Before I started attending festivals, I had a pretty warped conception of what they actually entailed. Music festivals especially. I pictured long weekends with the great unshowered masses, comparing baby wipe brands and bad band tattoos, staying up late to drink beer competitively and/or experiment with hallucinogenic drugs, all while listening to an indecipherable stream of whatever genre of music happened to be headlining.
I was wrong. (I mean, mostly.)
By the time I got myself to Central Tennessee and made it to Bonnaroo, one of the US’s greatest summer music festivals, I had gotten the hint that a well-done festival can be a beautiful experience — a wonderland for adults, not unlike visiting another planet entirely. Yet still, Bonnaroo managed to surprise me and change my perception, once again, of what a festival can be. Here were the six biggest shockers of Bonnaroo 2015:
1. The Food was Fantastic
Gone are the days of surviving on goldfish crackers in your tent and seeking out hot dogs between sets. Foodies have officially infiltrated the festival scene, and now most major events make it a point to brag on their updated dining options. But Bonnaroo took it to another level.
From the Food Truck Oasis to Hamageddon Circle to the Broo’ers Festival tents, there was no shortage of gourmet goodies to fuel our next dance-athon. And keeping with the festival’s sustainable and inclusive vibes, there were tons of vegetarian, vegan, and health-minded options available in the zero-waste cafe at Planet Roo.
One that that surprised me in a not-as-nice way? Beer, cider and wine are the only drinks available at Bonnaroo. Spirits lovers will have to sip away inside their tents!
2. It Was The Greenest Festival I’ve Ever Been To
Speaking of sustainability — wow. Bonnaroo has an entire village in the festival dedicated to sustainable living and social change! Planet Roo was a beautiful space that held the yoga-class-hosting Solar Stage, a knowledge sharing center called The Academy, a learning garden where workshops were held, and booths from groups like Eat for Equality and Oxfam America. There was even a booth registering festival-goers to vote!
What kind of courses can you take at The Academy? Weekend clinics included Letter Writing for Change, Social Justice Songwriting, Chicken Clinic: The Basics of Hen Health, and Death to Landfills: Take a Bite Out of the Waste Stream. Nearby, Heritage Radio, the festival’s own private broadcast, led entertaining panels with titles like Wasted: Drinking Stories and Sustainability and Crowd Sourced: An Open Mic for Food Rants Raves and Readings. I loved that Bonnaroo not only tried to reduce its own footprint, but also gave its community the tools to go out into the world and do the same at home.
Even outside Planet Roo, Bonnaroo took it’s commitment to green seriously. Every trash point featured three bins: one for recycling, one for compost, and one for landfill items. A refillable beer cup program (similar to the ones I raved about at Tomorrowland) in which participants receive a discount for using the same cup throughout the weekend cut down on plastic cups and cans. And refillable water points further eliminated the need for plastic — though, I admit, it was well water and tasted pretty vile. Taste gripes aside, I appreciate the festival’s attempt to make water healthy, easily available and free, and not contained within single use plastic bottles.
3. No One Gives a Flip What You Wear
Since I’ve started making it a priority to attend festivals around the world, I’ve had many a friend or reader ask if I’ve set my sights on Coachella yet. The answer is not really, and frankly, a huge part of that is I’m intimidated by the competitive runway that appears to be the Coachella porta potty line.
I can’t tell you what a relief it was to turn up at Bonnaroo and realize that no one was trying to top any best dressed lists. Yeah, I loved dressing up and putting together ridiculous outfits (I went with a romper theme for the weekend) but I would have been equally at home wearing anything from leggings and a tie-die t-shirt to an old bikini top and cutoff shorts. It was refreshing. Bonnaroo looks like it’s attended by citizens of planet earth, rather than bizarre head-dress-wearing fashion creatures from Planet Designer Fringe Fanny Packs.
4. They’re Fiends for Fitness
The dancefloor is just one of many places to burn calories at Bonnaroo. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I saw a 5K run on the schedule for 9am Saturday morning. Who would go to that?, I wondered. Well, apparently I would — along with 1,999 other residents of crazy town.
And while the Third First Annual Roo Run may look like it’s nothing more than silly fun, in reality there are pretty awesome prizes for first, second and third place as well as best costume — you’ve got a shot to win 2016 tickets, shower and food tokens and prizes from the race sponsor, GNC. All proceeds from our $15 registration fee went to the Bonnaroo Works Fund, a charity that funnels funds back into the local community.
Spirits were high for our 3.1 mile jog around the campground, with non-participants cheering runners on and offering encouragement from the sidelines. And while I might not have placed (not even close, but I did cross the finish line in 35 minutes), I did score a photo and a lovely morning chat with the members of Tycho, who were taking to the stage later that evening.
Back on the Solar Stage, there were three different yoga or meditation classes offered per day Friday through Sunday, along with bonus classes in the regular and VIP campsites. There was even a jazzercise class Friday morning! While sadly we gave that one a miss, we did get down to a live bluegrass music vinyasa on Sunday.
As if that wasn’t enough, there were even further bodyworks offerings over at The Academy, from hula hooping to acro yoga. Kristin and I couldn’t resist trying the latter! Girlfriend didn’t think I could possibly fly her, but I reveled in proving her wrong. I’d be at acro every day if Kristin could be the other half of my dynamic duo.
5. The Lineup is Crazy Diverse
From country to hip-hop, from current Top 40 artists to acts of the 80’s, Bonnaroo’s lineup couldn’t have been more diverse. I’m the first to admit I’m clueless when it comes to what’s cool in music, but friends who live and die by their playlists told me that they were green with envy over the stage selections — and one of them every so kindly created a cheat sheet for me of which bands he’d go to see if he were in Tennessee.
I left the festival with a long list of new artists to listen to — and my ears and mind opened up a little wider.
6. There’s So Much More Than Music
With seven stages and schedule stretching up for fourteen hours a day, it would be easy for Bonnaroo to let the music do the entertaining. But they didn’t stop there.
Throughout the weekend, Bonnaroo Cinema was host to everything from an advanced screening of Trainwreck to the NBA Finals, from quote-alongs of everyone’s favorite 90’s flicks to environmentally-focused documentaries followed by Q+As with the director. Birdman with a live drum score performance? They had that too. As a movie addict I was bummed I didn’t make my way in there, but it’s high on my priority list for next time.
Other forms of entertainment included the Comedy Theater, the Silent Disco, theme parties in Snake and Jake’s Christmas Barn (biggest regrets of the weekend list includes missing the classic hip hop party and the dance hall reggae jam), waterslides and a ferris wheel. Festival sponsors also brought the goods with Garnier doing free hair washing and festival styling, and Miller hosting a small venue for new and upcoming artists.
For I festival I didn’t know much about and didn’t spend too much time prepping for, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed Bonnaroo. Attending may not have been on my bucket list before this summer, but returning has been on it ever since.
Have you been to Bonnaroo? What festival do I need to add to my list now?