NEW TO ROO? A BEGINNERS GUIDE TO BONNAROO, RADIATING POSITIVITY, AND BEING EPIC

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NEW TO ROO’?  FEAR NOT, WE GOT YOU!

Since 2002, The Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival has signaled the beginning of summertime in Tennessee as much as sweet tea and questionable fireworks pop-up tent sales on the side of the road.  From its inception, it’s been a destination for music and culture lovers from around the world, and while the look and sound of the festival has changed over the years, the ideals have stayed the same. “Radiate Positivity” still remains the mantra there, and is central to everything that Bonnaroo is about. There are many great resources out there on how to make your first trip to the farm one you’ll never forget! Bonnaroo’s own website (www.bonnaroo.com) does a great job filling you in on the locale, the activities, events, of course the artist lineup, and is incredibly informative and up to date for both the first-timer and even the seasoned veteran, as new and exciting ideas and concepts are popping up each year!  Another great place for information, tips, off-season conversation, and all things Roo’ is the Bonnaroo Reddit page (https://www.reddit.com/r/bonnaroo/). 

Year round, the discussions are ongoing, with everything from early artist predictions, to food vendors, to folks looking for people to attend, travel, or camp with. It’s truly a community, and full of valuable information and resources from other Bonnaroo fanatics!  The third “must have” resource (and probably the most important) is Inforoo (www.inforoo.com). Since 2004, this has been the “grail diary” of Bonnaroo. Anything you need or want to know about Bonnaroo, you’ll find it here.  Need a ride? Looking to carpool? Not sure when to arrive to beat the lines?  (HINT: arriving Wednesday afternoon is the sweet spot to avoid hours-long entrance traffic! I’ll discuss more later) Looking to buy or sell camping equipment? Not sure what you actually need or don’t need to bring? Inforoo has you covered. For first timers, there are some great sections of the page just for you with newbie guides, and FAQ’s.  

I could write a book talking about each individual experience within Bonnaroo, so let’s talk about the experience as a whole; what makes it so special, and what you can do to ensure that you leave the farm feeling like your whole life has just been enhanced and greatly enriched as you re-adjust back into the real world. Despite the haters out there who have nothing better to do than to troll social media and complain about the festival, the lineup, the security, the people attending, the organization and operation of the festival by Live Nation, and a million and one other things, I promise you- as someone preparing to attend for my 8th year, that if you choose to be unhappy, you can find fault in nearly anything. (This applies throughout life, actually). But if you go into it with anticipation, wonder, an open mind, and are willing to embrace the joy of spending a few days away from the stresses and frustrations that you may be used to, and make it a point to radiate positivity, then you too can be epic, and make memories that you will talk about for the rest of your life!  

Here’s a few lessons that I’ve learned over the years that continue to ring true, no matter how the festival may change. 

  • GET TO KNOW YOUR CAMP NEIGHBORS! CHANCES ARE: THEY ARE AWESOME, AND YOU WILL SPEND A LOT OF TIME PARTYING WITH THEM!

This has proven itself true every single year. There has not been a year that’s gone by that I haven’t left Bonnaroo without a whole new group of friends from camp. Whether it’s helping them set up their gear, or offering a beer out of the cooler after setting up camp, don’t be a stranger. There are no strangers at Bonnaroo! You’ll be shocked at how quickly people become fast friends on the farm. That’s what it’s all about. You’re all in this together!

  • EXPRESS YOURSELF!  DON’T HOLD BACK!

You’ve finally made it to Bonnaroo!  You didn’t come all this way just to sit on the sidelines and watch while everyone else gets freedom for their soul, did you?  Of course not! Participate! Freedom of expression is one of the most beautiful things about this festival.  If you want to dance, then dance. Face paint? Body paint? Goofy costumes?  Yes!  All of it is welcome, and encouraged! You are hereby free to be you. Let your freak flag fly. There’s even a parade you can march in! 

  • YES, IT’S A MUSIC FESTIVAL – BUT TRUST ME, THE LINEUP REALLY DOESN’T MATTER!

