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Tips for your First Time at Bonnaroo

Updated: Mar 4

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Bonnaroo arch
Photo by Nathan Zucker

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival has been held in Manchester, Tennessee since 2002, and people from all corners of the globe 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 a mixture of Google searches, Facebook group posts, and YouTube preparation videos. Since we aren't newbies anymore, I thought it would be helpful to share what we've learned with the Bonnarookies. Besides, 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

Summers in Manchester are super hot, and the festival grounds don't offer much by way of shade.

Your campsite won't provide solace against the sun's blistering rays, and your tent will become an oven shortly after sunrise. The best way to avoid heat exhaustion is a CamelBak, a handy hydration pack that works as a backpack and holds water.

Bonnaroo's policy limits hydration packs to two pockets, including the bladder where water is stored. Hydration packs must be empty when entering Centeroo and refilled at an appropriate station. To assure the water in your CamelBak stays cold, ask a vendor for some ice to pour in the main bladder. While some vendors charged us for ice, others provided it for free. 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.

Another way to avoid dehydration is to save alcoholic beverages for the evenings. Alcohol is a diuretic, and it can rid your body of water faster than you consume it. To catch dehydration before it happens, I recommend starting each day with Liquid IV. These packets boost your immune system and provide your body with electrolytes.

Pack for Any Weather

Blankets on the ground

Though summer days in Manchester are excruciatingly hot, nights have the potential to be equally as cold. It's easy to make the mistake of packing only for warm weather, but bringing blankets and hoodies is crucial for sleeping and late night sets. On the other hand, you may want to bring a bathing suit to jump in the fountain or take a ride on the Big Ass Waterslide. With it being so hot, it's normal to want to wear as little clothes as possible - but keeping your shoulders and other burn-prone areas covered is key to avoid turning into a lobster.

Bring the Proper Creams

Bonnaroo fountain
Photo by Alive Coverage

Speaking of preventing a lobster metamorphosis, you'd be a fool to forget sunblock. Although aerosol cans are prohibited in Centeroo, travel-sized lotions under 3.4 ounces are good to go. To prevent sweat and fountain water from washing it away, it's best to opt for waterproof sunblock. Please note: full-size containers are still allowed in the campgrounds.

Another thing that can save you from an unpleasant weekend is Gold Bond. Gold Bond can be applied between the top of your legs to keep your thighs from chafing when they rub together. You'll be walking a lot in the next few days, so heed my advice and pick some up.

Wear Good Shoes

Runner withtennis shoes

For a pain-free experience, protecting your feet is just as important as protecting your skin. Depending on where you camp, the walk to Centeroo can take up to 45 minutes. Although you don't want to put a damper on a good outfit, wearing improper shoes will wreak havoc on your feet. I recommend bringing a pair or two of properly-fitted tennis shoes, waterproof rainboots for a "mudaroo" situation, and a comfortable pair of sandals for the campgrounds, such as Teva or Chaco brand.

Prepare for a Long Wait

Bonnaroo campground
Photo by Alive Coverage

The reported average for Bonnaroo attendance is around 70,000 people. That means 70,000 people have to find their way into the campground each year. In the past, festival-goers have claimed to have waited up to eight hours to enter the 700-acre farm. Bonnaroo has recently allowed attendees to arrive as early as Tuesday, which has helped minimize the problem. Even so, it's vital to fill up with gas before entering the line.

Every car is checked briefly upon entry, and some cars are chosen at random for an extensive search. Between traffic and security checks, you should expect to go nowhere fast. To make the wait more bearable, bring some snacks and create a Bonnaroo playlist before you go.

Make Hygiene Easy


Sorry clean freaks: you probably won't take a shower everyday at Bonnaroo. It's not that you can't, you just won't have time to, and unless you bring a camper, walking to, waiting for, and paying for a shower can be inconvenient and tedious.

Luckily, there are ways to make basic hygiene attainable. I usually pack Colgate Wisps, which are disposable, pre-pasted mini toothbrushes that don't require water to use. All you have to do is pop the bubble of toothpaste with your teeth and start brushing. For the rest of your body, bring 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 to have them. For emergencies, I recommend keeping them on your person in case you encounter a paperless porta-potty.

Have Fun in the Pits

Bonnaroo stage
Photo by Alive Coverage

Watching from the pits isn't essential, and it's certainly not the only way to have a good time. But if you have one act you're just dying to see, it might help to know what to expect. Basically, the two main stages - Which and What - have pits at the front that are emptied after each show. Before the next act, they're refilled with a limited amount of people from the line. Throughout the day, there are actually two lines along the What stage. One line is the pit line for the next act, and the other 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 main stage field opens an hour before the first act, allowing dedicated fans to wait from afternoon to night. If you're interested in a smaller act, you should arrive about two hours early.

Bring Battery Operated Equipment

Kid with a lantern

Generators are loud, tough to move, and potentially dangerous. Because of this, you should load up on a few battery-operated essentials. Personally, one of the most practical things I brought was portable fans. Foldable for easy storage, the fans were a great way to cool down the tent in the morning and myself in the afternoon.

Although there are lights scattered throughout the campgrounds, it's helpful to have one of your own, especially while walking to the bathroom or showers. My light of choice is a Tac Light - a flashlight capable of withstanding harsh weather conditions and general wear and tear. I've also found it to be much brighter than an average flashlight. The same company makes a Tac Light Lantern, which I usually hang up at my camp spot or inside my tent. Most importantly, don't forget the batteries, or all of this is pointless.

Do Food Right

Food at Bonnaroo
Photo by Nathan Zucker

Bonnaroo has amazing food, and you'll be missing out on half the experience if you don't order from one of the vendors. However, the costs will quickly add up if you eat out for every meal. It's also important to note that vendors eventually close, so if you get the late-night munchies, you'll be out of luck if you don't pack snacks. Good ready-to-eat options include granola bars, pre-made sandwiches, Pop-Tarts, and chips. You can also bring a camping stove if you feel like cooking. Per Bonnaroo policy, you're only permitted 40-lbs. of charcoal or one 20-lb. propane tank per grill.

When it comes to vendor food, there are a few options you can't miss. One is the highly-coveted Spicy Pie, a yearly favorite serving up large slices of pizza. Its menu includes Pepperoni, De Plain (cheese), Dirty Surfer, and vegan varieties. A "Spicy Pie" itself is topped with jalapeno, pepperoni, and crushed red pepper. Other must-haves are lobster mac and cheese from Wicked Maine Lobster, and breakfast from Ozark Mountain Biscuit Co.


Beer toasting

If you choose to partake in alcohol, the most cost-effective way is to bring it yourself. Though you can't take beverages into Centeroo, you can certainly pregame on your way in. Each person is allowed two cases of beer, 1.75 liters of hard liquor, and two boxes of wine in the campgrounds. Glass bottles are not permitted, so make sure all alcohol is in a plastic container. If you run out of ice, it will be available to purchase throughout the campgrounds. Any amount of alcohol considered excessive will be confiscated.

Additional Information

  • Several general stores are located across the campgrounds in case you forget anything.

  • Bags brought into Centeroo must be clear and no larger than 12-inch by 6-inch by 12-inch.

  • Narcan and drug-testing kits can be found in the non-profit area near Planet Roo.

  • Some local craft vendors only take cash, so make sure to bring some.

...and final obligatory tip: HAVE FUN!

Bonnaroo is the experience of a lifetime. You'll have the opportunity to meet lifelong friends, join exciting initiatives, and create tons of memories. Have a good time and Happy Roo!


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