Bonnaroo Survival Guide: Sweatin’ on the Farm
Bonnaroo Survival Guide
These days, it seems as if there’s a gigantic music festival every single weekend. Music lovers are spoiled for choices – camping festivals, city festivals, and even all-inclusive resort festivals. It’s hard to imagine that just 15 years ago, these large musical gatherings were few and far between.
One event that deserves a ton of credit for the massive growth of the festival industry in recent years is Bonnaroo.
The ‘Roo is one of the premier music festivals in the world, and it is definitely a standard-bearer for those in the US. With 80,000+ people gathered on a sweaty Tennessee farm for four days of music, it can also be quite intense.
We’re here to help you survive (and enjoy) your Bonnaroo experience, with our Bonnaroo Survival Guide.
First up, let’s learn a bit about this legendary festival.
History of Bonnaroo
Back in 2002, Superfly Productions put on the very first Bonnaroo. They got the name from a Creole word meaning “a really good time” that was popularized by the one and only Dr. John.
The first incarnation was very jam-heavy, with Widespread Panic, Trey Anastasio Band, String Cheese Incident, Gov’t Mule, moe., and many others. It has grown and evolved over the years into an epic melting pot of music and culture. You’ll find classic rock heroes on one stage while an up and coming R&B artist plays in a tent and a rowdy EDM show goes on in another. There’s also comedy acts, a cinema, art installations, and so much more.
Bonnaroo has been called the “Festival of the Decade” by Consequence of Sound and was also honored as one of the “50 Moments that Changed Rock & Roll” by Rolling Stone. The organizers even purchased most of the land used for the festival, giving them more creative freedom moving forward to continue to improve Bonnaroo.
Bonnaroo in a nutshell:
Bonnaroo takes place at Great Stage Park in Manchester, TN. It’s a 4-day camping festival that typically occurs in early-mid June. In 2017, the festival is taking place from June 8-11.
Attendance typically ranges from 70-90,000, making it one of the biggest festivals in the US. There are over ten stages and more than 150 artists at the ‘Roo these days.
This year’s headliners include U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Weekend, Chance the Rapper, and Lorde.
Tickets are currently going for $350 plus fees for the weekend, and you’ll also need a pass for each vehicle that’s entering the festival grounds. There are quite a few options for upgraded experiences, including their VIP package for two for around $1,650. For those who can’t make it for the whole weekend, day passes are also an option.
If money is tight, there are quite a few options for volunteering at Bonnaroo. (Read about the Grateful Gypsies’ experience volunteering at a music festival)
Bonnaroo Survival Guide
For the uninitiated, Bonnaroo can be an overwhelming experience. At such a massive festival, it’s important to be prepared before diving into the belly of the beast.
Having survived numerous Bonnaroos and had our fair share of festy fails, we’re happy to impart some ‘Roo wisdom with this Bonnaroo Survival Guide, to make sure you don’t repeat any of our mistakes!
What to Pack for Bonnaroo
No Bonnaroo Survival Guide would be complete without a packing list!
Packing for a festival is always tough. No matter how hard you try, there’s always something important you forget – tent poles, sunscreen, or even food entirely (this actually happened to us once).
Aside from the obvious items, there are a few things you’ll want to make sure to have before Bonnaroo:
- Boots – When it rains here, it gets super muddy.
- Shoes and Socks – You might have long walks to Centeroo. It doesn’t hurt to have choices when it comes to footwear.
- Hat, Sunglasses, and Bandana – Your defense against the sun and dust.
- Flag, Balloon, Rage Stick – This festival is a city. It’s easy to lose your people.
- Lantern/Flashlight – Great for the campsite and might come in handy in the festival.
- Plastic Booze Bottles – No glass allowed here, so either buy plastic bottles or dump it into one. You don’t want to show up with a handle and have no way to get it into the festival. Ditto for beers – skip the glass and load up on cans.