At this point, someone reading this is probably laughing and thinks I’ve lost my mind, but hear me out on this! Every year when the lineup comes out, the grumblers come out in force about “how bad the lineup is”.  This happens EVERY year! You could have Prince, The Beatles, Queen (with Freddie Mercury), and Michael Jackson as your headliners and there would still be folks coming out of the woodwork complaining about it.  It’s just part of the deal. Look, I haven’t loved every lineup that they’ve rolled out at first glance, or been thrilled about every headliner, but a few things HAVE happened every year that I’ve gone, confirming that I’m right about this. First off,  I’ve discovered new artists/bands that either: ended up becoming some of my favorites, put on incredible shows that I still think about years later, or have even gone on to become some of the biggest names in music. Every single year! I still remember when Twenty-One Pilots was an opening day undercard band in one of the tents back in 2013!  So many other artists that I now listen to, I listen to because of my experience discovering them at Bonnaroo. Catfish & The Bottlemen, Rezz, and Trombone Shorty are a few that come to mind immediately, but it’s a pretty big list over the years, and spans multiple genres of music.  There is absolutely something for everybody at Bonnaroo, and sometimes searching it out like hidden treasure makes it even more special when you do discover that one band or artist that sets your whole festival weekend off.  

Here’s the other thing that I can honestly say about Bonnaroo every year that I’ve gone- that at the end of it, the experience I had wasn’t CREATED by the music lineup, but rather, it was ENHANCED by it.  I’m telling you, with the experience that is Bonnaroo, I would probably be ok with a Spotify playlist cranked through a festival sized sound system if the rest of the magic still remained intact.  Don’t stay home because you don’t like the lineup. Go because you want to throw yourself into the kind of world we all wish we could live in every day!  And if you already like the lineup, even better!  But if you don’t like the lineup, become an investigator and get to work, because I guarantee there is someone scheduled to perform that you will love. You just don’t know it yet.

  • TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES- AND EACH OTHER

After every episode of the Jerry Springer show- after all of the hair extensions had been pulled out, all of the paternity test results were revealed, and all of the shocking confessions were laid bare and brawls had simmered down, Jerry offered those same wise words before the credits rolled. “Take care of yourselves- and each other”. Perhaps a bit disingenuous coming from a former mayor turned daytime drama peddler, but it definitely applies at Bonnaroo. People arrive from all over the United States, Canada, and even overseas to let loose and be free for a few days, as they should. Unfortunately- and I’ve seen it, sometimes common sense gets left behind, and that sometimes leads to bad outcomes.  Let’s start with the basics- HYDRATE! It is hot, it is dusty, and you are outside in the angry Tennessee sun all day. The folks on the farm have done a fine job ensuring there are plenty of places to refill your Camelbacks and water bottles, so just do it!  The next basic, and this should just be automatic- SUNSCREEN! I don’t care where you come from or how impervious you think you are to the sun. Trust me, you’re NOT, and you WILL be burned and be miserable for most of the weekend if you do not respect the Tennessee sun in June.  

Now it’s time to have “the talk”. BE CAREFUL about anything you put into your body! Nothing is worse than hearing about someone getting sick or even worse- passing away on the farm, because they took what they were told was a recreational drug/substance that turned out to be something completely different which did them great harm.  To act like there are not drugs at a music festival would not only be naïve, it would be completely unrealistic. I am not here to legislate anyone’s morality or good time, but I can tell you this- law enforcement isn’t there to stop anyone from having fun. They are there to stop people from getting hurt, losing their life, and if they can make some revenues for the county with money collected from misdemeanor fines too, then so be it. But seriously though, there are a lot of bad products making their way around festivals, and the number of people getting hurt or killed by them is on the rise. Be smart. Make good choices. Know exactly what you are putting into your body.  Do everything in moderation. And look out for your friends, too.

  • YOU CAN MAKE A PLAN, BUT BONNAROO MAY HAVE A DIFFERENT PLAN

This is one of my favorite things about Bonnaroo! I am most definitely a planner. I like to know well in advance what I am doing, where I will be, and what’s next.  I try to do that every single year once the daily schedule comes out, and like clockwork, my journey at Bonnaroo ALWAYS takes different twists and turns that I wouldn’t have imagined, but ALWAYS ends up even better than I had planned!  What makes this so much fun is that it is usually result of the people you meet along the way, and as all of your friends become all of their friends, and as you all navigate Bonnaroo together as one big happy family, you become a lot more open to check out bands that maybe you never would have gone and seen before, or maybe you open yourself up to try different foods, or take in other elements of Bonnaroo and the different experiences offered that you never would have planned on taking part in.  You’ll still get to see most of the artists you want to while you’re here, but leave room for mystery, adventure, and the unknown! Let the farm be your guide! (Just make sure to try the Amish Donuts, Spicy Pie pizza, and if you need me, you’ll find me at Kalliope raging and dancing until sunlight each night after the stage shows are all over!)

