Other possible titles for this post could be:
- Learning to Use the Bathroom Without Toilet Paper
- Trying to Sleep through a Skrillex Concert
- The Day a Half-Naked Man Chased Me
- Smuggling Soap into a Hippie Festival
This post is long overdue but it was important to me to write this. When I was getting ready to go, this was something I looked for myself as I knew it would calm my anxiety if I knew what to expect. Most blog posts simply focused on the music, the fun, their enjoyment but I didn’t need to be convinced to go – I had already bought the ticket! What I was really looking for was something that told me what the day-to-day experience of being at Bonnaroo was like. So, in typical Jessica fashion, this post is VERY long with lots of information that you may or may not find relevant. I can only hope that there are other people out there that are looking for the same information I had looked for before I set off for Bonnaroo.
1. Getting into Bonnaroo.
The one thing I heard over and over is “Be ready to sit in traffic.” So we were ready…except we somehow lucked up and didn’t sit in any. You can get there as early as Wednesday evening (there are varying reports as to when they open the grounds on Wednesday - I’ve heard as early as 12 noon) but the traffic is supposed to really start backing up early Thursday morning. Most people will suggest filling up the car with gas and taking a restroom break about 25 miles out. We got there at about 1pm Thursday and breezed right in.
So…if you get there a little later, you may avoid traffic. The trade off is that you camp pretty far away from Centeroo but that didn’t really bother us. It meant our campsite stayed relatively dust free, away from the traffic of the constant golf carts.
They do check cars at random so if you are bringing in something illegal or forbidden, do so at your own risk. They didn’t check our car but in the car in front of us, everyone tumbled out and I saw bags opened, items jerked out, coolers rummaged through, and generally a pretty good ransacking.
We also left on Sunday morning because it had been raining all night and it was forecast to rain the rest of the day. Rather than be miserable and wet all day, we packed up our camp site and hit the road, guaranteeing zero traffic on the way out. So unfortunately, I can’t tell you what to expect for traffic when you leave. We had heard that people should stay through the Sunday night concerts and leave Monday as traffic starts picking up significantly Sunday afternoon.
You are going to be camping in the middle of a field with 80,000 of your closest friends. You are not going to have space to yourself and people will constantly be around you. Get used to this fact (Honestly, one of the nicest moments of Bonnaroo was getting up early one morning before others had begun to stir and just sitting alone and reading). If you do not like camping, living without electricity or need space to yourself, I caution you to strongly think about your decision to attend Bonnaroo. As I had completed a successful inaugural camping experience a few weeks prior, I was at least prepared for that portion. We chose to camp with our car, which is what most choose to do. You can also do Tent Only, but it’s a bitch to have to hike all of your equipment from your car to the tent area.
As we entered our camp area we filed into our spot, similar to the way you may park at any concert or ball game, with folks guiding you to park your car close alongside another. The car that followed us in was directed to stop about 40 feet or so behind us. The 20 feet behind our car, half of this space between us and the car behind us, was to be our camp site. The width of the space was the width of my car, about 10 feet. This is your personal area for the next 3 days. This is enough room for a medium size tent and an EZ Up 10×10 open air tent/sun shade.
This type of sun shade/tent is needed for 2 reasons: 1) it provides much needed shade since being inside your tent during the day is unbearable and 2) it establishes your “property line” between your campsite and your neighbors. We didn’t bring one of these 10×10 shades and instead tried to rig up our own sun shade with poles, rope, and a tarp but it didn’t provide a lot of headroom, as well as the fact that our neighbors regularly knocked into the poles or tripped over the ropes, requiring us to constantly tend to the contraption. The 10×10 EZ up tents cost about $100, but I know for a fact that many event planning places rent them out, typically $10 a day. Or, buy one cheap off of Craigslist and then resell it when you get back (if you think you’ll never use it again).
If you have a group of friends going to Bonnaroo, I suggest that you drive separate cars. Even if all 4 of you can fit into one car and you’d like to save on gas, you’ll appreciate the extra space. Because even though the ticket you purchased gets you into Bonnaroo, there isn’t anything said about whether you’ll be bringing a car. A group of 4 could have 4 spaces if they drove 4 cars. See what I mean? I saw plenty of people do this and they were able to spread out large tents and have quite a luxurious space to themselves.
