Things to do in Tennessee: A Roadtrip to Bonnaroo
Bonnaroo: Celebrating All Kinds of Music & Art
Traveling 830 Miles for a Weekend Full of Music
Creating memories at Bonnaroo in Tennessee. Danielle Aihini Photos.
By Danielle Aihini
The famous Bonnaroo archThe sun is beating down on my back for hours while I sway to the beautiful sounds of some of my favorite artists. My wet hair drips down my back after a soak in the Mushroom Fountain.
My heart begins to race as Earth, Wind & Fire enter the stage dressed in groovy bell bottom pants and big smiles. This is Bonnaroo.
I embarked on a four day camping excursion on a 7-acre farm in Manchester, Tennessee, also known as Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
The festival hosts hundreds of comedians and musicians and is home to 80,000 to 100,000 visitors. The festival motto, “radiate positivity” held true as every roo-goer left the camping grounds with the same cheek to cheek smile they entered with.
For anyone who loves the festival scene, Bonnaroo, one of the biggest and most famous music festivals across the US, should not be missed.
My friend Lindsey and I left our home in New Jersey at 7 p.m. on Tuesday evening and arrived in Tennessee 12 1/2 hours later.
Once everyone arrived at the meeting spot in the Walmart parking lot, we led an eight car caravan a few miles to the camping grounds. A tip of advice, bring things to do while you wait! We waited a whopping 5 1/2 hours just to get from Walmart to the grounds due to traffic from all directions going to the same place. In reality, we should have left Walmart an hour earlier at 3:30 p.m. to beat the influx.
Alas, we arrive! We set up our tents in Pod nine and commence the fun-filled weekend celebrating good music, art, and food. Make sure to bring a tent, tent cover, and sleeping bags, a canopy in case it rains, and all the food you can possibly imagine. You would be surprised at how much you can eat.
Water is essential! At any outdoor event, water is a priority. Make sure to bring enough water for the four day long camping trip. The heat is intense in Tennessee and without any rain this weekend, you can imagine how easy it was to get through our cases of water. Centeroo, where all of the stages are located, provides water stations with purified drinking water to all. Don’t forget a reusable water bottle for the long days you will spend there.
One of the most crucial items to bring to Bonnaroo is toilet paper. For four days straight I enjoyed the fresh scents and peaceful ambience of the porta potties. The toilet paper provided will, indeed, run out quickly so bring toilet paper wherever you go.
It is almost impossible to sleep late in the tents due to the incapacitating heat, so expect to wake up early, regardless of how late you may fall asleep. I woke up around 8 a.m. and began my day with nourishing food and soaking my head under the hand washing stations located at every pod. We explored the Bonnaroo grounds waiting for the music to start at 4 p.m.
Vendors from all around the country come to Bonnaroo, selling food, accessories, clothing, jewelry, head shop pieces, instruments, and more. Thursday was one of the longest days of my life, or so it felt like it. When I thought it was 4 p.m. and time to enter Centeroo, I looked at my phone to realize it was only 12 p.m. So, like I said before, bring games to entertain you.
Centeroo is a magical place. The line to enter fills up quickly at night with cheerful, carefree music lovers all high-fiving each other. I have never given so many high fives in such a short amount of time before Bonnaroo. To enter, Bonnaroo security will check bags for open containers, drugs, and glow sticks.
Be prepared to be confused while traveling through Centeroo. The six main stages are named “What Stage”, “Which Stage”, “Who Stage”, “This Tent”, “That Tent”, and “The Other Tent”.
I started my musical journey listening to the sounds of bands Temples and Glass Animals. To finish off the day, my friend Nora and I went to Gramatik, a funky mix of electronic and hip-hop music.
The energy is the crowd was unlike anything I had ever been a part of. People from all around the world coming together all connected by the power of music. Music is universal, and I truly felt that at Bonnaroo.
