Sweaty bodies hover against each other, separated by each others’ backpacks. Everybody chatters amongst friends and strangers, remarking on the bands they’ve seen so far and playing Rock, Paper, Scissors to pass the time. The crowd erupts in cheers at 11 p.m. The Red Hot Chili Peppers stroll onto the stage, grabbing their instruments. They instantly begin playing “Can’t Stop,” and everyone around me is swaying and singing along. “What’s up, Bonnaroo!” yells lead singer Anthony Kiedis. The crowd cheers in response. It’s the most energetic Saturday night I've ever seen.
Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival is a four day event dedicated to gathering people from across the country to listen to their favorite bands on an old farm in Manchester, Tennessee. My roommate, Sabrina, and I packed up my Volkswagen Beetle with our fresh camping gear and tons of snacks, then started the eight hour drive.
I saw a lesser-known country artist the same day I saw The Weeknd, and I saw rock and EDM acts perform back-to-back. It surprised me just how many bands you could see in a single day — Sabrina and I walked from set to set, stopping at the ones that sounded interesting; we would leave early to catch other acts, either those we originally planned on seeing or something new.
One of the best shows we saw was Rainbow Kitten Surprise — known for their singles “Devil Like Me” and “Cocaine Jesus,” and frequent performers at Cat’s Cradle. We stood at the front, watching lead singer Sam Melo dance around the stage from the sheer excitement of playing at Bonnaroo — a festival he had gone to years before as a fan. The energy at the show was unbelievably upbeat, even as the sun beat down in full force. The next day, Sabrina and I saw Melo again – 10 feet away from us at the Flatbush Zombies set, enjoying himself just like everyone else.
My favorite show, however, was U2. I’ve been a fan of the classic rock band since I was a freshman in high school, and I consider them to be my favorite band of all time. This was their first American music festival, and their second festival to date. It was a part of their 30th anniversary Joshua Tree tour, where they played the famous album cover to cover (as well as some of their other hits). The second I heard the first few guitar strums of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” I started bawling my eyes out. It isn’t every day that you see your favorite band live, especially a band that tours less and less as members age.
As someone who has never camped before, I found that part to be the most daunting. What is it going to be like to not shower? Was it going to be impossible to sleep? What if someone tries to steal our stuff? We had also heard that the campsites would be far away, and hard to find in the dark. Thankfully, we lucked out and ended up being only a 15-minute walk to Centeroo — not as bad as the distance we walk from our apartment complex to campus. As for not showering, we quickly discovered that the wipes we had brought along, as well as a giant mushroom fountain in the center of the venue, were the best ways to keep from feeling gross.
The festival is not only a place to hear musicians perform, but also a place for art to flourish. Artists and vendors had tents set up everywhere selling glass art, psychedelic paintings, custom band posters or henna tattoos. And art wasn’t confined to sales — the wooden walls lining Centeroo and several displays within the venue were covered in graffiti by the end of the festival.
And don’t even get me started on the food. There was never a shortage of treats — whether it be tater tots covered in chicken, bleu cheese dressing, buffalo sauce, full racks of ribs or homemade apple cider donuts. While everything erred on the expensive side, it was all delicious.
But the best part of Bonnaroo by far was the people. There was never a shortage of smiles or high-fives, everyone greeting you with a “Happy Roo!” as you walked past. People handed out homemade bracelets, danced with you or asked you to take a picture with them. Everyone was just so happy to be at the festival, and that energy permeated the entire weekend. Many people we talked to said this was the best crowd they’d ever encountered at a music festival. Bonnaroo’s tagline is “Radiate Positivity,” and it definitely describes the festival.
Ultimately, my first Bonnaroo and music festival experience is one that I’ll never forget. Between my favorite bands and cool new artists, the Food Truck Oasis and the kindness of everyone there, I couldn’t picture a more beautiful event.
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