  • GET THERE WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON! THE BEST PARTIES ARE WEDNESDAY NIGHT! 

I have heard countless tales of woe from folks who had to sit in their cars for 8 to 10 hours or more, mere miles from the gates on Wednesday night, and I’ve heard the same terrible reports from people who arrived on Thursday afternoon, and sat in their cars all the way up to Thursday night/into Friday early morning.  I’ve never experienced that because I’ve always arrived on Wednesday afternoon, usually between 2pm and 4pm, and have had my entire camp set up and ready to roll by 7pm. It’s always worked, and I’ve never deviated from it.  The best parties are the camp parties Wednesday night anyway though!  You don’t want to miss them. Centeroo doesn’t open until Thursday afternoon, so until then, the camp is where it’s at.  This is the best time to meet your neighbors, new friends, and establish bonds that will (in some cases) last the rest of your life.  Supergroop is a fixture of long time Groop Camping Bonnaroo vets and they ALWAYS have a huge Wednesday night throw down in the Groop Camping area, complete with live DJ’s, etc. (easy to find on the map you’ll get once you arrive). All are welcome, and I highly recommend checking it out, but remember: all it takes to create a great party in your own camp area is a friendly smile, a cooler full of beer, a fully charged Bluetooth speaker, and a nice playlist!

MANCHESTER, TN – JUNE 12: Guests enjoy The Fountain during Day 2 of the 2015 Bonnaroo Music And Arts Festival on June 12, 2015 in Manchester, Tennessee. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic for Bonnaroo Arts And Music Festival)
  • CHECK ALL YOUR TROUBLES AT THE DOOR

Life is hard. We all know this. With 60,000 to 80,000 folks from all walks of life, across all age groups, backgrounds, and countless other identifiers making their way to Manchester, TN, there is a 100% chance that at least more than a few of us have something weighing heavily on us back home.  I’ve personality checked off a few of the boxes myself, having attended Bonnaroo once after just losing a job that I held very dearly, once during a serious bout of personal mental anguish, and once while one of my long time best friends was going through a divorce. It’s not an easy thing to do to put aside difficult real world problems, some of which have the ability to shake you to your very core.  But I’ve got to tell you, if you can come to terms with whatever it is you are going through back home, and realize that it will still be there ready to challenge you after you get back, but commit to putting all of your energy and attention on getting free and having the time of your life anyway, I PROMISE that the experience you take home with you from Bonnaroo will give you one more thing to draw strength from when you are back in the middle of the fight.  And if you see someone else that looks to be in a bad place while you are there, offer a smile, a kind word, sit down with them at a tree or in the grass at one of the performances.  I’ve been on that side of it too, feeling overwhelmed and breaking off from my group to sit alone in sadness.  On several occasions, someone that didn’t know me from Adam saw me looking isolated and withdrawn- not having a great time, and took the time to talk to me and before you know it, I was back to my old self, and was able to turn it around and have a great time! Radiating Positivity takes so many shapes and forms, but caring about your fellow man/woman with simple acts of kindness still goes so far. Even a high-five and a smile can change someone’s outlook, and high-fives and smiles are still valuable currency on the farm.

  • BE EPIC!

This was the rally cry from my friends that got me to attend my first Bonnaroo, so many years ago. I quickly realized what it meant.  Though each year is so uniquely different with the people you meet, the experiences you have, the memories you make and the lessons you learn, BEING EPIC is simply a matter of living in the moment, soaking up each and every experience up as it’s happening, and not looking for anything more than what is in front of you! At Bonnaroo, you will have countless opportunities to live life in a way that you just don’t always get to here in the “real world”. You will get to meet so many likeminded people, but also have opportunities to develop a kinship with people that you might never otherwise cross paths with outside of its gates. People don’t come back to Bonnaroo year after year just for some concerts. People come back year after year because this place is sweet nectar for the soul. It’s an alternate reality that is all within reach and readily available to anyone seeking it. It’s community. It’s family. It is home.


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