Bonnaroo 2012 Part I: The Scene
The crowd, the art, and the "Big Ass Water Slide!"

What a long strange trip it’s been.

After four days of battling the blistering heat, sleeping under the Tennessee stars, wandering about the 700-acre campground and singing along with musical legends, my body is begging for rest. My feet are worn, my eyes are slipping shut, my fingernails are buried under heaps of dirt. But I survived my first Bonnaroo, and live to tell the tales of an extraordinary weekend.

The eleventh annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival gathered more than 80,000 music lovers to the small town of Manchester, Tennessee for four days of peace, love, and music. While Woodstock may have pioneered the festival movement in America, Bonnaroo has taken over where the hippie extravaganza left off. Bustling with eco-friendly activism, throngs of naked bodies twirling around and mudslides forming across the farm, Bonnaroo successfully transformed technology-obsessed Americans into carefree and wild-spirited festi-lovers - if only for the weekend.

While centered around live music, Bonnaroo was so much more than a simple music festival. Hence the word “Arts” in its full name, the festival boasted a plethora of different artistic expositions. Amateurs and professionals alike expressed themselves through every medium imaginable. While waiting in line to enter “Centeroo” (the staging area), attendees scribbled their own personal messages onto the graffiti-covered walls surrounding the festival.  Inside the walls professional artists sold portraits, painted live to the background of music, offered henna tattoo designs and more. From the pen, to the paintbrush, to the spraypaint can, to the guitar, art aficionados created for the sake of creation - leaving the corporate world in the dust in favor of pure love for sharing their talents.

If art wasn’t your thing (you were clearly at the wrong place, but) Bonnaroo was fully-equipped to fulfill an
environmentalist’s wildest dreams. The towering statue of an open-fist holding up a globe found at the center of Centeroo set the tone for this no-nonsense earth-friendly festival. And Bonnaroo didn’t spare a dime when it came to making sure its tens of thousands of attendees’ waste wouldn’t harm our precious environment. Separate trash, recyclable and composting bins were sprawled across the campground, along with a volunteer standing by to guide attendees to the right basket. A gardening center allowed curious guests to try out their green thumbs. Composting information desks provided further guidance to leading a greener lifestyle. While festivals by nature produce much waste because of their plastic-ware using food vendors, Bonnaroo managed to set the bar quite high for environmentally-friendly festivals to follow. 

Bonnaroo was an amusement park both kids and adults could enjoy. The sky-high ferris wheel provided a  birdseye view of the entire campground, making for beautiful sunlight sights by day and insane laser light-show panoramas by night. Both the giant “Big Ass Water Slide” and Mushroom Fountain gave attendees giddy and childish cooldown options. The stages themselves continued the festival’s madness - senselessly named the “What Stage,” “Which Stage,” “The Other Tent,” “This Stage,” and “That Tent.” The Food Truck Oasis gave attendees uniquely delicious eating options (I enjoyed fried avocado tacos, spicy-mayo topped arepas and vegan burgers). Stepping into Centeroo meant stepping out of reality - my good friends put it best when they created Livestrong style bracelets with the message “A Loophole From Reality” written across the band.

And in such an unrealistic world comes an unrealistic meshing of the minds. It takes a very special personality to be able to bear the sweltering sun, to forego the everyday conveniences of electricity, to sleep on the cold, hard ground night after night, to stop worrying about hygiene after four days without a hot shower. If you went to Bonnaroo without a patient mindset, you either left angrily or learned to sit back and go with the flow. And for the survivors, the experience was more than worth it.

Bonnaroo’s massive population simply cannot be pigeonholed into one stereotype. Ultra has its glitter-covered ravers, Coachella has its skinny-jeans sporting hipsters, but Bonnaroo is a breed of its own. Inviting fans of rock’n’roll, jammy funk, bassy-electro, indie-soul and everything in between, the diverse lineup welcomed people of all ages, backgrounds and interests into Bonnaroo’s melting pot world. Hippie parents cradled their babies adorning cloth diapers and mini earmuffs alongside hoola-hooping teenagers wearing scantily clad bathing-suits. Deadheads passed joints to twenty-something indie kids, high schoolers helped old hippies set up their tents. 

Together, we thwarted off sunburns, championed the rainstorms, pushed to the front of each performance, examined maps to find the most direct route from one stage to the next. All tens of thousands of us together, sliding through the mud in the name of music. Dancing away to the same beats. Swaying together to the same songs. The sense of community sweeping through the air was inspiring, it was pure, and it was irreplaceable.

There are some moments you really just can't put into words. When the hair on the back of your neck  stands up, and you feel that rush of adrenaline and excitement and anxiousness all at once, because you know you’re all living in this very moment together - a unique moment that will never happen again. A moment forever frozen in time - when you’re surrounded by strangers who quickly turned into friends and you’re all chanting the same lyrics with the most uncontrollable smiles plastered on your faces. These are the moments Bonnaroo gave to us, moments of glorious euphoria where you just toss your arms into the sky and thank your lucky stars for music, for festivals and for the gift of life.

For our detailed musical highlights, check out part II of our coverage: Bonnaroo 2012: The Music.

And check back here on Thursday for our full photographic coverage!