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Bonnaroo 2014: A Round-Table Survival Guide

Everything you need to know down on The Farm.

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Since the day we left The Farm last June, the excitement for this year’s Bonnaroo has been steadily building. Now that we’re less than a week away from its commencement, we can barely contain ourselves. We’re ready to pack our cars to the brim, honk at fellow festivalgoers along the way, and set up camp for the epic weekend ahead. While we’re unsure if this weekend will beat out last year’s lineup, which was headed by Paul McCartney, Jack Johnson (as a last-minute replacement for Mumford & Sons), and Tom Petty, we’re anxious for the surprises and memories we’ll take away from the festival this year. Surely, McCartney’s set closer “Hey Jude” will face some stiff competition against Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” for most epic sing-along in Farm history, and we can already feel the tingling down our spines for when that moment comes.

As a team, this group of writers carries eight years of Bonnaroo experience. That’s eight years of legendary sets, memories, new and old friends, and occasional mishaps. Now, we are here to lend newcomers and veterans alike some advice to help you have a successful weekend. While we may or may not recommend taking a shower throughout the weekend, we hope these tips will help you come out clean on the other side, bursting with Bonnaroovian dedication and already anticipating next year’s weekend on The Farm.

–Sam Willett
Staff Writer

Pre-Roo Prep (Getting There & Packing)

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Ben Kaye (BK): Until this year, I’ve always come from Boston. Now, that’s about a 17-hour drive, and even from my new Brooklyn home, it’s 14ish. But I would never get to Roo any way but driving. For me and my friends, the road trip is part of the experience. Meeting up with other Bonnaroovians at random rest stops, playing “Are They Going to ‘Roo?” with passing cars, the pre-entry stop at Sonic — it’s all part of the tradition. Driving also gives us an opportunity to pick up last-minute supplies at easily accessible Wal-Marts and Targets; in fact, we usually hold off on grabbing any meats (if we’re grilling), fruits, or anything that needs to be in a cooler until we’re on the road, so we don’t have to keep it cold as long. We also always use the main entrance instead of the mythical “back entrance.” Everyone I’ve ever known who used that back way has ended up with a 20-plus-minute walk to Centeroo. Have you ever tried it?

Sam Willett (SW): My friends and I have heard the same rumors but have never crossed this “secret” entrance. We’ve heard that entrance has much longer lines, actually, lasting beyond a few hours, and that’s draining after multiple hours of driving. Our trip isn’t as long as yours, Ben, but the eight-hour trek from Chicago is still pretty hefty. We typically depart on Wednesday morning to beat most of the traffic and get a decent camping spot, so I highly recommend that. We also have similar on-the-road traditions, like meeting random Bonnaroo goers at gas stations and our must-stop at the Wal-Mart outside of the festival grounds, but nothing beats the fun of hanging with your buds on the road. Before we hop in the car, each passenger has a responsibility to bring along two albums from their favorite Bonnaroo artist, an epic snack (homemade gummy bears were best last year), and good vibes to kick off the festival on the right foot.

That mindset will help trump the random mishaps that may happen. Last year, our car was caught in a pre-tornado rainstorm, and we were detoured in several gas stations from torrential rainfall and flooding. It put us multiple hours behind, forcing us to chug a few red eyes and drive through the night. Even though we were exhausted once we finally got to The Farm, our excitement kept us trucking through the weekend. If anything, prepare yourself for the worst of detours. Luckily for us, we were able to escape the storm well into the night, but you can never predict a flat tire, breakdown, or any other car-related accident. As long as you bring some good vibes along, you should make it through in one piece.

Carson O’Shoney (CO): I, on the other hand, have lived in either Nashville or Chattanooga my whole Bonnaroo-going career, and they’re both a single hour down the interstate from Manchester in different directions. I’ve never had the road trip experience, but that suits me just fine. Us locals can use Wednesday as an extra prep day instead of a travel day and then leisurely head down the road whenever we feel like it. I usually just head down Thursday morning and go through the main entrance as well; I’ve never had a problem or missed much of Thursday’s activities at all. The one time I took an alternate route, it ended up taking longer than just going down I-24. They seem to have really stepped up their game recently as far as cutting down time stuck in traffic.

