I am sitting here completely exhausted after the four and one-half hour trip back to Memphis from sunny Manchester. The whirlwind adventure started on a high note as Nathan and I arrived almost 10 hours ahead of schedule to set up camp. Having never been to Bonnaroo before, I was relying on Nathan, the seasoned veteran of three previous outings, to show me what was what. It was a humbling role reversal, the younger person educating the “professional” on the ins and outs. Nathan’s insight put things in perspective regarding the changes the festival has seen since his first one in 2002. However, I can tell you that what was what became apparent far more quickly than I would’ve expected.
For starters, I noticed how incredibly young the crowds were in age. Though there is some disparity amongst the throngs of minions drawn to the shows, I would guesstimate the average age at around 22-24 years old. The cross-section I saw clearly represents a huge and ever-expanding new generation of young, somewhat hip weekend warriors. These kids want to have a better concert-going experience than their parents ever did, want stories to tell their own kids some day, and some really just don’t know if tomorrow is coming and want to make sure they have a good time.
We had decided long before we went that we would be camping out in “Tent City” even if they offered us some sort of V.I.P. access this year. I wanted to experience the Bonnaroo that everyone coming in was experiencing so I could tell you what it was like without putting some kind of “holier-than-thou” twist on everything. In some ways, I am happy with that decision, in others I feel like it created more work for us both.
The first thing you do is to set up camp. Nathan emphasized this point to me, and you could see it from the minute we pulled up. Not only was it pitch dark when we arrived, I had forgotten how to set up a tent, and our new neighbors were clear on this unpleasant reality; setting up their tents in mere minutes, they gladly helped us out where we needed it. Within just a few short hours, the whole area around us went from parking lot to a city of tents, canopies, sleeping bags and air mattresses.
Don’t try sleeping the first night, because you probably won’t. You could set all of Bonnaroo ablaze with the amount of testosterone and adrenaline that rushes throughout the first night. A small number of people brought fireworks (thankfully the number was small due to the dry conditions, brush fire warnings were levied), and there were drum circles, boom boxes and guitar players scattered everywhere. It was very overwhelming to see.
The cleanest you will be is the minute you get out of the car. Dust, dirt, debris and the human factor all serve to make you dirty. Carry a bottle of GermX or Purell with you if you’re phobic, it will help a lot.
You can’t see everything, so don’t kill yourself trying to do it. Bonnaroo is a lot like New York City or Los Angeles, there is way too much to do and see the first time you’re there and no possible way to experience it full-throttle at all times. That’s what makes Bonnaroo such a great experience.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — that’s the Bonnaroo way. I talked with the woman who was in charge of instituting many of the greening initiatives visible at Bonnaroo this year, and she gave kudos to the festival goers who tried to be conscientious of their surroundings. Her feeling, and mine, is that if you can put out that cigarette butt and throw it away or remember to hold your trash until you get to a trash can, you’re doing your part. You can’t do everything, but do something.
Whatever you’re looking for out in the world, you can find an answer for through your experience at Bonnaroo. I had a number of people tell me this and at first I just thought it sounded kinda hippie-ish. I realize, after having gone through the Bonnaroo experience, that it’s not hippie-ish and that even if it were, hippie-ish doesn’t necessarily mean it is without good reason. What can you say about 80,000 people all in search of themselves through community and good times? There are no freaks at Bonnaroo — the playing field is level and the chance to figure things out is everywhere.
Try to do nice things for people while you’re at Bonnaroo and you’ll be rewarded. When you go home, try doing the same thing there. The uncompromising levels of individual generosity at Bonnaroo aren’t lost on me. It could be something simple like giving someone a smoke when they need one, offering a helping hand to someone who fell down, lost their shoe, lost their drugs, lost their friends, or lost their way. In these uncertain times, it’s nice to see people working together to make a good time possible for everyone. Rarely have I seen the spirit of community come together so quickly and profoundly as I did on the farm.
More later. I gotta go sell something so I have money to eat for a couple of days.