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Tag Archives: Bonnaroo Music Festival

Remember That Time I Went to Bonnaroo? My Guide to Music Festivaling

No? Oh you probably weren’t there. Or maybe you were, lots of awesome people from around North America (and the world!) went. It was one of most fun/exhausting experiences of my life, and yes, yes I would do it again in a heartbeat. With a few exceptions of course. One learns a thing or two after they do something this epic for the first time. I am here to share what I learned with you, so if you do any camp out music festivaling in the future, you won’t make the same mistakes.

You better LOVE the people you go with.

I feel like I need to say that again. It is so important. We all hear it and think, oh yeah I love my besties, it’ll be awesome! But remember that time you lived with your besties after high school and thought “This is gonna be SOOO FUN!! We will party every day and watch stupid movies and talk about boys and do all kinds of fun shit together like we did in high school!” but then you move in and realize they grew up with a mom that did everything for them so they don’t know how to do their own dishes, pay their share of the bills, clean their pubes off the toilet, and so on and you become resentful and it destroys your friendship for a year?

Yeah, that lesson needs to reverberate whenever you travel with someone, particularly if you’re gonna be living in a tiny tent/car with them for a whole week, with no where to escape to. I will never again do a trip like this with anyone under the age of 22, as it tends to feel a lot like babysitting which is no fun when you’re on vacation. Of course I realize there are a lot of really awesome/mature teens out there, but I am happily not a teenager anymore and also not a motherly type so having to be the responsible one is a total buzzkill.

Go with people you know well and know you can trust, or you will end up with your car keys lost, the booze you paid for drank, and having to sit around on a blanket and just listen to the bands instead of actually getting to see them. If you have even a slightly bad feeling about spending 24/7 with someone, don’t invite them along. The one day I took off on my own and spent alone at Bonnaroo was actually the best, because I got to see every band I wanted, as close as I wanted, and I didn’t have to listen to anyone complain about being tired/hungry/hot/sunburned etc.

Don’t Volunteer. 

Volunteering for a music festival sounds like it could be fun. In my early days in Toronto I volunteered for a lot of festivals including NXNE, Canadian Music Week, TIFF and so on. It was always a great learning experience and a great way to meet people. Of course, all of those festivals are in Toronto, so at night I got to go home to my bed, and most of the time I was doing fluff jobs standing around indoors anyway.

Volunteering with WET (Work Exchange Team) at Bonnaroo was quite possibly the worst three hours of my life. I only did three hours (they require 18 to get your deposit back) because I was literally about to pass out from extreme heat exhaustion/lack of food so I had to leave. It is by far the least organized festival I have ever volunteered for, and it should be noted I only volunteered in the first place because for the first time in Bonnaroo history the tickets sold out so I had no other way to get in.

WET made us arrive early Tuesday when the festival didn’t even start until Thursday night. When registering they asked for names of friends we wanted to work with, yet when we arrived and were finally given our schedules they had split some of us up.

They told us there would be a BBQ Tuesday night and asked on the forms if vegetarian options were needed yet the only option was hot dogs and burgers. My veg friends had to survive on a small bag of chips.

They said water was provided on site for free, but it wasn’t until we arrived at the camp that we were told it was SULFUR WATER. Sulfur water smells and tastes like the bile that would come out of a dead person whose corpse had been rotting in the heat for weeks. Yes, I tasted it. You would too in 95 degree blazing heat with no shade till 8pm. But I spat it out immediately as it tasted like corpse juice. And lucky for us, we were able to escape the camp before they put us all on lock-down so we hit up the local Wal Mart to buy a couple cases of water that magically lasted us the whole trip.

They promised free showers for volunteers. By showers what they actually meant was that after sweating for an hour in line under the scorching sun you will have access to a faucet above your head that pisses out a trickle of cold sulfur water. Try getting clean in that. Also, one day I went to take a cold sulfur water trickle shower and was told the volunteer showers were now only for staff. I had to pay 7$ to use the normal showers (which really, was worth the money considering it was a real shower with water pressure + hot water, which felt like heaven).

The volunteer camp was also far far away from Centeroo (where the actual show is) so you have a 30 minute walk to the show, and then a 30 minute walk back to your tent at 2am. The non volunteer camps are all right outside the show space. We couldn’t even see our camps balloon marker from the ferris wheel.

And I haven’t even mentioned the actual work they made us do. That was the real problem. I could have handled the sulfur water, line ups for shitty showers, porta-potties covered in layers of human shit, far away camp, coming two days early, shifts without friends, and so on if the actual shifts would have been relaxed and cool.