I was actually pretty proud of us; we had our tent up, the air mattress inflated, and the sleeping bags rolled out before the girls beside us had even managed to get all of the items out of their tent bag (They later discovered that they didn’t have the actual tent – just the poles and the ground tarp. But not to worry, some young boys miraculously brought over a tent, already put together. For the rest of the weekend we could never figure out if those boys had given these girls their tent or if, somehow, they had an extra? Either way, don’t rely on the chance that some young men will offer you a free tent; check your equipment before you leave to insure you actually have all you need).
A lot of blogs and forums talk about erecting a campsite flag. That’s cute and all but inevitably someone else will do the same nearby or there will be some other distinguishing landmark that will help you find your site in the dark. And it does get dark so bring a flashlight – each person should have their own and have it with them at all times. There was varying information about whether glow sticks were allowed; people had them and you could attach that to your tent to guide you back if you like.
We did purchase a cute little battery operated ceiling fan but the nights were chilly and didn’t warrant its use and in the day, being inside the tent meant any fan would just stir up hot air. The one night we ran it, the 6 hours of use completely drained the batteries so I’m not sure a fan would help much unless you brought along plenty of D batteries.
The food available in Centeroo is actually quite affordable ($7-10 per plate) and is far superior quality than what I expected. Avoid the “carnival” food stands near the What and Which stages and definitely don’t buy anything on Shakedown Street (where unofficial vendors set up outside of Centeroo). Make a point to visit the Food Truck Rodeo or the food stands nearer to the West Entrance (close to the Ferris Wheel).
We enjoyed a variety of food from Crif’s (bacon wrapped hot dogs!), Samosas, huge burritos, wood-fired pizzas, and more. While the food is affordable and readily available (Centeroo is open 24 hours and most of the food stands are open around the clock too), at $30 dollars a day for 3 meals ($120 for 4 days), you may want to bring your own food. We brought a small propane stove to cook eggs and coffee each morning (you may only bring one small propane tank – no open fires allowed). We kept our perishables (and beer) cold with bags of ice that cost $3.00 per bag that we bought each night right outside of Centroo as we headed back to camp. With our daily breakfast, plus apples, granola bars, beef jerky, chips/pretzels, and other non-perishable foods (you are allowed to bring these type “snacks” into Centeroo but you can’t bring in meals, like sandwiches), we really only had to buy our dinner most days.
Water is readily available everywhere as Bonnaroo often gets very hot and it’s the festival organizers’ goal to make sure everyone is hydrated. There had been noise in the forums that upon entering Centeroo, security may make you dump your water from your Camelpaks or water bottles, lest they contain something other than water, but they never made us dump ours (another way to sneak in alcohol, perhaps?) But even if they did, you could have filled up with water again immediately inside.
You may bring: 2 cases of beer per person per car, one (1) 1.75 liter of hard liquor per person per car, and 2 boxes of wine per person per car (no glass containers allowed so prepare to find the finest canned beer and boxed wine you can). Here’s the hitch: you can’t bring any of this into Centeroo. We would try to pregame as much as possible at the tent before heading in for the day but because of the heat and need to constantly hydrate, we really never caught a buzz.
Each year there is a beer festival and I was originally excited about it until I realized it included a complicated system of purchasing tickets and then using these tickets as currency to purchase various sample sizes of beer. As these beers, all good craft beers and many of which I have already tried, ended up being more expensive than other beers available around Centeroo (which were already $7 each), we opted out of this particular experience.
Getting into Centeroo does require a pat down and bag search but a flask of liquor lodged in the waist of your shorts or pants should get through since security will pat down side pockets but aren’t crazy about touching your rear. The first day they seemed to take the pat down and bag search much more seriously, taking pains to divide lines up by gender to insure females had female guards, men had men. This didn’t last long.
The only time we got static coming through the gates was the day we had taken showers just before heading into Centeroo. I had my toiletries in my bag and the guard zeroed in on a black plastic box. He gleefully snatched it out, asking me accusingly “What is THIS?” I responded that he was sure to be disappointed and sure enough, his face fell considerably when it was revealed I was smuggling in soap. He laughed it off and, as he handed it back, exclaimed “Don’t you know you can’t bring soap to a hippie festival?!”