BK: What about packing? Obviously, sunscreen, shorts, extra underwear, blah blah. I want to know what kind of stuff you guys learned to bring. Like, I prefer bringing extra cash to avoid ATMs being empty or having long lines. I can’t imagine doing a festival this size without a blister-kit at the ready, and camping toilet paper and seat covers. Those three things have literally saved my ass multiple times (and made me a few friends). Extra tarps, a cooling towel, tent lock, zip-lock bags, and ear plugs (for sleeping, mainly) are other things I always make sure are around.

SW: I’ve learned a handful of useful tricks, thanks to variety of Bonnaroo message boards and past neighbors. For preserving food, we always pack our coolers with frozen water bottles to avoid buying multiple bags of ice and have a source of clean water at grasp. It rained two of the four days last year, which caused slippery field ground and muddy water supplies from the fountains, so it was necessary if you didn’t want to drink mud. You can’t forget about sunscreen, small snacks, like granola bars and trail mix, and a solar cell phone charger, all of which can pass security on the way in. The latest trick I’ve learned is possibly the best, though, thanks to Ben. Try tossing an emergency blanket on top of your tent to avoid the scorching Tennessee sun from baking everyone inside and rudely waking you up. I’m totally trying that this year and am hoping for the best!

Miles Doughty (Slightly Stoopid): You gotta have your herbs, your water, your drinks. You gotta have your sunscreen. You gotta have that buddy who you know can always make sure that you’re not just following a fool and disappearing into the forest, you know? These kind of festivals, it’s always a chance to kind of let your freak flag fly.

Neighbors & Camping

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SW: One of the mantras for attending Bonnaroo is leaving with as many new friends as possible, and it starts with the car parked right next to you. In the past, my friends and I have encountered a 40-year-old couple abandoning their kids and jobs for a weekend (with a babysitter at home, of course) and a group of girls who only brought an Easy-Up to sleep under, both of whom were always fun, friendly, and lifesavers. At the end of both festivals, horrendous thunderstorms drenched the camping grounds, and both groups were there to help us disassemble our tents and pack our cars, as opposed to the many abandoned ones left on the grounds. Considering that, I can’t wait to see who’s next to me this year. The best scenarios can result in some new late-night grilling buddies or trusty Samaritans saving your car and campsite from being trashed. Ben, do you have any memorable neighbors who have saved your butt during past Roos?

BK: I can’t even count the times I’ve had to borrow tools, matches, bug spray, ice, a pump for a mattress pad, even food and beer. That’s why I try to get to know my neighbors right from setup. Offer to help set up, ask for help yourself, toss someone a beer, just say hi! Being friendly pays off one way or another.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful. Obviously lock your car doors, but bringing a little key lock for your tent isn’t a bad idea either. Making friends is an added level of security, too; there was a guy once going around checking door handles, and I remember a neighbor asking if we knew him when he was making his way around my car. Friends watch each other’s back, so the more the better.

CO: Completely agree with Ben. It’s always a good idea to get to know your neighbors early. Invite them over for some food and talk it out; you never know who your neighbor will be. You might meet a great new friend!

SW: It’s also important to return the favor to these awesome festival buds and take care of your camping area, too. Bonnaroo strongly encourages “leave no trace” and minimizing carbon footprint practices, so be sure to pick up your and other’s garbage, put out camping fires before leaving, use water responsibly at the washing stations, and respect the nature surrounding the grounds. Camping success is dependent on everyone, so be considerate of your surroundings and spread these ideas as far as possible.

