This Guide is a great place to start, but also check out the Bonnaroo Bound
for newer news, Q&A and deeper dives into 'roo topics.
The 2014 lineup is
What's all this then?
I came up with a little guide
for the Bonnaroo first-timer. I want to thank the many
people who have helped me out at festivals, many of the tips
here have come from other good folks. Any questions or
suggestions, send me an email email@example.com.
"I don't have time to read all this stuff!"
OK, the executive summary:
- Stay cool and hydrated. Sunscreen, light
colored clothes, plenty of water, bring some kind of shade
for your campsite.
- Pace yourself. Late nights at Bonnaroo rock,
make sure you're still upright then.
- Take care of your feet. You're going to do a
lot of walking. Wear comfortable, broken-in footware.
- Have a great time. Enjoy yourself, love your
neighbor, look after friends and strangers, rock out for
four days and nights.
Plan on possibly waiting a
long time to get into the site. The site opens up
Wednesday at 8:00 pm (Bonnaroo is on central time).
Wednesday night is very busy traffic wise, plan on a couple of
hours at least to get in. I usually roll in Thursday
morning, the wait then is anywhere from 15 minutes to 2
hours. Stick to the interstate to get in, the backroads
lines are usually worse. Don't fall for someone selling
"OMG!!!! BACK WAY INTO BONNAROO!!!" maps on ebay. Have a
decent amount of gas in your car (and have made a rest stop)
before you get into traffic so that you don't run out while
waiting in line. I'd avoid trying to hitchhike, the
state troopers have hassled people about it in years
past. Try to hold off on the serious partying until you
get into the site, open containers of alcohol (and of course
drugs) are illegal in Tennessee and the cops aren't blind to
what people do in their cars while waiting in line.
If you've never been to a fest
like ‘roo, it can be a little overwhelming at first.
There is a place to camp in front (or behind) of where you
park your car. Your campsite will be a little wider than
your car and about 10-15 ft deep. The individual
campsites aren't marked or anything, it's pretty organic;
share with your neighbors.
A good tent is important,
really important. We've had deluges of rain and wicked
winds at 'roo and many
people had their tents wrecked. A mesh picnic shelter is
not enough. They are very nice to have and make good
sunshelters, but you cannot
rely on it as your primary protection. They simply can't
stand up to strong winds (for
a storm they leak like hell. I generally don't judge
things on how much they cost, but I have to say a tent cheaper
than about $100 (for a 2 man) is probably not a very good
tent. If you don’t have a quality tent, consider investing in
one. Good tents last a long
time. I just recently retired a ~$110 2-man Eureka
Timberlite that I bought before Woodstock ’94. It's been
through countless festivals and lots of backpacking and held
up great, it's still my backup tent. Sierra Trading Post
, and local outdoors stores
(where you can
usually get very good advice) are some of your best bets for
Before going to the ‘roo try
setting up your tent in the backyard. This is especially
important if it’s a new tent. Much easier to learn how
to pitch it at home than at the site, maybe in the rain or in
the dark. Even if you've used the tent before, it never
hurts to double check that all the hardware is there and
everything is in good shape. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE TENT
STAKES! More than one tent went airborne in storms in
the past years. Doesn't hurt to bring a hammer to secure
the stakes (although a soup can will work in a pinch).
You should really have
some sort of shade for your campsite. The music doesn't
start until noon, so you'll probably be spending the mornings
at your campsite. The sun comes up hella early in
Manchester, without shade you'll boil in your tent or bake in
the sun. EZ-UP tents are great, but even just a tarp to
spread between 2 cars is better than nothing. Folding
chairs are key. The cheap ones from Wallyworld, Target,
etc. seem to hold up pretty good.
The single most important
thing at ‘roo. It can get so damn hot you have to work
at it to stay hydrated. In the stage and camping areas
they have water stations where you can get as much water as
you want for free. It's well water and sometimes has a
rather displeasing sulfur taste, but its drinkable.
Bring bottles or a camelback. Just make sure you drink plenty
of water. I've talked with the medicos working there and
they said that heatstroke/dehydration was the most common
reason they saw people. I've seen people hooked up to IV
fluids in the med tents because of dehydration, they didn't
seem to be having a real fun time. Lots and lots of
There is plenty of food to buy
there but personally I like to pack most of my food in.
If you want to go simple, energy bars are good. Even if
you plan to buy most of your food there, it doesn't hurt to
bring a little for nighttime munchies.
