Surviving Bonnaroo

Bonnaroo Music and Arts festival has become well known for its awesome music, diverse lineup, and fun festival activities.  But with this popularity comes a huge festival of close to 100,000 people which can cause some challenges for the first timer.  Here’s some tips for anyone, first timer or not, to help make your Bonnaroo trip a little easier.

Bonnaroo is held in June in Manchester, Tennessee, which loosely translated means HOT HOT HOT.  More than ever, this is the time to make sure that you make water a huge priority.  I can’t tell you how many people I have seen start getting wasted and ignore the whole hydration thing.  I only noticed this was the case because I watched them being hauled off by paramedics after they passed out from dehydration and heat exhaustion.  It happened often throughout the weekend and one can’t help but pity them.  Don’t let this be you!  Just make a conscious effort to pack a water bottle or camelbak with you everywhere you go, all weekend long.  Think about it, it only takes a few seconds to throw some water in a jug but it can take hours on an IV to ruin your weekend.

Another essential to keep on hand constantly is sunscreen.  This can also be a total game changer.  Ask anyone who’s got a good festival sunburn story; it’s only funny when it happens to someone else!  Don’t wait until you start to feel burned to put it on, then it’s too late.  You are going to be spending the entire weekend outdoors so this is one discomfort you don’t want to have to worry about.

As mentioned before, Bonnaroo hosts close to 100,000 people every year, so it is in your best interest to arrive as early as possible.  Not only do you have a better chance of securing a campsite closer to Centeroo, but the line of cars waiting to get in can sometimes go on for miles.  It can take a few hours to get in so the longer you have before the sun goes down the better.  Setting up camp in the dark is not impossible but obviously, it is a lot easier if you don’t have to rely on headlamps and what not.  The more time you have the better.

Be sure to check out our Ultimate Music Festival Packing List so you don’t forget anything!

If you are traveling with several cars, caravan stylee, it’s a good idea to get one of those car markers and number the windshield of the cars in your group.  This way when you enter you can tell the people directing traffic which cars want to be parked together.  This makes it easily recognizable and makes what can be a clusterfuck a little easier to navigate.

Once you start setting up camp, immediately take note of where you are.  Bonnaroo’s campgrounds are many many acres long and it can be damn near impossible to find your tent again.  Stop and make mental notes of landmarks.  To make it easier the Roo staff has flown giant balloons above the campgrounds with huge numbers or letters on them.  These are always visible during the day and are lit up at night.  Figure out your position in relation to these and they can serve as a constant reminder of where you are heading.  Makeshift roads are also available to use as landmarks.  Like real roads they have names and street signs (but are not paved or anything).  You will likely have a program with you most of the time to keep up with the music schedule, so if you get confused there is a map located on the back to help you out.  Upon first arrival at Bonnaroo go ahead and figure out which area you are in (the campgrounds are so big that they divide them into sections to make it easier, usually named after Star Wars characters or something like that).  Knowing at least which giant field you are supposed to be in is a good thing.  And as mentioned in the Rookie Mistakes post, locate the bathrooms before you need one.  Sometimes the closest one can still be a rather long haul so give yourself time to wander around lost without being uncomfortable.

On the subject of bathrooms, don’t get too disgusted by the port-a-potties.  They are what they are.  Just try to get in and get out as fast as possible and move on with your life.  If you are, however, easily grossed out, take note of what times a day they are cleaned and try to go around the same times.  It’s the closest thing you can get to a clean bathroom all weekend.

Some wash-up stations are available on the grounds.  They are set up like water troughs, long sinks which you can stick your head on feet in to get cleaned up.  If you decide to use these just realize that the water all drains down to the end so try not to put your head or toothbrush in this stream.  Also, early in the day, there can be a huge line to use these.  Instead of waiting in line you may consider just bringing extra water jugs and washing up with those at your campsite.  It’s the same principle and you don’t have to walk anywhere or wait in line.

Ice trucks are also available.  Be advised that the price for ice is hugely marked up, but that’s life.  The lines for this are also pretty long so give yourself enough time to go get it without running into your music time.

ATM machines are also available in Centeroo.  If you think the ice lines are long, don’t even think about the ATM.  The service charge is huge as well, so it is in your interest to just bring cash with you to the festival so that you don’t have to deal with this headache.  Just hide it and keep it in more than one safe place!

