We made it to Bonnaroo! Though we actually got in on Wednesday night, logistics prevented us from getting into the festival until Thursday morning very early. We have to send a shout out to Andy Keil from fellow Strangers in Stereo member Pop’Stache & his crew for letting us crash on the floor of their hotel for a few hours, without you we wouldn’t have made it.
The process of getting into Bonnaroo with your vehicle and all your stuff has improved a great deal over the last ten festivals; at the first Bonnaroo, people regularly reported waiting periods of up to 24 hours in line in their cars to get into the festival from the roads and highways. People ran out of gas, cars broke down, it was chaos. Nonetheless, getting in and getting set up is still mostly a long, slow crawl that requires extreme patience, though in our case it took a mere 1.5 hours from lineup to landing.
The question comes up every year: what time should I get to Bonnaroo in order to get the best camping spot? I don’t think anyone knows 100% for certain, but everything that I’ve ever been told and seen requires you to get into the campground around 7 a.m. the Thursday morning. We made it into our campsite by 10:45 a.m. and were placed relatively close to Centeroo at the corner of 7th Avenue and West 3rd Street. In one of the years past, Nathan and I showed up on Wednesday night and ended up being placed 25-30 minutes away. The consensus of everyone I’ve talked to is that if you are able to time it right, Thursday morning gives you the best shot at being closer.
When you land, you gotta set up camp right away regardless of what time you get there. Between the three of us, we managed to get our tent and giant tarp set up in a little over an hour. Mind you, it was one of the most exhausting, hottest and sweatiest hours of any of our adult lives, but we got it done. I went over and made friends with our neighbors right away, some of whom were from Virginia and some from Buffalo, NY. When camping, I think making friends with your neighbors at Bonnaroo is not just the best policy, it’s the only policy. It’s how people seem to look out for one another during these four days on the ground. Of course, if you can get a group of vehicles with people you know to carpool behind one another to get into the festival, you’re able to create an instant neighborhood of your own once you land.
But I don’t think there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind after this trip: if you’re a small group, renting or borrowing an RV for the trip is the best way to go. If you insist on renting one of those Cruise America RV’s with the giant ads across the side & back, be forewarned that that style of RV are like Tic-Tacs — there’s dozens of them and they all look exactly alike. If you get lost easily, setting a GPS homing device at yours when you land and decorating it in a way that is unique can really help you out when you stumble out of Centeroo fucked up out of your mind at 5 a.m.
Which is another point: it’s best to decide that once you’re at Bonnaroo, you stay at Bonnaroo. You are actually allowed to leave one time in your vehicle, but otherwise you are supposed to stay put for the entirety of the festival until you are ready to leave leave. I can’t imagine leaving and coming back with all of those people walking up and down every thoroughfare throughout the park, but if you must, you can do it once.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about some music! I was able to see Wavves play in front of a huge crowd, something I had wanted to do since seeing them at The Dairy in Memphis last summer just as their record was about to drop. What was really cool was how the band’s set-up at Bonnaroo didn’t get cock rockish at all. The dynamic was confined closer to the audience in an effort, probably, to preserve some of that feeling of playing in a small club or venue. They put on a really good performance overall, but on a few songs the sound mix seemed to get funky, drowning Nathan’s vocals out in a way that didn’t seem intentional. Nonetheless, they rocked the bells; getting to see them in that setting was a great way to kick off my Bonnaroo experience.
Later on, I wandered over to The Other Tent and saw an excited Best Coast, clearly ready to give the teeming crowd at Bonnaroo a stellar performance. She turned in nothing less, running through a collection of songs from last summer’s debut album Crazy for You and her soon-to-be-released Adult Swim Records single. Bethany Cosentino seemed to know exactly how to run the show at Bonnaroo; alternately coy and friendly with the crowd, her confident harmonies and solid guitar work evoked a very naturally charming, anti-bullshit quality to her set that was as refreshing as it was prescient.
Wandering between stages and surveying the crowd, I caught myself walking past the On Tap Lounge where I overheard and stopped to catch some of Civil Twilight. I knew nothing about the band, but after hearing them I am instantly prepared to hear more.
The most fun of the night was seeing Hesta Prynn command the Silent Disco with a collection of 90′s and 00′s rap & hip-hop. The kids sang along to every word breathlessly, dancing with their headphones to rap classics like “Hot In Herre”, “Gin and Juice”, “Insane In The Membrane”. It really was the embodiment of what’s great about the Silent Disco. I’m a bit bummed out that we missed DJ Logic, but you have to pick your battles.
Sleigh Bells looked like it was a great show, but there were so many people and I was so tired that I didn’t have the energy to even stay to watch them. Everyone talked about it like it was the best thing they saw here, so I’m a little bummed out. I also missed one of my main festival picks, DaM-FunK and Master Blaster, but you know what? You gotta pick your battles at a marathon music festival like this one. Perhaps, I did not pick as well as I could have.
Knowing I had to haul ass back to my campground for a good night’s sleep, I turned in early and got up to beat the heat.
Onward to Day Two? Well, there’s no turning back now.