About This Festival
It’s hard to believe that Bonnaroo, a music festival attended by over 80,000 people and held in the middle of Manchester, Tennessee – could be an intimate experience. Somehow, perhaps through the perfect combination of southern hospitality, jam-band camaraderie and a summer camp vibe, Bonnaroo manages to achieve that intimate festival feel. Once you experience it, you won’t want to live without it.
If American music festivals like SXSW and Austin City Limits offer a little taste of The South, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee provides a full helping, with seconds. It’s always a serious contender for America’s #1 music festival with one of the better lineups of the summer. Taking place on 700 acres in rural Manchester, Bonnaroo is a music festival with connections to the close-knit jam band scene. Thanks to that network’s avid and effective word of mouth, Bonnaroo has consistently sold out each of its twelve years of existence. Heat, dust and crowds don’t seem to bother the smiling masses as southern hospitality overcomes all. Just ask anyone with a euphoric grin in this part of the U.S. what they think of Bonnaroo, and you’ll likely hear, “Best festival ever!”
The term “Bonnaroo” is the brainchild of New Orleans’ iconic pianist and gibberish engineer, Dr. John. Pulled from his 1974 record “Desitively Bonnaroo,” this Ninth Ward-based portmanteau of “bon” (good) and “rue” (street) literally means, “the best of the street,” but is most often taken to mean, “a really good time.” Partly influenced by major festivals such as Glastonbury and their American incarnations Coachella and Lollapalooza, the organizers of the first Bonnaroo wanted to fuse that scale with the warmth and grassroots enthusiasm of jam band circuit bands like Phish and the Dave Matthews Band. The resulting lineup paid off in a big way with the first staging in 2002 selling out in two weeks without the benefit of a traditional advertising blitz. Since then, the festival has expanded to include more mainstream acts including The Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, and Nine Inch Nails. In 2005, Bonnaroo also began booking comedians including Jim Breuer, eventually attracting a substantial audience solely for its comedy offerings.
From there, things grew quickly. In 2007, festival organizers purchased the land in Manchester and built Great Stage Park as a permanent venue for the event and other outdoor performances. Bonnaroo is the largest outdoor music festival in North America, and it’s also won over the critics. Expanding each year while retaining its roots and personality, it’s been called one of the “50 Moments That Changed Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Rolling Stone and one of the “10 Best Festivals” by GQ.
Free Spirits & Side Stage Shenanigans
Fans love the untamed quality of Bonnaroo. Some even claim the festival is downright addictive, going through painful post-Bonnaroo withdrawals days later. It feels less corporate and more free-spirited than other domestic festivals, with quirky names for the various locations around Great Stage Park: Centeroo, where most of the action takes place on Which Stage and What Stage, as well as This Tent and That Tent, where smaller and local acts perform (ironically, the Comedy Tent doesn’t have a silly name).
With no neighbors to disturb, no curfew needs to be enforced. Consequently, performances can stretch on into the wee hours, with some side stage shenanigans extending after sunrise. Of course, that means Manchester, Tennessee, is in the middle of nowhere. But like any self-respecting enormous summer music festival,Bonnaroo is an instant city providing all the amenities one needs and expects in the digital age.
A City of Tents, a Disco of Silence
The tent city where campers call home during the festival sprawls outside Centeroo and offers several service hubs called “pods.” Pods are little lifesavers, waystations of civilization equipped with information and medical services. They also offer public showers (and believe us, you’ll really need at least one). Other cool features of the pods are the festival-driven art projects. Much like the art at Burning Man, attendees can often contribute to these, beautifying Bonnaroo in their own ways.
Inside Centeroo, there’s a ton of amazing southern grub for carnivores and vegetarians alike. Don’t miss the on-site beer garden, the Broo’ers Tent—this is truly a pilgrimage site for beer lovers, showcasing more than 20 microbreweries. The Cinema Tent provides a much-needed break from the commotion, offering a mini film festival and, mercifully, air conditioning to heal the overheated. An especially unique offering is The Silent Disco, where patrons drink and dance while listening to the same DJ feed…via radio transmitted headphones. From the outside, it looks like, well, a silent disco.