FestPop gives you the Ultimate Guide to one of the world’s favorite and most popular music festivals: Bonnaroo.
The first time I went to Bonnaroo, I was unprepared. Distracted by my excitement to spend a weekend in the Tennessee sun with my best friends and finally see Jack White live fresh off of his second solo album, Lazaretto, I only glanced at Bonnaroo’s ‘What to Pack’ checklist and decided to ‘rough it’ for the four days. You probably know to stick sunscreen and bug spray (no DEET!) in your backpack before you head to Tennessee, but here at FestPop, we don’t want you to ever show up to a great weekend of music without having absolutely everything you need, so we’ve compiled a list of things you need to know before going to Bonnaroo to make the most of the experience. It’s easy to get swept up in making sure you see as many acts of possible, but in order to get the most out of your weekend, make sure you check out the other activities, services, and resources that Bonnaroo provides. Not only do these things make the festival even more special, but they can help you feel your best and stay safe.
The drive to Bonnaroo is pretty direct no matter where you’re coming from because the Farm is right off the highway, and they can accommodate anything from a Prius to an RV, so just make sure you have the right parking pass. All you have to do is plug in ‘Bonnaroo Arts And Music Festival, Manchester, TN’ to your GPS and go.
If you don’t have such reliable transportation, Bonnaroo has plenty of hotel and shuttle options. You can get a shuttle straight from the Nashville airport, which is about a 75 minute drive, and the festival has their own buses that run all over the Midwest and Southeast if flying isn’t for you. You can also take a shuttle that goes to and from your hotel in Nashville. But if you ask me, camping is half the fun.
Don’t neglect your body.
‘The Well’ is the center of Roo’s efforts toward making sure you are feeling healthy in between your most anticipated shows. You’ll be standing and walking a lot for four days straight, so going to The Well for Yoga-Roo is an awesome way to relieve, stretch, and strengthen tight and tired muscles. A lot of the classes are earlier in the morning, but worth it if you’re prone to back and joint pain. They also provide mediation classes and exercise meetups.
The heat will take a lot of your energy away, and it gets really, really hot in Tennessee. A refreshing way to cool off is to head over to the giant, raining mushroom fountains in centeroo to get drenched. Just don’t forget to reapply your sunscreen afterwards.
It’s also really easy to eat junk food all weekend. There are so many amazing food trucks at the festival, and you have to have a donut from the Amish Baking Company, who always makes an appearance at Centeroo. But that doesn’t mean you have to skimp out on nutrition altogether. The Well also provides access to healthy foods for Bonnaroovians looking for sustainable energy, and there are plenty of food trucks that sell vegan, vegetarian, and overall more health-conscious options. You’re in the South, so skipping out on a little barbecue would be a bit sinful, but you don’t have to disregard health altogether just because you’re on vacation.
It’s always nice to support vendors, but we get that you’ve already spent good money on tickets and probably took a few days off work to be there, so you can always bring some of your own food if you’re trying to save a little cash. My first year at Bonnaroo, we didn’t bring our own grill, but we made friends with some people who barbecued every night on a mini stove, and we saw what a valuable asset it was. Just make sure you obey their Gasoline/Propane/Charcoal Policy.
This should go without saying, but water, water, water. One of my favorite parts of the festival is the beer tent, which lets you sample a bunch of different local craft beer, and there are trucks all over centeroo where you can drink up, but don’t forget to drink water in between sips. If you’re traveling from a state or country with a more mild climate, you have to understand that the Tennessee sun in June is no joke, and it can be dangerous to stop drinking water if you’re spending that much time in such intense heat. A lot of people wear backpacks that have built in water pouches, so that you can stay hydrated while keeping both hands free to dance. Eating fruits like watermelon and cucumber can also help keep you hydrated while also giving you an energy boost.
Be ready for weather.
By now, you’ve gotten the point that Bonnaroo is a hot place, so having comfy, breezy clothes is a must. It’s not like there’s a dress code on The Farm, so wear whatever makes you most comfortable under the sun. But the South in the summer is also prone to pop-up showers, so it can go from clear, sunny skies to torrential downpour in a matter of minutes. Make sure you have plastic bags to protect your electronics and other things you don’t want to get wet, and having a rain jacket is always good if you’re not the dancing-in-the-rain type. There’s also a possibility that Bonnaroo ends up falling on a consistently rainy weekend, so make sure you have a pair of shoes that you’re totally fine with getting a little muddy.