I had to be  at WET headquarters for a 9am shift start, which, knowing its a half hour walk to get there, meant I had to skip breakfast. I thought “no big deal, they will feed us lunch as they promised in the contract.” The do not tell you ahead of time what job you are doing. You arrive, check in, and someone tells you where you are going. I ended up doing something called Total Access. I know that sounds like it should be awesome right? No. As I was taken to this gated off area of the farm, I overheard the supervisor say this was the worst job at Bonnaroo. And unfortunately she wasn’t kidding. She took myself and 5 other girls to this ‘Super VIP’ trailer area that incredibly rich industry people pay 10,000$ to stay in, and we were instructed to RAKE ROCKS and mulch around, to make the dirt look pretty around their huge luxurious trailers. It is exactly as stupid as it sounds. One of those “you know you’re too rich when” moments. I almost left right when they handed me a rake and said we couldn’t put our bags (filled with supplies they told us to bring as there is NO returning to your camp allowed) anywhere because we were “just volunteers”.

But I thought, okay this will be quick and then we will get a break, get to eat, and be put on a normal easy job. Nope. Two hours of raking went by, in 95 degree heat and as I had no food in me I was literally about to pass out. The senior volunteer said we would get a break soon and get food, but for now he handed me an orange he had with him which got me by a little longer. When we were exhausted and sat down for a minute a supervisor came by and told us not to do that, that we would get a “bad report” and not get our deposit back. No breaks allowed. Finally we were told by the supervisor that there would be no food for us because our shift was only 7 hours long, and they only provide food for people working 8 hour shifts or longer. I freaked the fuck out. I told them I was actually going to pass out if I didn’t eat soon but they didn’t care, so the senior volunteer said I could run to Centeroo to get food, but I needed to be back in 15 minutes so no one would notice. It took me 20 minutes just to find my way into Centeroo for the first time. On an empty stomach, in disgusting heat, when I was already exhausted. It took me another hour to find my way OUT of Centeroo, and at that point I was actually crying (behind sunglasses, so no one noticed thankfully) out of frustration, so I went back to the camp, officially done with WET and it’s shitty staff and policies forever.

Bring toilet paper, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, and water with you everywhere. 

These are basics, and I was happy to drag this stuff around with me all day. You will die out there without water, drink it constantly. You will burn within 20 minutes without sunscreen (if you’re pale at least), and you’ll need to reapply it alllll the time. I got a spray sunscreen that had an awesome cooling feature to it and it made my day whenever I used it. The porta-potties wont always have toilet paper. And if they do, it will likely be covered in urine (or even worse). My toilet paper roll was probably the most important thing I brought with me to Roo.  There isn’t anywhere to wash your hands, so hand sanitizer is a must – especially considering how dirty everything is there. Dust is constantly being thrown around as everyone walks around.

Also highly recommend bringing something comfortable to sleep on if you are camping. My friends only had one blanket. I brought my down filled bedspread which I was thankful for, but an air mattress would have made for a much better experience. A hat, sunglasses and comfortable (not cheap) sandals are also very necessary.

Try all the delicious food you can handle. 

Bonnaroo is like a big amazing fair, when it comes to food. Food trucks galore filled with gloriously fatty options, mostly overpriced but usually worth it. A lot of people don’t feel hungry when outside in terrible heat all day for a week, but I took it as a chance to pig out and try all kinds of things I would normally never get to try. Also,  every time I’ve went to a show without eating first, I actually have passed out. The one thing I didn’t try that I regret holding back on now was the fried Oreos. They don’t do things like that up here. It was probably 3000 calories of delicious. The number one reason I love the south (besides the southern accent being the cutest thing in the world) is the food. I will gladly drive 14 hours again for the Mexican food down there.

Don’t buy drugs from random weirdos who “need gas money”. It’s probably poison, or Tylenol. 

Be safe/smart about this, please. If you’re really there for a ‘psychedelic experience’, make sure anything you take is from a source you know and trust  – and was preferably not bought on site. There’s a whole lot of weirdos selling around the camps, and a whole lot of bad drugs floating around – people have died from it.

See all the bands you can handle. It’s worth only getting 2-3 hours of sleep a night.  

Obviously. This is the most important/best part. A post all about the bands I saw is coming next.

Bonus:

Ride the ferris wheel. Make friends with your neighbors + their neighbors + as many people as you can. Everyone there loves good music and is happy and friendly (especially to Canadians, so pimp that citizenship for all it’s worth). See a band you’ve never heard of (or five). Wear very loose clothes. Oh and don’t bring any pants, you will never ever be able to wear them.

If you are a music festival pro, please share your advice!

Lisa