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Tips for your First Time at Bonnaroo

Updated: Sep 5, 2022

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Photo by Nathan Zucker

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival has been held in Manchester, Tennessee since 2002, and people from literally all over the world make the pilgrimage each June. At Bonnaroo, it's little about the lineup and more about the community - something you can't even fathom until you experience it yourself. Bonnaroo is a majestic place where nobody is a stranger, music is performed all night long, and activities are abundant 24/7.

Me and my husband's first year involved tons of Google searches, Facebook group posts, and YouTube videos to be as prepared as possible. Since aren't newbies anymore, I thought it's best to spread the knowledge to new Bonnaroovians. It's the Bonnaroo way.

Stay Hydrated

If you're visiting Bonnaroo for the first time, you need to stay hydrated.
Photo by Alive Coverage

It is VERY hot in Manchester in the summer, and the festival grounds don't offer much by way of shade. Festival-goers can't even find solace at their campgrounds as the sun's blistering rays beat down among the 650-acre farm. To avoid heat exhaustion, you should purchase a CamelBak, a handy hydration pack that works as a backpack and holds water.

Bonnaroo's hydration pack policy is that all bags must be up to 20" x 15" x 9" and limited to two pockets, not including the bladder pocket where water is stored. Hydration packs must also be empty when entering Centeroo and refilled at an appropriate station. To assure that the water in your CamelBak stays cold, ask a vendor for some ice to pour in the main bladder. Some vendors charged us and some didn't, but it was worth it either way. When you finish drinking out of the tube, lift it upwards to let the water drain back into the pack so that it stays colder longer.

Pack Blankets

Blankets on the ground

Though I just told you how hot Manchester summers are, the nights can be equally as cold. When my husband and I arrived in Manchester, we noticed we forgot pillows and blankets. I guess since we brought cots to keep us cool it didn't even cross our mind. We swung into the Walmart right outside of the Bonnaroo festival grounds, where practically everything was sold out at this point , and we picked up two very thin blankets and small pillows.

That definitely wasn't enough. At one point, we were covered in shirts. Moral of the story, bring camping pillows and blankets.

Bring Gold Bond and Sunblock

Bonnaroo fountain
Photo by Alive Coverage

I must reiterate, Manchester summers are HOT. Make sure to apply sunblock every four hours or so to your arms, legs, face, neck, and basically anywhere else that the sun shines. You can use the large fountain in Centeroo to cool off, but you should still slap on waterproof sunblock before going in.

One thing you probably didn't think of is Gold Bond. Gold Bond can be applied between the top of the legs to keep your thighs from chafing when they rub together. Since you're going to be walking a lot in four days, make sure you don't skimp on this piece of advice.

Wear Good Shoes

Runner withtennis shoes

Speaking of walking a lot, you need to take as much care of your feet as you do of your skin. If you're parked far away from Centeroo, the walk to camp will be brutal without the right footwear. My basic recommendation is to bring tennis shoes or boots that offer support for long distance walking and rain boots that are waterproof for potentially muddy days.

Fill Up your Gas Tank

Bonnaroo campground
Photo by Alive Coverage

For 10 years, the reported Bonnaroo attendance averaged 75,000 people. Though it fluctuates from year to year, it's still sure to be crowded. Most of these people arrive sometime Thursday, and all of them are heading to the same place. Put two and two together and you realize that parking is no small feat.

Every car is checked briefly, and some cars are chosen at random to be checked more extensively. The security checks accompanied with traffic can block up the entrance quite a bit. Be prepared to sit in the line by filling up your gas tank before coming in.

Make Hygiene Easy


Sorry clean freaks: you probably won't take a shower everyday at Bonnaroo. It's not that you can't, it's just that you won't have time to, and it's inconvenient to walk to a shower, wait on a shower, pay for a shower, and so on.

My husband and I make basic hygiene as easy as possible by packing these throw-away toothbrushes. The toothbrushes are small and have toothpaste already on them, so finding a water source and spitting isn't needed. You simply pop the bubble of toothpaste with your teeth and start brushing. To keep the rest of our body clean, we packed baby wipes. Sure, baby wipes aren't the same as taking a full-on shower, but they will do in a pinch, and you'll be glad you brought them along. We didn't bring any body sprays or perfumes, because the scents would likely attract unwanted bugs.

Make it in the Pits

Bonnaroo stage
Photo by Alive Coverage

The main stages have pits in front of them that offer the best "seats" in the house. After every act, the pits are emptied and refilled with a limited amount of people who are waiting in line. If you're especially excited for a particular performer, the pit is the place to be during the show. During the day, there are two lines forming outside the What stage. One line is the pit line for the next act, and one line is an all-day pit line for the headliner. The headliner typically has a line on both sides of the pit, whereas the line for the next act is usually only on one side. What time to get in line depends on which act you are interested in seeing,

If you're hoping to "ride the rails" for the headlining act, you should get in the pit line as early as possible. The field in front of the stage opens an hour before the first act, and my husband and I waited for 11 hours once for Eminem. If you're a fan of a smaller act, you should arrive about two hours early.

Bring Battery Operated Fans and Lights

Kid with a lantern

Generators are loud, tough to move around, and possibly dangerous. Because of this, we loaded up with a few battery-operated fans, a Tac Light, and a boatload of batteries. Due to the heat, the fans were extremely practical, even if I was just holding one directly in front of my face after walking. Although there are plenty of lights in the campgrounds, it doesn't hurt to have your own, especially while walking to the bathroom or showers. We used a Tac Light due to its ability to light up an entire room and its tough quality.

Snacks, Snacks, Snacks

Food at Bonnaroo
Photo by Nathan Zucker

Bonnaroo has amazing food, and you'll be missing out on half of the experience if you don't order from a vendor. Still, eating every meal in Centeroo can get expensive. Although the party never stops for many at Bonnaroo, the vendors usually do. If you get the munchies at midnight, you're going to wish you brought some snacks along with you. Some bring a camping grill while others pack ready-made snacks like chips and protein bars.


Beer toasting

While you're at Bonnaroo, you'll want to indulge in a mixed drink or two at the Bacardi Oasis. But after a few Centeroo drinks, you'll realize how much cheaper it is to bring your own beverage. Ice is sold in the campgrounds, but some rules are in place regarding alcohol. For one, no glass bottles are allowed at Bonnaroo, so bring all alcohol in a plastic container. Each person may bring two cases of beer, 1.75 liters of hard liquor, and two boxes of wine. Anything considered excessive will be confiscated.

...and an obligatory number 11: HAVE FUN!

Bonnaroo is the experience of a lifetime. You'll meet new friends, get involved in new initiatives, and create tons of new memories. Have a good time and Happy Roo!


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