DISTANCE: 205 MILES, THREE HOUR AND FORTY FIVE MINUTE DRIVE
You’ll become best friends with the most interesting people you’ve ever met. You’ll hear some of the most talented artists in the world. You’ll smell the worst body odor you can possibly imagine. It’s big, it’s messy and it’s the greatest destination festival on the east coast.
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival was founded in 2002, an occurrence that Rolling Stone named to its list of ‘50 Moments That Changed Rock n’ Roll History.’ The nature of Bonnaroo – an eclectic mix of everything from Eminem to Paul McCartney to Run DMC to Justin Timberlake to a Grand Ole Opry set – makes the lineup more than a little random and weird. That’s kind of its charm.
Held every June at Great Stage Park in Manchester, Tennessee (about an hour from Nashville), Bonnaroo started out as a “jam band festival,” but the lineups now span pretty much every genre and draw a diverse group of fans. The organizers are also super thoughtful/ logistical geniuses: it’s almost as if they schedule the music based on people’s tastes, because rarely do any two shows overlap that might draw similar fans. Show times are nicely staggered, so it’s easy to see all the bands you want to see without feeling rushed.
That being said: don’t miss the festival’s trademark Super Jam. Super Jams annually bring together musicians (some scheduled to perform at the festival; some not) to collaborate on a set together. You literally never know who is going to show up or what they might play. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime, can’t-miss type of show, because it will never happen again.
Another unique Bonnaroo experience: the Silent Disco. Imagine a quiet tent full of people literally dancing to the beat of their own drummer (because they’re all wearing headphones that are all playing different music). It is a people-watching extravaganza; the only thing better than watching someone dance to music you can’t hear is watching two hundred people doing it.
The weather (again, June in the south), the walking (it’s not hard to do 8-15 miles each day!), and the elements (both Acts of God and manmade) all combine to make Bonnaroo both rewarding and challenging. Come with a positive frame of mind and a good dose of patience, and the vibe will win you over. It is a bizarre departure from reality. Bring extra toilet paper.