Every year the list of Summer festivals gets longer and longer, with promoters scrambling to take advantage of an exploding market for live music experiences. Quality is not always guaranteed, however, as costs can run high and corner-cutting by organizers can make even the most promising festival experience a half-assed nightmare of disappointment.
Bonnaroo, however, is an entirely different story. With an ongoing emphasis on making the festival experience the best it can be, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival heads into its 2016 incarnation making great strides of improvement not by embracing scorched-earth corporate sponsorship and hugely escalating security (as we've seen with Coachella), but by focusing on contributions to the local economy, going solar and maintaining the highest importance of the most vital element of all: FUN.
We've compiled six reasons why Bonnaroo tops all the other North American festivals out there, with ample support for each. Don't agree? Then chances are you've missed out thus far on the experience, with roughly 150 acts and a world of excitement making each year's Tennessee music marathon an unforgettably awesome experience. Don't make the mistake of ignorant bliss - get your ass out to 'Roo! Here are six damn good reasons why:
1. An Air of Adventure
When you arrive at Bonnaroo, you'll notice a palpable sense of excitement thick in the air. Even before the real party begins, before anyone gets chemically bonkers, the spirit of adventure is prevalent as tens of thousands of 'Roo campers set up their tents and get acquainted with their surroundings. It's an electrifying sense of welcome, of security in isolation and commitment to whatever may come over the next four days of music and mischief among so many like-minded adventurers.
Atmosphere is everything at a festival. Comparatively, other festivals choke out any sense of organic fun with schticky corporate-branded promotions at every turn and a downright intimidating police presence. When set against the freedom of the Bonnaroo experience, Coachella's Heinekin-soaked double-weekend carbon-copy explosion in the desert looks like a strobe light party at Target - with broken air conditioning & the TSA for security. While Coachella promoters celebrate overflowing demand by promising nearly exact-replica weekends back to back, Bonnaroo simply keeps working to improve its single-weekend domination by fine-tuning an already fantastic formula, and emphasizing fun and awareness over third-party promotional overdrive. Besides, those morning yoga sessions sure beat throbbing hangover head...
2. The Price
Bonnaroo is far less expensive than most other large-scale festivals nationwide, according data collected by Seatgeek. Comparatively, the average price for a 4-Day CMA pass in Nashville last year was $532.34, more than twice the average price of a Bonnaroo wristband. Furthermore, Bonnaroo tickets are also cheaper than passes to the Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival, which is a full day shorter and features many of the same acts ($288.80 for a 3-day pass).
The Lollapalooza and Firefly festivals, which are also multi-day events, are also more expensive tickets than Bonnaroo, averaging around $382.55 and $288.10, respectively. For those looking for more bang for their buck, Bonnaroo is the most promising option for adventure-seeking music fans looking to save on tickets.
3. The People
Whether it's topless girls wearing body paint instead of bikinis, bro-dudes escaping the frat atmosphere, health-conscious hippies serving up alternatives to the standard festival food or just the tens of thousands of music lovers ecstatic to be at an amazing festival in the middle of nowhere, it's really the people that make Bonnaroo so special. Positive attitudes are infectious. Generosity is abundant. Free hugs are everywhere (and not just from sweaty, hairy dudes). Get your high-five game ready, because it's going to be put to serious use along with "Happy Roo!" every fifty feet or so.
The middle of nowhere has never been a more perfect spot for a festival. Bonnaroo organizers bought the 700 acre farm on which the festival is held each year, ensuring many more years of the nature-surrounded goodness. Over an hour's drive south of Nashville, the isolation only aids the atmosphere of escapist celebration. As a result, people seem generally more inclined to look out for one another, and the lack of emphasis on the over-the-top corporate-branded PARTY! element that has besieged the likes of Coachella and Lollapalooza has allowed a sense of removal from the competitive nature of the festival scene. Bonnaroo is its own entity, and a beautiful one at that...
Additionally, solar panels from SolarWorld, the largest U.S. solar manufacturer for more than 35 years, now offsets electricity used to power the music performances. A 50-kilowatt array, which festival attendees paid for out of their own pockets, is the first permanent solar system installed at a major American music festival. The clean energy produced by the system is equivalent to 20 percent of the power consumed at Bonnaroo during the annual four-day music and art extravaganza.
Voluntary contributions from Bonnaroo's roughly 80,000 annual attendees, collected through ticket sales since 2012, footed the bill for the system. Bonnaroo reserves opt-in donations exclusively for onsite sustainability improvements. In addition, festival organizers added a $1 fee to every ticket sold in 2012 to generate additional money for green initiatives. The solar installation directly resulted from both types of fan support.
5. Local Love
Sure, you've got the standard festival fare in both food and merch, but there is also a great deal of local cuisine to dig into - hot dogs and funnel cakes are matched by local offerings of the finest desires, including crepes and vegan-friendly salads. Around the campground, stands selling band t-shirts and Bonnaroo memorabilia were far outnumbered by hippie merchants, many of them local, selling some highly impressive (and affordable) gear, blown glass and more. Hell, some even offer workshops on how they make their wares.
The locally-supportive gem in Bonnaroo's crown, however, are the BonnaROOTS Community Dinners -locally sourced, four-course feasts allow festival-goers to eat for a cause at a beautiful 110-person communal table, taking place right under the gorgeous Tennessee skies.
Bonnaroo introduced the BonnaROOTS Community Dinners in 2014 with all proceeds directly going to BonnaROOTS partners, Oxfam America and Eat for Equity. Oxfam America saves lives, develops long-term solutions to poverty, and campaigns for social change; Eat for Equity builds a culture of generosity through community meals that benefit various nonprofit organizations.
Eat for Equity Founder and Executive Director Emily Torgrimson created last year's incredible the menu, made entirely by a team of volunteer cooks as well as guest musicians - in 2014 Thao and The Get Down Stay Down were in the kitchen. All ingredients are sourced exclusively from within 200 miles of Bonnaroo's farm, and all herbs come from the Bonnaroo Victory Garden, which is located onsite and gives visitors the opportunity to learn about wild foraging, composting and growing a garden.
The local economic impact has been downright incredible as well. According to the Wall Street Journal, the festival added more than $50 million to the local Manchester and statewide Tennessee economies in 2014, upping the ante even further last year. The study, performed by Greyhill Advisors, indicates that $36 million in direct expenditures were added, and an additional $15 million were brought in in indirect and induced economic activity. Who knew those funyons you picked up at 7-11 up the street were such a help?!
Once we passed through the main entrance to the campground, these were the only cops we saw all weekend. Literally. The two dudes from "Reno 911" (who we happen to miss like hell, by the way). Sure, getting in can be a pretty intense process - every year the stories of cops searching cars and drug-sniffing dogs at the main camping entrance seem to get more and more scary. But rarely is hype matched with reality, and as long as you're not bringing in glass bottles or rocket launchers, chances are you'll be just fine. Once inside the campground, the people charged with keeping the peace are, for the most part, geriatrics on horseback. They don't have guns, batons, tasers or even slingshots. They're there to help, and there's no grey area about that.
The freedom and granted responsibility to police ourselves at Bonnaroo is a crucial factor in maintaining that unique energy so specific to 'Roo. Rarely will you see a bro-fest alpha battle in Centeroo or the campground - it's just not that kind of festival.
It's the perfect kind of festival. We're counting the days until we can make our next pilgrimage to the gorgeous Tennessee fields of the farm at Bonnaroo for the one of a kind, soul-blazing experience we know is always waiting.