Preparations were made. Most made theirs carefully, others in haste, some not at all. We waited months for this trip and nothing was going to get in our way. We planned our route, packed the car and set off to Tennessee to experience a world quite unlike the one we had come to know. We expected the unexpected, planned for the weird and let go of the outside world to immerse ourselves in the magical world of Bonnaroo.
A twelve hour drive quickly turned into nineteen in an overnight Cannonball Run drive, but there was only one thing on our minds: Booze-aroo… I mean Bonnaroo. We parked the car and I immediately cracked open my first beer. I wasn’t wasting any time getting into the spirit. Beer and camping and music go hand-in-hand (in-hand?). One beer turned into four as we set up our campsite and made friends with our neighbors. This weekend full of debauchery was already beginning. The beer flowed like water in the hot Tennessee sun and before I knew it, I was passed out in my tent with my feet dangling out the door. I woke up, not sure where I was, still all out of sorts, with the sound of music in the distance and realized I wasn’t even inside Centeroo (Bonnaroo’s main concert area) yet. I scrambled to find my shoes and my friends who, it turns out, were doing god knows what in the woods. Together, we followed the musical yellow brick road into the magical land of Roo.
I broke away from the group and wandered around alone, unsure of what I would find. The sea of people ebbed and flowed like nothing I’d seen before. I thought I’d get washed away and lost in some human sea, but the current wasn’t strong. With the simplest little tap and excuse me, the masses parted as if I were Moses at the Red Sea. As the sun set, I heard the faint sound of music in the distance. I let my ears lead me to a field where I came across about 25 people leaning on a barricade watching a figure perform some guitar melodies on the distance. After a squint and a listen, I realized I was watching the one and only Paul McCartney performing a warm up set for his headlining gig the following night. The small crowd grew significantly as more people gathered to witness this once-in-a-lifetime performance. All of us looked to one another with astonishment, knowing that no one would believe us had we not been there together. The sun set on day one, we all crammed into tents and dreamed about what was in store for day two.
We awoke to our neighbors stirring, talking about cooking breakfast and what to drink for morning libations. They insisted on Bloody Marys and some potato and tofu breakfast, and invited us to eat with them. Who were we to say no? We mixed the drinks and devoured breakfast while talking about what we saw the night before. All the while, our wood nymph friends were beckoning us to come to their impromptu campground concert.
With a solar panel power station to run the amps (and generously let the onlookers charge their phones), they played until they couldn’t stand the sun anymore. Bonnaroovians passed en masse on the way to Centeroo, but not one ignored the duo pumping out original tunes and covers of the Beatles, Tom Petty and many other Bonnaroo performers. Many passers-by noted that some current Bonnaroo performers got their start the same way, and wished our friends the best in pursuing the same path.
The weekend quickly became a blur as the spirit of Bonnaroo overtook me. Artist after artist came and went, each with their own lasting image. Drinks on top of drinks made the midday sun both tolerable and unbearable at the same time. Goodies along the way helped ease our minds into the twilight hours. Rock and roll all day, EDM all night. A perfect succession to our days. It seemed like the music started at sunrise, intensified when the sun set, and ended when the light of day reared its ugly head again. Sleep was a fleeting commodity, exhaustion was the norm. At the end of it all, there wasn’t one person who wouldn’t agree that it was all worth it. 110,000 people all flowing in unison to the beats of every drum.
Before I knew it, the weekend was ready to end. Rain was the theme of our last night in Tennessee. A fitting end for an amazing weekend. The camping, drinking, and music were all coming to an end. The friendships (the very thing that Bonnaroo stands for), however, would last for years to come. Every single person we came into contact with became an instant friend, whether we learned their name, their story, or nothing at all. Perhaps next year is the time to learn the rest.
The bottom line:
It was my first time at Bonnaroo, or any music festival for that matter, and I had expectations going in. People told me what would happen, but I decided to learn mostly for myself. My expectations were more than met, and I’m planning my return trip in 2014. I had the time of my life with people I barely knew. There’s a bond between Bonnaroovians that doesn’t exist in many places; a sense of community and unity that embodies the entire farm. I would recommend the trip at least once to anyone who asks. As for me, I plan to make it a yearly trek.