You could say “third times the charm” but I’ve never drawn a bad hand when it comes to Bonnaroo. Every purchased ticket is a golden one and you don’t need Willy Wonka as a tour guide. Wandering your way to new artists as they perform, tripping over faded indiscretions, making a best friend at the charging station, and Amish Donuts are just a handful of the intoxicatingly amazing journey 300 bones and a eight hour drive can get you.
I first went to Roo in 2011 when a college friend, Cheese Mom, convinced me and two other friends to tag along with her and her carpool. Not knowing what we’d be getting ourselves into, we bought tickets and joined the caravan. With my greatest sympathy, the morning we intended to drive there, her grandmother became incredibly ill forcing us to leave without her and meet/camp with borrowed friends for the first time. It was the best way to dive into a situation under unfortunate circumstances.
Now I’ve never been, or known anyone to have been, to Woodstock but I’d like to imagine it’s similar. Bonnaroo, like many other festivals, includes a stellar lineup of over 150 bands with eclectic variations of music such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Paul McCartney, Kendrick Lamar, Skrillex, Florence + the Machine, and Gary Clark Jr just to name a few. Once you get there you park your car, setup your tent and canopy in front of said car, and hope you have baller neighbors to hangout with. Showers aren’t free so set aside 40 for the weekend or use the melted cooler water for a brisk morning wash up.
Though Roo can be disguised as your average festival, it simply isn’t. The food and crafty vendors are absolutely amazing as they range from local Tennessee businesses to places from all over the United States. There’s a movie theatre inside of the venue that shows early screeners and Game Of Thrones if you need your fix that Sunday. There’s a silent disco which gives all of its occupants musically packed headphones but no one outside of the venue to can here it.
They name their stages to confuse you which include, Which Stage, What Stage, That Tent, This Tent, and Other Tent. They get a variation of artists every year to design different areas of but somehow manages to capture that same Roo feel every year. Their motto “Radiate Positivity” is exactly what the people who come here stand for and gives the feeling to those, like myself, that you’re going home.
This year was my third and after missing a season, and learning we had a ten car caravan, I foolishly thought only knowing a half of those at our campsite would somehow alter my experience. The Hickeys, possibly my favorite group of sisters (don’t quote me), picked me up from the Nashville airport a day and a half before we would be heading into the camp. We spent the entire next day shopping, prepping, and car packing before we met up with our group at Walmart (common meeting place for Bonnaroovians) the morning of. After waiting in a line several hours long on the country roads of Tennessee and setting up our campsite, I then learned that I wasn’t the only halfway stranger in our 21 person campsite.
Barely being able to sit still wasn’t a rarity for me especially when I was going to see Glass Animals, Tove Lo, and Jungle all for the first time that evening. It’s a combination of the music, the people, and the place that gives you this sort of awakening that you can only get from so many things. Roo was one of these things. Upon entering CenteRoo, which is where all the stages and best vendors are, everyone high fives and cheers as they attempt to smuggle in their outside alcohol with the sweetest shit eating grins you’ve ever seen. I myself wore one every day and I’m not ashamed to say so. Water? You mean Everclear? Same thing right? Try smelling it first.
I tapped my wristband on the scanner to enter with my Everclear filled water bottle strategically stashed on that blazing, 94° Thursday afternoon. It wasn’t until I saw What Stage for the first time in two years, knowing it would give me the best of memories yet again, that my outside issues instantly faded beyond recognition.
Throughout the weekend I channeled my inner 80s kid by jamming out to Tears For Fears without missing a single word. I indeed mistook Everclear for water by chugging a quarter bottle during Alabama Shakes, and survived not only to tell the story but made it to the the end of the set without puking. Kendrick Lamar reminded me why I love West Coast rappers far more than Trap Music. Gary Clark Jr. helped me find my inner funk while Childish Gamino brought out the worst dancer in me when I blacked out during Bonfire, not from alcohol but pure happiness.
Mumford made me cry, not only because they were there but because they graced me with their voices, mind, and soul for two hours. Seeing Flume at 2am alone allowed me to full heartedly lose myself into music that simply gets me through my day to day. Florence, which I’m 100% convinced that she thinks she is a nymph spreading joy through music, is the most genuine free spirit I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. And then there was Billy Joel. I didn’t grow up listening to him, and I learned most of his songs in college but seeing a legend like that live just gives you life.
What I love about Roo is that even though I have tons of pictures, I will never truly capture the feeling of being blissfully content. I can’t capture how fast my heart beat during Awake My Soul. I can’t (and purposely didn’t) capture our “Yoga Off” during Gary singing Bright Lights. You won’t know how hard I screamed the lyrics of Shout, or how silly it looked that me and a stranger did the dance from White Chicks while Run DMC performed It’s Tricky.
By the end of the weekend those 15+ strangers became friends and fellow snapchat story watchers. They became people I may or may not see before the next Bonnaroo, but will remain a vividly beautiful memory of possibly my favorite weekend this year. Despite being an avid traveler, I too have periods that aren’t all beaches and colosseums or glitter and laughter. Sometimes when traveling, life happens, and it’s not all that fun. Bonnaroo came in the middle of life happening. It reassured me that one bad month could be fixed in a four day weekend. That sometimes all one simply needs to do is come home.