Early summer can have some chilly nights, especially if it’s a rainy weekend, so bringing a few warmer options is not a bad idea. If you’re in the middle of the pit for the late night Super Jam or pulling an all-nighter at Kalliope, body heat will probably keep you plenty warm, but if you’re going to lounge in the grass on the outskirts of the Which Stage during a set or hang out with your Croo at your campsite, having a sweater and a warm pair of socks can go a long way.
This is no ordinary campsite.
If you’re a frequent camper, you may be used to roughing it for a few days at a time with just a tent and the absolute essentials. My first time at Roo, that’s basically all we brought. But people go all out for their tent areas, so don’t be afraid to get a little luxurious with your set-up. Shows usually start at 11 AM, so having a nice campsite to lounge in before you head to Centeroo makes the experience that much better. I’ve seen campsites with trampolines, full-on barbecue set-ups, and ping-pong tables, so even if you want to ‘rough it’ a little bit, don’t forget to give your space a little personality.
Chairs and coolers are definitely the bare minimum of what you should stock your site with. If you fill a cooler with ice, that can last you a few days depending on how well insulated it is, and that can go a long way. So stop at a gas station real quick before you enter the campgrounds, and when that runs out, ice is available for purchase at the festival. And though laying in the grass and reading On the Road may be a romantic way to spend your morning, it’s nice to not have to sit criss-cross-applesauce while eating your breakfast, so bring a few foldable chairs.
Having a comfy tent is important too. Sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows are essential, but I like to bring my mattress topper along too for a little extra cushion. You’re not going to get a lot of sleep while you’re there—why would you sleep when there’s so much to do?—so you want to make sure the sleep you do get is restful.
It’s also a good idea to bring a canopy tent and, depending on how much you like to lay in the grass, a tarp to pin down underneath. This area will stay cooler than most tents by providing shade without trapping heat, so you can set up a beer pong table, grill-space, or hoola-hooping tournament while staying (relatively) cool.
Sometimes it’s the little things.
The biggest lifesaver when I go to Bonnaroo is a pocket misting fan. It’s pretty easy to forget about the heat when you see Anderson .Paak come out on stage, but waiting in the sun between sets can be brutal, so keep a little fan in your backpack and maybe some extra batteries just in case. I’ve also seen people using umbrellas to get a little extra shade, just make sure you’re considerate and not intruding other people’s space, and you’re putting it away when the show starts so that people can see.
If you want to snap a few photos at each show and stay in touch with your Groop while they go to other shows, bring a portable charger for your phone. They have charging stations throughout Centeroo, but you don’t want to lose your front row spot for Sylvan Esso because you ran out of battery. Just don’t be that guy that’s making everyone watch the show through your phone or spending the whole set live-tweeting.
Keeping snacks in your back is always a good idea. It’s easy for your fuse to get a little short when you’ve been standing in the heat all day, so having emergency granola bars in your bag can be a lifesaver, too. And, of course, water!
Lathering up with sunscreen once before you go into Centeroo is probably not going to be enough for a full day of taking in UV rays, so bring some extra SPF in your bag to reapply. The same goes for bug spray, because mosquitos are gonna want to see The Killers live, too. Try to bring bug spray that is DEET free. It’s much better for the environment, and Bonnaroo is all about being sustainable and green.
Flashlights and lanterns are also helpful, especially when you’re at your campsite. Centeroo is pretty bright, but there’s not a ton of light pollution when you start moving towards your tent, so instead of fumbling around in the dark looking for you PJs, bring a portable source of light. And speaking of light, make sure you bring a pair of sunglasses for the day hours so that you can enjoy the Paramore sunset without having to squint.
If you ever talk to a Bonnaroo veteran, they will probably tell you that this particular festival is the most positive place in the world with the kindest and friendliest people, but you should still be paying attention to your surroundings, just in case. Make sure all your valuables like your phone and car keys are safely packed away while you dance the night away at the Silent Disco, and you’re only consuming food and beverages that you brought yourself or bought from a licensed vendor. The rules that apply in the real world still apply on The Farm, so just be smart. If something does happen, you have resources like Medical Tents, Plaza Ambassadors, and Support Staff that will help you. They all have a ‘no questions asked’ policy, so if you think you may be in an emergency situation, assume you are and get help. Bonnaroo is dedicated to keeping you safe and healthy, so make sure you read up on the tips and resources that they provide regarding personal items, sexual assault, and substances.
For Bonnaroo’s official checklist of essentials, visit their ‘What to Pack’ page.