By 1:15 a.m. Gramatik was finished and Nora, Lindsey and I decided last minute to wait on the Silent Disco line. The stage for the Silent Disco was occupied by a DJ with hundreds of people dancing to music no one else could hear. Once you enter the tent, you are given headphones and vuala! You can hear the music.
This was my first Silent Disco experience and definitely not my last. My heart was racing with pure happiness as I flung my body from side to side with friends and strangers alike. Every so often I would peak out of the tent and see a long line of curious roo-goers anxiously waiting to get their groove on.
Our legs grew tired and our feet fell asleep so we danced our way back to the camp site to talk about our days and look forward to three more full of brilliant performers.
Before embarking on the 830 mile trip, I contemplated, many times, the important question that seemed to be lingering over my head. How and when would I shower? Would I shower every day? If not every day, every other? It turns out I only showered once. If you count that as a shower, that is. One incredible aspect about Bonnaroo, in my opinion, is how accepting and open everyone is. By the end of the four days, every person there was dirty and smelly, regardless of how many showers they took.
The Mushroom Fountain.
If you love to camp and embrace nature the same way I do, showering is of little importance. Being dirty and sweaty and surrounded by nature was refreshing in a way. I never once worried about my appearance or what others would think of me.
Instead, I used the mushroom fountain as my way of cooling off and “staying clean”. In the center of centeroo there is a massive fountain that welcomes everyone to take a break from the music and food and soak themselves before returning to the 90 degree heat.
“Not showering often in 90 degree weather is put on the back burner when one is in such an amazing environment, and I didn’t mind at all!” said Lindsey Higgins.
For those of you who need to shower, there are showers for $7-10 at the camping sites. Make sure to bring all necessary toiletries.
This is the day I had been waiting for; part of the reason I came to Bonnaroo in the first place. Nora, Lindsey, and I started our day off with yoga in Centeroo hosted by the festival.
Bonnaroo holds several events throughout the weekend including yoga, fitness and wellness classes, t-shirt making, acrobatics, and more. We immediately followed yoga by drenching ourselves in the fountain and a nice meal to hold us over.
The music started at 2 p.m. and my first stop was not until 7:30 p.m. for Alabama Shakes. I have always loved lead singer Brittany Howard but seeing her live gave me a new appreciation for her raw and majestic talent. She put on one of my favorite Bonnaroo performances, leaving me in awe for the rest of the trip.
Kendrick Lamar came on an hour after and sold the show with his fast-paced rap mixed with R&B and hip hop.
As soon as Kendrick finished, I made my way to “Which Stage” to groove to the infamous Earth Wind & Fire, the main reason I dedicated my week to Tennessee. I have a soft spot for funk music and Earth Wind & Fire did not disappoint. For an hour and 15 minutes I was on my feet moving to the 70s legendary hits like “Got to Get You into My Life” and “September”.
To top it off, the band welcomed Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper to the stage at the end of their set to finish with a few songs all together. The crowd went wild. The indie electronica duo, Odesza wrapped up my Friday at 2:15 a.m. Back to the campsite we go.
Lindsey and I decided to split up after lunch on Satursay while I saw Songhoy Blues at Which Stage, a South African blues band I had never heard of before whose name intrigued me. Lindsey saw Phox, a soulful indie pop band at The Other Tent. I caught the end of Phox and without ever hearing them before was blown away by the beautiful and melodic character of the lead singer’s voice.
Rhiannon Giddens took to the stage at 4 p.m. to give a performance I will have saved in my memory for as long as I live. If you like folky, soulful music, this is who you want to see. The passion on the stage radiated into the crowd and left me speechless.
Hozier, My Morning Jacket, and the Jimi Hendrix of our generation, Gary Clark Jr. led the night with thousands of people watching. Mumford & Sons followed with a sincere and calming performance.
What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do
The end of the night was tricky. Superjam!, the main music event at Bonnaroo conflicted with D’Angelo and the Vanguard and Flume, two groups I was looking forward to see. Here’s a tip of advice, plan your musical schedule out before getting to Bonnaroo. You may change your mind, but having it written down somewhere will be extremely helpful when getting from place to place.
