How to Do Bonnaroo Like a Pro

Words: Ray Waddell
Photo Above: Adam Macchia/Red Bull Content Pool

Music journalist Ray Waddell has attended 13 Bonnaroos in a row. Here are his secrets to getting the most out of the festival’s four days.

Bonnaroo: A Primer

“As a completely immersive event, Bonnaroo is second to none. When you’re there, you’re there, you ain’t going anywhere, and who would want to? Everything—everything—you need to have an awesome weekend is right there on site. And more than a few things you didn’t know you needed.

A post office (in case one is inclined to send a “wish you were here” missive), a movie theater, a comedy club, tons of killer food (a massive, greasy breakfast burrito on Day 2 is my personal fave), massages, a shampoo from Fructis, all sorts of clothing and other wares, decent creature comforts (depending on one’s personal accommodations) and, of course, music. Non-stop music. It seems that music can be heard round the clock, though they do take a bit of a break in the mornings, perhaps to allow the synapses to recharge.”


© Erik Voake / Red Bull Content Pool

Behind the Scenes

“Every Bonnaroo is 80,000 stories. Every attendee has their own personal adventure. We all come for the music, but it’s the experience that matters. As a chronicler of the live business, I soak in the back-of-house stuff, I love watching Bonnaroo work, seeing the sausage made, observing a team of total professionals put out 50,000 figurative fires over the course of the event. Putting on a festival is serious work, a monumental undertaking, especially one that takes place in the middle of a 750-acre field.

I enjoy talking to the familiar faces at the various gates, many of them from New Orleans and quick to relay a fascinating tale from Hurricane Katrina or offer advice on gumbo. The Bonnaroo production crew were totally on their game in Year One (many of them, after all, were veterans of the massive Phish fests of the 1990s), but, logistically, they manage to improve the workings of Bonnaroo every year. They zip around Production Road with purpose, loaded down with ice, musicians, maybe even an Olsen twin or two. They rock.”


© Erik Voake / Red Bull Content Pool

The Atmosphere

“Bonnaroovians are a unique lot. Probably 90% or more of attendees never leave the site, and those that do are to be scorned. To truly do Bonnaroo, you need to be in it, you can’t smell better than anyone else, you have to experience the Port-O-Lets just like the next guy. But the beauty of Bonnaroo is making The Farm your home, and it does indeed feel like home, for me and for the thousands residing in the sprawling acres of tents and RVs. In all my countless hours on the Bonnaroo site, I’ve never once seen any negativity, violence, purposeful assholes, or aggression, and they generally handle their intoxicant of choice quite well.”


© Tom Tomkinson / Red Bull Content Pool

The Music

“For the best festivals, the joy is in discovery. Finding a new band you love completes the experience, and Bonnaroo’s expansive layout makes it easy to get around and check out lots of music. I’ve watched MMJ, Kings of Leon and the Avett Brothers make the climb from the smallest tent to main stage headliners, catching these acts live for the first time at Bonnaroo and witnessing the lifeblood of music—artist development—in action.”


© Adam Macchia / Red Bull Content Pool

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07 2015

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