10 tips for first-time Bonnaroo festivalgoers

Held on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tenn., Bonnaroo has become an iconic music, arts, and camping festival in the central U.S.

Known affectionately as simply “Roo,” the festival is known for featuring a diverse range of musical talent from the alt/indie rock, hip hop, electronic, and folk genres. This year’s event — set for June 9-12, 2016 — is headlined by Pearl Jam, Dead & Company, and LCD Soundsystem.

Electronic artists of interest include Adventure Club, Cashmere Cat, The Floozies, Flosstradamus, Griz, Keys N Krates, M83, Purity Ring, Papadosio, RL Grime, Zeds Dead, and more.

A final batch of Bonnaroo tickets are still available, with general admission passes running $349.50 plus fees.

If you’re heading to farm for the first time this year, there are some things you should know. Even if you’ve attended Bonnaroo before, these helpful tips and reminders will help you make the most of your festival experience:

10. It’s a marathon, not a sprint

Bonnaroo is a four-and-a-half-day festival. There are so many things to do and see and you’ll no doubt want to do as many as you can. However, remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Centeroo — the epicenter of the festival — is open 24 hours a day. There will be plenty of time to try everything you want to try and see everything you want to see. No matter how many artists you are excited to see, you’ll also have some downtime to go find something away from the main stages.

9. Take care of yourself

You’ll probably be out in the sun for the vast majority of the time. Water is your main priority. Free water is provided in several spots in the campgrounds and all over Centeroo. Just bring an empty water bottle to fill.

You’ll also be on your feet all day and burning a lot of calories so make sure to eat plenty to help keep your energy level up. Even taking a quick power nap in the shade in Centeroo will help tremendously.

If you forget something important like Tylenol or you start to experience some unexpected chaffing, there are some small general stores run by the festival that supply some basic items.

bonnarroo which stage

8. Find ways to get out of the sun

As I said above, you’ll be in the hot Tennesse sun most of the day. If you find a way to get into air conditioning or shade, you should take it. Two popular ways of doing this are to seek refuge in the Comedy tent or Cinema Tent.

The Comedy Tent has some fairly popular comedians performing during most hours of the day (schedule here). You do have to wait in a decent sized line to get tickets to enter the tent, but it’s definitely worth it.

The Cinema Tent shows independent films and features Q&As with many of the filmmakers. It’s air conditioned and open 24 hours (schedule here).

7.  Bring good shoes

I thought this deserved its own section because your feet could potentially be your most important asset. You’ll be standing most of the day (in line, at a concert, etc.) and walking up to 40 minutes to get between your camp and Centeroo.

I alternate between sandals and old, but still reliable, tennis shoes. I wear tennis shoes to Centeroo because they tend to be more comfortable to walk long distances and stand in as well as protecting my feet from the sun and dust. I wear sandals around camp or when I want something a little more relaxed for my feet.

6. Check out the silent disco and other attractions

There is so much more to do other than see bands. As I’ve already said, Bonaroo also has a Cinema Tent and Comedy Tent. There is also a Silent Disco, a Ferris Wheel, The Food Truck Oasis, Morning Yoga, and so many other things to do. Take some time to explore all of Centeroo and even just to walk around the campgrounds. You never know what or who you’ll see there.


5. Baby wipes

With a general admission ticket you won’t get the privilege of a free shower (usually around $7). Unless you want to pay a bit extra for the luxury of running water, the dirt, sweat, and sunscreen can build up fast.

Baby wipes are a quick and easy alternative. They are great to clean your hands before eating and great for cleaning off your arms and legs before you lay down for bed. They have helped save the sanity (and $7) of many a Bonnaroovian.

4. Make friends

Bonnaroo is one big community. You’ll be in very close quarters with tens of thousands of people for four days, so make some friends. You never know what will happen while you are away from your camp and you can’t always get back there easily. While you should always prepare for rain, wind, etc. before you leave camp, it’s not always be possible. If you make friends with your neighbors, they will probably be more willing to keep an eye on your campsite while you’re away. Plus, you never know who you will meet!

3. Bring some fun money

Sadly, not everything at Bonnaroo is included in the ticket price. There are things like food vendors and the ferris wheel that will require some cash. While I brought plenty of food for our campsite, there were so many great food vendors around the grounds that it was hard to say no for long. For a true festival experience, I recommend eating a meal or two in Centeroo from a vendor or food truck. There are also plenty of different souvenir and craft vendors selling everything from glassware to shirts and everything in between.

2. Be smart about your belongings

Even though part of the Bonnaroovian Code is to “Radiate Positivity,” not everyone is there with your best interest in mind. Make sure to secure your campsite when you leave and see that any valuable belongings are locked up in your car or the lockers you can rent from the festival. I haven’t heard of many issues with this as security is good about patrolling, but they can’t catch everything.

bonnaroo arch

1. Relax, you’re at Bonnaroo!

Lastly, no matter what happens, remember you’re at Bonnaroo. It’s an incredible place and an amazing escape from “the real world” for a few days. If you don’t get to see the band you really wanted to see or do the thing you really wanted to do, there is no reason to fret. The sheer amount of awesomeness surrounding you should be more than enough to make up for a stumble here and there. As long as you do your best to follow The Code you should have an incredible festival experience!

Editors note: This article was first published in May 2014.


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Cullen McDermott

Cullen hails from Springfield, Mo. where he went to school and found his love of music. Ever since he can remember Cullen has gone to all the concerts he possibly could and enthusiastically hunts down new shows and venues. Now living and working in Kansas City, he has the opportunity to do this even more. When he isn't at a show, Cullen can be found running, rock climbing, or brewing his own beer.