It’s almost game time, people. Every second week of June, 100,000 music-lovers flock to a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tennessee, just an hour outside Nashville, for Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. It’s not a festival for the faint of heart—fewer flower crowns, more footwear caked in mud and dust. To ensure you’re armed with all the insider know-how to attend like a seasoned vet and enjoy the heck out of it, read on.
Unlike Coachella and other popular fests, Bonnaroo does not kick festivalgoers out once the last headliners have played. In fact, Bonnaroo never (not ever!) kicks festivalgoers out or rounds them up like cattle, demanding they go to sleep. Centeroo, the heart of the festival and where you’ll see performances, opens at noon on Thursday and stays open nonstop (“just like Las Vegas,” according to the Bonnaroo website) until Sunday, June 14, at 10 p.m. Being that there is music playing and people involved in all manner of revelry throughout the night, a friendly word of advice: Bring earplugs. Good ones. Sleeping can become a very real challenge.
Karstan Moran for The New York Times
It’s true that the festival treats Thursday as a time to ease into the full madness that Friday brings, but there are lots of great acts playing that you shouldn’t overlook. Same goes for Sunday; though many will skip later shows to pack up camp, you’ll be missing out on some great acts. If you have nowhere to be in a hurry, do yourself the favour and see the Sunday-night shows and then get as much sleep as possible so that you can wake up Monday morning feeling fresh for campsite cleanup.
With names like “This Tent,” “That Tent,” “Which Stage,” and “What Stage,” you may feel like you’ve been trapped in a circular retelling of “Who’s on First?” Communicating where you are to friends can be extremely tricky—especially since cell service gets spotty, fast—so take time to study the festival map and establish a good meeting spot should anyone get lost.
The weather is extremely unpredictable in Manchester—scorching hot and dry with dust clouds one day, torrential rain the next. Be prepared for all of it. Skip the dainty sandals and opt for flat, ankle-height boots with some grip instead. Make sure you have a raincoat in your bag at all times. And don’t forget a bandanna or scarf, either: The crowds kick up lots of dirt that you probably prefer not to ingest into your lungs four days in a row.
Whereas Coachella is all about the hotel or house pool parties, Bonnaroo is by and large a camping festival. This makes for a really close-knit and friendly community, but also a veritable sea of tents everywhere you turn once you exit the venue. Make sure to bring a flag or kite of some kind to attach to your car or tent so that locating your home base is not impossible in the dark (it’s hard during the daytime, too!)—unless you don’t mind waking up snuggled next to a stranger in 100°F weather at 7 a.m. Learn more about camping at Bonnaroo here.
Bonnaroo is a little more “rustic” when compared to Coachella, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, or Sasquatch. Taking place in mid-June, the festival has a dusty, dirty, wet, and muddy venue. Don’t expect any favours regarding bathroom accommodations, either: It’s strictly Porta-Pottys here. Showers are available, but lines are almost always very, very long. Repeat after us: Baby wipes are your best friend.
As mentioned, the Bonnaroo venue grounds don’t close—ever! But even if you aren’t the nocturnal type, it’s likely you’ll stay at the festival all day to catch the amazing shows. Take time to plan your day bag accordingly. Some things to consider packing: a portable fan, body and face wipes, antibacterial spray, sunscreen, a refillable water bottle, a hat, a bandanna, a raincoat, a flashlight, your festival map, spare tissues for the bathroom (yes, really!), and a portable phone charger.
An entire day at the festival + not a ton of sleep + 700 acres of land means your feet are going to be very tired. Even if you’re physically fit, it can be exhausting to be on the move, in the heat, so much. Opt for boots or sneakers with good arch support.
Close to 100,000 people attend Bonnaroo each year. Expect crowds and lines. There will be lines to get through security, to buy food, to get water, and to use the bathrooms. But everyone is, for the most part, in good spirits despite that fact. Should you ever need some space, it’s easy enough to find; the areas toward the back of stages tend to be much mellower.
Certain branded tents and stages inside the venue are graced with the most precious of festival rarities: air-conditioning. Head to the Bonnaroo Cinema, where movies and television are screened and cold air is blasted. Visit Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Barn, where you can sip on cocktails and cool off.
Though it’s been evolving over the years, Bonnaroo is still one of the most “hippie”-minded festivals of the bunch. Attendees are all about good vibes, sharing, and having a good time. Make friends with those camping around you, when you’re waiting in lines, and when you’re packing in to get to the front of your favourite band’s set. It will pay off in dividends.
What, you aren’t accustomed to seeing people wearing nothing but a smile and a sparkly cape? You find that fairy costume complete with wings and pouch of fairy dust surprising? Well, get ready for it. Bonnaroo attendees tend to throw caution to the wind, so you'd best put that guard down and let your freak flag fly.
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Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Defence SPF 30 ($38)
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