of one of my favorite pastimes--napping! It will cool down later in the evening (hopefully!). Find a time you can spare 30 minutes, or an hour, and sleep in your bathing suit/in your underwear/completely naked in the tent. Battery operated fans are amazing for optimal nap enjoyment.

Stock Up On Groceries

Normally, I wouldn't endorse WalMart. That being said--I always stop there on my way to Bonnaroo. It's cheap and it has everything. While there's plenty of delicious food provided by the many Bonnaroo vendors, if you like your bank account displaying positive numbers, I recommend buying a ton of groceries. Make a list. Bring multiple coolers. You will want one for beer (always overestimate!), one for water/Gatorade (again, overestimate!), and one for perishable goods. I recommend buying cold cuts for easy, on-the-go lunches, as well as grillable meats. Which of course means you will need a grill. Not only will your Bonnaroo experience be that much more delicious with a grill, but you will be one popular cat at your campsite. Grills make friends. Trust me.

I know that sometimes when it's super hot you don't feel much like eating. But when you don't eat, you get weak. And when you're weak in 100 degree heat, bad things can occur. So, what do you do? Bring some jerky. For those of you (mostly girls) turning up your noses at the thought of this snack, hush ya mouths. While it may look like dog food, jerky is downright delicious, and you know it. And no, I'm not talking about Slim Jims. I mean real jerky. Plus, it's lightweight, and serves as a great source of protein and carbs. Nom nom nom.

Oh, and be sure to get toilet paper. Lots of it! With 100,000 Bonnarooians running about, those Porta Potties get pretty nasty come the third day. Add the general grossness of those bad boys to the unfortunate situation of no TP, and you've got the saddest festival goer on Earth. 

Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!

Image from logos.wikia.com

As previously noted, it's going to be HOT at Bonnaroo. The risk of dehydration is high. Though I was forced to go on a Bonnaroo hiatus after my 2009 pneumonia incident, I also had a pretty big scare in 2007 when I suffered from heat stroke. I passed out and woke up in the medical tent, hooked up to an IV. I was shocked, as I'd been drinking tons of water the entire weekend. However, while water is clearly a great thing to have, when it's that hot you need to replenish your body's electrolytes. Buy Gatorade. If you want a less sugary option, Gatorade's flavored water, Propel, is good. It has some sweetener, but not nearly as much as Gatorade. And though it doesn't replenish quite as many electrolytes (Propel replenishes 190 milligrams per 20 ounces; Gatorade replished 275 milligrams per 20 ounces), it does the trick.

It's also worth mentioning that you aren't allowed to bring any outside food or drink into the actual Bonnaroo gate, where the concerts are located. You can only keep your grocieries outside of the stage area at the campsites. This poses a problem to the broke Bonnaroo kid because water/Gatorade/beer inside the gates will cost you an arm and a leg.

Solution: a camelback.

From my past experience, these are allowed everywhere at the festival. I am unsure why, but I won't question it. So fill up that sucker with some hydrating goodness and get to it, you super saver, you!

I do realize you won't only be drinking Gatorade the entire time. If you're going to booze, I'd steer clear from day drinking. That's honestly the fastest way to dehydrate yourself. Take a cue from Kenny Chesney and good ole Uncle Kracker, and wait for when the sun goes down.

Buddy Up

While most of the people you encounter at Bonnaroo are going to be pretty friendly, this is a festival with almost 100,000 people. It's awesome to make new friends, but there's bound to be a creepshow or two that slips through the cracks. This isn't to scare you, but you ought to be prepared. Remember: stranger danger is real!

One great way to avoid any bad situations is to buddy up. Don't go to a show by yourself. Don't go off with strangers alone. Don't take candy from that old man that looks like a wizard (he's real and you will meet this gentleman and he will offer you something from his cloak). Male or female, it's always safer in groups. You want to live to see the next Bonnaroo so just be smart.

Creepy strangers aside, if you don't heed my Gatorade advice and do wind up dehydrated, being alone is very dangerous! So grab a pal, share some hydrating bevs, and enjoy the festival together. You'll have more fun that way, I promise. I missed The White Stripes because I was a dehydrated fool who thought I could hack it alone. Lesson learned.

 Map Out Your Itinerary (but don't freak out when it changes!)

Image from consequenceofsound.net

As it gets closer to the actual festival, the day-by-day schedule is released, and the good people at Bonnaroo let you customize your itinerary on their website. I did this every year I went and it was super helpful. If you don't attempt some sense of organization, you're bound to miss a ton of incredible shows and you will be bummed. I missed The Avett Brothers in 2008 and Al Green in 2009 and still haven't forgiven myself. However, it's worth noting that no matter how carefully you plan, unforseen things are going to happen and your schedule will alter. You will miss a few shows. You will fall asleep under a tree. Your friend will convince you to go to Shakedown Street instead of checking out that band your roommate recommended. You can't go to everything. It's impossible. So for the Type A festival attendee, I suggest you take a breath and just roll with it.

Don't Be A Dick 

I mean that in the nicest way possible. In case you can't tell by this post, I love Bonnaroo. However, there are some things about my past experiences that piss me off. First off, I can't stand the jerks who litter. Take some personal responsibility, man. Plus, what kind of hippie are you? You're supposed to care about the environment!

Second, don't bring glass bottles. They ask you not to, and there's a very good reason for this request: glass cuts people, genius. Though the Bonnaroo staff does a pretty thorough check upon arrival, the occasional butthead still gets in with glass bottles. This is the pits because the type of people who disobey the very few Bonnaroo rules are typically not the type of people to responibly dispose of their forbidden glass. As a result, my feet get cut to crap and the Bonnaroo staff has to clean up the bloody remaining shards. So just don't do it, please.

While smoking isn't forbidden at Bonnaroo, it's a really douchey thing to do. As a music lover with a lung disease, I find it unfair and annoying that I have to essentially inhale all of your nasty, carcinogenic smoke because you have a filthy habit and we both happen to like music. I'm not stupid. I know smoking is going to happen. But before you light up at the actual stage, consider the people around you. The concerts are often very tightly packed and it's hard to escape the secondhand smoke. I don't make you bite my nails when you're standing next to me at Radiohead, don't make me smoke your cigarette. Sidenote: it's 2012, what on EARTH are you still doing buying cigarettes?!

Above all else...HAVE FUN!

Bonnaroo is amazing. You're going to love it. Wear lots of sunscreen, invest in a hat, get used to smelling fairly awful, make sure you get approved time off from your boss for June 7th-June 10th, and be prepared for the time of your life. I couldn't be more excited to return and I hope (and know) you're gonna have a fantastic time!


  1. This is an excellent guide! It definitely helped me write my own Bonnaroo rundown.

    Started following your site, hope you follow me too! I wrote this article to function as a Bonnaroo 2013 Preview, hope you like it :)

  2. They work all over the festival on various smaller C’roos to support the festival staff, fans, sponsors, and artists to ensure that everyone at Bonnaroo has an unforgettable, exciting, fun, and safe time. As a member of the C’roo, you could be doing anything from helping set up the festival site, to keeping a watchful eye on various entry points, to helping us maintain a green site, or even simply putting on a smile and greeting everyone as they come and go throughout the event. It’s all up to you and what your personal interests are!


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