In 2004, Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead described the Bonnaroo experience as one where "people come out in the middle of nowhere and smell each other's funk."
Yep, that's certainly one facet of this massive four-day music festival, but there's plenty more to know and love. If you're thinking of traveling to the biggest annual concert east of the Mississippi, here are some tips and tricks to make your Bonnaroo experience a bit more pleasurable and, perhaps, a little less pungent.
What is Bonnaroo?
It's an annual, multi-stage camping festival held on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tenn. Rolling Stone called it one of the "50 moments that changed the history of rock and roll." This year's eclectic lineup (significantly less jammy, it seems) includes Stevie Wonder, Tenacious D, The xx, The Black Keys, Daryl Hall and Chromeo, Wale, Tori Amos and Steve Martin.
From Tampa, it's about a 600-mile drive (approximately 10 hours) to Manchester. If you're committed to doing it big and renting an RV, Cruise America (3210 N Florida Ave., Tampa; (813) 221-4135 cruiseamerica.com) had some of the best rest rental rates we could find. Rentals start at $79 per day, with a three day minimum, plus 32 cents per mile, for the smallest rig and go up depending on size. You're also responsible for gas; most RVs get about 10 miles per gallon. Once you get there, Bonnaroo RV passes are $150 in addition to the actual admission ticket.
If you'd prefer to fly, Allegiant Airlines (allegiantair.com) out of the St. Pete/Clearwater airport has the best fares. Currently, it's about $60 each way (not including fees) to Chattanooga, Tenn. (about an hour's drive from Manchester).
Camping and lodging
Campers need to bring the standard camping gear (don't forget the tentpoles) and rain accessories. You'll also need trash bags, toilet paper, soap, shampoo, a cooler, a lantern or flashlight with extra batteries, and a flag or balloon to identify your campsite. A small luggage lock for your tent and your vehicle key code (in case a locksmith is needed) are also recommended. For the faint of heart or the fond of hair dryers, hotels in Manchester and the surrounding areas of Murfreesboro, Tullahoma and Shelbyville are available for (inflated) rates. You may re-enter the festival grounds each day by following the "day parking" road signs.
There will be mud
Rain or shine, 80,000 people tromping around a farm means it's going to get muddy. Wellie boots or Crocs are a good call. Sandals work fine, too — that is unless you're getting in the pit for GWAR. If you wear actual shoes and socks, heed Lieutenant Dan's advice and change them often to stay dry. The rest is easy — shorts, tanks and bathing suits will do nicely.
Last year, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog described the Bonnaroo aroma as a mixture of "weed and Axe body spray." So true. To stay smelling fresh, Garnier Fructis provides shower facilities for a nominal fee. The large mushroom fountain in the center of the festival grounds is also a popular showering spot, though you can't visit that one in the nude.
It's warm, but it ain't Florida
If you've weathered summers in Florida, you shouldn't have too much trouble at Bonnaroo. Obviously, staying hydrated is key. Water bottles are allowed inside, though the "green police" recommend refillable stainless steel containers. A small backpack can hold these, as well as other essentials like bug spray, hand sanitizer, a blanket, a roll of toilet paper, a small flashlight, sunscreen and a camera.
What not to bring
Upon entrance, parking attendants get into each vehicle and conduct a thorough search. We'll leave it at that. No illegal substances, weapons, fireworks, Styrofoam coolers, glass, professional cameras or pets are permitted. While children are allowed at Bonnaroo, in all honesty, it just doesn't seem like the right venue for them. Odds are they'll grow up resenting you and voting Republican.
Set times: decisions, decisions
During a festival of this magnitude, you'll probably want to see two or three different acts that are playing at the same time. But if you love the Disco Biscuits (for instance) more than life itself, you'd best get to their stage early. To ensure a good view, grab a blankie and a spot in front of the stage at least 30 minutes before set time. For shows on the bigger stages, it's wise to get up front right after the preceding set.