Prepare for the biggest drug fest of your life. No. Seriously. I was amazed. I mean, I guess I had heard stories but I have never been around so many people doing drugs in my life. Sure, I’ve been to concerts where you inevitably smell that familiar scent, you look around, maybe you see where it’s coming from, but it’s not overt…they’re trying to hide it. But at Bonnaroo, people walk around openly smoking pipes or joints. At one point during a concert, we had people to our right, left, AND behind us all smoking weed. The “security guards” at Bonnaroo are actually often volunteers that are working for the festival in exchange for free admittance so the fact that another 20-something is “in charge” makes it easy to understand why a lot of drug use is simply ignored. We did eventually see one guy get his taken away; the security person walked up, took it, and kept walking. The guy didn’t get in trouble, he just no longer had his weed. And he looked so forlorn and confused, I almost gave him a hug (which would have been part of the Bonnaroovian Code, afterall).
We were regularly offered drugs at the campsite, one day being offered something called white-on-white. Figuring it was some kind of drug, we kindly refused but had to wait until we returned to civilization to realize we had been offered acid.
So my point is: if you have a problem being around drugs, Bonnaroo is not for you. As I said earlier, they do search cars, so if you want to smuggle something in, you do so at your own risk. But in all likelihood, you’ll be able to get what you need when you’re there. And, I did have to admit that as beers were $7 a pop within Bonnaroo, doing drugs is probably the more economical choice.
Besides the sheer number of people at Bonnaroo, maneuvering the facilities proved to be a close second in personal challenges. First of all, get prepared for the fact that you will be using port-o-potties for 4 days. These port-o-potties do get cleaned once a day; it is your job to find out when yours get cleaned – it is a MUCH nicer experience to do your business shortly after this happens. It seems that the ones in Centeroo get cleaned first, early in the morning, and then the trucks move out slowly through the campsites. As our campsite was near the back, ours didn’t get cleaned often until 10 or 11am.
At 9am, when the morning sun begins beating down onto the tents, running the inhabitants out, the lines for the port-o-potties get incredibly long. Try to avoid this exquisite exercise in pain by getting up slightly before everyone else. And if you are a guy, please don’t be an ass and go at your campsite; that’s rude and disgusting. There isn’t enough room for your bedroom to also be your restroom.
Your chance for having toilet paper when you go is about 25%. Sure, it may be there, but it’s probably sitting in a puddle of…something. As a roll of toilet paper is bulky to carry around, I brought along little feminine wipes that took up much less space, as well as allowed me to have the false sense of security of staying clean. You’ve probably guessed by now that the port-o-potties are also not very clean. I’m not a “hoverer” as I feel it just contributes to the mess. Instead, I brought along Wet Ones, which allowed me to wipe down the seat before use. Some port-o-potties did have sanitizer dispensers but only about 25% actually held sanitizer. So I also went around with my little bottle of sanitizer, doling it out to anyone else that asked for a little dab.
There are water stations (pods) for every campsite. These are small, open shelters that have long trough sinks on either side. I used these for brushing my teeth and washing my face each morning and evening. You are asked to not attempt showers within the shelter but instead use the open trough sink outside. People bring pans or buckets to wash there or take back to their campsite. People also bring short lengths of garden hose that attach to the faucet for washing as well. As Garnier was a sponsor of the festival and offered free samples of shampoo and conditioner, other people opted to take their showers in the Mushroom Fountain. Little empty green cards of shampoo littered the whole fountain area.
Instead of bathing this way, I opted for the fancy hot showers that cost $7 during peak hours (morning and evening hours) or $5 during off peak (afternoon and late night). The showers, set up in small trailers, did offer a private stall with hottish water, although the cost of the shower was also supposed to guarantee cleanliness of the stalls. I never saw the shower attendants do much in the way of cleaning and by the last day the trailer had become pretty trashed. However, with shower shoes, hot water and soap, I wasn’t much concerned. The only showers we could ever find were just outside of Centeroo, about a 20 minute walk from our campsite, so each day much time was dedicated to figuring out how we would fit a shower into our day as we tried to avoid walking back and forth as much as possible.
I guess all of this means that I ruined Bonnaroo with soap and cleanliness but I would have not made it 3 days by living in filth.
This ain’t a fashion show so focus on clothes that are comfortable and cool. We managed to go to a Bonnaroo festival that stayed in the 80s; past years’ festivals have hit triple digits. The fact that we come from North Carolina, which regularly has 90+ degree days during the dog days of summer, I originally wasn’t concerned with all of the noise made about how hot Bonnaroo got. Until I realized that the heat and humidity I experience in short bursts throughout my day from getting in my car, getting out of my car, walking into work, walking into my house isn’t quite the same as existing in the elements with no respite provided in the form of shade or AC.
