Last year when Bonnaroo was over, I felt like I’d survived something. This year, since I knew what to expect, I was able to just… be there.
Ian and a friend headed in Wednesday night so they could get parked and haul their stuff up to camping-only (no vehicles, right next to Centeroo!), which was opening Wednesday night this year. My sister Emily, her friend Jessica and I headed in Thursday about noon to meet up with them and check everything out.
I should say that we left at noon… we didn’t actually get parked in day-parking until about 1:30 thanks to some serious displays of ineptitude on behalf of the Bonnaroo toolbooth volunteers.
We initially showed up to the west toolbooth, which is where day-parking has always entered, and is where the Bonnaroo website directed us. When we got there, though, we were waved away by a volunteer, and were told to head to the “other” toolbooth up the road. But when we got to that tollbooth (the east one), we were told by the supervisor that day-parking is only allowed to enter from the west. Some cops along the way also told us that they were told the west tollbooth was the only place for day-parking to enter, same as always.
So we trekked all the way back to the west toolbooth, ignored the flagger, got the car searched, and pulled up to the check-in people. Where again we were told that day-parking was not allowed to enter through the west tollbooth. I refused to move my car until someone could tell us what the hell was going on, and eventually a stoned kid came by and said he thought day-parking was entering from “the highway toolbooth.”
I pressed him on whether he meant “highway” as in Highway 55 or “highway” as in I-24, the interstate, and he just looked at me like I was crazy. “That road right there!” he kept exclaiming, despite the fact that he was pointing in the direction of Ragsdale Road, Highway 55 and I-24, and couldn’t tell me if I should go east or west.
Finally, I got fed up with nobody knowing what the fudge was going on and drove through the check-in point. I drove up to someone down the road a bit with a flag and yelled “DAY PARKING?!” and low and behold, she cheerily replied, “Just follow that car—it’s right across the grass!”
Right where it’s always been. Right where I had been trying to go for the past hour and a half.
We were livid, but glad to finally be able to park and get the hell into Bonnaroo.
Luckily that kerfuffle didn’t set the tone for the rest of the festival. We saw tons of bands, ate plenty of great food (I was bummed that our favorite pizza place from last year wasn’t there until Ian discovered Roberta’s, a gourmet pizza joint from Brooklyn that had set up shop near the Which Stage), and drank a fair amount of Magic Hat beer. And water. Lots of water.
Bands that I saw this year
Thursday: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and Moon Taxi (from Ian’s tent, which was well-situated about 500 feet from the Centeroo entrance and within hearing distance of That Tent).
Friday: Feist, Ludacris, St. Vincent, Radiohead.
Saturday: North Mississippi Allstars, Punch Brothers, Puscifer, Dispatch, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alice Cooper, Skrillex.
Sunday: The Beach Boys, War on Drugs, Ben Folds Five, Kurt Vile (on accident—Ian and I grabbed a bite to eat near where he was playing. He was awful), fun.
I was really disappointed in Radiohead’s show, which made me play an extra-sad trombone because I had been looking forward to seeing them the most. They played mostly newer songs, and the majority of them were slow and, honestly, boring. Ian and I were pretty discouraged, so we left the set early and went back to chill at his tent (where we could still hear the show) until Emily came back to find us.
The best show I saw has to be Alice Cooper. I wouldn’t exactly have called myself a fan of his, but I had heard he puts on a hell of a live show so I made sure to be at That Tent by midnight to check it out. Holy crap, I am so glad I did. Emily and Jessica slept through the whole thing (kids these days), but I was mesmerized by it. He pulled out all the stops, and for an old-ass dude he had some really good pipes.
St. Vincent was awesome, too, as were The Beach Boys, Ben Folds and North Mississippi Allstars. Emily, Jessica and I stuck around for the first part of Skrillex’s show, and I have to say that I was disappointed in the level of weirdness exhibited by the crowd. I was really hoping for some crazy costumes and drug-induced trance-dancing, but it was really just a bunch of sorority girls standing around in bathing suit tops looking confused. I suppose we could’ve pushed closer to the front to see the real fans, but it was 2 a.m. at that point, and I’m old and was tired.
What I learned
Despite feeling like a veteran, there were still some lessons to be learned. Next Bonnaroo, or any outdoor festival, I’ll remember this:
Reapply sunscreen to the backs of my legs multiple times throughout the day, even if it’s not that sunny. (Seriously, I got burnt on the backs of my calves.)
Get a smaller Camelbak. Last year I couldn’t have survived without my Camelbak daypack, but this year Ian’s tent was literally right outside Centeroo so I didn’t need to tote around as much stuff with me all day. I love having the Camelbak hydration pack, but I really need a smaller version that allows me to carry the water and just essential items like my phone, keys and maybe a few other things.
Even if it’s not dusty, wear a bandana while walking outside of Centeroo. I got fooled by the nicer weather (mid-80s during the day, 60s at night) this year and didn’t use my bandana hardly at all on Thursday or Sunday, and I’m paying for it now. Last year the dust was way worse, but I had my bandana over my face every single time I was outside of Centeroo, and much of the time I was inside. This year the dust was not as bad, but I’m still trying to get over a horrible case of Bonnaroo Lung (also known as Bonnaflu).
Don’t trust hippies. Ian and his friends set up a campsite that consisted of two tents and a shade structure, and we quickly made friends with the people around them. The entire weekend he left his daypack (which contained a sheet for the air mattress, his Chacos, a flashlight and who knows what else) sitting under the shade structure with no problem.
On Sunday we packed up everything and stored it in his locked tent—everything except his daypack and a light jacket. When we got home, we realized he had everything except for the daypack. We thoroughly checked the campsite before we left, so I’m guessing either someone snagged it while we were in Centeroo Sunday early evening or this one guy who stopped by to help us load the car grabbed it without us noticing. I emailed lost and found just in case, but haven’t heard back (and I don’t really expect to). Ian’s not too tore up about the missing items, but it was a cool daypack that’s not made anymore so I’m kind of bummed. Oh well.
Despite the hiccups here and there, it was an awesome festival. I think we might try The Hangout Festival next year for something different (and beachy!), but I have a feeling we’ll be Bonnaroo-ing again in the coming years. (Oh, and pictures are here. I shot film this year, so all I’ve got right now are Instagram shots for now.)