With nearly 175 acts, 12 stages and countless rules outlining what you can and can’t do, Bonnaroo can get confusing. But don’t worry: We surveyed vets of the four-day Manchester, Tennessee music circus – which kicks off its 10th annual installment on June 9th – to score tips on how to maximize your festival experience. From where to find the tastiest barbecued pork sandwich to what to stock up on at Walmart, here’s the lowdown on summer’s best mega-fest.
1. Eat like a Tennessean The best BBQ in town comes from Prater’s, a family-owned spot that’s been churning out pulled pork, chicken wings and riblets at Bonnaroo since the fest’s inaugural year. Hit the stand by the main stage for sauce-smothered pork sandwiches made by owner Gary Prater, who smokes the meat onsite. Vegetarian? Dig into sides like fried green tomatoes and cheese sticks. For the full menu, stop by Prater’s restaurant, located in nearby Morrison, post-festival.
2. Shop at Wal-Mart Regardless of how you’re getting to Bonnaroo, extra luggage is a bummer. Cut down on bulk by pre-ordering supplies through Walmart.com’s free Site to Store feature. Load up your virtual cart with goodies – everything from tents and sleeping bags to potato chips and toothpaste – and pick them up at the Manchester location seven to 10 business days later. Tip: If you need last-minute gear, head to the Murfreesboro Walmart, which is about 40 minutes away; the Manchester store tends to get picked over quickly.
3. Gimme shelter With June temps in Manchester averaging 87 degrees and little shade from the blazing Tennessee sun, Bonnaroo gets baked in more ways than one. To stave off the heat, invest in a pop-up canopy that you can duck under when it gets too sweltering. We like the Sports Series by ShelterLogic (www.shelterlogic.com), which has height-adjustable legs and a UV-ray-blocking cover.
4. Do your business early You can’t hurry nature, but if you can swing it, hit the porta-potties in the morning. Bathrooms at the onsite campgrounds are known to get nasty, but the johns in Centeroo (the main festival area that houses the stages and vendors) are cleaned every morning. If you snag a spot early, chances are you won’t feel like you need a shower after exiting. (If you do, though, you can take one for $7 at various sites throughout the campgrounds.) The worst time to go? Mid-day, when the toilets – and the, um, stuff in them – have been sitting under the sun for hours.
5. Party at the Holiday Inn Just a five-minute drive from Bonnaroo’s main stage, the Holiday Inn Express is like the Ritz Carlton of Manchester: there’s a free breakfast buffet, an indoor pool and complimentary WiFi. One Bonnaroo vet insists that “part of its charm is that every other hotel in Manchester is a roach-infested shithole,” but nonetheless, it’s also a good place to catch VIPs milling about (the hotel has hosted bands like the Black Keys and Ween), and the parking lot is packed with tour buses, making it a prime spot for after-parties and late-night debauchery. Just watch out for groupies.
6. Come early, leave late Driving in and out of Bonnaroo is notoriously daunting, as traffic jams have been known to cause waits of up to 12 hours. Opening day is usually plagued by long delays – expect bumper-to-bumper congestion from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. – so your best bet is to travel at non-peak times. This year, the site will open at 7 p.m. on June 8th, the night before the fest kicks off. On the back end, consider sticking around until Monday evening, when the crowds will have thinned (Bonnaroo ends Sunday night, but the grounds are open until 3 p.m. on Monday).
Another option: ditch your car for a bike. The ROO Ride, debuting this year, leads concert-goers on a 60-mile bike trip from Smyrna, Tennessee to Manchester, with stops at historical sites like Civil War battlegrounds. The ride, which departs the morning of June 11th (which means you miss two days of the fest) ends about two miles from Bonnaroo – participants hoof it to the site – and offers lunch, dinner and camping accommodations.
7. Pack smart Bonnaroo is only 66 miles outside of Nashville, but it’s best to pack like you’re heading into the wilderness. Two reasons: Once you’re inside, you won’t want to leave just because you forgot deodorant – and the weather can be unpredictable. Temps will likely be sizzling by day and chilly by night, and there’s always the possibility of rain, which turns the dusty, 700-acre festival site – which is actually a farm – into a giant mud-bowl. Galoshes are a must, as well as another pair of closed-toed shoes. Other essentials: sunscreen, lots of water bottles, wet wipes (if you decide to skip the showers) and baby powder for chafing relief.
8. Bring booze Glass containers are banned from Bonnaroo, but cans and boxes aren’t – so stock up on PBR and Franzia. (Note: If you bring more than two cases of beer or boxes of wine per person per car, festival authorities can confiscate your stash.) BYO’ing lets you guzzle your beverage of choice and saves lots of money – a Bonnaroo general store sells beer, but a six-pack will run you $18 and individual cans are $3. Just make sure to get your buzz on before entering Centeroo; no outside liquids are allowed except for sealed water bottles.
9. Kamp out If you’re set on getting a good night’s sleep during Bonnaroo, don’t pitch your tent on the festival’s grounds, where parties rage way past bedtime. Instead, head to the Manchester Kampgrounds of America, located behind the main stage. Prices vary depending on your accommodations, which range from tents and cabins to your RV, but every stay includes free, 24-hour limo service to and from Bonnaroo and access to KOA’s swimming pool, which has a rock slide.
10. Go to Nashville Have extra vacation days? Make a pit stop in Nashville before or after Bonnaroo, when the best action often happens. In 2008, Metallica showed up at The Basement, a tiny Nashville club, and played a “secret” show for about 175 fans. Last year, Conan O’Brien warmed up for his Bonnaroo gig at the city’s Third Man Records store, where he was introduced by owner Jack White before busting out a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.” No word on this year’s under-the-radar action, but check the websites of local venues – and keep your ears open.