The moment we landed in Nashville, I just knew the weekend was about to be something to remember. For one, barely able to wipe the crust out our eyes, my coworker and I boarded a 6 a.m. flight out of New York’s LaGuardia Airport, knowing that once we touched down, we had to hustle to catch all the performances we wanted to cover for Bonnaroo’s 15th Annual Music and Arts Festival. Our 10 a.m. arrival was on time, and we made our way to the car rental area, happy we had ample time to get to our hotel, snag a nap, go scoop our press credentials and stand front and center at Roman GianArthur’s 4:15 p.m. set. However mapped out our plan was, the universe promptly said “Nah.”
A minor (and eventually resolvable) license issue almost had us stranded at the airport and without a whip for the four day fest, which was 65 miles away on a sprawling farm in Manchester, still 30 minutes away from our hotel in Mufreesboro. This was the first road bump of many. When we finally got our car an hour later and drove out to our hotel, we had to bum out in the lobby for three hours since there weren’t any rooms available until 2 p.m. When freshened up and headed out on the road, of course there was standstill traffic, since every camper’s car had to get searched. Our parking spot on the farm was a far ways away from the entrance. The sweat started coming quick during our trek to all the action. As we stood in line to finally scan in to the festival grounds, our spirit wasn’t at its highest. Not only did we miss GianArthur set, but we also missed Lolawolf. The prospect of an important interview falling through (and it did) hovered in the back of our minds.
Compared to last year’s fun-filled and highly productive visit, this was not the foot we expected our ‘Roo to start off on. In the midst of miserable thoughts, one of the first things we felt while standing next to shirtless, Camelback toting, Teva-wearing attendees \was a squirt of water across the left sides of our faces. What the… It his us again, sprinkling our arms in a refreshing burst of cool under the hot Manchester sun. A sun-hatted man with a Bonnaroo bandana tied snugly beneath his chin grinned mischievously, a multicolored water gun back in the resting and waiting position against his chest. We’d been hit. We locked eyes, then succumbed to our only available emotion: laughter. “Happy Bonnaroo!” he said, eyes brightening, showing all teeth. Happy Bonnaroo, we waved back. For a moment, we’d forgotten all the things that had pissed us off. The only thing left to do was live by the code.
Radiate Positivity. This was not only the crux of our stress-relieving experience, but one of the most used phrases that govern the Bonnaroovian way of life (in addition to Prepare Thyself, Play As A Team, Respect The Farm, Don’t Be That Guy/Gal and Stay True Roo, that is). There was no time for being a sourpuss or Debbie Downer; it was point blank against the rules. And if persistent worries still nagged, there were an overwhelming amount of pleasant distractions sprawled out across the farm’s 700 acres.
Like accepting dance challenges to raving music in the always-entertaining silent disco (which Chance The Rapper blessed with an impromptu Coloring Book listening party on the last day). Or the disarming high-fives coming from excited Bonnaroovians of all ages every which way, especially on High Five Friday. Or pop up parking lot performances from chilled out rock stars like Miguel and a full-fledged viewing and sing-along to R. Kelly’s eon-long “Trapped In The Closet” series. Water slides, water guns, water fountains and air-conditioning parties kept the crowd cool in the 90-degree heat. Men and women strolled around topless, unbothered and unpoliced, while sleepy and/or drunk ‘Roovians curled and cuddled up in the grass sans blankets for a nap, with people carefully stepping around them. And when everyone had to evacuate Centeroo and retreat to their cars and campsites due to a passing lightning storm, my non-camping coworker and I were taken in happily by a new friend at a swanky camping village and partook in snacks, drinks and lifted conversation to pass the time (another unofficial Bonnaroo rule was to leave no one behind).
It was all so blissfully random and not what I expected to find my old self willingly indulging in. Two or three years ago, a close friend and Howard University classmate of mine, said she wanted to go enjoy the camping bliss of Bonnaroo. I laughed at the very idea of someone like me going to event like that. The middle of Nowheresville ,Tennessee? Camping? A farm? People who may or may not decide to shower? Naw, I’m straight on that. Not for me. I had that whole black-people-don’t-camp ignorance thing going on. But I’m happy that my job gave me the opportunity to see the error of my thinking and take a risk. Now, two years in, Bonnaroo firmly holds the spot as my favorite festival experience hands down. For those few days out of the year, I let everything weighing down on my shoulders go to enjoy clean air, easygoing spirits, great music, low maintenance celebs (very rare!) and good ol’ southern hospitality paired with hippie vibes.
It’s an experience I wish more music and culture lovers—especially those of color—made the effort to see for themselves. No, your hair won’t survive Bonnaroo. Neither will your makeup, unless it’s primary colored war paint or smears of glitter. And to the chagrin of your household of matriarchs, whether you camp on the grounds or not, you will “smell like outside” for all four days of the festival. This is coming from hotel-staying, commuting experience. But it’s fine. It’s so worth it.
Next summer I implore you to put a little Roo in your life, especially if things are getting hectic at home, at work, in your relationships or in your spirit. I promise you won’t regret it.
If you’ve yet to be convinced, check out some of the photos from VIBE‘s Bonnaroo 2016 experience for yourself.