Even with many years under their belts, it is still a bit chaotic getting so many people into the festival. Those who are able to do so are highly recommended to arrive on Wednesday. Campgrounds open up at 8PM, and getting in that night allows you to get set up (probably in a better spot) and be ready to go on Thursday. Watch the line of cars grow longer and longer while grilling, drinking, and jamming at your campsite and you’ll be glad you decided to show up early. At least try to get in relatively early on Thursday. After all, you’re paying all that money for a 4-day festival, so why not enjoy every single one?
Dealing With the Heat at Bonnaroo
You’re on what used to be a farm in the middle of Tennessee in June. It’s hot as hell.
There isn’t very much shade anywhere, so you’ll have to make your own at camp. Be sure to have an easy-up and some tarps/tapestries to create a little shaded area around your tents. Chances are you’ll be gasping for air at around 6AM, so it’s nice to just roll out and nap a bit more in the cool shade of your camp’s living room.
Bring some little spray bottles, water guns, or anything you can use to cool off from time to time. Make sure to have a good hat or even carry an umbrella around.
Pick your battles during the day – standing up front at the main stage for six hours will wear you out and probably ensure you miss the late-night fun.
Most importantly, be sure to stay hydrated. Carry a good water bottle or wear a Camelbak and make sure it’s always full. That Tennessee sun can and will kick your ass, so do everything you can to not let it take you down.
Choosing What to See at Bonnaroo
Once again, this is a 4-day festival with well over 100 acts. You won’t be able to see it all.
On any given day, it’s best to just make a top ten or so of acts you want to see. Don’t get your hopes up thinking you’re going to spend the entire day running from stage to stage. Music goes from noon until the wee hours of the morning, so you’ll need some downtime. Plus, unless you want to spend all your money, you’ll want to head back to camp at least once to eat, drink, and relax. Depending on where you end up camping, that could be an hour-long walk there and another one back, plus waiting in the security line. If there’s a band you really want to see starting at 2, you might want to run back to camp before the headliner. If you plan to be at the late-night until the sun comes up, then you’re probably going to miss those noon sets the next day.
Make sure you catch your favorites, but don’t fret too much if you miss a few shows you were excited about.
More than Music
With so many incredible acts, it’s easy to fill your entire weekend with live music.
Bonnaroo is so much more than just tunes, though.
Don’t come to this festival and miss out on some of the other experiences on offer. From yoga classes, to interactive art installations, to workshops on sustainability, to human foosball, there’s no shortage of choices. Find a spot in the schedule where there’s nothing you’re dying to see on the stages, and go take part in some of the other areas of the fest that make Bonnaroo such a magical place.
We’ve all seen that guy at a festival – the one who went super hard on Thursday night and blew his festy load way too soon. By Saturday afternoon, he’s sunburnt, barefoot, and passed out in a lawn chair back at camp. (Looks like he didn’t read the Bonnaroo Survival Guide!)
As the smart dudes in Greensky Bluegrass proclaimed to a festival crowd last year – “It’s a sprinting marathon!”
Of course, you want to rage and have a good time, but don’t ruin your festival weekend by going nuts the first day or two. There’s still music on Sunday, and you know what they say: Never miss a Sunday show!
Make sure you finish a bottle of water for every beer/cocktail you have during the day, put on sunscreen multiple times, take breaks, and don’t forget to eat. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment at a festival, but Bonnaroo is unforgiving to those who choose not to pace themselves.
If you get in nice and early, have a solid set up at camp, bring all the essentials for battling the sun, time your days right, and pace yourself, Bonnaroo will be exactly what it’s supposed to be – a really good time.
While it may get a lot of hate for being “too big,” “too expensive,” and “too mainstream” these days, it’s still an unbelievable 4-day party full of world-class musicians and comedians, plus movies, sports, art, food, games, and an all-around amazing community of people that makes this the 7th largest city in Tennessee once a year.
Bonnaroo is one of the pioneers of modern-day festivals, and it continues to outdo itself on a yearly basis.
Thanks for reading the Grateful Gypsies‘ Bonnaroo Survival Guide! See you out there!