Bonnaroo summer festival offers strange world of art, culture with focus on music

Posted November 24, 2014


MANCHESTER, Tenn. — Arriving at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival here was like entering a strange world; I had never been to anything similar to this in my life. Although I had heard about Bonnaroo from friends who had gone before, I still could not imagine exactly what it would be like.

When I told people that I was going to Bonnaroo in early June, their responses ranged from telling me I was crazy for wanting to go to something like this to those who were jealous.

Attendees of Bonnaroo 2014 in Manchester, TN lounge on the grass while listening to various artists live.

Attendees of Bonnaroo 2014 in Manchester, Tenn., lounge on the grass while listening to various artists live.

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t know what I was getting into when I bought a ticket. I knew it would be four days of complete debauchery, but I didn’t care.

I was excited, yet nervous at the same time. I wasn’t sure if I would be physically capable of partying non-stop for four days.

But I was willing to give it a shot. I had the opportunity to go with a group of my friends from the University of Miami and I knew that I would regret it if I passed up the opportunity.

We were all extremely tired and irritable when we arrived at the campgrounds late Wednesday night, due to the long drive from Miami to Tennessee, which is about 12 hours. The first hurdle we had was that no one in our group knew how to pitch a tent. We also did not have the instructions.

With some help from our neighbors, we eventually got our tent set up, although it was definitely not constructed correctly. But it worked for us. Although there was nothing that I wanted to do more than go in the tent and sleep, I knew that I should explore with my friends.

Already, the campground felt like a large community because most people I interacted with were incredibly friendly. We walked around and visited some of the vendors stationed nearby our campsite.

The first night was the most difficult, because I hadn’t adjusted yet to living outdoors. I was horrified when I saw the outhouses. They were already completely trashed, and there was no toilet paper in sight. Also, the interior of our tent was already extremely dirty.

Getting into my sleeping bag, I could feel the dirt all over my body, but there was no way I was going to shower, because the weather at night was down in the 50s.

Attendees of Bonnaroo 2014 in Manchester, TN congregate around the famous mushroom shower to wash up in between music acts.

Attendees of Bonnaroo 2014 congregate around the famous mushroom shower to wash up in between music acts.

Although the tent was cramped and uncomfortable with six people, I fell asleep almost immediately from pure exhaustion.

Although at night we were all tightly tucked into our sleeping bags to stay warm, by the time the sun came up in the morning, the tent became extremely hot, and I woke up drenched in sweat.

The entire trip, no one could sleep past 9 a.m., due to the rising temperature in the tent.

When my friends told me that we wouldn’t be heading back to the campground to sleep until the next day around 4 a.m., I was in disbelief. I did not think it would be physically possible for us to dance from noon until such an ungodly hour.

Arriving at Centeroo, the portion of Bonnaroo where all the stages are located and about a 15 minute walk from our campsite, reminded me of why I had decided to come.

One of the best things about Bonnaroo was the people watching. There were literally people dressed in all different types of outfits and costumes, and some brave souls chose to wear nothing at all. Although the majority of people there seemed around my age, I was surprised to see a few babies and children too.

Much of the trip is a blur; running from stage to stage, trying to catch all of the acts that we wanted to see, such as Artic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend, Phoenix and Disclosure. It is much more amazing to hear a song live, rather than hearing it on a CD or the radio. Even though some of the songs I heard live I had heard dozens of times before, when I heard them live it felt like I was hearing them again for the first time. It was an entirely different experience.

I sometimes found it quite unpleasant to be in the large crowd, because I was unintentionally pushed around. Due to my small height and size, I was constantly in danger of being trampled.

The first time I got caught in a mosh pit was terrifying. It was during a performance by The Bouncing Souls and I immediately tried to get as far away from it as I could, not caring if I got separated from the people I was with. I also learned to avoid the crowd surfers, which there were a lot of at times.

John Riccardi, a student at the University of Florida, agreed that being in the crowd is not necessarily the only good way to enjoy a concert.

“Sometimes the best shows are the ones you sit down in the grass for. I had seen Avett Brothers before, so I didn’t push to the front, but I enjoyed them in the grass watching the sun set and it was beautiful,” he said.

Despite the drawbacks of being in the middle of a large crowd, I will never forget the feeling whenever one of the acts started playing a song that I loved. Feeding off the adrenaline of the people around me, it made all the trouble and discomfort that I had experienced worth it. I felt like I had a connection with every person there, because we were all witnessing such a great performance together. My friends felt the same way.

“Suddenly, I looked around and realized that I felt nothing but love for every person there,” said Nicole Diamantas, a senior at the University of Miami.

There were times when this trip took me to my physical limits. On Friday night, while I was waiting in the crowd for Disclosure to come on at midnight, I started to fall asleep while standing up, having only had at best three hours of sleep the night before. I had never gotten to that point of exhaustion before in my life.

However, I knew that if I didn’t stay to watch Disclosure play, one of my favorite artists, I would regret it for the rest of my life.

As soon as they started playing, the adrenaline took over, and I was able to dance, despite the fact that my entire body was incredibly sore. My friends were actually wrong about saying we would get back to the campground around 4 a.m. On both nights, we didn’t get back until 5 or 6 a.m. I will never forget the moment I was dancing to Kaskade and I looked up at the sky and realized that the sun was coming up.

That was the first time in my life that I had literally danced until dawn. Even when we finally did go to sleep, we could still hear bands playing in the distance. The party at Bonnaroo never stops, because there are so many great performances to witness. My friends and I did not want to miss any part of it. Everyone in my group had moments where they were in awe of the performance they had just witnessed.

“The Flaming Lips’ rendition of ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ would have made The Beatles proud,” said Valentina Suarez, a junior at the University of Miami.

The most unique aspect of Bonnaroo was the silent disco. What happened was we walked into a large room with a dance floor and at the door they handed each of us a pair of headphones. It was hilarious, because everyone was dancing; yet there was no music playing.

As soon as I put on the headphones and could hear the music, I started dancing too. This was such a unique and novel concept, and it turned out to be one of my favorite aspects of the experience. The best part was that if I wanted to say something to one of my friends, all we had to do was take off our headphones and we could hear each other perfectly.

When I tell people that I fell asleep during Elton John’s finale performance, they usually think it’s a shame. However, it was quite the opposite, and was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. Lying down in a field on the outskirts of the crowd with my best friends, we watched as lanterns floated up into the sky. As the exhaustion of dancing non-stop for four days began to drift over me, I knew that there was no way I could fight it.

So instead, I let Elton John sing me to sleep.

If You Go

  • Address: 1560 New Bushy Branch Road, Manchester, Tenn. 37355
  • Parking: Depends on the campground. In some, you park the car right next to your tent. In tent city, you park your car in a lot that is further away.
  • Facilities: outhouses, you can pay $5 to use a real toilet that is cleaner in some areas of the campgrounds, showers cost $7 (but nobody really showers).
  • Food: lots of different food vendors all throughout the campgrounds and festival
  • Website:
  • Recap video of Bonnaroo 2014:
  • Bonnaroo 2015 dates: June 11-14.
  • 2015 Presale Tickets: Specially priced pre-sale tickets will be available beginning Friday, Nov. 28 at 12 a.m.

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