Ryan Stasik (Umphrey’s McGee):  Spend the extra money and get a frickin’ tour bus or RV.  You cannot put a price on AC, a working toilet and fridge, a comfy sleep space void of Tennessee sun and heat. Well, I guess you can; it’s the price of a tour bus or RV. Do it!!!  Plus, it comes with a driver who will clean up your nasty mess. If it’s not in your budget to get a tour bus/RV, then you will need a few extra items to stay on top of your game.
Other necessities include:

>– A fan or some sort of cooling device (I recommend two hot chicks in bikinis with fans who follow you around and feed you grapes)

— Wetwipes (I recommend having the two hot chicks carry these items for you as well)

— Flashlight

— Gold Bond

— Water Bottle (Can’t express the need to stay hydrated enough)

— Change of underwear (Trust me)

— Reliable phone case and charger (Mophie)

— Positive attitude and an open mind

Drew Christopherson (Poliça): Don’t get your drugs from the hippies. I would find the new age people.

Joel Cummins (Umphrey’s McGee): The weather is all over the place, so I think you need to come prepared. For mud, make sure you bring some boots. You need to be ready for dust, so bring a bandanna for your face so you’re not inhaling dust all over the place. And then a shade tent is another great thing to bring if you’re camping.

Scheduling, Scheduling, Scheduling

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SW: When our eyes feasted on the Bonnaroo lineup for the first time, we all dreamed of a picture-perfect schedule to fit our every need (maybe a R&B stage worth camping for, please?). Unfortunately, not all wishes are granted, and we have to deal with some gnarly conflicts. I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, I can totally see half of Frank Ocean’s set and bust my butt over to The Flaming Lips to catch the last half.” Before you execute that plan, be sure to take the distance between stages into account. While all of the tents and the Which stage are relatively close to each other, the What? stage is a haul. With the hectic crowds strolling through Centeroo, it takes even longer to journey to another set. Not to mention, I always get lost, ultimately putting my festival drive into a panic.

My advice: Try to avoid splitting dozens of sets and stick around for an artist’s full set time. If you’re sour about missing an artist, try to see them down the road at another fest or headlining show in your hometown. Or, glance at the Solar Stage schedule and make some appointments to see a more intimate set, like Wayne Coyne and John Butler’s appearance on the Solar Stage. I’m still salty about the James Blake/Lauryn Hill conflict, but I’m prepping my running shoes to dare and sprint between sets and catch as much soulful magic as possible.

BK: I totally agree, Sam; don’t overplan. It’s just going to backfire, either with you missing something or being dead tired from running about to every stage or tent. Most likely both. The Farm is big, and while travel between stages is manageable, it ain’t easy. Be prepared to simply miss acts you really wanted to see. Just remember: whatever you see, it’s going to be awesome.

Also, even if you don’t know who’s going on at the cafes, Solar or Sonic stages, or even at a tent somewhere, if you pass something and hear it calling to you, stop and listen. That’s how I saw Walk the Moon before they were playing to sold-out crowds, and Lucius before they were a main stage act at Governors Ball. Music discovery really can happen live and in person, if you let it.

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SW: What is the worst conflict on your schedule? Are you having to make any difficult sacrifices?

BK: I think every Superjam is packed in next to something else I want to see. The Derek Trucks one is against Ice Cube (like, really?!) and Disclosure (you just know Sam Smith is coming out for that one); the Skrillex one, which went from “What?” to “That’s awesome” once they announced the lineup, is part of the worst conflict on the entire schedule: Flaming Lips, Nick Cave, Frank Ocean. They’re all so varied, such stellar artists in their own genres, and all high on my “see” list. Ever since the Superjams returned, I find it hard to argue against seeing them. Sure, Frank hasn’t played in a while and Nick is a treat, but that Superjam is never going to happen again. You can’t miss something like that. At least the Bluegrass one is fairly non-conflicted.

SW: I love how they incorporated SuperJams into every day of the festival, as opposed to one or two for the entire weekend. Last year, I was covering “Weird Al” Yankovic, which was one of the best surprises of the festival, but I had to miss the Jim James-led SuperJam as a consequence. The Roots/D’Angelo SuperJam in 2012 is my favorite one that I have attended, so I’m curious to see if any of this year’s lineups will beat it out.

