Updated: Jun 5, 2020
It's that time of year once again for Bonnaroovians all over the world to pack their suitcases, roll up their tents, and load up on sunscreen for the biggest music and arts festival the South has to offer. Bonnaroo is a majestic place where nobody is a stranger, music is performed all night long, and activities are abundant 24/7.
Last year was my first time at Bonnaroo, and I read a lot of articles like this one to determine what I needed to pack and how to prepare. One thing I noticed was that I had to do a lot of jumping from website to website to find all the information that made my first year a successful one. After visiting the farm and watching the pieces of our extensive planning fall together, I thought I might spread a little wisdom to other first time Bonnaroovians out there. Here are tips for visiting Bonnaroo for the first time.
1. Stay Hydrated
It is VERY hot in Manchester in the summer, and the festival grounds don't offer much by way of shade. Festival-goers can't even find solace at their campgrounds as the sun's blistering rays beat down along the 650-acre farm. It's very different from playing outside as a child, and having a house to cool off in at the end of the day.
Heat exhaustion isn't a fun experience for anyone, and the headache and nausea it causes will ruin your time at Bonnaroo. Personally, my husband and I kept a CamelBak on us at all times to keep water handy while out in Centeroo. Bonnaroo's hydration pack policy is that all bags must be up to 20" x 15" x 9" and limited to two pockets, not including the bladder pocket where water is stored. Hydration packs must also be empty when entering Centeroo, but, no worries; refill stations are located in several places in the main area.
To assure that the water in your CamelBak stays cold, ask a vendor for some ice to pour in the main bladder. Some vendors charged us for this and some did not, but it is worth it either way. When you finish drinking out of the tube, lift it upwards to let the water drain back into the pack so that it stays colder longer.
Although you want to have a fun time at Bonnaroo, I advise against drinking beer in the heat of the day. Save your alcoholic beverages for when the sun goes down and stick to water, whether it's in a CamelBak like I suggested or simply out of a bottle or a refillable cup. If you are interested, you can buy a CamelBak here.
2. Pack Blankets
Funny story (to tell, but not necessarily to live): When my husband and I arrived into Manchester, we remembered that we forgot pillows and blankets, the simplest of all things to remember when camping. I guess we are used to staying in hotels when we travel, so it was the last thing that crossed our minds. We brought cots to sleep on instead of sleeping bags, mainly so we didn't sweat to death in the heat. We didn't even think of how cold the summer nights could be.
We swung into the Walmart right outside of the Bonnaroo festival grounds, where practically everything was sold out at this point. We picked up two very thin blankets and small pillows, because honestly, we didn't think we would need more than a thin blanket. We were wrong.
By night one, I was glad that I packed an emergency sleeping bag by impulse. I had no plans to use it since we had cots, but I threw it in the car anyway for some outlandish reason. I ended up wrapped up in the sleeping bag with my thin blanket shivering through the night. I'm pretty sure my husband, who didn't even have a sleeping bag, was covered up in shirts at some point. Moral of the story: bring blankets. Be prepared.
3. Make Gold Bond and Sunblock your Best Friends
In this article, I've jumped from hot to cold to hot once again as I reiterate my statement that Manchester can be SCORCHING. Seriously.
We always have that stubborn friend who doesn't want to wear sunblock for whatever reason, and they end up looking like a lobster when it's all over with. Make sure to apply sunblock every four hours or so to your arms, legs, face, neck, and basically anywhere else that the sun shines. One relief for heat is the large fountain in Centeroo pictured above. Running through it truly helps you to cool off, so of course, I recommend using waterproof sunblock to allow for this.
One thing you probably didn't think of, however, is Gold Bond. Gold Bond can be applied between the top of the legs to keep your thighs from chafing when they rub together. You're going to be walking A LOT over the course of four days, so don't skimp out on this piece of advice. Gold Bond worked miracles for us last year.
4. Bring Good Shoes
Speaking of walking a lot, you also need to take care of your feet as well as your skin at Bonnaroo. Depending on where you camp, you'll likely have a long walk to Centeroo, and you're probably going to go back-and-forth a fair amount of times. Some people say that the walk to Centeroo from their campsite can be as long as 30 minutes, not to mention all the walking you'll be doing once you get there.
It's inevitable that your feet are going to hurt, but bringing the right pair of shoes can help ease the overall pain. North Face has a great option for stylish shoes that are also practical. The shoes are light-weight, waterproof, and have a special midsole system that can help you walk long distances with ease. If you're interested, check out men's sizes here and women's sizes here.
Besides those shoes, my basic recommendation is to bring tennis shoes or boots that offer support for long distance walking and waterproof boots or rain boots for if it rains and gets muddy. It rained once last year, and I can attest that the field turns into a huge mud puddle when it gets wet.
5. Fill Up your Gas Tank
For 10 years, the reported Bonnaroo attendance averaged 75,000 people. This number dropped to 65,000 in 2017, but still, it's a lot of people. Most of these people are going to be arriving sometime Thursday, and all of them are heading to the same place. Put two and two together and you realize that parking the thousands of vehicles in the campground is no small feat.
