How Do You Bonnaroo?

Matt and Kim had the crowd in a frenzy.

Matt and Kim had the crowd in a frenzy.

How do I even put into words the experience that is Bonnaroo? It’s really impossible, but I’ll do my best.

The music, oh the music. I’ve never been a Beatles or Paul McCartney fan. I appreciate the music and enjoy some of their songs. But the nearly three-hour McCartney headliner on Friday night was probably the most monumental music experience I’ve witnessed. Beatles fan or not, it’s impossible not to appreciate the great performer that is Paul McCartney. Rolling Stone called it the greatest headliner in Bonnaroo history.

There were plenty of bands that gave outstanding performances: Tom Petty, Jack Johnson, Alt J, Foals, Tallest Man on Earth, Of Monsters and Men, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Local Natives, The National, Walk the Moon … the list goes on and on.

Of Monsters and Men packed the Which Stage for a Friday afternoon set.

Of Monsters and Men packed the Which Stage for a Friday afternoon set.

There is an arts element as well. It amazed me on the first night to happen upon several vendors exhibiting great artwork.

Bonnaroo art

There was all kinds of shopping, from dresses to a build-your-own-drum workshop. If not for a quickly dwindling supply of cash these shoes would’ve gone home with us on the final day.

Bonnaroo purses

The food was outstanding. There are the typical corn dog and funnel cake vendors, but there’s also a food truck area.

Bonnaroo food trucks

And really, who can complain about the option to buy gourmet macaroni and cheese at a music festival?

Bonnaroo food

Did you say beer? No, well you should, because there’s plenty of that for sale too. The Broo’ers Festival features several microbrews, some of which are larger ones like Atlanta’s Sweetwater and California’s Lagunitas. But there were smaller regional ones from Birmingham, Ala., and Asheville, N.C., too.

If you missed it last week, I wrote about my expectations for my first Bonnaroo experience. I had several bands in mind and for the most part saw them. But I was also excited about the unknown. And it started as soon as we drove into the gate the first evening.

As we pulled into the West Tollbooth and exited our car for it to be searched one of the several volunteers standing there asked if this was our first Roo experience. When we said it was he told us not to be shocked at anything we’d see.

And what could that be? “People will be having sex, you might see some weed, people acting really crazy. But everyone is having a great time. You’ll love it.” That pretty much summed up what I already had been expecting, so no surprises there really. The fact that he told us that, though, might have been the surprise.

I won’t confirm or deny what adult activities I might have witnessed.

Seems like everyone had a costume.

Seems like everyone had a costume.

The festival is crazy, honestly, but it’s not really for lewd behavior. People dressed as Gumby in 90 degree heat, a mass of crowd surfers because Kim of fun band Matt and Kim told the crowd in the back to push their way up by surfing. That was followed by Kim walking across the heads of those in the front of the crowd. She walked for what seemed like a couple of minutes, never falling. Truly impressive.

This guy and his monkey seemed to be everywhere I turned.

This guy and his monkey seemed to be everywhere I turned.

What else was crazy? The willingness of so many people to slum it in the campgrounds, honestly. If you Bonnaroo camping is the norm, but I was fortunate that my wife grew up less than three miles from the property. So we “slummed” it at my in-laws’ house with a comfortable bed and nice shower. And air conditioning. I. Must. Have. Air. Conditioning.

Camping comes in all sizes.

Camping comes in all sizes.

I’m not the camping type, even though I realize experiencing Bonnaroo gets to another level when camping. I experienced the great tent city hanging out with friends at their campsite. Good enough for me.

Bonnaroo tents

And speaking of camping, I’ve never seen such a well-designed layout of a camping city. The campgrounds are broken down into pods with each pod having their own shower facilities and toilets. The streets are named and laid out in a rough grid system.

Bonnaroo street sign

And maybe you’re a bit more like me and prefer air conditioning. There are lots of camps set up for RVs. And I’m not talking the little pop-up campers – although there are plenty of those too. The big RVs, even the ones seen at big-time college football games, are scattered throughout. These guys aren’t playing around.