You won’t sleep in past 9am; it’ll be too hot in your tent to sleep. I wore a bathing suit every day under a tank top and shorts or a skirt. No makeup. No jewelry. My hair was up all the time, and I wore a hat, and constant sunscreen (and managed to actually avoid getting burned too!). Wear tennis shoes; the constant dust your flip flops will kick up onto the back of your legs is just going to make you feel gritty and dirty all day. That and the fact that you’ll be hiking quite a bit everyday and your flip flops may not be up to the task.
Wear your bathing suit so that you can cool off in the Mushroom Fountain from time to time (which is free), or to slide down the Big Ass Waterslide ($10 daily
pass, $15 for the weekend – obviously the better deal is to purchase the weekend pass on Thursday). You’ll dry off in no time anyway. They’ve made pains to put up more shade tents and there are a FEW trees in Centeroo (they planted a whole bunch recently so in 10 years or so, there will be a LOT of shade), so plenty of people took siestas mid-day in the shade. This resulted in people, either asleep or passed out, sprawled out in the middle of a crowd of people after sun set. Originally one could assume that this space was once shaded and isolated. But as Centeroo filled with people and headliners made their way on stage, it was disorienting to see these individuals laid out, sound asleep and oblivious to the festival goers stepping over them or around them to get by.
It rains every year at Bonnaroo so be prepared for that. When it began raining on Sunday, we had the luxury of leaving so we didn’t get to experience the muddiness that comes when dry, dusty farmland gets mixed with rain. I had brought a pretty heavy duty poncho and rain galoshes to wear with knee socks in an effort to keep mud from splashing on my legs. Bring ziploc bags to keep important things dry (phone, Bonnaroo map, toliet paper, etc).
What I DIDN’T prepare for was how cold it got at night. Perhaps it was because they were having a bit of a cold snap with highs only in the 80s but at night it dipped into the 60s (which is more like the highs we have for winter in NC and our summer nights rarely go below 75). I had one pair of jeans and one long sleeved shirt and I was still cold. The first night, even with flannel pajama pants and the long sleeved shirt, I woke up freezing in the middle of the night. I traded with a friend for the remaining nights as their bag was more heavy duty than mine and I fared much better. So I’d suggest bringing a fleece or jacket, and perhaps dressing in layers for when the night air settles in (these concerts go on into the wee hours of the morning, after all).
If you plan it right, Bonnaroo doesn’t have to be an expensive venture. As I mentioned, they do have a volunteer program which allows you to work off the price of your ticket. After you’ve gained access to the festival, the only money you’d really need is for food, drink, amusement, and various other expenses. I mentioned how to save money for food above; be prepared and bring in food to avoid paying for all your meals. We had two cases of Yuengling and barely got through the first. I perhaps purchased 5 or so more beers inside Centeroo (we also purchased lemonade or Coke to mix with our smuggled rum). We purchased ice each evening as we headed back to camp.
Other than that, money went to daily showers, ferris wheel rides, and Big Ass Waterslide rides (Yes, you have to pay for these. We waited in line for both the ferris wheel and the waterslide before discovering this. They need to make bigger signs). I didn’t purchase any souvenirs. There is plenty to entertain you for free at Bonnaroo as there is literally something happening around the clock.
We brought all of our necessities, as well as anticipated necessities, such as band aids, OTC medication for every ailment under the sun, aloe vera, batteries, hammer, screwdriver, pocket knife, paper towels, ziploc bags, etc. Try to think about every trip you’ve ever been on and what items you ended up needing away from home. Look long and hard at your bathroom’s medicine cabinet and your junk drawers and try to imagine a scenario where you’ll need those items. Because if you end up purchasing these items at the festival, it will cost you a pretty penny at the General Store; that and the fact that it’s just really convenient to have something nearby when you need it.
For the 3 days we were there, I managed to only spend $180.
Oh yeah. This is a music festival. Honestly, there isn’t much new information I can add here since so many blogs and forums are already dedicated to this subject. I will say that you won’t see everyone you wanted to. Inevitably two bands you want to see will be playing at the same time or overlap. Also, the music does go on until 3am or later, so if you’re ready to call it a night, be sure to put in your earplugs. We were about as far away as you can be from Centeroo but when Skrillex did his 1-3am set on Saturday night/Sunday morning, even earplugs couldn’t keep the soundtrack from robot porn out of my head.