Another difficult accommodation is the festival laugh factory, the comedy tent. This year’s comedy lineup has a lot to offer, including Craig Robinson (The Office, Hot Tub Time Machine), Bonnaroo Megathon host Taran Killam (Saturday Night Live, Community), and Hannibal Burress (The Eric Andre Show). It’s a perfect break from the musical force of the fest, since it’s seated and air-conditioned, and it serves as a perfect venue for these performers to unload their kookiest stories and best one-liners to liven up attendees’ spirits.

The wave of middle fingers thrown up during Daniel Tosh’s set last year punched me right in the guts, and I definitely left feeling all of the laughs on the way out. But, it does have a super-limited capacity, so you may have to sacrifice seeing a few musical acts to wait in long lines and solidify a ticket. It can be very worth it, though, so choose wisely when assembling your schedule.

Carson, what are your thoughts on the schedule? You planning on checking out any comedy this year?

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CO: Comedy conflicts are a different breed than your average conflict. If you’re torn between bands, it’s still easy to split sets and see a bit of both. With comedy shows, that’s impossible, and you might have to miss out on a few bands to even get into the show. If you’re in line for comedy tickets or to get into a show, your best-case scenario is that a decent band is playing at This Tent so you can listen from afar. It’s an imperfect system, and people behind the scenes at Bonnaroo have even admitted as much, but the problem remains because no one has a better solution, not even the biggest critics of the comedy tent system. All that said, it is definitely an experience I recommend, particularly if there’s a set you just can’t miss. Since most comedians do multiple shows across the weekend, you can usually find a time that works for you. It’s a great change of pace; you get to sit in a nice air-conditioned tent for an hour while comedian after comedian makes you laugh. I’ll be monitoring the lines at the comedy tent throughout the weekend, trying to find a time to see a show.

As far as the rest of the conflicts, my worst one is Flaming Lips vs. Frank Ocean vs. Nick Cave, too. My suggestion for this and any other conflicts is to go in with a plan, but don’t feel beholden to it. For example, if you want to see both Ice Cube and Disclosure on Friday night and want to split sets, go into it with a set time to move from stage to stage. Keep up with the time and rush to the other side when the time comes, so you can get the best of both worlds. On the other hand, you’ve got to go with the flow. If you’re really into Disclosure and the time comes where you planned to leave to see Ice Cube, just stay and dance. Last year I had only planned to stop by the Rock n Soul Superjam for a few minutes while splitting sets all across late night but ended up loving it so much that I stayed for the whole thing. Just go with whatever feels right, regardless of your plans.

Channy Leaneagh (Poliça):  Go to a tent that maybe seems out of your comfort zone. Force yourself to experience new things.

Ryan Rabin (Grouplove):  It’s nice to just disregard any of the VIP side of things and pick your favorite artist and make it an absolute point to get front and center, right in the middle of the crowd, for that show. That usually ends up beating whatever other experience you have, you know, watching a band from side stage or from a VIP section.

Outside of the Music

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SW: My Bonnaroo buddies and I have a regular musical tradition called record night, where we settle down at one of our apartments with our favorite vinyls, great grub, and a drink or two. Sometimes, it’s nice just to sit down on the floor and stretch out while listening, relieving all of the stress from our muscles and truly sinking into the music. The same experience, most likely better, can occur at the festival, where professional yoga instructors reinvigorate your mind and spirit in some of the most subtle and uncomfortable positions imaginable. My friends and I have always tried to wake up early and give this a shot in the past, but we’re always too zonked from dancing too hard at the previous day’s late-night sets. We’re determined to give it a shot this year in an effort to not be so sore once Monday comes around.

After that, I’m definitely going to pick up some morning joe and reading. For the past 13 years, Relix has reported and pressed the most exciting Bonnaroo news to some authentic newspaper stock, serving as the festival loud-mouthed paperboy. The Beacon has been one of my favorite souvenirs from the festival, not only for its recap of the past day’s events, but also for galleries of awesome photos, music-related columns, and artist and fan interviews. These papers are distributed pretty quickly, so be sure to grab ’em while they’re hot.

Have you guys checked out the Bonnaroo Beacon or done some morning yoga to revive your musical senses? Any activities that you recommend?

