“Got any glass bottles?” the security guard, a tan, skinny guy who wore an old bandanna over his long dreads and looked like he could use a shower asked.
“Got any crystal meth?”
A resounding chorus of laughter. “Ehh…maybe. No, no. No crystal meth, we promise.”
He laughed with us, affectionately tapped the side of the van, thanked us for being patient while sitting in all the Roo traffic and told us to follow the guys with batons to our campsite. Through giggles, we looked at each other in amazement; talk about a thorough security check. We were in.
Bonnaroo: a musical utopia where anything goes. The happiest little place on the face of the planet. A field made of so much magic that it can unite 80 to 100,000 people from every walk of life. It can get the business man, the rock and roll punk, the flower child, the reliving-their-glory-days parents, the poor college kid, the ‘Merica loving ‘Merican, the festival hopping foreigner and the nomad to abandon all notions of social structure, ignore all standard laws and rules, hold each other, sing, jump, sway, dance and get funky in unison. Here, everyone and no one is weird. Here, as long as you’re doing it in the spirit of peace, love and music, it’s allowed. Welcome to the farm.
Cross under the portal that is the Bonnaroo Arch (make sure you high five EVERYONE while you’re on line) and you have entered the universe of Centeroo. On your way in, make sure to contribute some art, words of wisdom, a doodle or anything really to the walls. The perimeter is teeming with vendors selling everything from wheatgrass and kale smoothies to original artwork to frog legs to tye-dyed-whatever-you-want. There are stands where you can create your own art, buy or use a hula hoop, learn to play the bongos or discover an interesting cause. Recycling is a law in these parts but otherwise, feel free to try something new and explore. Past the vendors, within Centeroo lies a Silent Disco, a Comedy Center that hosts world renowned acts, a huge and colorful Ferris wheel, a cinema, a magical 60 foot lighted mushroom fountain (useful for taking showers) and The Academy where you can participate in workshops like instrument building and gardening. Wake up a little earlier and join in on Yoga-Roo. You’ll already be sweating so might as well run the Roo Run 5k and then cool off at the 35 foot water slide. I wasn’t kidding when I called it a universe. They’ve got everything you can think of.
Just as soon as you settle in and take in how wonderfully overwhelming and delightful everything is, you remember you’re there for the AMAZING line-up that Bonnaroo guarantees every year. My advice: bring sunscreen, bring water, take advantage of the mist tents, bring booze in a camelbak rather than getting hammered beforehand (you want to remember the shows and dehydration is a b*tch), bring another layer for the night if you don’t go plan on returning to your campsite before nightfall since Tennessee days are brutally hot and nights are chilly, and wear comfortable shoes. The most comfortable shoes you own. And they better not be flip-flops. Leave your phone behind and take a camera; you won’t get service anyway and cameras are more loseable than phones for most of us. Don’t get freaked out by all the people selling drugs. If you’re into it, you’re in the right place. If you’re not, you better get used to it because the cops wandering around couldn’t care less. Also, don’t bother trying to figure out which stage is what stage or this stage or that stage. The names of the stages are literally What Stage, Which Stage, This Tent, That Tent and The Other Tent. It’s hilarious and awesome and you will fall into the trap, I promise, so go with it.
I went in 2012 and saw The Dirty Guv’nahs, SOJA, The Avett Brothers, Sarah Jones and The Dapp Kings, Ludacris, Foster the People, Radiohead, Flogging Molly, Santigold, Childish Gambino, The Roots, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Skrillix, Mac Miller, The Beach Boys, Fun, Bon Iver and Phish. Un. Real. And I had to sacrifice some for others. I’ll never forget that we could practically touch the stage for Radiohead, the floating lantern that got stuck in a tree mid-Scar Tissue, crowd surfing at Flogging Molly, being blown away by the Roots, the magic in the air for Bon Iver or jamming to Phish with 80,000 other people.
Go to Bonnaroo. Everyone should. Don’t let camping scare you – just make sure you bring lots of water, pb&js, a couple of chairs and you’ll figure it out. You’ll learn so much about what the world has potential to look like, you’ll remember why you should love people despite your morning commute or those clients that you hate. You’ll be inspired to be good and to be part of the energy that connects us all and you’ll remember that sometimes, all it takes is a good song to bring people together.