Confession: Bonnaroo was never on my bucket list. It didn’t get the chance to be! It’s only in the last few years that I’ve become a festival fiend, taking on events from Burning Man to Tomorrowland and anything I can get my hands on in between. When my girl Kristin invited me to attend in conjunction with our whirlwind trip to Nashville, I only had the faintest idea what this Tennessee festival was all about. And that turned out to be a blessing.
Sometimes, having no expectations and putting the steering wheel in someone else’s hands leads to the best of experiences.
I admit I didn’t have the most traditional Bonnaroo experience. In addition to her condo in Nashville, Kristin and her husband have a house in Central Tennessee not far from the festival grounds, meaning we were able to shower on the regular, sleep on heavenly mattresses and even squeeze in a few work hours here and there. Also, Kristin and her kin are ‘Roo regulars, meaning I more or less bypassed the first-timers experience all together in exchange for the veteran package.
Our Bonnaroo crew was an epic one — Kristin, Kent, Caanan and I had all hightailed it down from Nashville together, where we were joined by Kristin’s hubby Scott. Technically Bonnaroo is a four day festival, with Thursday’s limited line-up seen as somewhat of a warm up. We skipped it in order to spend an extra morning in Nashville, and arrived in Central Tennessee for a cookout at the Luna compound that evening.
Thus, Friday was our first official day of festival-ing. And our first order of business after sorting out our wristbands and swiping into Centeroo was to eat. Oh, did you think I was going to say listen to music? This might be a controversial opinion on the festival circuit, but my philosophy is snacks first, stages second.
Actually, the lineup didn’t start until 2:00pm on Friday (and didn’t stop again until 3:30am!) so we had plenty of time to goof around, explore the festival grounds, and take photos. There is so much more to Bonnaroo than music — so much more! — that I actually enjoyed having time to run around without worrying about what set I might be missing.
We decided to hop on the ferris wheel early Friday afternoon, and boy am I glad we did. I love ferris wheels and went on the Tomorrowland version several times throughout my weekend there, so I had hoped to ride this one both by day and by night. But from that moment, every time we passed the wheel by there was a line snaking several tents back — we lucked into less than a ten minute wait!
Not only does going early in the weekend give you a shorter wait in line, it also gives you a great lay of the land for future stage navigating. I also enjoyed being able to peek into the camping section, which we’d yet to lay eyes on as we were staying offsite.
Our amazing hosts
Later, after a few hours cooling off at Kristin’s (oh, the benefits of being a short drive from the gate!) we returned for Kacey Musgraves‘ and Tears For Fears‘ sets — Tears for Fears hitting hard for the title of my favorite set of the weekend. Tempted as I was to stick around for Kendrick Lamar, the lure of sleep was a strong one, and so we bid adieu to Bonnaroo — at least for the night.
After all, we were up early on Saturday — for the Third First Annual Roo Run! After my 10K in Rochester I was all fired up to tackle this 5K through the festival’s campgrounds, and thankfully it wasn’t hard to convince fitness freaks Kent and Caanan to join me. (Kristin was meeting with her personal trainer than morning, the slacker!) I struggled with the heat and a festival food hangover, but managed to finish in a respectable thirty-five minutes.
More on this run later, but suffice it to say it was a really fun way to start the day — and I couldn’t believe how many of my fellow festival-goers were up at 9am to hit the trail with us!
After a shower and some brunch back at Casa de Luna, we were back on the Bonnaroo grind. First stop, the most adorable airstream in existence for a private Pickers tasting with some of Kristin’s Nashville friends.
Next, we toodled around the festival grounds until Hozier came on later in the afternoon. I loved the energy of the mainstage — and this text exchange with my sister — but ducked out a tad early to catch Wild Adriatic, a band from Albany, on one of the smaller new artist’s stages. I was so pumped to see my hometown represented at Bonnaroo, and they did us proud. I smiled when I looked around and saw so many Upstate New York-themed t-shirts in the crowd. Who would have guessed?
As much as I wanted to stick around and get a big ‘ol Albany pride group hug going, I was on the move again, this time to meet Kent and Caanan at Belle and Sebastian. The energy was fantastic, and the set ended with Jon Hamm taking the stage to throw gummy bears to a wound-up crowd.
There was no time to eat candy for us, though (first time I’ve ever said that sentence), as we were off to hit the Silent Disco. I’d nearly cried when I saw Tiki Disco, one of my favorite New York party extraordinaires, was hitting the decks in the wee hours on Friday night — I knew there was no way I would convince any of my festival companions to stay up with me till 3am (and I was at the mercy of others’ wheels). However, I quickly wiped my tears when I saw they were at the helm of the Silent Disco from 7-10pm on Saturday. Score!
For some reason I’d yet to seriously get my dance on till that point, but we more than made up for it in the sweaty hours that followed. Based on pure joy-meter ratings, I’d say this was my favorite part of Bonnaroo.
Later, after the boys said goodnight, Kristin and her mom and I (Did I mention Kristin’s whole family heads to Bonnaroo every year? Bonnaroo is for all ages!) got settled back at the mainstage for Mumford and Sons, the perfect note to end the night on.
Sunday morning, we made our way back to the campground early for a vinyasa yoga class accompanied by live bluegrass music. Yoga at a festival? Heck yeah! I know a lot of people think music festivals aren’t for them, but I kinda think that there’s a lot of leeway for making it your own thing. At this particular one I barely rounded the corner of buzzed and hardly stayed up past midnight, but I did attend three separate wellness events.
I’ll be writing more about this fitness components of Bonnaroo that so blew me away, but for now suffice it to say it was the perfect way to kick off our final day. It was literally about a billion degrees, but something about being surrounded by live music, day-four festival vibes, and doing sun salutations under a blue Tennessee sky left me smiling.
Kristin and I couldn’t get enough, it seemed, so we stuck around for an hour-long acroyoga workshop at knowledge-sharing based The Academy as well.
That evening, we reconvened once again for a final night at Centeroo. I was already feeling nostalgic for my time with this wrecking crew, and it wasn’t even over yet.
I admit, I was a little letdown by Florence and The Machine‘s set — but clearly, we had plenty to keep us busy. Like group selfies, for example.
And teaching Caanan the Take Up As Much Room As You Can Dance, a move I mastered back in college.
Soon, the sun was setting on our last night on The Farm, as Bonnaroovians are fond of calling this, er, farm that the festival takes place on.
After a final meal at the festival’s fantastic food stalls and trucks — soundtracked to the crazy energy of the nearby G-Eazy set — we raced back for headliner Billy Joel. Unfortunately, we were a little underwhelmed again. But I’d seen so many amazing acts on the smaller stages throughout the weekend, it was nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders.
After all, this festival was so much more than music.
Bonnaroo, a festival I quite frankly hadn’t spent too many hours dreaming of before I was lucky enough to attend, truly took me by surprise. In fact, I have a post coming up on all the ways it blindsided me. Bonnaroo was friendship. It was food. It was fitness. It was sustainability. It was community. It was art, and dancing, and creativity.
And yes — it was music.
Have you ever been to Bonnaroo? Stay tuned for my next post!
All non-selfie shots that I’m in are likely courtesy of the talented Camels and Chocolate! What’s that you say? Bonnaroo was back in June? True, I’m pretty behind in my blogging — but the good news is, if this post inspires you to go in 2016, pre-sale tickets are rumored to go on sale one month from today. The perfect amount of time to get planning!