Bonnaroo campers

And about that lewd behavior. Sure, late night at Bonnaroo isn’t Rated PG. If the smell and even sight of pot bothers you then yes, it’s questionable behavior. That warning of public sex? I never saw it, although I’m sure it was going on in tents and in dark places on the grounds. I saw a few women walk around topless. But honestly, spend a few minutes on a beach in Europe and that’s the rule, not the exception. I saw plenty of children in attendance and if I weren’t such a cheap person I would’ve bought a third ticket so our son could attend some of the shows.

People carried these unique signs everywhere.

People carried these unique signs everywhere.

In general, Bonnaroo is a community of about 100,000 music and art lovers just out to enjoy music, their friends, meeting new people, and having a great time.

I had several bands that I really wanted to see. And for the most part I did. But some of the cooler experiences were just popping in on random tents to see musicians who weren’t on my radar. For example, I’m familiar with Jim James, the lead singer of My Morning Jacket. But I wasn’t planning to watch him play. I’m so glad we did. He is such a talented and entertaining musician. Happened upon James McCartney on one of the smaller stages. Turns out he’s the only son of Sir Paul. Actor Ed Helms leading a strong bluegrass super jam on the final night was interesting.

Alt J had the This Tent packed the first night.

Alt J had the This Tent packed the first night.

My takeaway from Bonnaroo 2013? It’s an amazing experience that as a fan of music I’m thrilled I was able to be a part. Life is full of opportunities to experience. We can give in to our reservations and miss out on what could be exceptional experiences. Or we can choose to take a chance and participate. I’m glad I participated and I look forward to getting back to Bonnaroo.

Only one act remaining, we toughed it out for the fabulous festival closing performance by Tom Petty.

Only one act remaining, we toughed it out for the fabulous festival closing performance by Tom Petty.

17 thoughts on “How Do You Bonnaroo?

  1. That is awesome you had a comfortable bed and A/C nearby. I have camped at Bonnaroo several times, and the heat just wore me out on several occasions. One year I went to Lollapalooza in Chicago after seeing Bonnaroo, and I live in Chicago. It sure made a difference coming back to a bed, a/c, and shower. Glad you enjoyed the festival.
    Traveling Ted recently posted…A cruise along the Red River Gorge Scenic BywayMy Profile

  2. It’s crazy this was my wife’s first Bonnaroo considering she grew up in Manchester. We hung out with some of her high school friends who come back every year for the festival. They camp, but have gotten to where they have a camp base and in reality usually only spend one full night at the tent. The other nights are back at mom’s house!

  3. Hooray for the random Icelandic flag while Of Monsters and Men played!

    Looks like you had a great time. Heard Paul McCartney was great!!

    Guess you didn’t run into a younger, blonder, and more sarcastic version of me while you were there. She sent me a few videos of Walk the Moon and Tom Petty though.. made me a little jealous!
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  4. I’m sure our paths crossed. We were at Walk the Moon and Petty. If she was dressed “normal” then I probably don’t remember her. Too many crazy people to remember the normal people.

  5. It was great, especially the music. I actually stayed in a house nearby so never camped. I’m not sure that I’d want to camp, especially in the Tennessee summer heat.

  6. He wanted to go this year. He sat at his grandparents’ house, just three miles away, and could hear the music. The ticket is so expensive, though, I might wait until he’s older. We should have gone last year when he was young enough to be free. There were kids there, so who knows.

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  8. I won’t lie, I didn’t have the true experience in the campground and I’m OK with that. Except for some questionable porta potties, though, I’d say in general the festival is very refined, at least for a camping music festival. It was a great time, helped by the fact so many bands I like. But I think it would still be a lot of fun even if I didn’t know many of the bands.

  9. I came across your Bonnaroo post today while I was searching for how to day-trip at Bonnaroo. I have a home in Sewanee, TN so I will be driving to and from each day. Thanks for your helpful tips. Oh, I should add: I will be the only adult with 3 teenagers. Yes, i’ve lost my mind.

  10. There probably are adults with teenagers. Good for you for taking them and keeping an eye on them. It’s a great experience. I’d love to get back one of these days. I’m thankful my in-laws live so close.

  11. Do you by chance have the info for the vendor in the 3rd picture with the paintings?! I never made it back there, but am dying to buy a piece of their work for my new apartment.


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