Do Bonnaroo Like A Pro: 12 Tips From A Festival Veteran

Do a lap, don't pass out drunk and more ways to 'Roo like a pro.

By Mary J. DiMeglio

MANCHESTER, Tennessee — Noobs heading to their first Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival this weekend are no doubt excited — and probably feeling a bit overwhelmed — as 80,000 music fans converge on a 700-acre farm in Tennessee to consume a buffet of 150 bands on 10 stages.

Preparing to thrive — not just survive — during four long days of partying is an art. Have no fear, though: I’ve spent the past 10 years doing the dirty field research to become a pro. (Tough job, I know.)

There’s plenty of information out there on how to stay safe and what to pack. Yet, some lessons can only be learned through experience. After a decade as a festy, here are my pro tips:

Gear Up
1. Research the artists: Use every spare minute to look up the acts you haven’t yet heard. It takes me an average of two songs to decide whether I’m feeling an artist enough to make their show a priority. Remember, there are about 150 acts: Taking notes will help jog your memory.

2. Do Inventory On Your Tent: If your tent is new, you can skip this step. If your tent hasn’t seen the light of day since last festival season, ensure you’re heading to Tennessee with a complete setup by counting your poles, inspecting the stakes and checking for the rainfly.

3. Give Your Ride A Once-Over: Check the oil, tire pressure (remember the spare) and coolant. Bring an extra set of keys/entry remote for a companion to hang onto.

4. Stock Up On Cash: Hit your local ATM before the journey to avoid out-of-state fees and long lines for machines at the fest. Most art/jewelry/clothing vendors take plastic, but you’ll need paper to buy food and beer.

5. Carry Extra Juice: Invest in an extra cell phone battery or portable charger, and charge it up. Lines for charging stations will interrupt your flow. Bring backup and a car charger.

Getting There, Getting In
6. Download your en route entertainment: You’re likely to be without decent cell service during a chunk of your drive. Find some comedy, audio books, podcasts — even serious music hounds will be ready to switch it up after 12 hours in the car.

7. Fill Up, Empty Out: Immediately before approaching Manchester, fill your gas tank and empty your bladder. The line of cars entering the grounds can stretch as long as 8 to 10 hours.

8. Breeze Through The Checkpoint: Security is pretty relaxed, but the one big no-no is glass. Put your booze, pickles, jelly and all in plastic containers. Those of us who like to run around barefoot thank you.

2013 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival - Day 4

You’re In! — Now Get To Know The Layout
9. Do a lap: Investing 30 minutes early on to get to know the layout and names of the stages will pay off big time throughout the weekend.

10. Don’t Pass Out Drunk And Miss Your Must-See Band: It’s a long weekend. Have fun (it would be hard not to), but pace yourself. You didn’t spend 300 bucks and travel all the way to Tennessee to pass out drunk and miss your favorite band, did you?

11. Get Free: Know when to roll with your group and when to venture out on your own. If you’re spending most of your time waiting for your comrades to buy food or use the potty, you’ll discover you can experience much more (and who you want, when you want, without negotiation) if you take some time to explore solo.

You’re never really alone: ‘Roo is one of the friendliest fests there is. Regrouping for the headliner each night (when little else is scheduled) is a safe bet.

12. Go With The Flow: Be willing to toss your plans and expectations out the window. Game-time desires can’t be predicted ahead of time. Discovering new music and living in the moment are what festivals are all about.

Chill out, newbie, there’s no need to stress. There’s a general store that stocks anything you might end up needing (for inflated fest prices, of course), and your neighbors are likely to be generous. Don’t expect to do it perfect the first time. Part of the fun is figuring ways to do it better every year. And, trust me, you’ll be back.

How do you ‘Roo? Share your tips in the comments below!