Since its inception in June 2002, Bonnaroo has become the premiere North American music festival. This year’s outing will be my third excursion to the farmlands of Manchester, Tennessee — I was there for Wilco and Bob Dylan in 2004, and I returned for Beck and Radiohead in 2006.
Each year challenges attendees to survive three days of camping, sweating, and drinking with 80,000 of your strangest friends. So, in part one of Owl and Bear’s Bonnaroo preview, we’ll let you in on a few secrets to surviving a sweltering — but inevitably fun-filled — weekend at Bonnaroo.
Expect the unexpected: In 2004, my wide-eyed friends and I were so excited about our first big festival extravaganza that we failed to consider Murphy’s Law and the logistics of being one group among 80,000 people who wanted to get through the gates. This list of essential tips may seem like no-brainers now, but as they say: hindsight don’t need no glasses.
Arrive early: Camping is first-come, first-serve — unless you have the loot to spring for VIP passes — so plan to get there early. Bonnaroo is held on a 700-acre farm and, trust me, they use every acre. If you get there too late, you run the risk of camping a mile away from CenterRoo and wasting your precious time walking to and from your campsite. Bring a campsite marker of some sort, as well; a flag or balloon can prove invaluable when you’re shellacked and trying to find your campsite in a sea of tents.
Sunscreen is your friend: I know what you’re thinking: “Who would forget to bring sunscreen to an event that involves spending 48 hours in the sun?” This guy. When I finally obtained some, the weekend was almost over and I looked like the Lord of Darkness from Legend. Apply liberally.
Water is your friend: The only thing worse than getting burned to a crisp is getting burned to a crisp and being painfully dehydrated. Dizziness, nausea, and death are all side effects of not drinking enough H20 and should be avoided.
Bring toiletries (things can get messy): Eventually, nature will call and you will be forced to venture into the dreaded portable potty. Your first trip may not be so bad, but this I promise: from trip number two onward, you will be increasingly grossed out by the number twos you see thereafter. Do not rely on your fellow attendees to behave like civilized people, and more importantly don’t depend on festival volunteers to restock the T.P. and hand sanitizer for you. There is going to be a time when you’ll be put in a disgusting, compromising position, most likely at night. Bring a flashlight, T.P., and sanitizer, or you will be sorry. I would also suggest bringing baby wipes and a few jugs of water for on-the-go hippie showers. In the unforgiving Tennessee sun, you’d be surprised how much of a difference a quick splash here and there can make. Plus, the cleaner you are, the better you…feel.
Spend the money on a air mattress: Unless you’re Grizzly Adams or a masochist, you won’t like sleeping on the ground. Spending $30 on an air mattress will keep you rested after the long days of inflicting various forms of punishment on your body. Trust me: after your first night, an air mattress will feel like a suite at the Hilton.
Bring rain gear: Ponchos, boots, and tarps will be a lifesaver if Mother Nature gets pissed. At my first Bonnaroo, a storm rolled in and left our campsite underwater. The mud was probably the worst part of it all — try walking around in flip flops and mud up to your knees with 80,000 people. Pack a pair of boots or at least some decent sneakers.
Food from home: Bonnaroo offers a large selection of vendors serving up everything from pizza to lamb, so you could technically get through the weekend without bringing an ounce of food, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You don’t want to eat a bad gyro and end up in the crapper as LCD Soundsystem rock the epic set to which you’d planned to dance your ass off. By bringing your own food, you’ll know what you’re eating. Granola bars, fruit, nuts, and juices are excellent energy sources on the go and will get you through all those sets you dropped $250 to see. You might also consider bringing a one-a-day vitamin and a B-complex to help revitalize your body after a long day of abuse. You’d be surprised how much it can help.
Coordinate: Most people go to Bonnaroo with friends and no one wants to be separated from their herd. Time is of the essence at any festival, and you won’t want to waste it searching for your friends. Cell phone coverage there can be spotty, so I’d suggest designating a couple landmarks and scheduling some meet-ups if you can’t get reach your friends technologically. Even if cell service is good, festivals are loud and your ironic ringtone could easily go unnoticed. Also, if you accidentally drop your phone in a Porta Potty, that’s where it’ll go to its grave.
And finally: Have fun and meet new people. It’s not often you get to share the music you love with 80,000 like-minded individuals.
Be sure to also check out Part 2 of our Bonnaroo preview, where we delve into the music and give our picks for this year’s must-see acts.