There is nothing more stressful than opening the map and schedule while running to a tent that may or may not be playing the music you want to listen to.
Earth Wind & Fire performing with Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper.
I decided to go to Superjam! for two reasons. First, I had planned to go earlier and it is much easier to stick with the plan during crunch time. Second, Superjam! is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Over 10 talented and popular artists perform original and throwback songs during Superjam!, this year an 80s throwback edition.
Zach Galifianakis and actor Jon Hamm surprised the crowd and introduced the show. RUN-DMC performed “Run This Way” and It’s Tricky”, Rhiannon Giddens roared an amazing rendition of “Roxanne”, Rob Trujillo of Metallica had the crowd going wild during “Crazy Train”, Jamie Lidell gave a soulful performance of “All Night Long”, and the star of guest appearances, Chance the Rapper brought Superjam! to a close with “Juicy.”
Needless to say, I am tremendously pleased with my decision to go to Superjam! The life in the crowd and on stage reminded me of the beauty and power that music can bring. And the song choices weren’t half bad, either.
We got back to the campsite around 4:30 a.m. after a night of talking and eating, only to be accompanied by a slow rising sun.
The Final Hours
Shakey Graves started my day of music on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. playing his distinctive suitcase drums. Lindsey and I waited about an hour and a half before the show started to ensure spots right up front. Once again, bring things to do while you wait. If you have your phone, play games. If not, get creative!
It seemed every performer at Bonnaroo was better than the last. I am a music lover and this festival sure does appreciate good music of all genres. I suggest everyone see Shakey Graves perform at least once in their lifetime; the passion he has for his work is revealed through his onstage presence. He plays the guitar vigorously while simultaneously singing and playing drums with his feet.
I love to sing but always struggle with stagefright; after leaving Shakey Graves, I have never felt more inspired to push myself outside of my comfort zone and exercise my talent for myself and others.
Wall art at Bonnaroo.I soaked my sweaty body in the fountain yet again and chowed down on a delicious meat and vegetable medley before swaying to the unique and comforting voice of Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine. Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters followed with a mix of new and old songs that had my friends and I went wild for. Robert Plant finished with “Rock and Roll”, a familiar Led Zeppelin song.
Headlining the entire event, Billy Joel captured the audience with his incredible piano skill and witty humor. “Piano Man” filled all 80,000 Roo-goers with pure happiness. I never thought I would be able to say I have seen Billy Joel in concert, but now I can! And he did not disappoint.
Comfort and Technology
Sunday came to a close and my feet have never hurt more in my life. Make sure to bring comfortable shoes because you will be on your feet more than you may imagine. Regardless of where you are in centeroo, you will find someone sleeping in the middle of the fields, so if need be, lie down and nap before your next artist comes on.
Grab a blanket before you head into centeroo so you have something comfortable to sit on while you relax. The grass is tough and bothersome when you wear shorts.
No need to worry about your phone dying in the middle of your trip when you need it most. In centeroo and at the camping sites you will find charging tents where you can sit and wait until you are satisfied.
Until Next Year Bonnaroo
We finished our Tennessee excursion with a trip to Nashville on Sunday night and stayed the day Monday before heading home to New Jersey, another 12 1/2 hour drive.
Although the drive home was difficult, all of us fighting with every fiber in our body not to fall asleep, I wouldn’t change a thing about the trip. I have a newfound appreciation for music and love for Bonnaroo.
“Being surrounded by like-minded people and such incredible talent is the match for a perfect weekend. Can’t wait to go back!” said Higgins.
Danielle Aihini is an editorial assistant at GoNOMAD Travel. She is currently studying Journalism and Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She enjoys exploring the outdoors whenever she can and trying new, exotic foods. When she is not writing, she is either singing, making music, dancing, or all three.
Read more stories about music and Tennessee on GoNOMAD.