Back from Bonnaroo

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final installment in the three-part series covering Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.)

I survived. I lived. I dreamed. I loved. I conquered. I slept. I didn’t sleep. I saw the list goes on.

Bonnaroo – a festival, but more importantly, an experience. An experience that, depending on what path is chosen, is very different for each and every one of the 80,000-plus people in attendance. Some go strictly to get close for specific musicians. Some go for the art. Some go for the people. You choose your path and your experience.

My experience this year was extraordinarily different from last year.

Camping and travel: Expect the unexpected

We arrived to the festival much later in the day than last year, which makes a big difference in where your campsite is. In 2012, our campsite was much closer. The amount of time spent walking to get into the main part of the festival, called Centeroo, took much longer; easily a 45 minute walk in the blazing sun.

While that sounds like a bummer, it really wasn’t. The walk, although hot, was great for exercise, and we also took it as an opportunity to observe surroundings outside of the main venue. The festival is gigantic and there is so much to see. But when we were in a hurry, Bonnaroo taxis (in golfcarts for $5 a person) were available.

Our (my Roo-accomplice and I) Tent City neighbors this year were amazing. If we hadn’t shown up so late, we wouldn’t have met them and camped next to them. We ended up spending a lot of time with them and ultimately exchanging phone numbers. Maybe one day we’ll end up in Chicago, where they’re from, and visit. Other neighbors of ours came from all over the country, even internationally. We met numerous Canadians and British. Obviously, Bonnaroo is never too far out of reach for some. And I thought a 13-hour drive was pushing it.

You’ll see all kinds of Bonnaroo-folks on the road while traveling too. They’re easy to spot, which makes the long roadtrip even more exciting.

People aside, weather can be an “issue” too – if you make it an issue. Everything is an issue if you make it one. My advice: don’t make things negative issues. Deal with them and look at it as part of your experience. We dealt with heavy rain on the way in, two days of pure, hot sunshine, and then heavy thunderstorms on the way out. People were getting stuck in the mud but laughing about it simultaneously. We had to take down our tent at 6 a.m. Monday when it started raining so hard that our tent was leaking, on probably 4 hours of sleep with a 13-hour drive ahead of us. What did we do? We smiled, worked together to pack up our supplies, took a nap on the way home at a rest area, and looked at it as all part of the adventure.

Music: Bringing up the sun

There is really so much to say here, but so much that cannot be explained in words. Last year, I would get so exhausted after spending many hours in the main festival, that by 11 or midnight I was ready to go back to the tent and crash. But for many, 11 or midnight are just when some of the late-night insanity begins. This year, I was determined to experience that. And I did.

Musicians literally bring up the sun at Bonnaroo. There is no real end to the fun until the festival itself is over. Almost everything is always open and there are always people everywhere, at all hours of the day and night. Though it might be easy to get too tired and want to retire back to your camp, try not to. Take a nap on the grass inside the festival, like many do. I took many rejuvenating cat-naps while listening to live tunes. I drank espresso at 1 a.m. so I wouldn’t miss Animal Collective’s 2 to 4 a.m. set. Pretty Lights (a Colorado-based electronic artist) was ‘supposed’ to end at 3 a.m., but instead, he kept going because the crowd wanted it, and was still playing well after 4 a.m. The light shows for the artists were as bewildering as the late-night atmosphere.

I saw some strange, shocking and amazing things after 2 a.m. If you have Bonnaroo in your sights to attend, plan at least one night to stay up super late. It’s an entirely different experience from the daytime. The expression “the freaks come out at night” is really put into perspective; embrace it, don’t be afraid. At one point, I was just standing there among the crowd, surrounded by deranged laughter, cheering, glow contraptions of all sorts, and insane outfits. I busted up laughing at the sight. It was incredible.

Schedule: No plan is a good plan

Don’t get too hung up on a strict schedule or itinerary. A lot of things change. Maybe you decide to hang out with newfound friends that you met in the crowd at Paper Diamond last night rather than going to see Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s set the next day. Out of the giant list of artists I had hoped to see, I got to see probably 75 percent of them, perhaps less. I was gung-ho this year on seeing Bjork, but I completely forgot she was on stage when I was hanging out with our tent neighbors and exploring vendors. I missed her entirely and didn’t even realize it until the next day. But you can’t get upset because even though you missed an artist you would have liked to see, you were still doing something else you enjoyed. Bonnaroo is about doing what you want in the moment and not getting upset about anything.

One of the biggest things this year that had never happened in Bonnaroo’s 12-year history, is one of the headliners, Mumford & Sons, had to cancel due to one of their members, bassist Ted Dwane, having a blood clot in his brain. There were a few other dropouts and schedule changes, too. Earl Sweatshirt (of Odd Future) to the dismay of many Odd Future fans, didn’t show because of pneumonia. Jack Johnson replaced Mumford & Sons, and I literally did not hear a single person complain. Complaining is scarce at Bonnaroo.

Even if you did miss something, Bonnaroo publishes their very own newspaper, the Bonnaroo Beacon, each day of the festival. It gives a rundown of the previous day’s performances and other shenanigans.

Extras: More than music

Bonnaroo is a music and arts festival. There are vendors at every turn and each one deserves attention. Many hardworking artisans of all sorts travel hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles to sell their one-of-a-kind work. I came home with a lot of clothes and jewelry that I love, and that I know I won’t see anywhere else, more than likely.

Also, there is a cinema and comedy tent. The cinema tent hosts Q&As with filmmakers and other film-related events, and the comedy tent, this year, hosted Daniel Tosh and Bob Saget. Sadly, both this year and last, I did not attend any shows in either tents. Why? The lines were, as you would assume, hours long. Recommended for those who are passionate and okay with missing a lot of acts while waiting in line. I would like to attend one eventually, maybe next year.

Final say: Cherish the memories

While there’s so much that I can’t put into words, hopefully this serves as a good gist as to what the festival encompasses. After going once, you’ll surely want to go again. Many of the folks we ran into were in their fifth and sixth years of attending ‘Roo – and not just young adults, families and their kids, too. One memory that sticks in my mind was after Paul McCartney’s set ended, a mother and her very-young daughter were walking away, and I heard her say to her daughter, “Did you like Paul McCartney? Wasn’t he great?” and the little girl said “Yeah!,” probably completely unaware of the greatness she had just witnessed. Another great memory was being woken up to music blaring across the festival on Saturday morning at about 7 a.m. – Jack Johnson sound checking before his unplanned, headlining performance. What better way to wake up than to Jack’s “Banana Pancakes”?