Every car is checked briefly on the way in, and some cars are chosen at random to be checked more extensively for weapons and drugs. The security checks accompanied by the traffic coming into Manchester makes this a full day's process. Be prepared to sit in the line outside of the festival ground's entrance for hours. Sometimes it can go quicker, but don't count on it.
In order to prepare, you should make sure your gas tank is full just before you get into Manchester. I also recommend bringing snacks to make the time pass quicker.
6. Make Hygiene Easy
Sorry clean freaks: you probably won't take a shower everyday at Bonnaroo. It's not that you can't, it's just that you won't have time to, and it's inconvenient to walk to a shower, wait on a shower, pay for a shower, and so on.
Not taking a shower doesn't mean you can't be clean(ish). Face it, you're going to be sweating a lot. Even following a shower, you'll get dirty again pretty quickly. My husband and I made basic hygiene as easy as possible last year by packing these throw-away toothbrushes. The toothbrushes are small and have toothpaste already on them, so finding a water source is unnecessary and no spitting is needed. You simply pop the bubble of toothpaste with your teeth and start brushing.
To keep the rest of our body clean, we packed baby wipes. Sure, baby wipes aren't the same as taking a full-on shower, but they will do in a pinch, and you'll be glad you brought them along. We didn't bring any body sprays or perfumes, because the scents would likely attract unwanted bugs.
7. Make it in the Pits
The main stages have pits in front of them that offer the best "seats" in the house. After every act, the pits are emptied and refilled with a limited amount of people who are waiting in line. If you're especially excited for a particular performer, the pit is the place to be during the show.
During the day, there are two lines forming outside the What stage. One line is the pit line for the next act, and one line is an all-day pit line for the headliner. The headliner typically has a line on both sides of the pit, whereas the line for the next act is usually only on one side. What time to get in line depends on which act you are interested in seeing,
If you're hoping to "ride the rails" for the headlining act, I suggest getting into the pit line as soon as the What stage field opens. The field typically opens about an hour before the first act takes the stage, but you can ask the worker manning the gates to be sure. Getting into the pit for the headlining act takes real dedication. My husband and I waited 11 hours in the pit line to be in the front for Eminem.
If you're a fan of a less-popular act, I would recommend arriving to the What stage field about two acts before your band is scheduled. Once the act two ahead of yours leaves the stage, the pit will be emptied and refilled, and a new line will form for the band you're interested in. That's when you get in line to assure a good spot.
8. Bring Battery Operated Fans and Lights
Generators are loud, tough to move around, and possibly dangerous. Because of this, we loaded up with a few battery-operated fans, a Tac Light lantern, and a boatload of batteries to last the whole weekend. We ended up having way more batteries than we needed, but I'd rather have more than not enough.
The fans served several purposes at our campsite. We used them to keep the tent cool in the early morning heat, we set them up on a table while we ate to keep us from sweating in our food, and sometimes, after returning from Centeroo, we just held them in front of our face to prevent smoldering to death. I'm halfway joking, but still, you need a fan or two.
Our lantern hung on the roof of our tent to create the feeling of a small house in the evenings. Although there are plenty of lights throughout the campgrounds, it doesn't hurt to have your own, especially to walk to the bathroom or showers late at night. We used a Tac Light due to its ability to light up an entire room and the tough quality that is useful on a camping trip. You can buy a Tac Light here. I also found a pretty neat two-in-one camping light with a built in fan that I think I may get this year. You can buy the fan here.
9. Snacks, Snacks, Snacks
Bonnaroo has amazing food, and you'll be missing out on half of the experience if you don't partake in some of the campground delicacies. From the barbecue at Hammagedon to the pizza-stuffed pretzels at Pretzel Revolution, you want to make sure to try it all. Even with the food being this amazing, you should still bring plenty of snacks.
For one, eating every meal in Centeroo can get expensive. For two, the lines are long at some of the food vendors. For three, you may sometimes feel like kicking back at the campsite, eating chips and drinking beer. Although the party never stops for many at Bonnaroo, the vendors usually do. If you get the munchies at midnight, you're going to wish you brought some snacks along with you.
Unless you also bring a camping grill, make sure your snacks are ready-to-eat and won't go bad in the heat (or in the cooler on ice). Chips, protein bars, Poptarts, and beef and cheese sticks are perfect for snacking purposes. Personally, I don't bring a camping grill to Bonnaroo, because like I said before, the food is a part of the fun!
Alcohol at Bonnaroo is expensive, and although you'll want to indulge in a mixed drink or two at the Bacardi Oasis, you'll want to bring most of your beer with you to Bonnaroo. Luckily, several vendors sell ice for your cooler to keep your beverages cold all weekend.
There are some rules that you must know before hitting the liquor store. For one, no glass bottles are allowed at Bonnaroo, so bring all alcohol in a plastic container. Each person may bring two cases of beer, 1.75 liters of hard liquor, and two boxes of wine. Anything considered excessive will be confiscated. Remember, this is a PER PERSON guideline, not per car. So go wild, but not too wild.
...and an obligatory number 11: HAVE FUN!
Bonnaroo is the experience of a lifetime. You'll meet new friends, get involved in new initiatives, and create tons of new memories. Have a good time and Happy Roo!
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