What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

Bonnaroo 2017: The Evolution of Tennessee’s Best Music Fest

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It’s hard to believe that the 16th installment of Bonnaroo already came and went, and here we are, two weeks into the Bonnaroo Blues and I’m just finally slowing down to reflect on it.

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

And while Bonnaroo 2016 left much to be desired, SVV and I both agreed that Bonnaroo 2017 was probably our favorite year so far. And I’ve been nine times to date, too (NINE!).

A lot of that had to do with the fact that we housed a cumulative 14 humans(!) and 4 canines(!) on a rolling basis in the week leading up to and during Bonnaroo. That might sound like a nightmare in the making for some people, but for me, it was a dream. This old house was meant to be lived in and loved on, and I was thrilled when the Wailing Loons returned for another Roo, Alex came back to the Farm again and brought her family down from New York for their first one, and my Nashville friends Matt, Jason and Michael decided to head down last minute. Full house = happy house. It felt like one big college slumber party all over again!

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival
What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival
Alex and Kristin at Roo 2015 vs. 2017

Each year, my Bonnaroo recap looks a little different. Sometimes, it’s superlatives; other times, it’s a full-blown recap; sometimes, it’s service-oriented tips. This time, it’s a patchwork quilt of a little bit of everything all rolled into one.

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival
What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

But First, Some Roo History

Some of you, no doubt, have never been to Bonnaroo, nor do you know the festival’s origins. I had the distinct pleasure of growing up in the county and seeing the fest from when it was a seedling of an idea. In fact, the first iteration of Bonnaroo took place when I was still in high school.

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

And when the creators of the short-lived Itchycoo Park chose Manchester as the site of their music festival at the turn of the millennium, that decision was no doubt met with some raised eyebrows. Who could blame the critics? After all, it was the dawn of Napster and online streaming, and the founders were already dealing with a rapidly changing music industry while targeting an older—or at least, different—demographic than your typical camping festival traveler while focusing on artists popular in the groovy 70’s and the ballad-filled 80’s (think: Sammy Hagar, STYX, John Kay & Steppenwolf).

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

Not to mention, they chose to do so on a 700-acre farm with very little infrastructure located a half hour outside of the nearest mid-sized city and a full hour from Nashville.

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival
What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival
What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

And though that particular endeavor flopped famously, the small, 10,000-person community found its way onto the global map nevertheless thanks to the success of Bonnaroo, which picked up where Itchycoo left off—only with bigger, better and more thoughtful aspirations—in 2002. Only a year after its first go, Bonnaroo drew in such acts as Flaming Lips, Neil Young & Crazy Horse and James Brown; 15 years following that, it not only continues to thrive, but grow. Bonnaroo accomplished what Itchycoo could not: fill a void the festival community was clearly lacking.

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

More Than Just Music

If you happened to read my National Geographic essay on Bonnaroo, you’ll know that Bonnaroo isn’t just music. It’s also sustainability and food, fitness and education. It’s full of craftsmen selling their wares, artists displaying their art. It’s lawyers and accountants and students and unemployed folks. It’s campers—some in luxe RVs, others in sleeping bags—and day trippers. It’s young and old and somewhere in the middle, white and black and green and purple and everything in between. It’s not any one thing, and thus it has something for everyone.

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival
What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

This year, I didn’t go to see any of the art exhibits. I didn’t bust my ass to flit from one stage to the next trying to catch up with friends. I didn’t poke into any one shop or buy a thing that wasn’t edible. Rather, I made my base—sometimes, completely alone—out of the Broo’ers tent and just soaked up the atmosphere, feeling grateful an event like this takes place in my metaphorical backyard each year.

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

I’ve also learned to implement one rule with all house guests going forward, and that’s this: Have a meeting place at the end of the day if carpooling, but let yourself just be. Don’t waste all your time trying to get your iPhone to send a text through to find out where your friends are and then trying to coordinate among the crowds and throngs of people trying to do the same.

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival
What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival
What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

Enjoy the fact that Bonnaroo is one of the safest-feeling places you’ll ever be while surrounded by more than 50,000 strangers all of whom are your friends for the weekend, no matter their religion or race or political affiliation. I love that in a day and age where politics and religious beliefs have ripped our world in a million fragmented pieces, this little utopia still exists for four days each year.

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

But Also—Let’s Be Honest—It’s the Music

Past Roo acts have included Paul McCartney, Elton John, Billy Joel, The Police, Bruce Springsteen, Macklemore, Chris Stapleton, Grace Potter, Haim, Judd Apatow, Sam Hunt, Jason Isbell, Ellie Goulding, Jack Johnson, Mumford & Sons, the list goes on and on. The one common thread is that each year, upward of 150 acts take to the various stages throughout the four-day event.

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

Last year’s lineup, which included Pearl Jam and the Dead & Company as top billing, didn’t attract much of a crowd in Roo terms; in fact, only 44,000 people came out for the festival, compared to the 75,000 to 100,000 attendees it usually draws. This year, however, attendance was up by nearly 50 percent from last year, thanks in part to U2 (who was, no doubt, my favorite act of the fest), Lorde, Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Weeknd.

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

I also think that AC Entertainment was smart in diversifying the talent to include a number of Millennial (and younger) draws like Chance the Rapper, who did a solid hour rap show with everyone up on two feet bouncing in the air, and then went into full-on gospel mode for the last half hour (it was the most disjointed set I’ve ever seen in my life and I’m still not entirely sure what happened there).

