Sometimes, when I feel like I am getting old and boring, I tell myself to be young, carefree. And this time when I told myself that, I found myself driving 9.5 hours to Bonnaroo, sleeping in a tent, and eating out of food trucks all weekend. I know, it doesn’t sound that bad, right? It wasn’t! My old soul was surprised to find that not only did I survive the weekend, I loved it.
Now for those of you who are thinking, “you’re going to Bonnaroo, you’re not a contestant on Survivor,” you’re right. However… as far as summer vacations go, my husband and I tend to jam pack our schedule until we are left exhausted, dirty (camping, remember?), and sore. You see, not only did we go to Bonnaroo this year, we also went to Disney World (stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog series!). Combine the two and you get the most epic vacation ever.
(Love my look? Find links to my favorite festival items in tip #8.)
Part 1: All Roads Lead to Bonnaroo
I accepted early on that the drive would be long. Starting out in Pittsburgh, we drove through four major cities in one day – Columbus, Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville. While I know everyone has their trick to pass the time on car trips, we’ve definitely found that listening to audio books helps to pass the time. Our go-to is normally a “short” story by Stephen King (short as in at least 9 hours of audio).
Fast-forward through 9+ hours of music and William DaFoe reading us Stephen King’s The Langoliers, we were happy to hop out of the car once we reached the Farm in Manchester, TN, the great home of Bonnaroo. And here is where our adventure officially began.
Bonnaroo Tip #1: Practice Setting Up Your Campsite at Home
I don’t think I even need to pretend that AJ and I are outdoorsy people who camp all the time – we aren’t. While we weren’t newbies to camping festivals altogether, our previous camping experience was in the VIP Easy-Up Tent Section (aka you pay extra money and the festival sets up a small tent and air mattress for you in a private section of the camping grounds, possibly with private port-a-potties). While we did go the “VIP” route before, we’ve come to the conclusion that, for the most part, it’s overrated and overpriced. Save yourself the extra dollars and camp in general admission. That’s where all the fun happens anyways!
Bonnaroo was our first time setting up our own campsite. We bought an 8-person tent for the two of us (ha!) and a 12×12 canopy for our campsite. Hey, we may be two people, but we need our space and our shade. One of the smartest things we did before leaving for the festival was completing a practice round to build our campsite in our back yard. Between reading the instructions, figuring out what poles go where, and how to stand up an 8-person tent with only two people, it took us about an hour and a half to sort everything out. But that turned out to be time well spent. When we pulled up to Bonnaroo, we were two crew members on a mission. Tarp on the group. Check. Set up easy tent to claim our extra space. Check. Setup the tent with our newly found two-person technique (aka I get inside the unassembled tent and hold the poles above my head for stability while AJ does everything else on the outside). Check. We looked like a well-oiled machine, and man did we make our camping neighbors look like amateurs. Our whole setup probably took 30 minutes. And while we were sitting under our shady canopy, everyone else was still trying to figure out where that extra pole was supposed to go.
Bonnaroo Tip #2: Eat the food
While we packed plenty of food for our campsite, eating the food inside the festival grounds is a must. Local food vendors and food trucks galore. And everything can be paid for through your Bonnaroo concert band. So easy. So delicious. And worth every penny. I understand you may not want to spend a lot of money on food, but it’s worth it. Suck it up, and just enjoy yourself. Plus, the food really isn’t that overpriced.
With over 65K festival attendees, it may seem like lines would be long and the grounds would be overcrowded, but somehow, they’re not. Having run the festival for 16 years, it really does seem like the Bonnarroo team has everything worked out. Everywhere you turn there are lemonade stands, food trucks, ice cream carts. No matter where you are, there’s no long, daunting task to go find food or drink. It’s always right where you are.
Bonnaroo Tip #3: Learn the Stage Names and the Slang
What Stage, Which Stage, This Tent, That Tent, the Other Tent… wait, what? Yep, that’s right. Honestly, don’t plan on learning the stage names. I sure didn’t. Make sure your phone is charged and you’ve downloaded the Bonnaroo app, or make sure you’ve got a printed map of the Farm, and you’re set. Just realize at the the beginning that you won’t remember which stage was which, or which one was what. See what I did there? And if you do, it will be way less frustrating.
More than stage names, the Farm also has it’s own language. Who’s a Bonnaroovian? That’s you! What’s a pod? Think of them as the central landmarks within the camp grounds to help you find your tent section. And Centeroo? This is the central area of the festival where you’ll find food, vendors, drinks, and more.
Bonnaroo Tip #4: Follow the Bonnaroovian Code
What’s the Bonnaroovian Code? It all comes down to six simple concepts.
Prepare thyself, aka pack the right gear and supplies.
Play as a team, aka do unto other festival goers as you would have them do unto you. This is my favorite. The second day, we lost AJ’s cell phone in the middle of a large grassy area, or at least that’s where we thought we left it. After aimlessly walking around looking for the phone in the tall grass, we gave up. Five minutes later, I checked my phone and found numerous missed calls and text messages from a Bonnaroovian Good Samaritan who had found our phone! Hallelujah! Thank you to this kind soul who was looking out for his fellow festival goers.