BK: Sometimes I feel like I don’t do enough of this stuff (especially when shooting or reviewing shows, since I often have such a tight schedule). My friends and I always say, “Let’s do yoga this year!”, but we are rarely up in time to shuffle off to it. Having actually gotten into yoga for real this year, I’m looking forward to finally going through with it… maybe.

I barely got to experience the Christmas Barn last year, but my friends practically lived there. They’ve legitimately been talking about it ever since, as if that were the real destination in Manchester and not a four-day music fest. I’ve heard tales of pizza parties, amazing pre-teen DJs, and some of the best dance music on The Farm. I know my buddies will all be frequent visitors to the Barn this year, and I really hope I get to join them.

CO: The first thing I do when I get to Centeroo every morning is look for the new edition of the Bonnaroo Beacon. It’s always a fun read and a good way to pass the time between sets. Plus, there’s always a chance that you or a friend got into one of the daily photos!

I have yet to do yoga or many of the other myriad non-music activities, but the one thing I always enjoy is huddling into the cinema tent or Kalliope, the sports barn or wherever they’re showing the NBA finals. Bonnaroo is a truly unique place to watch these games; with plenty of people cheering for each side, it tends to get pretty raucous.

BK: Has anyone ever done Splash-a-Roo? In all honesty, I’ve never even ridden the Ferris wheel! Sometimes I feel like I really need to slow down and do some of the other activities laid about The Farm.

Like Carson, I find myself in the cinema tent every so often, but not for the games; it’s air-conditioned in there, people! And with the guests they have coming in to present certain films, you never know what sort of extra bonus you might get out of it.

SW: I have been really bad with checking out the rides at the festival, too. This video gives you a pretty good idea of the spectacular view from the top of the Ferris wheel during Radiohead’s set in 2012 (it’s also one of my favorite videos of Roo ever), so maybe it will change your mind. I’m typically too busy to justify paying for the weekend wristband to use them, but maybe I can find some extra time this year.

There are definitely times where stepping aside from the music and interacting with your other interests is necessary, especially when it comes to communicating with friends back home. My phone typically dies at some point during the festival or I rarely have service, so, sometimes, I stop by the cameras around the festival to take goofy pictures or post something on Facebook using their interactive stations. It’s fun just to give friends something to look out for, if they’re curious.

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This year, the festival organized The Fountain, a centerpiece of the festival that has housed intimate acoustic performances and refreshing showers to fans (this has been my alternative to Splash-a-Roo), as a social media hub where festivalgoers can share excitement, advice, and pictures about the festival. The section of the site is all ready and active with numerous posts about pre-packing, festival wear, and celebration, and I’m sure it will continue during the festival. I’m not sure if our wristbands will be connected to our social media pages, as they have been in the past, but this should be a good alternative!

BonnaFood: The Farm’s Best Food and Drinks

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BK: There’s as much variety in edible delights as there is in aural ones on The Farm. I’m a big fan of Dave’s Mini Donuts but have heard tales of what the folks at The Amish Baking Company do and am making a beeline for them this year. And sure, get your spicy pizza pies and your alligator nuggets, but make sure you give yourself some time to wait in line for one of the food trucks. A lot of the trucks this year are new, but GastroPod, my all-time favorite, is getting its own diner this year. Located next to the cinema tent in a shipping container (for real), it’s going to be all Pulp Fiction-themed to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the film. That means Big Kahuna Burgers and Royale with Cheese for all! There’s also something called Hamageddon and Baconland coming, and I don’t even care what they’re serving; I’m there every day. I may be the worst Jew ever, but I could ride a bacon train right to the promised land.

It also looks like Baconland (and presumably other festival eateries) is teaming with PayPal for quick-pay and discounts. I’ve been using this throughout Governors Ball this weekend, and lemme tell ya, it’s pretty great (if you can get 3G to actually load the page). All you do is use your PayPal app to apply a coupon for the vendor you want, swipe “Pay with PayPal”, and go tell the servers what you want. That’s it. Whatever credit card is linked to your account is automatically billed, and the discount ($10 at Baconland!) is applied. I’ve been eating practically for free all Govs Ball using this.

