Welcome to the longest four days of your life. I arrived at Bonnaroo on the second official day with no expectations. Would this be like the original Woodstock of 1969? You know, peace and love complete with hippies making babies in the mud, open-minded experimentation and the greatest music of all time? Now that was something I couldn’t wait to be a part of.
“It’s the best worst time of your life,” friend and political science major Louis Valenti told me before hitting the road. This would be his second Bonnaroo, and like a war-hardened veteran, there was a calculated coolness behind his eyes. Before the event, the phrase “the best worst time of your life” did not mean a thing to me. So, using my own experience gained at this year’s Bonnaroo as an example, here are some tips on how to navigate the insanity of the concert festival next year.
1. Give yourself plenty of time to get there.
Make sure to keep your travel time in mind when requesting off from work. Know your endurance, never pull an all-nighter and be prepared for the unexpected. In my case, what should have been a nine-hour trip took 13 because of two separate wrecks along I-75, both of which required hour-long detours. Great start.
2. Avoid the big crowds, if possible.
I arrived on the festival’s second day to a sparse line and chipper young adults in yellow staff shirts. I missed the crowd, but if I didn’t already have friends inside, my campsite would have been very far away from the concert grounds. Life is full of tradeoffs. Know who you want to see and when they are playing and plan accordingly. Check to see if the event you’re going to has a Web site. By driving up Friday morning, I missed out on the 10 – 20-mile line to get in, but if you want to sit close, come early. Being stuck standing behind 90,000 people takes something away from the show.
3. Careful navigation is the way to go. The camping section of the 700-acre property was very organized, with wide rows complete with labeled street signs and even anchored, numbered balloons for reference points. But any time over 90,000 people gather in a relatively small area, chaos is inevitable. Drive slowly. Do not hit your fellow music lovers. Have patience and know that within 12-24 hours it could be you staggering into the 40-person mob and waiting oh-so-patiently to use the Port-a-Potties.
4. Prepare to sweat.
Your tent becomes an oven at sun up, so don’t expect much sleep.
Temperatures surpassed 90 degrees every day, and don’t let that “it’s a dry heat” business fool you. Expect it to be hot. Go ahead, complain about it a little; believe me, we all had our turns. Find some shade and make sure to drink plenty of water. Use the morning hours before shows start to conserve your energy and prepare yourself both mentally and physically. Like lions exhausted after a hunt, we huddled together under our tarp and panted. We talked. We drank. We listened to music. But mostly, we remained as still as possible.
5. Watch your own back.
The yellow shirts performed superficial pat-downs, but the message was clear: “If you don’t want us to take anything, don’t be obvious.” The staff and the few – but noticeable – mounted police were simply there to keep the peace. Experimentation is a part of life, especially at an event like this one, but the key is to be responsible. If you choose to indulge, do your research. Have an idea how your body will react and stay around people you know and trust. And stay hydrated. As a general rule, consume as much as water as you do beer. A lot of complications can arise with heat exhaustion.
6. Don’t be too frugal; enjoy yourself!
The event grounds had multiple stages, food and drink vendors, a tent to charge your phone, an air-conditioned tent to watch TV, a movie theater and a Ferris wheel. Imagine a medieval fair with hippies instead of knights. There were lots of interesting ways to spend more money than I originally intended, so be aware. And even though it’s best to bring as much of your own food as possible, allow yourself to indulge a bit. Despite the sometimes-harsh reality of a concert festival, don’t let this deter you from attending one. Although we were hot and dirty from the moment we got there, everyone was in high spirits. We all wanted the same thing: to see great music and have the time of our lives. Once we crossed the threshold into the dustbowl, the dust descended like an iron curtain and the real world faded away. For those three days, my life was consumed with staying cool and losing myself in some amazing music. Despite the hardships I faced, it was quite simply the best worst time of my life.