The excitement for my first Bonnaroo kept me up all night before the early morning when my travel partner and I set sail for the rural town of Manchester, TN.
The five-hour drive was much less treacherous than the 20 hour haul to Austin for SXSW earlier this year, so when we pulled up to the sprawling 700 acre farm smack dab in the middle of the Volunteer state my body felt much less like a bowl of jelly.
Getting into the festival itself can be a little confusing as Coffee County police have many of the exits coned off with signs that read "Local Traffic Only", causing us to drive 5 miles out of the way to turn around and find an exit we could enter to get to the convention center for pass pick up. From there we traveled some back roads and got help along the way from Bonnaroo workers to reach our new home for the coming days.
Our camp spot was on a tree laden dirt path located within a very short walk to Centeroo. I counted my blessing on having a parking/camping pass as GA camping had no trees for added shade from the humid summer sun. After we set up camp, it was off to explore the grounds of the 'Roo.
When walking into Centeroo I was welcomed to music coming from the many stages at Bonnaroo, a giant Ferris Wheel, food and merch vendors as far as the eye can see, a "cool off" mushroom spouting out cold water and the emergence of the weekend's festival goers coming in from the big Bonnaroo arch. Exploration lasted all Thursday evening and lasted until around midnight where is was off to camp to plan out the next day and to try to get some sleep.
Early to rise for Friday adventures, luckily there were a few vendors open 24 hours which meant I could get my morning Joe and do a little more exploration - weaving in and out of stages and peeping sets by bands such as the soul driven Southern Avenue and Brit rockers Everything Everything.
It was time to catch the first band that was on my list of bands to see - Low Cut Connie. I've been fortunate enough to see LCC 3 times before this, so I was just as excited to see the reactions of people seeing them for the first time as I was witnessing them for a third time. The rag tag group from PA did not disappoint, as usual, combining a high energy stage performance with a classic rock and roll sound and a swagger from lead singer/pianist Adam Weiner that is hard for a lot of leads to measure up to.
Manchester Orchestra was next up for my auditory pleasure. It was also my fourth time seeing the Atlanta rock quartet, led by the uniquely powerful vocals of Andy Hull. My fourth time seeing them was my first time seeing them on a festival stage and the quality of sound engineering gave them justice as they played many tunes from their Simple Math album, a fan favorite.
Nightfall was upon us, and that's when Bonnaroo starts to get weird, and I mean that in the best way possible. Gone was the humid heat and red faces. In was a spectacular view of strategic festival lighting - using different colored lights to line the trees around the 'Roo grounds and stage visuals that would make other festivals jealous. The freaks came out at night and it was a splendid showing of freedom and individual eclecticism.
3 hours of sleep later I was welcomed to the half way point of the festival and headed out for some more joe and conversation with some folks from around the country. It seemed like every person I talked to was from a different city - NYC, Des Moines, Nashville, Miami, Chicago, etc. Everyone was very friendly at Bonnaroo. High fives were a constant, and a tradition at the festival.
Saturday events started at the Media tent. While there I was treated to some very interesting panel discussions with comedians, singers, a survivor of the Parkland shootings and other personalities integral to the shaping of Bonnaroo.I also got to meet members of Old Crow Medicine Show and the very insightful guitar legend - Niles Rodgers.
My saddest moment came Saturday as I had to make a choice between choosing to see First Aid Kit or Anderson Paak. I figured since I was already steeped in catching lots of YouTube time listening to First Aid Kit that I'd go see Anderson Paak. If I could use one word to describe what I saw out of AP it would be "electrifying". The entire crowd was moving and grooving with the tunes.
I headed back out to witness one of the most visually stunning sets I've ever witnessed by EDM giant - Kaskade.The production team very obviously went all out for this set, equipped with mesmerizing video editing on the massive The Other stage video boards, pyrotechnics and glow stick/paper bird cannons.
Very soon after, he took over the Kalliope stage to pump beats and breakdowns into the crowd.
- Lots to do if you read the festival itinerary
- Friendly crowd
- Production value
- Lots of different food to choose from
- Eclectic mix of bands
- Free water fill up stations
- "Charge Your Phone" poles