I am breaking my Bonnaroo 2011 review into a few posts. I know this topic isn’t interesting to all; won’t be offended if you scroll right through. Do know I will soon return to regularly scheduled fashion posts!
Bonnaroo 2011 – the 10th anniversary of this music and arts festival, our fourth time attending, and our first time going as VIP. This year there were four in our party – me, my husband, my sister, and our friend Sarah (Emerson stayed with Grandma).
For those who do not know about Bonnaroo, it is a four-day festival taking place in Manchester, Tennessee in June (I will sometimes call it The Farm as that is is on an old farm that was recently purchased just for Bonnaroo). There are two stages, three large tents and several smaller stages where musicians perform pretty much from 11am until 4am (or later!). On top of that, there are artists, dancers, vendors, food, and the best people watching on the planet. Oh, and a water slide and Ferris wheel! Bonnaroo is hot – there aren't any trees and very little shade; when it's really dry it can get really dusty and hard to breathe and when it rains it can easily flood your campsite or parts of the festival grounds (known as Centeroo).
Over 80,000 people attend Bonnaroo each year and most camp. There are several types of camping programs available – General Admission, Family Camping, Access Camping (for those with disabilities and needs for close access), VIP (what we chose this year – details in a future post), RV and VIP RV camping, All Access (which is where you get to live the life of a celebrity in a tour bus with major access and perks), and even some folks choose to spend their evenings in a hotel and take a shuttle to Centeroo each day.
Centeroo is a fenced-in area at Bonnaroo where all the events take place. You can see from the image above how massive Bonnaroo is.
There is a real mix of musicians who perform at Bonnaroo – rock, jazz, soul, blues, gospel, hip-hop, bluegrass, country and everything in between. Because of this there is an amazing mix of people – attendees come from all over the globe, some who are attending for the first time and some who have been to all 10 Roos. All who love music. Attendees come in all ages too – this year seemed to have more college-aged folks than usual and the majority of the crowd is under 30, but it's not shocking to see folks in their '60s, '70s, or '80s rocking out at a show right next to you. Many people also bring their children as that Bonnaroo has a program set up just for the little tykes.
After being on The Farm three times before, through dust storms and record-breaking heat, and rain I felt pretty knowledgeable about what I should pack to be prepared, comfortable, yet still adhering to my personal style. However, I found that going VIP meant I overpacked. There was far less need for things to keep me cool, hydrated, and protected. I am going to share all that I packed, and then write about what I used and didn’t.
What I Wish I Brought:
- Gummi fruit snacks. I had these previous years and loved them for a quick sweet treat. You can tuck a packet in your bag for a Centeroo snack.
- String cheese. We had too many dry crunchy snacks and string cheese was always something I enjoyed at previous Roos.
- Better shampoo and conditioner. Man, the stupid combo stuff made my hair a tangled, dry, frizzy mess. Was very grateful for the Garnier Fructis samples at the showers.
- A proper shower caddy. This year we had shower trailers and the bucket got all full of water.
- A big floppy hat. I was constantly feeling as though the tops of my ears were burning; a bigger hat would have been chic as well as offer better protection.
- TOMs or flat espadrilles. My boots ended up not being too comfy (learn more later), the flip flops were downright dangerous in Centeroo, and I just couldn’t break down and wear the Crocs. I saw many people in canvas shoes that looked quite happy. My husband and sister both wore Sanuks and liked them at Bonnaroo.
- Cute tops to wear with my cutoffs. When we were camping in GA, regular shorts would have been ridiculous – they would be too hot, too constricting, would ride up and be awful. However being VIP I didn’t have to walk as much and had respite from the heat. It would have been nice to be able to switch to a breezy cotton camisole with cutoffs for later in the day.
- My camera battery charger. My camera battery was near-dead once I arrived so I only took a handful of photos.
- A better phone. My Droid sucks and wouldn’t keep a charge for more than an hour, even though I didn’t have on WiFi and didn’t use it for anything but to check the time
- A watch. Something small and waterproof. I heard Walmart has little ones in the toy section for a couple bucks that are of gummy rubber. That would have been perfect.
- A grill. I found grills to be a PITA in GA, but in VIP it would have been nice to cook up breakfast each morning. In GA you can find a vendor that for $5 will give you an overflowing plate of eggs, potatoes, and onions. In VIP for $10 you get a pretty meager breakfast and have to walk a mile to find one of the GA vendors.
- A bigger table. We had more space in VIP and it would have been nice to have a table we could use as a dining table, or to organize/store our foodstuffs nicely.
- More jewelry. I went down wearing a beaded necklace from Forever 21 that stained my necklace and shirt, and a pair of silver hoops. I have a necklace I usually wear to Bonnaroo but it broke just before we got in the car to leave. My other necklace I was going to bring broke two days before we left.
What I Didn’t Need:
- The Crocs.