I’m not espousing drug use nor
am I condemning it. You will however most likely see it
at Bonnaroo. You have to decide for yourself if you are
OK being around it.
They sell beer at ‘roo and it
actually is pretty good. They have microbrews and the
normal domestic pilsners. Not cheap, but you have to
expect that. Don’t think they sell anything harder but
there were informal bars set up in the tent city. One
neat thing about ‘roo is that you can bring your own beer into
the campsites. You can't bring your own been into
Centeroo (where the stages are). The important thing is
that they forbid glass containers. The past couple of
years they have really started looking for them when you drove
into the site (looking into coolers, etc.). If you can
stand canned beer (or live somewhere where you can get good
beer in cans), I'd recommend going that route. If you
get caught bringing glass containers in they will take
them. If you do manage to get glass in, don’t be an
asshat and go breaking bottles all over the place. Those
foam beer coolies keeps the brew nice and cool in the TN
sun. Make sure you drink PLENTY of water if you’re
This has to be one of the most
important things. It can be very very sunny in Tennessee
in the summer. Go with a higher SPF than you normally
use. Put it on as soon as you get there. Make sure
you completely cover
you back if you are going shirtless, it's easy to spot the
guys who put their own sunscreen on, big burnt patches on
their back where their hands couldn't reach.
Clothes and stuff
It's probably going to be
hot. Shorts and t-shirts are perfect. Bring some
warmer stuff (i.e. sweats) in case it does get chilly.
It may rain so a waterproof shell isn't a bad idea
either. Teva sandals are good, be careful with
flip-flops though, if it gets muddy (which it will if it
rains) it can be easy to lose them. The mud can get quite
wide brimmed hat will keep the sun out of your eyes and off
your neck. Remember the shades as well. Bring a
ziplock bag (sandwich or quart) to keep your map and schedule
in to keep them from turning to pulp in your pocket if (and
when) it rains or you are drenched in sweat. A garbage
bag stuffed in your pocket makes a passable emergency
Personally, I don't carry a phone at Bonnaroo. But if
you do, keep in mind that you won't be able to plug it in to
charge whenever you need to. Bring a backup battery, a
USB car charger or something. Make backup plans with
people in case batteries are dead. If you are relying on
someone for a ride home, make sure you can meet up with them
even if you can't call or text.
On the subject of portajohns…
well the best I can say is Bonnaroo is better than most fests
I've seen at getting them cleaned out. That said, we are
talking about piles of excrement stewing in 95+ degree
heat. When you can, go for the clean ones. The
best ones (when you can plan it) are the ones in Centeroo in
the morning. The ones in the campsites go bad quickly,
but they clean the ones in Centeroo at night so in the morning
they are clean and there are a lot of them. Bring
handy-wipes, you’ll thank yourself. Don’t forget a roll
of TP or two (in ziplock bags). Those Clorox wipes are
nice to wipe the seat down with (I wouldn't use them on skin
though). Bringing a pee jug for late night calls of
nature can save you a walk in the dark (at least if you're a
guy). Please don't just go anywhere (and dispose of pee
jugs appropriately), someone will probably be downhill of you.
Getting around at night
Bring a flashlight (or two),
nothings worse than trying to pee in a (potentially extremely
nasty) portajohn in the middle of the night when you can’t see
a thing. On a related note, cyalume nightsticks are
great to bring, they’re cheap, they give off enough light to
get around, and they’re a
lot of fun. I put one or two on my tent and
flagpole when I go out at night, makes it MUCH easier to find
your way back home, like a much needed lighthouse (especially
if you are under the influence of anything that makes to
harder to find your way home). I've found that the
off-brand ones from Wallyworld don't give off much light, I'd
recommend the actual Cyalume brand (made by Omni-glow).
On another related note, do something to make your campsite
easy to find, one tent among fifty thousand can be hard to
find. I've seen people float helium filled mylar
balloons above their sites. If you are able to take the
time, putting a flag up on a pole is one of the best ways to
find your way back to your site (it really can be harder than
you'd think). There's a link at the top of the page for
a guide on making a flagpole from stuff you can get at Home
Depot for about $15.
Pace yourself! It's a long weekend, you
don't need to drink all the beer and do all the drugs the
minute you get there. Seriously though, unless you're an
ironman you won't be at a stage every minute that someone is
playing. Rest while you can, the nights can get
late. Some of the best shows are the late night, 1-4 am
ones. Try to sleep late into the morning (this can be
hard if it's very hot). Bring earplugs, 'roo is noisy
'round the clock, being able to put some plugs in and go away
for a few hours is a lifesaver.
