By Maggie -- Jun 17, 2014
We survived. We lived to tell the tales of Bonnaroo! Here is a longer post outlining our experiences at this mega-festival out on a farm in Manchester, TN.
Never had we dreamed that we'd ever go to Bonnaroo. It's way out in Tennessee, on a farm out in the middle of nowhere, and tickets are pricey. But when we saw that we could easily fit it into our route, we jumped right in head first and bought an RV pass and two tickets. While we both have been full of anticipation for the festival, we had some questions and doubts... Will we be the "old farts" at this festival? Will the music be worth the price of admission? Will we get any sleep at all? Will we come out with all of our limbs in tact? Will Donna make it through the weekend? Did we bring enough beer?
We've heard that Bonnaroo is one of the best festivals, if not THE best, in North America, and that it's the closest thing that the US has to festivals in Europe. 99% of festival-goers camp inside the Farm, and you must bring all of your supplies for the 5 days in with you. We have been preparing for the last two months by creating checklists of supplies and reading "Roo Survival Guides" on various forums online. We felt good about our preparation as we pulled up to the farm gates along with hundreds of other RVs.
Bonnaroo puts a strong focus on safety, and has dozens of help stations, water stations, and bag checks set up throughout the park. One of the hidden rules in the list of many rules is "No Glass Allowed", which we somehow misunderstood as "no glass beer bottles". We bought a few cases of cheap beer in cans and figured we'd be good to go. The check-in process felt worse than a border patrol search. It involves several volunteers tearing apart your camper and car looking for anything on the "not allowed" list, which happened to include a ton of our camping equipment that we have been using regularly for two months! As the volunteer girl opened up our drawers and cabinets and began pulling out all of our good kitchen knives, several glass jars of food, and expensive bottles of wine, whiskey, and more… I stood there dumbfounded. "Isn't there any way you could just let us get by with this stuff? We're on our honeymoon and traveling for five months and we use these things every single day! Is there any way we can keep this stuff with us or check it in somewhere?" I begged. She stopped for a few seconds and looked at me and said "OK, Just keep quiet and I'll put this stuff away because I trust you guys. Empty the spaghetti sauce into a plastic bag so it looks like I found at least one thing". As this was happening, a guy was searching the bed of the truck and found Ryan's ax that he uses to chop wood. It would definitely not fly according to Bonnaroo regulations, and they confiscated it immediately. Ryan began to argue with the guy but I nudged him to stop - I'd rather give up a $25 ax than $200 worth of supplies from the kitchen. We were both a bit shaken by the whole ordeal (no one likes to be strip searched!) but glad that the girl volunteer had some decency to let us keep our cooking utensils and food. We drove into the park and set up camp and cracked open a beer. We had made it!
Before we left LA, we invited our friend, neighbor and wedding officiant Jon to fly out and join us at Roo, and he did! He arrived on Thursday and the festival was in full swing. For sleeping arrangements, we folded down the kitchen table and laid out the cushions for a perfect little twin bed. We brought enough food with us to make each meal and we cooked big breakfasts to give us the energy to keep on truckin'. It was fun to have our first official "house guest" and it felt like we were back home for a minute… According to Jon, Los Angeles is still 75 degrees and sunny, just like we left it, so we're not missing much.
A few things that we LOVED about Bonnaroo:
1. The Music. To it's core, Bonnaroo is all about the music. We enjoyed seeing bands we had already heard of but were even more impressed by the music we had never heard before. The mix of older and newer performers was awesome, and more than once older musicians would collaborate and take the stage with a younger band. One example - we saw a documentary called "Take me to the River" and afterwards, most of the musicians from the documentary played an entire show! This includes an original member of Otis Redding's band (and the only survivor of the fatal plane crash that killed Otis and his band) Ben Cauley. The vibe was consistently upbeat and exciting and eclectic.
2. The festival organization. Once we were inside the park, we never once felt annoyed or frustrated by anything. The park is big enough so that people aren't squished together and it's laid out in such a way that you can really never get lost. When you have 100,000 people trying to see bands on five different stages, all having to eat and use the bathroom, it could be disastrous. But not at Roo - they really have it down to a science as far as music festivals go. We hardly waited in a line, and when we felt like we needed a break from the heat, we could duck into one of several huge tents with A/C that showed movie screenings or live comedy acts.
3. Did we mention the vibe? Part of the Bonnaroovian code is that you should "radiate positivity". Sounds like some hippie horse poop doesn't it? That's exactly what it is, and we loved it! Sure, most kids were stoned out of their minds and delirious from the unforgiving heat, but everyone was friendly and FUN to be around. I'd say I high-fived someone at least 20 times a day. People weren't pushy trying to get up to the front row - everyone had some space to breathe while watching a performance. It was much different than any other festival we've been to in the past, especially in CA.
4. Elton John = He is the MAN. He sounded incredible, and played so many hits that just kept on coming - the entire crowd stayed on their feet for two hours. When he played "Rocket Man" someone lit up several Chinese Lanterns and let go of a Toy Story Buzz Lightyear balloon - together they floated up into the air while everyone, young and old, sang along to the song. It was pretty magical.
5. We were NOT the old farts at the festival. Far from it - Whew!
6. The Bonnaroo radio station - This was my favorite part about the camping part of Roo. Before we sold my Subaru last year, we took out the original stereo and replaced it with a bluetooth stereo. I kept it the old stereo (for God knows what reason) and Ryan had the idea to install it into our camper, along with some surround-sound speakers. We turned on the Bonnaroo radio station and left it on the entire weekend - we got to listen to backstage interviews and eclectic mixes while taking breaks at the campsite. The djs were top-notch!
7. Lastly, we had the chance to see our wedding DJs perform live at Bonnaroo. We didn't know it when we booked them, but they are also part of a band called Classixx, who are well-known in the festival circuit. During their set we stood at the side of the stage, and once Michael from Classixx noticed us, he came running over and gave us both big hugs (in mid performance).
There are of course some things we didn't enjoy as much:
1. Distance from your campsite to the festival and to the bathrooms. We were waaaay out in the boonies and the walk to the festival was easily a half a mile. When you're doing that multiple times a day, as well as walking inside the festival grounds all day and standing up to see performances, you start to feel like you're on some kind of thousand-mile monk pilgrimage across death valley. In other words, it sucks.
2. Outhouses. 100,000 people, all eating hot dogs and cheese pizza, all pooping at the same time. You know what I'm sayin'?
3. Too many good bands playing simultaneously. You can't see them all, it's impossible! By day three, we were so tired that we'd sit between stages so we could hear two bands without having to move.
4. Noise in the RV Parks. I personally think they should have banned generators instead of glass food jars. I'd rather hear people partying and music in the distance than three generators right in my ear. We were surrounded by RVers who kept their generators running 24/7, and for what? So their RV would be ice cold when they came back at 2am? Considering the nature-loving spirit of Bonnaroo, I think they should give RVers who have solar power (like us) a discount on their ticket for reducing noise pollution and gasoline usage. Enough said / rant over! Yeah!
Now that all is said and done, we're glad to be back in nature where it's quiet and peaceful, but we're still on a high from all of the wonderful experiences we had out on the farm. The craziest part of our adventure is behind us, but it left us with some incredible memories that we'll hold on to forever.