I’ve been to Bonnaroo twice and Austin City Limits once, and I’ve held these experiences in the highest regard. There truly is something to be said for an event where a great mass of well-intentioned people can gather and share the enveloping experience of live music. Picture these events as ephemeral utopias—people are nice, spirits are high, and the weather is usually glorious, if not oppressive.
In trying to convey these experiences, I’ll have a great deal more to say and show from Bonnaroo, but since I was at ACL most recently, I’ll go into it first.
A slide show of sorts:
Austin City Limits Music Festival, the annual three-day festival held in Austin, Texas’ Zilker Park, was named after the PBS concert series that began airing in 1977 and supposedly still runs today.
Zilker Park also has a fantastic fresh water spring I visited two years ago and highly recommend.
ACL brings together over 130 bands to play on eight different stages, with approximately 65,000 festival-goers.
Nobody camps at the festival and the last performance usually ends around 10 PM each evening.
Everyone either rides their bike home or sits in traffic for an hour or two.
I was very impressed by ACL’s water distribution system. There was one water station with multiple fountains and volunteers operating them. It’s difficult making conversation here though, unless you have a large container.
Just as important, the beer. The beer prices were much more reasonable here than at Bonnaroo, especially since the beer prices stayed the same, whereas Bonnaroo’s climbed exponentially toward the end of the weekend.
The only beer I’ve purchased at Bonnaroo was from the microbreweries. They were a little pricey, but well worth the hops. The festival forbids glass containers, and if you try purchasing beer at the general “Store” tent by the end of the weekend, a six pack of Budweiser could cost you up to $48.
Considering Austin’s savvy beer culture, I’m going to say that the selection at ACL wasn’t that great, but Heinekens do the job.
Something I enjoy about going to multiple music festivals is how you might miss an act at one, and then see it at another. My volunteer work schedule at Bonnaroo conflicted with the Flaming Lips’ performance, but I finally got to see them this year at ACL and they were just fantastic. Wayne Coyne is certainly an open-minded individual.
I also got to see Muse live, something I’ve been wanting to do for a few years now. As expected, Bellamy performed extremely well, and they only played a few songs from their new album which I’m not a fan of.
I saw this bottle of Purell on the ground at ACL and realized that it was probably one of the dirtier looking things I had seen.
I really had a fantastic time at ACL. Austin is an incredible city, and being able to gallivant in it after the show is only an added bonus.
I didn’t capture any food from ACL mainly because I purchased ribs, and there simply was no buffer zone between the purchasing of Texas BBQ ribs and a photograph opportunity.
Last to perform at ACL, The Eagles–“Hotel California” makes great exiting music
Bonnaroo is an annual music and arts festival that takes place on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tennessee. Approximately 75,000 people attended the festival this year according to Ashley Caps, co-founder of Bonnaroo, who is also a man.
The festival was named after Dr. John’s 1974 album Desitively Bonnaroo, which basically means the ending of a really good time.
“Iko-Iko” isn’t in this album but it’s an impressive song to say the very least–and update: Dr. John will be performing at Bonnaroo 2011!
At Bonnaroo, the performance schedule goes on much later into the night, and unless they’ve brought a camper, everyone returns to their tent to rest.
I don’t remember how we reached the subject, but I do remember a first-responder at Bonnaroo telling me the story of how one person tried to get a picture like the one above by stepping on top of his car and by doing so, shattered the sunroof and ended up with a lot of tempered glass stuck in his leg.
When you arrive at Bonnaroo, everyone parks right next to each other and immediately sets up their tent and canopy tent (a must have in the Tennessee summer–according to a digital thermostat on my dash, the interior temperature of my car reached 146 fahrenheit once.) Also, people will be lighting the good stuff as soon as you get there.
The Tennessee sun is much more ruthless than Austin’s, but both should be respected. A canopy can be used for establishing a hangout area or it can be used to provide some shade for your tent so you don’t wake up sweating and thirsty for Natty Lights.
The labyrinth of tents and vehicles takes some getting used to, but it’s nothing a little orientating can’t fix. My first time at Bonnaroo, I got lost on the first night trying to find my tent.
Since it down-poured as soon as everyone arrived, I had to wade through mud for two hours, (not an exaggeration), at night trying to find my place of rest. And yes, I was sober. This is why boot vendors always cash out big time, because it always rains, at least once, and because not enough people think/want to pack their boots.
But I believe adverse weather conditions add a certain character to the festival and its attendees.
Regarding showers for the plebians:
In the event that you forgo bathing in mud, the above image should give you an idea of the type of showering you’ll most likely be doing. Now of course, you won’t always find topless babes attending to themselves, but it’s the kind of serendipity one should be cognizant of.
Unless you’re VIP, came in a trailer, or you’re a volunteer who’s located on the side of the festival with shower stalls, you’ll have to pay a few bucks (Approx. $10) to take a “legitimate” shower (as sponsored by Garnier). But as you’d expect, these stalls get very used and dirty themselves.
I admit soaping my ass in an open-ended cargo crate isn’t the most dignifying of tasks, but it’s only human.
Or you could rough it like Nate did two years ago. Asides from the soap stains on the car and the camping area sogginess, this method works like a charm.
