[SLIDESHOW] The road to backstage Bonnaroo: UK employee shares festival experience



Column by Donald Mason

Bonnaroo. Most music fans on this side of the country have at least heard of this festival. Between 80,000 and 135,000 attended this year’s installment, which marked the ninth go-around. For me, it was my first.

Bonnaroo is one of those things you think you know, but until you go, you have no idea. With almost 200 performances over nine stages in four days, there is no way you can possibly make every show you might want. The mighty X-factor in the system: heat. With temperatures soaring over 95 degrees and the unrelenting humidity, you have to not only plan your time, but heat management comes into play.

With trying to cover the event, I was given a handicap in the beginning. It took me six hours of roaming around the grounds of Bonnaroo without a wristband, flashing my iPhone e-mail confirmation for a press pass like it was a badge. After talking to countless people and walking for countless miles, I finally met up with fellow presser Matt Jones from Under The Radar. Media wristbands intact, the Bonnaroo experience is locked and loaded.

Though I missed my first interview with NEEDTOBREATHE due to the wristband fiasco, I was able to interview The Constellations and a get short interview with Jeff Raines, guitarist from Galactic.

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Bonnaroo business! You cannot have a large festival with thousands of people without some commercial areas. What is known as “Shakedown Street” consists of hundreds of businesses, ranging from food to glass wares, clothes to hand-made musical instruments. Food vendor Bearly Edible was one of the most popular destinations. The reason: $1 garlic grilled cheese sandwiches. Over 20,000 sandwiches were served to the Bonnaroo population, me devouring six over the weekend.

With the heat bearing down, another hot spot was the lemonade stands. However, these aren’t your quarter lemonade stands. A large lemonade would cost you $6, though you could bring the compostable cup for free or cheap refills.

For those who couldn’t stand the stench that a music festival grants you, there were showers set up for $7, with complimentary Garnier Fructis hair products.

After the festival, I stayed for a couple of days after to volunteer with Clean Vibes. The goal of Clean Vibes is to divert as much waste from landfills as possible through recycling and composting. Last year at Bonnaroo, there were 261,480 pounds of recycle waste. Though it’s not an easy job, it is rewarding to help keep the grounds clean and help the Earth. There was a large contingency from Kentucky working the fields for their Bonnaroo ticket, showing that the Bluegrass can go green. Read more about volunteer opportunities at www.cleanvibes.com.

Overall, the Bonnaroo festival was an incredible experience, making me crave non-stop music. Unfortunately, I did not meet my primary mission in interviewing Stevie Wonder. The runner-up prize was seeing his performance, which was worth it all. Next year will be the 10th anniversary, so I would imagine that the event planners will be pulling out all the stops.

Rumors are already starting to swirl about the 2011 lineup, par for the course for Bonnaroo. With around 340 days until the next festival, you have plenty of time to prepare and plan for your spot under the sun, surrounded by music.