Bonnaroo: A Music Lover’s Paradise

Two full days later and your girl Sarah is still lingering in the epicenter of Tropical Storm Bonnaroo. I have festi-fever and the Tennessee sun could not sweat it out of me. The five of us successfully survived a tiring 19-hour RV ride down from Connecticut to Tennessee, an extended weekend of debauchery, little sleep, a very hot Southern sun and the inevitable 19-hour trip back to reality.

I met up with friends from home (check out Zoë’s blog here), and randomly bumped into a friend from home… three times. But when it comes to setting up camp at Bonnaroo, there is nothing like the RV community, where a triangle of motor homes joined forces for the good of festival fun. The people directly across from us were mainly from Miami but some from Cincinnati. They had all met up together in Ohio and drove down together. The third group in our Roo triangle was from Northern Virginia. For four days we all drank, laughed, exchanged stories together and saw one another in rather unpleasant, vulnerable but overall hilarious states.

Jonny and our RV neighbor, Brendan (I called him Ashton) relaxing with a guitar

For music lovers, this particular festival was a divine way to get it all done in one shot. Sure, the bill included heavy-hitters like Radiohead, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Phish, but it also brought in some hugely popular names like ?uestlove, Alice Cooper, Ludacris, The Beach Boys and The Roots. To be honest with you, even, I heard more about late night sets from dubstep favorite, Skrillex, than I did about a lot of the bigger bands. The crowd for Radiohead, Phish and RHCP were divided evenly, thousands upon thousands of people gathered in an enormous field- blowing bubbles, throwing glowsticks, hula-hooping and swaying to every beat of every guitar wail, drum beat and vocal throughout the night.

I was relieved to see that the other tents which hosted smaller yet beloved bands like City and Colour, Alabama Shakes and The Joy Formidable were packed to the brim, people pouring out with hands up in the name of truly rockin’ tunes. love new alternative rock. Part of the reason I bought my ticket to Bonnaroo at exactly noon the day they were sold was so I could say I saw Foster the People, Two Door Cinema Club, Santigold, and Young the Giant one thousand miles from home. Bravo, Bonnaroo, for giving the younger folk a chance to embrace both their hipster and hippie ways. You surely did it best!

Myself (far right) Zoë (center) and Tatia at the Temper Trap

That being said. The schedule was overwhelming. 

“I need to see Dumpstaphunk again,” I say.

“Well, I really want to see Umphrey’s McGee,” says Friend A.

“Skrillex or Alice Cooper?”  We all debate.

“Okay, so you are going to see the Shins? I will meet you after, Young the Giant is playing the same time,” I repeated throughout the day.

“I don’t care to see the Avett Brothers or Bon Iver,” Friend B says.

“We finally agree on something!” I said with relief. 

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Alex (far left) Sean (middle) and Jonny at the main entrance before Radiohead

I was walking down to find one of the many portapotty communities on the second day, and where an enlarged poster of the concert schedule was nailed up on a bulletin, some hipster with a sharpie wrote across it, ‘Just Go With It.’

Everyone was trying to peer through it, fingers drawing lines from time to artist name with squinted eyes. I gave it some thought, a lot of thought actually. There were a bunch of bands besides the obvious headlining acts that I wanted to see, no doubt. But the Sharpie Hipster was right. I could not allow myself to get all worked up over keeping track of time. The walk from our RV to Centeroo was about 10-15 minutes, and with all the eye candy, people-watching, glowy-trippy-noisy-funky decorations to look at, including the weird light up rooster clock tower that danced with neon lights and a ferris wheels of color-wonders, I could not guarantee my ass a spot at any one place at the first strum of any one rockstar’s guitar.

From then on, I went with it. Making myself aware of the bands I truly wanted to see with no real frenzy-induced takeoff, I decided to do what my friends- and body- left room for me to do. This is what I suggest to all prospective Bonnarooers….

Just go with it

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The sun was shining all weekend with the exception of Sunday. I was a bit hungover but managed to freshen up (via baby wipes and Red Bull) and headed down to the main stage to see the Beach Boys. Holy heavens above, I am glad I did. It was such an experience. They sang like they would have done 20 years ago. Mike Love wore this super colorful beach shirt (as expected) which added to the authenticity of their name. The best part of that afternoon was Surfin’ U.S.A. Why? Because as soon as the first chorus came around, the sun poked through the clouds. It was almost in a sense- magical.

I was in such a delightful mood that I reversed my “No, thanks!” to friend Sean’s prior request to see Kenny Rogers. I loved it! I was totally blown away by the response he got by Bonnaroo-ers. There were a lot of people there to see him, and he was very charismatic  to the large crowd. I got to see him again when Phish called him on stage with them to sing “The Gambler.” Totally amazing, let me tell you.

Myself, Sean and Mallory from Alabama at Foster the People

When Phish’s set was over and the rain steadily drizzled on the 80,000 Bonnaroo-ers exiting Centeroo and packing up their cars alike, the reality of life set back in. Bonnaroo was in fact a dream.

The beginning of Phish. Lots of lights!

I sat up with Alex and drove through the night, being greeted by “welcome to” signs for hours, watching the highway change slightly in the dark with each twist and turn that was showing me almost nothing of where I was, but was beautiful in its own right.

More than the music, it was the experience, as most Roo Vets will tell you before you even get there. Renting an RV and traveling that distance is in fact life-changing. I played with my phone 99 percent less than normal, I was all right with embracing dirt and sweat, I forgot my worries at home and learned lessons on how to live carefree, simple, grateful and was thrown back into perspective from people my age around the country.

I hope you all get the opportunity to experience something like Bonnaroo in your lives.

 I found a great sense of joy in bonding with friends and strangers, and with every adventure like this I take, I learn that life is what you make of it, not what you have.