- The jeans. It never seemed to get cold enough where I felt I needed to bundle up. A shirt or hoodie and my boots was plenty.
- The Uhydration tablets. We never got that overheated where we needed to replenish like that
- The hose. With VIP, you have 24 access to real showers, no need to DIY at a water station.
- The watermelon. We forgot about it.
- A case of beer. I hardly drank so we ended up taking home almost an entire case.
- The solar radio/iPod and speakers. We were so close to the main stage at camp, we never touched these things.
- My henley. I wore the chambray shirt one night, the hoodie another, every other night was pretty warm while I was out.
- The Clorox wipes. I only used the porta-potties once while on the Farm so I didn’t need to sanitize. Along with that, no need for toilet paper or carrying personal wipes all day; and no need for the Pstyle. I only used the personal wipes for quick cleaning between showers.
- The bathing suit. But then I always bring a bathing quite everywhere because you never know when you will need it and they don't take up much space!
- My husband's energy bars. I don't think he ate any of them.
Packing: GA versus VIP
Do know, my regular list would have probably been pretty awesome if we were in GA again. Over the three years and my time on the Inforoo message board I really learned the best things to bring, and what was pointless. I learned that comfort trumped fashion, that even SPF 30 will give you a dark tan by the end of the festival, that porta-potties aren’t that bad if you are prepared.
My standard uniform for the past three Bonnaroos was a 100% cotton sundress that floated away from the body, a pair of cotton underwear and a cotton bra, moisture-wicking bike shorts that keep me cool and also offer modesty in wind and when sitting on the ground, a straw hat, sunglasses and either my Crocs or DUO boots (the boots with cotton socks). It wasn’t glamorous, I wouldn’t be featured on any street style fashion blog, but it got the job done and I didn’t have to THINK about my clothing all day long. Come evening, I would change either into a maxi dress or just slip jeans under my dress. I liked loose jeans since I would be dusty and sometimes sunburned – far more comfy than tight denim!
However, with VIP you have creature comforts. Three different locations for air-conditioned toilet trailers. The ability to wash your hands or take a shower twice a day. Fresh fruit at your disposal and cool, dark tents where you can rest up and recharge. Shorter walks to Centeroo (and two close entrances that drop you off in two different parts of Centeroo). It’s easy to stay clean, be comfortable, and look cute. All the people I saw in adorable vintage dresses, lacy peasant tops and vintage cutoffs either had on the VIP wristband or a press/all access badge and lanyard. If we do VIP again I feel I can be more creative with my wardrobe.
Also realize we have chosen over time to bring less food and purchase more in Centeroo. It may not seem cost-effective, but each year we saw how much food we brought home (even this year we brought home half the oranges, the watermelon, the bread and PB&J – only made one sandwich, and a third of the snacks were never cracked open). It’s hard to plan on being back at camp when camp is so far away; it’s easier and ends up being more frugal in the long run to only bring snacks and maybe breakfast food and purchase everything else at Bonnaroo. Vendors in GA have cheap food; in and near Centeroo you can get cheap arepas, pizza slices, and grilled cheese sandwiches. On top of that, there is some pretty spectacular food. I ate alligator, field green salads with candied walnuts, “black lemonade” which was lemonade mixed with a slush of crushed fresh in-season berries, and fabulous DIY pitas with fresh veggies, tzatziki sauce and grilled chicken. This year they even had a section for fancy food trucks!
You will see we packed frozen water – when the water is frozen it acts like ice for your food. It melts throughout the time there so you always have icy cold water to drink! We have also learned that if you bring two coolers, you can once a day open the big one to fill the small one, and it will keep things cold/frozen longer in the big cooler (the less often you open a cooler, the longer it will stay cold). We didn’t do that this year and had to purchase ice twice while at Bonnaroo.
It is important to drink lots of water, but it’s also important to replenish salt in your body when you are sweating a lot. Salty foods like pistachios, and hydration products like Gatorade and Uhydration tablets help greatly and taste good.
I can’t stay up for four days straight like I could a decade ago so I use 5 Hour Energy to survive at least part of each late night at Bonnaroo. My husband guzzled FRS drinks a couple times a day to stay energized. I take the 5 Hour Energy 5-7 hours before I plan to crash because I can feel them wearing off and I end up almost dead by time they have run through my system. Some people have reactions to 5 Hour Energy; I recommend you try them out more than once before you go to Bonnaroo to ensure they work and don’t work against your body.
It’s hot. Seriously hot. Crazy hot. Heat and drinking do not mix, both will dehydrate you, and if you drink a lot you will be less likely to realize you are dehydrated. People die at Bonnaroo due to hyperthermia and heat-related issues – even well-experienced festival goers. If you’re thirsty, drink water. Keep the drinking of alcohol until after the sun starts to go down.
