The last four years, I had been off and on about getting back to the farm. I missed 2019 for a job, then 2020 and 2021 cancellations. Even after the presale and lineup announcement came out, I still didn’t know if I was truly going to go. That was until late March, when I was riding passenger on I-24 heading south in southern Tennessee, memories came back and I immediately bought the ticket.
I was heading to Bonnaroo for my fifth time and for the third time without a group. Every time before, I remember having the best time of my life and always feeling like a kid who has to leave summer camp on the following Monday.
Being alone makes the camping experience a quick setup. It took me around 20 minutes to get from I-24 to my campsite. Then five minutes to get my outdoor setup ready. The setup, a red ice-mule cooler, which held ice everyday in the Tennessee sun; a yellow foldable chair; The book This will someday be Funny, for light reading; and a large nylon blue umbrella with the side staked to the ground giving shade away from the east. Then I started wandering around the campground.
I had made it, four years and a couple of hundred miles away from one of the most magical places on earth, Bonnaroo. Yet, the only thing I was feeling was the Tennessee sun fry my skin cells.
I spent my first few hours walking around. I went and visited the second plaza, a former stop of my volunteering days. I was hoping to see some old faces from the last time I went. No luck, and checking social media to realize no-one I followed was coming to the farm.I was away from anyone I knew, camping in the general admission area. I wasn’t volunteering like the other times, there was no camaraderie to build.
Had I made a mistake, I thought to myself. This place I had invested so much happiness in. Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel of hard experiences. This was Wednesday, before anything was going on other than unpacking.
I was sitting in my shaded tent, trying to read, when I decided to brave through any social anxiety I had and introduce myself to my neighbors.
Three guys, all college students at a school with a Wildcat mascot. Incredibly nice, they loved jam bands, and were ecstatic for Goose’s performance. We shared an excitement over seeing Lettuce and King Gizzard, along with just being at the festival. They also had hundreds of funny little stickers.
Later on, one of the guys put on a black, silk-wizardry robe, and a long-white, Gandolf like beard. He asked if I wanted to hand out stickers with him and while handing out those stickers and meeting people on a kind note, I realized I was finally back at Bonnaroo.
For me, there is an element of giving at Bonnaroo that doesn’t quite exist at other festivals. The joy in the experience creates kindness without agenda, it generates warmth in what feels like the hottest place on earth. It’s felt in the high fives walking into the venue, it’s heard in the greeting of Happy Roo.
Moments before Tool went on, I had passed this woman and we made eye contact. She asked if I wanted a heart. I said, “of course.” She then hands me a hand knitted rainbow heart, the size of my palm. It is adorable and I will cherish it forever. That was our only interaction. I hope she is doing well and is able to continue to enjoy knitting.
On Friday, I entered my first mosh pit during the Regrettes show. Normally I enjoy watching things from a distance, but somehow the opportunity presented itself and life is about experiences. People were checking-in with others after moshing. Also, the moshing at the Regrettes, five out five stars. It was so damn freeing.
During Coin, just before I left for Lettuce. I went to enjoy the company of The Parachute People. We did a march with the parachute and people were enjoying the view as the parachute went over them. We then created an experience for people on laying on the ground by making waves in the parachute. It brought back the feeling of childhood joy.
On Sunday, I met another soloist while waiting for Wallows. She was telling about how her friend backed out in the final moments so she just went alone. She then tells me about how her and her neighbors are coming back next year together. We shook hands and said goodbye before she left to catch the ending of Rezz.
This doesn't include the countless smaller moments. I talked to this group just before Chvrches about Rhinegeist and they were wonderful. I made a friend talking about The Tom Petty tribute Superjam, the best Superjam of all time by the way. My neighbors are playing Tool during the storm, which is a perfect vibe for the moment.
The people were also incredibly creative in a fun way. I saw countless funny totems. I got to even share the love of the show I Think You Should Leave with people who had a Karl Havoc totem. There was one totem that said “It’s my birthday, sign my shorts,”. The man’s shorts were covered in signatures. My personal favorite was the mannequin leg that people were signing, especially when Joshua Harmon interacted with it.
I can’t exactly tell you what drives the people to make all of these wonderful things happen, but I am certainly glad I got to see it. Now, I’ve got to figure out what I can bring next year.