It’s already pretty widely known that I’m not really that into music. That being said, I really enjoyed seeing the Avett Brothers (from Concord, NC) and Foster the People was the highlight of the festival for me. The Roots were really just noise, Ludacris was about what I expected a rap concert would be with a lot of yelling, call and response type stuff, and we completely skipped Red Hot Chili Peppers because I’ve seen them before and they aren’t very good live. Radiohead was about what I expected, really good background/ ambient music. I hate that we missed the Beach Boys, Ben Folds, and Phish on Sunday but it wouldn’t have been any fun standing in the rain during those concerts.
I know this is all blasphemy but I also don’t pretend to have some elevated sense of what good music is; I like what I like and prefer not to be “challenged” by my music. I’m a big believer that music is the background noise of my life and rarely do I even stop to actually listen to a song. My goal for Bonnaroo was to experience a once in a lifetime event and to push myself outside of my comfort zone. And in that I succeeded.
Things that weren’t covered above are:
Comedy Tent: It’s air conditioned as is the film tent. Both are “free” or at least included as part of your admission to the festival. Because many people would try to enter just for the AC (although the comedic acts are headliners that garner attention apart from the appeal of cool air), you have to line up two hours before the show to get a ticket. So if the show you want to see is at 10pm, they start passing out tickets at 8pm. Which of course means that you actually need to get in line at 7:30 or earlier to get far enough in the front of line to be assured of a ticket.
The Ferris Wheel is worth the price (I think $5 per person?) if just to get an aerial view of the farm. As far as the eye can see, there are tents and cars. Very cool.
Cuckoo Clock Tower: This isn’t really a big thing but nobody had mentioned it in any other blog and I just thought it was so fun. At the top of each hour, music starts playing and, with smoke pouring out of the top, the roof of the tower opens and this crazy cuckoo bird pops out and begins “singing” and “dancing.” The rest of the tower becomes a light show and this goes on for 3 or 4 minutes. Then, like that, it’s over. Like I said, there isn’t much to say about it, but I kinda liked it and felt like it didn’t get much love on other blogs.
Adult Swim sets up a random little carnival near the Ferris Wheel which has some very unique games and attractions. As far as I could tell, joining in on the fun was free as I never saw money exchange hands. Although I opted out of participating myself, it was fun to watch people don giant Unicorn heads and try to pop balloons on the ceiling with the Unicorn’s horn. Or people entering sound proof booths to scream into a microphone in an attempt to out-scream the other. Rather…random.
Planet Roo: There are a lot of things happening here, like free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, the Academy where they teach classes like belly dancing or how to make a drum, and this is also where the Post Office is. I took my photo next to the giant, larger than life mail box, and kept putting off mailing a letter from the special post office. I kept saying, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” When we woke up to rain on Sunday and left at 10am, I realized I had never done this and I regret that. It would have been cool to send myself a letter from an impromptu Post Office that has its own special cancellation stamp and it would have been special for my mother to receive something too, since she works for the USPS.
Silent Disco: We never participated (because we never got drunk enough!) but the Silent Disco was a lot of fun to watch. Honestly, it was about the funniest thing I saw all weekend.
Bonnaroo 2012 occurred right after that weird incident in Florida with the guy who tried to eat the face of the other guy – remember? So there was a little hysteria in the US that people would be on these bath salts and turn into zombies. And where did I find myself when all of this was going down? At the world’s biggest drug fest. I wasn’t necessarily worried someone would try to eat my face; I just really didn’t want anyone to touch me. I mean, what if they hadn’t washed their hands!? Plenty of Bonnaroovians (yes, that’s actually what they call people at Bonnaroo - I’m not making this up) were ready with a high-five, which I was successfully able to ignore and opt out. However, one evening, as we were walking around, I locked eyes with a rotund young man wearing an American Indian-styled headdress and no shirt. He began to make a beeline towards me and I was immediately on the alert, knowing he was going to attempt to make physical contact of some kind. I dashed behind the person I was with and the squat fella began to give chase. I guess I would have begun full out running if it wasn’t for my companion interceding on my behalf, informing the diminutive chieftain that I wasn’t interested in a hug or high-five or whatever it was he was attempting.
And FINALLY, the most important thing to remember while at Bonnaroo is that you should have fun. And not in a “Wow-that-was-a-great-concert” type fun or a “Wow-that-was-a-great-high” type fun. I mean, “Wow-that-was-a-once-in-a-lifetime-experience” type fun. Do something you wouldn’t normally do. Dance at the Silent Disco. Splash around in the Mushroom Fountain. Go head first down the Big Ass Waterslide. Get your boobies painted. Do graffiti.
Be someone else for just a little while. You have the rest of your life to be yourself.