I can’t say I’ve ever felt security to be invasive at these festivals. If you didn’t carry a bag into the festival grounds, all you would have to do is hold up your wallet and water bottle, etc., and they usually just let you in. It’s more about the facade of security, as usual, I suppose. If anything, security gets up in your grill when you first drive into the grounds, especially if you’re volunteering, but I’ll get into that later.
This picture was taken right before everyone entered the Bonnaroo festival grounds the first day. The bald guy in front shouted a bunch of directions and said something to the effect of: “We’re going to treat you with respect as long as you treat us with respect. Don’t bring anything in here you’re not supposed to and we shouldn’t have a problem.” It may have been a little more assertive or authoritative but we were all hot in the sun and just wanted in.
The distribution, quality, and availability of water really makes or breaks these events.
The above is a rather extreme example of a backed-up water station at Bonnaroo. This particular station was located on the festival grounds, (in Centeroo), and because of this, many people insisted on waiting on line as opposed to leaving the market and stage area to fill up elsewhere, i.e. near their campsites. Unfortunately for this station, the water was literally trickling out due to the high demands placed on the Manchester water table.
Another matter of equal importance, the porta-potties. They’re located along most major thoroughfares, but if you can help it, you’ll avoid using the potties near Centeroo since they’re used the most. Baby wipes, your own toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and a source of light are all items you might benefit from in consideration to this endeavor, unless you’re a manly man or hover-pro like all womanly women.
With that being said, the food at both festivals has been very satisfying and the choices, very diverse. Bonnaroo gains a few extra points in my book for their Ben & Jerry’s sponsorship–this tent gave away free little cups of ice cream the entire day. I asked one of the workers how much ice cream that amounted to and I believe the astronomical number made me faint, or it might have just been how delicious the ice cream was.
I initially walked past this vendor and tried to pretend as though my mind wasn’t blown by all the meat he was cooking, but by the time I took this picture, the grill-master and fumes had won me over.
For your own goodies, a cooler is a must-have; beer, fruits (can’t emphasize cold and soggy fruits enough), cheese, salsa, the works. Also, if you want liquor, get it in advance.
It’s a long drive, things happen, and you don’t want to be stuck without your spirits. If you forget something, chances are your neighbors will overhear your frustrations and help you out with whatever you needed.
I decided to volunteer at Bonnaroo this year for the experience as well as for the free admission–that is, as long as you stick to your work schedule (6 hours a day) and refrain from overt drug/alcohol usage. Nobody else I knew was volunteering and I refused to make the 17 hour drive by myself (Long Island, NY to Manchester, Tennessee) so I found a message-board online and left an offer to drive one or two other volunteers to the festival. I met two fantastic young women living in Manhattan and we bonded a great deal throughout the trip.
Pros of volunteering:
Meet a lot of great people
Free festival admission
Specific job perks: one volunteer I met was a cook for the VIP Bonnaroo attendees and he only had to cook a few hours a day (in air conditioning mind you), free meals, free (and legitimate) showers, and something else I can’t remember. I opted to work at the information booth but I was stationed in the handicap section right in front of the main stage during performances by the Avett Brothers and Weezer. The job consisted of making sure only those with handicap bracelets were let in while keeping the desperate fakers out.
Cons of volunteering:
I was the one volunteer (out of hundreds) who was let into the campgrounds without a volunteer bracelet and I had to spend 4-5 hours working around red-tape to get my hands on it. The bracelet is everything at the festival–it distinguishes your role: vendor, volunteer, attendee, etc. and it’s the only way you’re allowed in and out of the grounds. The lady who made the mistake apologized profusely and actually gave me a ride back into the festival after everything was sorted out.
The volunteers arrive earlier than everyone else, and for some reason, the internal Bonnaroo staff was clueless while directing traffic this year. Once we finally made it past the gates, our vehicles and bags were quite thoroughly searched. They really took their time on us, and suggested we tell them if we were hiding any drugs to avoid more severe legal ramifications. I actually saw one volunteer cave in to the pressure and get a summons on the spot. Womp-womp.
At one point, I was assigned the task of directing traffic–standing in the sun and inhaling the dirt that trucks tossed up wasn’t the greatest time, but you know. There are a lot of options to choose from when applying to volunteer, from recycling informant to working the entry booths.
18 hours of volunteering means a lot of missed shows, but at least the volunteers can state which act they absolutely must see on their applications, allowing for a wee bit of flexibility.
The campgrounds for the volunteers were actually rather far away from the main area, but it was actually much quieter for being so.
Overall, I’m glad I volunteered, but I prefer attending the festival as a regular.
Since nobody camps at ACL, the three day festival doesn’t exactly become a lifestyle and there’s also a much smaller prevalence of drugs at the festival since all the strange creatures usually come out at night.
Bonnaroo’s atmosphere has a bit more excitement and electricity flowing through it, partly because you never know when you’ll come across somebody having a drug-induced epiphany or a sweaty man with beady eyes muttering “LSD, mali, opium.“
An assortment of memorable Bonnaroo characters:
The walls separating the campsites from Centeroo (the market area) and the event stages–graffiti artists are encouraged to decorate
A man sleeps to the lulling sounds of Jay-Z
The final night at Bonnaroo