Bonnaroo has about seven stages spread out all over.  The names can get confusing (which stage, what stage, this stage,that stage), and that’s not me trying to be clever, these are the actual names.  Just try to remember as best you can but you should get the hang of it by the second day.  The really important part is just to figure out which stages are the furthest from each other simply because the lineup has over 200 bands scheduled so music is happening everywhere.  If you are trying to figure out which shows to partake in it’s good to know if making it to half of one and half of another is even a possibility.  The festival site is HUGE so it can take over a half hour to work your way through the crowd from a stage at one end to a stage at the other, and that is without the inevitably long lines for restrooms, food, and beer.  You can’t win ‘em all so try not to over schedule yourself or get too bent out of shape about missing something.  I used to get so stresses out about what I was missing that I barely enjoyed what I was actually watching.  What good is that?  My suggestion is to adopt the “love the one your with” attitude.  If you are having a blast at the show you are watching then don’t stress the show you may be missing.  Look at the lineup.  Now realize that you will not be physically able to see almost two-thirds of those bands.  It’s gonna be alright!  Just enjoy the array of excellent bands you are lucky enough to see live in one weekend!

The Bonnaroo festival has become much more popular and host many more mainstream acts so if you went in the early years and are thinking about revisiting just be prepared that the crowd is a lot less hippie and a lot more mainstream as well, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but something to know.  Things like tents locks and keeping your valuables in your car are slightly more important now given this fact and of course because so many people are in attendance.

Be sure to check out our Ultimate Music Festival Packing List so you don’t forget anything!

Sleep when you can, just like an on-call doctor!  As mentioned it is so very hot during the day but gets slightly chilly at night, so if you go to sleep in your hoody you will certainly wake up in a blazing sweat as early as 7:30 a.m.  If at sometime during the day a lucky breeze blows your way or some happy clouds block out the sun, take the opportunity to take a little nap on an air mattress outside.  I have found that if you position a tarp over two cars and place an air mattress under it this can serve as a little shady wind tunnel which can provide you with a nice nap spot during the day.  If you find yourself a little sleepy at any point, check out the lineup and weigh your options.  If you know there is a late night show you want to go rage out to then skip the day show you kind of want to see and take the opportunity to rest up and refuel.  Some late night bands take the end time as merely a suggestion and will go for hours longer (STS9 has been known to play until sunrise among others).

Getting separated from your friends in inevitable, but if there are shows that you all want to be together for no matter what then make a plan ahead of time.  Early in the day when everyone is at least mildly sober decide to meet somewhere and designate the time.  Find an easily recognizable meeting spot.  If it’s the first big show of the night the campsite can be a good one.  You can all make a big meal and start partying on whatever party supplies you choose.  If it’s in the middle of a bunch of other good shows choose a place in Centeroo.  The festival has tons of giant artwork, fountains, and other crazy things that can serve as good meeting places.  Try avoiding places like “left of the sound booth” or “Jimmy side”.  These work awesomely at concerts but with the giant crowds at Bonnaroo, they will be of little help to you.

Silent Disco!  Hit it up!  This is my favorite feature of the entire Bonnaroo animal.  It is a dance floor under a circus tent with a DJ spinning old school hip hop and awesome dance tunes.  This may not sound that amazing but the catch is that when you walk by you see people getting down but hear nothing.  It’s a complete mind trip!  The deal is that when you enter the outdoor disco you are given a set of headphones, and everyone is listening to the same jams but no one outside can hear anything.  It’s hard to explain if you have never seen it but there is something about the fact that it’s silent to outsiders that makes you feel as if you are in another world.  It’s a world without judgment or self-consciousness at all.  Anyone who likes to dance has been to one of those clubs where for every two people dancing there is five more standing against the wall watching them.  Not at the Silent Disco!  Everyone dances, and not just dances but really gets the F DOWN!  It’s a blast and it is open until like 4 a.m. so it’s a good place to blow off steam when your shows are over for the night.

Bring a bandanna.  If it doesn’t rain at some point during the weekend then a giant dust bowl will start when masses of people leave one big show at the same time.  Pull the bandanna out and wear it like a bank robber to avoid ingesting a crapload of dust.

Speaking of rain, where’s there’s rain there’s mud, so bring some shoes other than flops.  If you wear flops in the mud you will find yourself shoeless by the end of the night.  Pack some Crocs or Velcro Tevas or the like to ensure you don’t end up with no shoes to go home with.

When you are ready to say goodbye to Bonnaroo, it’s up to you when to leave.  A good many people leave before the shows are over on Sunday night to avoid the crowd so I like to stay over until Monday morning.  Doing this has a few advantages.  First, the Sunday night headliners are awesome and you can see them from closer up because the festival is less crowded.  Also, Shakedown and campground sellers will have much better deals because it is the last day to sell.  You can usually find some great deals and at this point in the weekend, you also have a better idea of how much money you can blow on souvenirs.  The ground score possibilities are also greater on Monday morning.  You can rack up on goodies people left behind when they packed up in the dark the night before.

The most important thing to do at Bonnaroo is to have the most amazing time of your life!  Don’t forget this one, and have a good show!

Be sure to check out our Ultimate Music Festival Packing List so you don’t forget anything!