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

Still, never has the demographic of attendees felt so spread out as this year, and that’s a good thing for Bonnaroo in the long run as it needs to continue to attract younger festival-goers, along with the veterans (side note: my mom joined us for her 15th Bonnaroo!!!).

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

There’s Always Something New to Try

Alex dragged me out of my bed on a sleepy Sunday morning to go to the Comedy & Cinema Tent for a movie. I know what you’re thinking—A MOVIE? AT BONNAROO? I think that was similar to how my internal monologue went, too—and yet the description of Ingrid Goes West about an influencer wannabe who stalks Instagram celebrities online and Single White Females them was something I just had to see.

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

This dark comedy was funny, charming, a bit disturbing and had Alex and me LOLing all over the place. After it was over, Aubrey Plaza and the director Matt Spicer took to the stage for a Q&A. Aubrey is every bit as awkward IRL as her characters would lead you to believe, and I’m only a bit sad that her movie co-stars Elizabeth Olsen and O’Shea Jackson Jr. weren’t on hand to chat, too.

The Food Is Still Good

Every year, Oxfam America and Eat for Equity host a couple of BonnaROOTS Community Dinners, and there’s always more than 50 options available in the Food Truck Oasis and within the vendor rows. Bonnaroo veterans who returned this year include Prater’s BBQ, Spicy Pie, Baconland, Amish Baking Company and many, many more. There wasn’t too much that was new in the food arena this year—actually, I’d say if you factor in the artist hospitality, VIP and media areas, there were less food options available than in years past—but it was still a feast for epicures like myself.

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival
What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

As usual, the Amish donuts took the top vote in my mind with Humpty’s Dumplings out of Philly tying them for my favorite food of the weekend (though the three Roti Rolls I had did not suck one bit).

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

All in all, if the next Bonnaroo is anything like this year’s, you should definitely put it on your docket when plotting out your summer 2018 travels.

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival
What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival
What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival
What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival

What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival


 

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What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival
What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival
What to Expect Out of Bonnaroo, Tennessee's Biggest and Best Music Festival
COMMENTS
  • June 27, 2017

    LOL at your Chance the Rapper review – he lives in my building, so I’ve tried to listen to his music, and while some of it is OK, I really just don’t get it! I guess I’m old!
    Leigh recently posted..Roseville, Minnesota: Gateway to the Twin CitiesMy Profile

    • June 27, 2017

      Honestly, while I know NONE of his music, I was really enjoying his rap set—it was the most energetic Roo crowd I’ve seen in yeaaaars—until suddenly, it became a half hour gospel show. I love gospel, but in the right context (uh, a church maybe?), not in the middle of the field at a hippie festival leading into a two-hour Red Hot Chili Peppers show! Know your audience, Chance.

  • June 28, 2017

    If you’re interested in something new to do next year, we throw a craft beer exchange on Friday morning in pod 7 at camp reddaroo. Check out the website and stop by! I saw you hung out in the brooers village and thought you might enjoy this.
    Carrie recently posted..Bonnaroo Bearings: No need to bust out the CompassMy Profile

  • June 28, 2017

    Nice post…love your pics

  • June 28, 2017

    Amazing pics…Keep sharing..

  • June 29, 2017
    Ron

    Hello,

    I appreciate your work and thanks to your whole team in providing the quality information.
    Keep posting…

  • June 29, 2017

    I’ve never been to a music festival outside of Milwaukee’s Summerfest. In my defense, it doesn’t get much better than Summerfest (this years lineup includes Red Hot Chili Peppers, Luke Bryan, The Chainsmokers, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Andy Grammer, and over 800 others over the course of two weeks). But I’ve always wanted to go to one that involves staying overnight! Love all your pictures. My favorite part of any festival is the people watching.
    Leah | Nomad’er the Distance recently posted..My 5 Minutes of Fame in ThailandMy Profile

  • June 30, 2017

    It looks like so much fun! I’ve been reading your reports for a couple of years now, and Bonnaroo really looks like a great festival to attend!
    Dominique recently posted..Peebles – A Day TripMy Profile

  • July 1, 2017

    Hi Kristin,
    Nice Blog and photos. Thanks for sharing this information with us.
    James Maddock recently posted..Hello world!My Profile

  • July 1, 2017

    I have to admit, I have never heard of Bonnaroo but it looks and sounds great! It seems as if it has become one of the bigger festivals attracting some really great acts. I have been looking for an excuse to go back to Tennessee and I think I may have found it….;-)

  • July 4, 2017

    It looks amazing (and the pictures are just W-O-W), but a tad too far from Sweden for me to take part 😉
    Carmen recently posted..För att summera dagenMy Profile

  • July 6, 2017

    This festival looks like a hell of a lot of fun!

    And from the pictures you took, you can see quite clearly that people are just having a great time, and being themselves. I mean that old man in the Father Christmas get-up is a scream!

    ‘Love it!
    Victoria @The British Berliner recently posted..How I went on the radio for the BBC & was featured in Germany’s biggest Sunday newspaper!My Profile

  • September 23, 2017

    Oh man! I’ve been wanting to do bonnaroo for far too long! My suite mate in college my freshmen year went and had the time of her life! I’m glad a vet such as yourself had a great time, since I’ve seriously been working on a way to get there next year! I’ll be one of them in a humble tent and sleeping bag! 🤣

    • September 25, 2017

      It’s gotten even better with time, Amber—now there are permanent toilets and showers! So even if you have to camp, you can do so in semi-luxury 😉

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