The South is home to many well-known music festivals, but it’s Bonnaroo Music Festival that brings in music lovers from all over the country to the small town of Manchester, Tennessee every year, a town an hour outside of Nashville.
The farming community is transformed from fields into its own village full of tents, campers, and stages. It’s four days of friendliness, as you’ll get high fives from concertgoers and even offered food by some. As they say here, radiate positivity, share with those in need and you’ll have a great time.
Tips for Attending Bonnaroo
1. Buy tickets well in advance.
It’s not uncommon for tickets to the festival to sell out not long after they go on sale in February. And yes, the event isn’t until June. Tickets are priced based on your accommodation, so there are different levels of campgrounds and permanent tents.
Expect to shell out at least $250, but you can consider it a bargain when you realize how many acts you’ll see and the caliber of the performers. There is also day passes, which usually mean you’ll be stuck in one of the few motels in town, like the Holiday Inn, or commuting from Nashville.
2. Research the lineup.
There are hundreds of bands and acts that grace the five stages at Bonnaroo. It’s hard to keep track of them all and definitely hard to see everyone you want to, as most overlap at some point. If there’s someone you really are dying to see, set an alarm on your watch so you don’t forget.
The biggest acts usually go on at 9 pm, but people grab spots as early as 4 pm, staking their claim for the best views. Prioritize the acts that could make it big next year or for unlikely collaborations like the SuperJams.
3. Come prepared.
Packing for Bonnaroo is a feat unto itself, as you never know what you might need. Fill up your car’s tank before arriving at camp, as you’ll likely turn on your car to feel the A/C and charge your phone at least once. You definitely don’t want to run out of gas and have to get towed out!
If you’re camping, you’ll want both a tent and some form of shade for the afternoon, as well as chairs. Anything you don’t want to buy to eat or drink needs to come in a cooler with ice. Food and drinks are available for purchase but can add up. Showers and ice can also be bought. Water stations are all around, so bring bottles you can fill up to stay hydrated in the brutal June heat.
If you’re not camping, you’ll still want to pack sunscreen, a wide-brim hat, and a small bag. I also like to bring a bandana and a fold-up fan. The less you bring in, the better since there are long lines for security.
4. Check out the non-musical events.
There’s so much more to the weekend than the bands, as I was surprised to learn. Bonnaroo Cinema screens new and independent films, as well as favorites like Rocky Horror Picture Show and Ghostbusters from 8 pm until 5 am every night. There are also comedy acts (in air-conditioned tents!), a beer tasting festival, morning yoga, volunteer sessions, dozens of food trucks, and works of art.
5. Expect lines and crowds.
Not only will you wait for at least an hour to drive into the festival, upon which point your car will be searched, but everything has a line. Toilets, beer tents, and food stalls are especially difficult, so be patient. I was constantly waiting in line to fill my water bottle, which was frustrating but had to be done.
Also note that your cell phone probably won’t work, so don’t count on being able to meet up with friends while you’re there. Instead, set a time and place to meet, preferably a large landmark like the Bonnaroo Arch or the Centeroo Fountain. Bring something to charge it using solar power or backup battery.
And don’t forget where your campsite is, as at night they will all start to look the same. It’s smart to bring some sort of object you can put at the top of your tent that you’ll be able to find, like a large balloon or another icon.
Drug use is common at the festival but is still illegal. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, as you’ll be sweating so much that you might not notice how dehydrated you are until you’re on the brink of passing out in a crowd full of people.
6. Check out the area.
Manchester is a charming small town in its own right, so give yourself time to explore. Check out nearby restaurants like Emma’s Family Restaurant or visit Bean’s Creek Winery. The Jack Daniel’s Distillery in neighboring Lynchburg is a fun day trip, as well as George Dickel in Tullahoma. And, of course, Nashville is nearby with dozens of museums and attractions.
2021 Update: The Bonnaroo Farm is also hosting Concerts on the Farm throughout the year. The venue’s largest stage is set up for general admission where you can stand or bring chairs.