There are drugs at music festivals. I have heard Bonnaroo isn’t as bad as many others in regard to this but do know this takes place. No one will look twice at you for abstaining. But realize people will stop by your camp asking you if you need any, people will be using them right next to you at a show, and especially once the sun goes down you will see the effects of people using all sorts of drugs.
On the trip down, cops will search cars looking for drugs. When you hit the farm, security may search your car and the search may be basic, or they may tear your car inside out. Cops on horses patrol the campgrounds looking for drug dealers. I don’t care whether you partake or not, I just want you to be fully aware before you go.
L.L. Bean Boat and Totes are my favorite for packing. They hold a ton, they have a sturdy bottom so they don’t tip over, but are flexible enough to smush around a cooler so you can close the hatchback. I have almost a dozen (and just got another one from Lands End the day we returned from Bonnaroo!). My pet Boat and Tote is the XL zip-top with extra-long straps. It’s berry with teal trim and it’s big enough to hold all my Bonnaroo clothes, beauty products, and even shoes. We used another for mine and communal beauty/personal supplies, another for camping equipment. We used a Whole Foods reusable bag for snacks, one of those mega IKEA blue totes for camping equipment, and my husband used a big duffle from his Navy days for his clothes and necessities. My husband also shoved our pillows and bedding into a waterproof bag which worked a bit like a SpaceBag by shrinking it all to the size of three basketballs.
Packing: Getting There
The two of us go in my husband’s Subaru. We drop the back seat, and use a Thule storage bag on the roof. I know four people can fit in a Honda Civic with all their equipment, but we liked that we had complete open space up front, the ability to see out the back window, and could access any of our luggage while on the road. On the way home, we were able to shove everything in the actual car and not use the rooftop carrier.
We have learned to wash the car before we go. We don’t advertise that we’re going to Bonnaroo because that’s just begging for a cop to pull you over and be tempted to search your vehicle. When driving into the farm, we dress conservatively – my husband wears a polo, I wear shorts and a regular top. The cops are drooling for cars to pull over kids and we don’t want to be seen as a kid. We have also found this speeds up our entry to Bonnaroo because we look like tame, respectable adults.
We stay overnight in a hotel on Wednesday so we’re well rested for our first day at Bonnaroo. I have learned to pack a single bag to take into the hotel with our toiletries and change of clothes. This way I don’t have to rifle through the entire car for our toothbrushes. We also use our Wednesday night to hit a Walmart for refrigerated items like beer (also a great chance to pick up things forgotten like allergy meds!).
On Thursday, we have the tickets in the glove compartment, the GPS ready to go, and a couple icy bottles of water ready for the cops directing traffic into Bonnaroo. The local police in Coffee County Tennessee work really hard to keep the lines moving quickly and smoothly and it’s not an easy job. When you slowly inch by them, thank them for their service and offer them a sealed bottle of cold water. It’s the right thing to do. This is another reason why we don’t overstuff our car – so we can reach the cooler!
Packing: What Not to Bring
- Don’t bring things like flat irons and hair dryers. Seriously ladies, it’s okay to spend one long weekend with frizzy hair tucked under a hat or scarf.
- No drugs, no glass, no weapons. Yes, we have broken the glass and weapon rule, but do as I say, not as I do okay?
- Nice stuff. Leave your It Bag, your favorite dress, your designer jeans at home. I personally think you should also leave home computers and other electronics but if you do feel you need to bring them, be sure to lock them in your car out of sight.
Packing: What Not to Forget
- Your tickets/wristbands!
- A second set of car keys. One pair should be on your person at all times, the other pair should be somewhere safe (on your friend’s person, in your friend’s car, etc.). It would suck to have to pay a locksmith to get back in your car.
- Car battery charging cables. Again, it would suck to require assistance while at Bonnaroo.
- Sunscreen. I don’t care if you think you never burn, if you want to get a tan, if you think you have a base tan. It’s darn hot and there is NO SHADE. I wore SPF 30 on my body and 55 on my face the entire time, reapplied almost hourly and still came home with a dark tan. A sunburn would ruin your experience mighty quickly.
- Immodium AD. I know, gross topic but again this could ruin your experience pretty quickly. Change in water, change in environment, too much beer, too much sun, too much fried food, a sketchy snack from a vendor on Shakedown… be prepared. Along with this, some Motrin, Benadryl, and aloe vera are good things to also have on hand.
- Something to hold water. Water is available for free in Bonnaroo but you need some way to carry it. Camelbaks aren’t chic but they make a heck of a lot of sense. You can drink while walking, you don’t have to carry anything, and you can wear it and dance your booty off at the same time. A little water bottle won’t cut it; my 32oz. bottle was hardly enough and I was in VIP. Again, comfort over fashion – dress to stay hydrated.
Next post will be about what I wore each day… additional posts will come regarding how the VIP experience was, and what I saw/did each day while at Bonnaroo.