Chronicles of a Festival Virgin

This past weekend, I went to Bonnaroo. You may have seen a little something about it on HelloGiggles. Not only was it my first ‘Roo (that’s what the kids call it), it was also my first festival. I should probably preface this by saying that I’ve never camped or been to camp or spent much time in nature (as you can tell from the featured image). Luckily, this first time around we were staying in an Airbnb rental in Nashville, so I got to control my exposure to the elements…sorta.

I hoped to bring you my daily discoveries live at the end of each day, but something I failed to realize is that days at festivals rarely end before 2am and WiFi doesn’t exist. I didn’t know much about what I was getting myself into. So I hope to leave you with some wisdom.

Day One – Figuring Everything Out

I was apprehensive—yeah, that’s a good way to put it—heading into the first day. Sure, back in my emo kid days I always pretended to want to go to Warped Tour, but that was mostly to keep up with the image. I had heard amazing things about Bonnaroo and felt #blessed to have the opportunity to go, so I figured at the end of the day everything would be okay.

The lineup was mostly indie bands that I didn’t know anything about. We (Molly, Slippy and I) had some interviews set up in the media tent, but nothing planned. Yes, we were working, which came along with perks like a nice relaxation area, chairs and free water. So here I was thinking, “Wow, this whole festival is pretty cushy.”

That was, until I stepped outside the rose-colored glass gates to the actual festival. It was a hot mess. I’m sorry. I know people put a lot of work into creating the festival and patrons save up for a year to get their tickets, but that festival ground was pure madness and I was terrified. I spent most of the day thirsty and doe eyed, trying to find service and failing to keep my phone charged.  I ended up going to the car two hours early and waiting for Molly and Slippy.

The good news: I got to hear two really great bands, Milo Greene and Deap Vally, whom I had never heard of before.

Day Two – Matt & Kim Brightened My Day

The drive home the night before kicked my butt and I was exhausted come day two. Don’t get me wrong: the home was LOVELY and not a tent so I really can’t complain about the long drive in and out of Manchester. But it was long.

The night before, I had vowed to myself that I would power through the next 3 days and never look back. It was one festival. I would keep my head down, hide in the media tent as much as possible and everything would be fine. Then we met Matt & Kim and they got me excited. They were full of such raw energy. Luckily, their set wasn’t until the following day so I had something to look forward to.

I don’t really remember if we saw anyone breathtaking on day two, which is one of the major catch 22s of festivals. There is so much going on and it is so muggy and hot that every single minute seems to blend together. I think I spent more time being confused than I did actually seeing shows, which is mostly poor planning on my part, Oh, and I think my phone was dead. Yep.

Day Three – R. KELLY IS A LIFE CHANGER

We didn’t have any interviews to get to today so we arrived at the grounds later. We were handing out the last of our prize bags at the Solange show and then the day was mine. I decided that meant being in the media tent drinking water and charging my phone.

I was very excited about seeing Matt & Kim, so at least there was something in the horizon. I kind of wandered around until their show, making brief appearances on the festival grounds… mostly to get funnel cake. Matt & Kim did not disappoint. They were jumping all around and going crazy and the crowd was responding. We had to take a serious water and food break after all that cardio.

I had decided I wasn’t going to see any more shows and would probably just hang around, eat some food, charge my forever-dead phone and maybe peek outside to snap an Instagram and pretend I’m a free spirit, but the pushover in me couldn’t say no when Molly and Slippy said, “You’re coming to R.Kelly.” Now, I love ‘Ignition’, y’all. It is a great jam. And I love ‘Bump ‘n’ Grind’, so it only makes sense that I absolutely LOST MY MIND at R. Kelly. It was like unleashing the beast. I was dancing and having a good time and just enjoying one of the greatest live performances I have ever witnessed in my entire life. It left me with such a high I barely remember the ride home.

Day Four – Magic Happens

Molly left Tennessee early in the morning, which meant Slippy and I were left on our own. Neither of us were true Bonnaroo enthusiasts. I even contemplated just not going, but my undying love of Macklemore got me to my feet. I was able to catch his awesome performance and tweet all about it.

Then I was like “I don’t know, Slippy. I think I’ll just sit in a lawn chair and charge my phone and you can enjoy the rest of the festival.” Somehow he got me to leave the media tent to see Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.  Now, I’d heard one of their songs before but didn’t know much about them. Their set was great and I bobbed my head along to the songs and was feelin’ it. I took some time to look around me and realized how different everyone in the crowd was, but didn’t give it too much thought.

The singers were really into the crowd and proclaimed they didn’t have a set list (hippies). So at one point they headed into the crowd and started doing “storytelling.” People said little things like “I love this song” and “Your music helped me meet my BFF.”

But then they called on this one boy. He reminded the band of the time they visited him in the hospital after he had been diagnosed with leukemia. He told them that after they left, that same day, he received a transplant from an anonymous donor that saved his life. The lead singer launched into the crowd hugging the fan, pulling him on stage where he was met by the arms of the 12-member band. They handed him a tambourine, the entire crowd went wild, tears were rushing down my face and they continued to play their hit single ‘Home’. Afterward, after much shouting from the crowd, they announced they would play some more and walked over to the small acoustic stage and continued on at the request of their fans.

It was amazing and it made me realize what this festival is all about. It’s about music that brings hundreds of thousands of people together from all over the world. It is music that changes and saves lives. I don’t mean to get sappy, y’all, but in that moment my whole perspective on Bonnaroo changed.

I’m not saying I have become a ‘Roo-aholic and plan to pilgrimage there every single year, but I sort of get it now. No one cares about the smell or the heat or the sweat or who is mentioning them on Twitter. They are there to listen to the music as a community.

I can’t promise you will see me there next year, but here are a few pointers:

  • Leave your phone on airplane mode or turned off unless you absolutely need it. The Twitterverse will not self-destruct in your absence.
  • Figure out the geography of the festival ground before you get there, paying special attention to bathrooms and watering holes.
  • Read over the lineup and try to figure out what shows you really want to see and what shows you’d like to see but could miss and then plan your days accordingly. Having a plan might seem kind of lame, but you won’t regret it.
  • All of the food is really good so don’t be afraid to try it.
  • Buy your toiletries and absolute necessities in bulk ahead of time. The General Store on the festival grounds is the biggest rip off I have ever experienced.
  • Know your limits, i.e. don’t camp unless you are absolutely certain you can handle it. I KNOW I cannot and no amount of soul searching will change that.
  • Lastly (here is where is gets kind of cliché but I’m saying it anyway), don’t forget to enjoy yourself. I got so caught up with being uncomfortable that it wasn’t until the very last show I went to on the very last day that I soaked in what was happening around me.

Music festivals can be crazy and exciting and overwhelmingly terrifying. They are not for everyone, but I still recommend you try. I left that first day swearing I would never return, but now I feel differently. Had I been more prepared and had more realistic expectations for my time, the festival might have been an easier adjustment. So Happy ‘Roo 2013, everyone! Maybe I will see you next year?

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