Here’s a tip on ice to keep
your coolers cold. Instead of bringing bags and bags of
ice (or paying high prices there) buy a case or two of bottled
water (~$0.15 a bottle at the warehouse store), throw it in
the freezer and use that instead of ice. Doesn't turn
into a mushy mess and you can drink it when it thaws
out. The 5-day coolers are very nice, will keep ice all
weekend if you don’t open it up every 5 minutes. Joe
from the 'roo listserv suggests "Another tip for keeping things chilly. Pick up a
pound or so of dry ice, wrap it in an old towel and throw it
in the bottom of your cooler. Then throw your frozen bottles
in on top of that, (add another towel) then whatever you
want to keep cold on top of that. The dry ice will keep the
water frozen which will keep the rest of the stuff cold. And
it will last all weekend even if you do open the cooler
every 5 minutes. Just dont stick your head inside the
cooler right after you open it. . . ."
You can probably find dry ice at your local supermarket or try
your local welding or gas supply company (like Praxaire or
Airgas). Be careful, dry ice is very cold and can freeze
your beer solid (which really, really sucks) or give you frost
burns on your fingers (which also sucks).
Get to know people!!!
they won’t mind… really! Help people out.
Something that surprised me was that more than half of the
folks I met at ‘roo had never been to a festival before.
A lot of them didn't really know what they were doing.
Give them a hand. It’s amazing how much easier it is to
set up a tent when you have a new friend or two to help.
This is one of the greatest things about ‘roo, it’s a little
society (albeit a brief one) and you can decide what kind of
society its going to be. And if nothing else, the person
you loan a can opener to on Thursday might be the person who
runs over and keeps your tent from blowing away when there’s a
storm on Saturday.
Bring a large garbage bag or
two for trash, it’s amazing how many people just left crap all
over the place when they left. Body powder (Goldbond,
etc.) will help keep the funkyness to a manageable
level. If you are planning on smoking anything, bring
lighters. A multitool (like a Leatherman) is nice to
have for all those things that seem to crop up. If you
are bringing bottled beer, bring an opener (or two), bottled
wine of course needs a corkscrew.
There are ATM's at 'roo but
there can be hellacious lines and they might run out of money,
so it's a good idea to bring any that you need. How much
to bring is up to you. I usually don't spend more than
~$120, but I bring most of my own food and beer. The
beer and food prices aren't awful, but they're not cheap
either. There is plenty of official and unofficial stuff
to buy there as well.
Although almost all of the
people at 'roo are good folks, don't leave valuables out in
plain sight when you aren't at your camp. If you're
camped right by your car, just throw anything important in the
trunk. It's a little tougher if you are in the tent only
area. I bring an ActionPacker
(these are almost bulletproof) and a bike lock (the metal cord
kind), lock the ActionPacker and lock it to a cooler. It
would be easy for someone to grab either one alone, but a lot
more difficult if they are locked together.
Go see some of the smaller
acts. If nothing else it will get you out of the sun
(the arena size stages are out in the open, the club size
stages are under tents). Plus you get much closer to the
acts. And you never know who you might meet, I bumped
into Chris Robinson from the Crowes by one of the small stages
after he performed one year.
A lot of people leave Sunday
evening/night. It can get kinda hairy with 1000's of
people getting out (and getting cars stuck in the mud) in the
dark, I stay until Monday morning (which I know isn't an
option for everyone). Monday morning it's much easier to
get out, I've also been able to pull my truck right up to my
campsite in the tent only area then (ask the traffic people
nicely). The cars and tents are packed in pretty tight,
it would be EXTREMELY
difficult to try to drive out before Sunday night. It
could probably be done in an emergency, but don't plan on
easily leaving early. DON'T
try to drive home if you are still messed up from drugs or
booze. A few years ago some girl still tripping ran into
and almost killed a state trooper who was on foot. I
don't imagine things went well for her after that.
Don’t bring a dog. It is
much too hot. Really, don’t bring the dog,
please. Don’t get so fubared that you can’t enjoy
the shows. The funniest (or saddest depending on how you
look at it) thing was overhearing someone saying “dude, we
shouldn't have eaten that many mushrooms” at 9:30 am on
Friday. Don’t judge people. Don’t worry about that
damn cell phone.