Radiate positivity, aka enjoy life, smile, give high fives (lots of them), and perform RAKs.
Respect the farm, aka recycle, reduce, and reuse.
Don’t be that guy/that girl, aka a negative Nancy or Ned.
Stay True Roo, aka remember the Bonnaroovian Code and apply it off the farm.
Bonnaroo Tip #5: Save Your Legs and Take a Ride in a Bike Taxi
Between walking to the festival entrance from your tent, exploring the festival grounds, and walking back to your tent (possibly numerous times a day), get ready to do some hiking across the 700-acres of festival property. And since Bonnaroo is a four-day festival, it’s so important to pace yourself. Think you’re sore after day one or two? It’s only going to get worse. If you want to make it to the end of each evening and be at your energy level’s best, take a bike taxi from your tent to the festival entrance. Yes, it is an extra cost (plan about $10 a person). And yes, you could just walk, but there is no better feeling than getting a little breeze riding on the back of your bicycle taxi while throwback tunes are pumping out of the bike stereo system. Save your legs a couple extra miles, save your energy, and at least take a taxi into the festival in the middle of the afternoon. The less time you can spend walking in that sun, the better.
Bonnaroo Tip #6: Attend a Movie or Comedy Show in the Air-Conditioned Tent
With 80-90+ degree weather, Bonnaroo really does do a good job of supplying shade, air conditioning (when they can), and water splash parks for festival goers to cool off. One of our favorites was the air-conditioned Comedy & Cinema tent. One afternoon, we popped in to watch a special playing of Donnie Darko with writer and director Richard Kelly. Additionally, this year they also had fun appearances by John Heder aka Napoleon Dynamite himself and a sneak preview of Aubrey Plaza’s new film, “Ingrid Goes West,” with a special appearance made by Aubrey herself.
Bonnaroo Tip #7: Find Shade & Apply/Re-Apply Sunscreen
I know I sound like your mom now, but I’m serious, apply and re-apply sunscreen. Oh, and stay hydrated. The first day of the festival, AJ and I found ourselves at some sunny sets. And later we found out that the sun had done some damage to our fair complexions. Nevertheless, we pushed on, and consistently applied sunscreen thereafter.
Bonnaroo Tip #8: Dress for Cuteness & Comfort
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite outfit of the day, because isn’t that why girls go to festivals? So they can wear cute clothes after searching Pinterest for inspiration for months?
From attending summer music festivals with temperatures in the high 80’s and 90’s, the most important tip I’ve learned is that if you aren’t comfortable in what you are wearing, you are going to have a miserable time. Let’s just skip all of my fashion mishaps for now (face stickers, too tight body suits, and furry Spirit Hoods in the hot, hot sun), and jump to my go-to outfit for any outdoor summer concert or festival.
Jean shorts, not too long and not too short. That is one of the most important parts. You don’t want to be sweating in long pants, obviously, but short shorts are not comfortable either. Think sitting on the ground and on hills all day. If you don’t want to worry about your bum showing, dress for modesty, but dress for style, too.
Looking for a new pair of distressed denim shorts? Try my favorite pair of the summer from Shein!
Adorable cutoff and embellished vintage t’s from Trendy and Tipsy. My favorite? This distressed Abbey Road cutie.
Closed toe shoes. Vital to success. Your feet will be stepped on, stubbed, and dirty. Don’t wear sandals or flip flops and give your feet some comfort. Pack your handy pair of Converse or favorite slip-on shoes. And don’t wear new shoes. Trust me. They will get dirty.
A shady hat for comfort and style. This season, I brought along a black suede fedora. Solid choice, especially for festival hair on day 2 or 3. (Thanks AJ for buying this for Billabong wide-brimmed fedora yourself and donating it to me.)
Sunglasses, sunglasses, sunglasses. Bring multiple pairs and switch up your pair from day to day. If you’re afraid you’ll lose them, drop them, throw them, whatever, don’t bring your nice pair. Stop by Forever 21, Hot Topic, or your other favorite store and pick up fun, colorful pairs.
A cute, lightweight bandana for style, but most importantly to keep the dust out of your mouth and nose. American Eagle makes the perfect lightweight bananas that aren’t scratchy or stiff.
But after all of these tips – don’t overthink your festival planning, just enjoy the experience! Have fun. Wander. Explore. Make friends. Try new things. Find your new favorite band or artist. Follow the Bonnaroovian Code.
Until next time, Roovians. Stay True Roo.
Sounds like you were really prepared and had a great time! I remember practicing setting up my tent (alone) in a dorm room before I went off on a one-month whale research project. It was definitely time well spent!
That sounds like an awesome adventure! And tent setup is definitely harder than you would think!
You must be having soo much fun!!! I’ve always wanted to go to Bonnaroo!
It was a blast! So much fun!
This sounds like so much fun! It looks like you had a great time! And I totally cracked up at Bonnaroo not exactly being Survivor… if I have to stay in a tent, it definitely feels like I’m in an episode of Survivor!
I’m not used to roughing it either! I do prefer AC and a hot shower at my demand, but I managed to get by. 🙂