One last new thing that I can’t wait to try: Reusable beer cups and bambooware. I feel like I should keep this a secret because there’s such a limited supply of these things, but you’ll be able to buy a reusable metal beer cup complete with a soft carrying strap for only 15 bucks at any beer tent outside of Brooers Fest. What’s more, you’ll get a dollar off every beer you purchase (excluding Brooers Fest). That’s keeping The Farm and your wallet green, so everybody wins. Plus, it’s a souvenir, so I really can’t wait to get my hands on one of these.

SW: My buddies have definitely frequented that donut stand in past years. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve had a better cinnamon donut, so I can’t wait to return! Unfortunately, I haven’t visited many of the pods in the food fair, but I still have a share of favorites. Frothy Monkee Coffeehouse has hooked me up with some tasty coffee, and it can be a real lifesaver, especially if you saw the sun rise the night before. Ben & Jerry’s gives away tastes of their exclusive Bonnaroo flavors and priceless relief from the blazing sun every day, so I can’t wait to run by their tent multiple (but not too many) times through the weekend. I’ll be sure to take a few more glances at the vendor menus and see if there are any more tastes that may tickle my fancy.

Josiah Johnson (The Head and the Heart): I’m gonna be your mom and tell you to drink a lot of water, especially if you’re doing crazy drugs.

Writers’ Last Words

Bonnaroo Positivity

SW: When you walk through the entrance of Centeroo, the What? stage immediately comes into view. The fencing around the area is coated in art and Bonnaroovian phrasing, the most decorated one stating, “Radiate Positivity.” This simple phrase can shape your weekend into one of the most fulfilling and life-changing experiences possible, and it starts with putting a simple smile on your face. With that, I encourage everyone to start conversations with new friends, dance like they never have before, and treat others as if they’ve known each other for a lifetime.

Every time I step onto The Farm, I feel like I’m dissected from the world. For the past three years, Bonnaroo has landed on the weekend after finals at my university, so it’s the perfect way to let go of my everyday stresses and find some personal satisfaction. The fellow Bonnaroovians are essential in this freedom and allow this statement to transform people into their best skin. For that, I plan to attend every year possible.  When you scan your wristband and enter the venue, make sure this phrase echoes through your mind and extend your hands out to meet and help fellow friends have the best time possible.

bonnaroo workout Bonnaroo 2014: A Round Table Survival GuideBK: Like everything in life, Bonnaroo is what you make of it. It’s hot, it’s gross, it’s long, it’s tiring, it’s expensive, and it’s amazing. Be prepared for the inevitabilities; that means raincoats, plastic bags, chargers, boots, etc. Don’t let that missed set get your head twisted; you’ll see something awesome later. Don’t fret if your buddies want to go check out something on the Which Stage while your favorite act is over at the Other Tent; Split up, make some new friends, and just have a planned meeting spot with your crew. It’s really okay to be on your own (once you get the lay of the land, that is), I swear. Bonnaroo’s a lot of work, it really is, but if you stay calm, stay open, and stay positive, it’s going to be a blast, any way your slice it.

That said — and really this goes hand and hand with the above — don’t be dumb. Of utmost importance is staying hydrated and pacing yourself. I’ve known folks who get down there and before setting up camp they’re pounding back their second beer. They rage all day Thursday, and sure they might make it half a day into Friday, but by Saturday night they’re passing out by garbage cans in Centeroo and missing every act they want to see. You’ve got four days in Tennessee heat (and if the weather forecast holds up, a bit of rain), people, so think ahead. There’s no need to overdo it. Plenty of people go “for the experience,” and that’s fine, but if you’re really down there for the music, don’t take that away from yourself by not understanding your own limits in this inimitable festival environment.

John Butler (John Butler Trio): All I can really remember is seeing this girl who was painted, and she had sunflowers on her breasts. They were just sunflower boobies. That’s all I can really remember. And that was amazing and miraculous. I don’t feel sexist saying this because I know every human being on the planet loves boobies as much as I do.

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