This four-day, multi-stage music festival brings artists and music lovers from around the world.
Imagine waking up in a tent city in the blazing hot sun of Tennessee and having the option of seeing 10 bands – four of which you are obsessed with – in one day. At Bonnaroo, all that comes true – not for just one day but four in a row.
The small city of Manchester, Tenn., has a population of 8,200 for 361 days out of the year. During a long weekend in June, the population jumps to nearly 100,000.
The sole reason for this spike is the Bonnaroo Music Festival, which has been taking over the city since 2002.
People from all over the country make the trip to the middle of Tennessee to experience this one-of-a-kind festival.
“The 20-hour car ride with my best friends from Philadelphia to the festival was definitely a highlight of my trip,” 21-year-old junior business major, George Renda, said. “The ride home was not my favorite part of the whole experience though.”
The word “bonnaroo” comes from an old New Orleans slang term that means “good times.” It originated in the city’s Ninth Ward music scene that thrived in the early 20th century.
Superfly Productions and AC Entertainment, the organizers of the festival, took the word and gave it a new meaning. Bonnaroo is now known around the world as one of the best music festivals. It was named the festival of the decade by Consequence of Sound blog in its “Best of the ‘00s” list.
The festival gives back to the city of Manchester and treats the locals well. Everyone in the city receives complimentary tickets to the festival, and most of the time they sell them to make extra cash. Also, the festival has a heavy effect on the local economy. In a 2005 study by Middle Tennessee State University, Manchester generated $14 million in business revenue and $4 million in personal income per year.
When Bonnaroo first came to be, it was known for bringing some of the best jam-bands and folk artists to one place. As the festival grew, it started to feature a more eclectic lineup of musicians.
This year’s festival will feature some of the biggest names in the music world: Jay Z, LCD Soundsystem, Weezer and Phoenix to name a few.
The festival also gives the smaller, lesser-known bands an opportunity to get their name out there. A band that may be used to playing to only 400 people could end up playing to thousands.
“There were so many people, and we’ve never done anything like that. Unbelievable,” Zach Carothers of Portugal. The Man, said last year in an interview with the Calcutta blog after playing to 2,000 people at Bonnaroo 2009.
One would imagine playing to so many people could be very intimidating, but others find it comforting.
“Oddly, playing the festival, I find it to be easier for us because we’re not in the fishbowl under the microscope as much,” said Bonnaroo veteran Aaron Dessner of the Brooklyn-based band, the National. “Like, the bigger the crowd gets, the more you don’t feel like people are staring right at you.”
And the crowd gets big. A makeshift tent city of nearly 100,000 people pops up on the 700-acre farm, which plays home to the festival. The tent city surrounds Centeroo, which is where all the fun takes place.
In Centeroo, there are several different stages, food stands, a comedy tent, a silent disco, a mini-carnival, stores, a giant water fountain and much more.
Everyone knows Bonnaroo for the music, but the festival is also known for its food. Vendors from all over the country descend on the festival to show off, and Bonnaroo is especially well-known for its Southern-style barbecue.
“I’m actually a vegetarian who will eat ribs in Tennessee,” festival publicist Ken Weinstein said in a conference call.
Veteran festival-goers know how to prepare themselves for Bonnaroo with the proper equipment and mentality. Something rookies learn when they get there.
“Get a lot of rest beforehand, and make sure you hydrate yourself,” said Scott Shriner of Weezer, a music festival veteran, when asked if he had any advice for first timers. “Also, don’t try and bring your baby.”
Some essential gear to pack would be a tent, a poncho, old shoes, suntan lotion, a notebook and a water canteen. Luckily, Bonnaroo offers a complete guide of what to bring on its website.
“I never imagined that living in squalor would be the best four days of my life,” Dixon Speaker, an English major at Ursinus College, said.
One thing the folks at Bonnaroo do not offer on their website is how to prepare yourself mentally. Rookies need to be ready to not shower for four straight days, use Port-A-Potties and to see a lot of live music.
Taking in so much music can be overwhelming for some. The other non-musical activities in Centeroo help the festival-goers keep a balance.
The farm becomes its own little country for the length of the festival. There’s a small police force that keeps an eye on the entire situation, but generally festival-goers have a good time and do not cause trouble.
For students planning to attend the festival this summer, a fellow Temple student shared this advice:
“Go there expecting nothing you’ve ever seen before in your life,” Renda said. “Be ready to question yourself if you’re dreaming or if it’s reality.”
Colin Kerrigan can be reached at email@example.com.