June 11th, 2009
09:15 AM ET

Bonnaroo or bust, baby!

Bonnaroo, a massive four-day music and arts festival held every June in Manchester, Tennessee, begins today, and quiet panic is setting in at the Wheatley household.


In less than 24 hours, we’ll be swimming in a sea of sweat and patchouli. But right now we still need to find someone to feed our cat, and pick up our share from the farmers market. Sarah - my lovely wife - thinks I need a bigger hat. She’s right. My sensitive skin will likely take a beating soon.

Going to ‘Roo is no small undertaking. It is a feat of endurance. Rock concerts begin around noon and push through 4 in the morning. The blistering sun heats your tent like an oven so you can’t sleep past 9. That is, if thunderstorms don’t turn the grounds into a muddy bog.

That may not sound like fun. But, for music lovers, Bonnaroo is practically paradise – sporting one of the most diverse lineups in the country.

The event, which began in 2002 as a jam-band festival geared toward the Dead-head crowd, has shed much of its hippie-fest reputation in recent years by showcasing mainstream artists like Metallica, Radiohead, and The Police. It’s now arguably the best rock festival anywhere and this year’s lineup aims to thrill.

Headliners Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and Phish (playing two nights) anchor a cast of more than 100 performers - from established acts (Beastie Boys, Nine Inch Nails, Wilco) to legendary performers (Al Green, David Byrne, King Sunny Ade) to indie darlings (Bon Iver, The Dirty Projectors, Of Montreal).

Something for everyone, but the stacked lineup also provides for some near impossible choices. Take Sunday night - as Snoop Dogg, Band of Horses and Neko Case occupy separate stages during the same hour.

My own must-see list continues to swell - in addition to the artists above, I’m psyched to see country legend Merle Haggard, the reunion of rap pioneers Public Enemy and the incomparable dance-party mash-up that is Girl Talk, the later of which begins at 2:15 a.m. Friday night!

Tens of thousands of tent-towing music fans are already making the pilgrimage to the sprawling 700-acre farm that houses the event. With any luck, I’ll be arriving tomorrow morning with ample time to set camp, cover every inch of exposed skin with SPF 75, and catch the all-female Norwegian quartet Katzenjammer. I kid you not.

If you're going, please share your stories on iReport.com.

I’ll be keeping you updated with pics and show reviews right here on the Marquee Blog, and you can also follow my exploits on Twitter.

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Filed under: Bonnaroo • Music

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soundoff (59 Responses)
  1. Nick

    I just got back from bonnaroo '09 (my firs festival) and it was hands down the best time that I have ever had. Yes, it is one giant four day party and people do get pretty wild, but that is half the experience. Despite such debauchery, there was absolutely no violence or verbal disputes and people are genuinely friendly and happy to meet you. However, for those of you who can't handle roughing it, then roo probably isn't the best festival to visit. Yet for those up to the adventure, bonnaroo is truly a unique experience and you will not find anything like it in the world.

    June 17, 2009 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Matt

    Bonnaroo is dead now..or to most of us that went early on.

    I went there in 2004 and had a great time, now it's mainstream acts and pushers everywhere...

    Most people I know that have been to the ROO won't go anymore...sad

    June 15, 2009 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
  3. Gretchen

    My husband & I went in 2003...it really was an awesome experience. I certainly hope that they are doing a better job with the potties...that was gross.

    Every year I look at the schedule and would love to go...but I just can't give up that amount of time now..

    Go Roo,, have fun, be smart

    June 14, 2009 at 4:29 am | Report abuse |
  4. cagirl

    I've never been to Bonnaroo but I have been to Coachella many times. We never get rained on seeing as it takes place in the hot desert valley but it would be so much fun if it were to someday rain. I really would like to experience Bonnarro someday but for now I'll say... wear sunscreen, have fun, be safe, and make smart decisions at Bonnaroo everyone!!!!

    June 14, 2009 at 3:22 am | Report abuse |
  5. Rick

    I've been to Roo twice (2004 & 2006). It's without a doubt the best time of my life, and I'm going back next year. My best friend's gone every year since we went the first year. My son's gone EVERY year. Not a single unkind word or deed. Peace, Love, and Great Music! Were that the rest of the world could follow our lead!

    June 13, 2009 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tammy

    I'm sorry but folks if you say that your kids do not do drugs and will not do them then sadly enough you're wrong. I went last year and everything from helium, nitrous, meth, pot, coke, and random pills were being passed along and sold at the campsites. I myself did not do anything other than caffeine in my morning sweet tea but after dragging the 10 person in two days to a medial tent it was apparent that the scene was very pervasive at the 'Roo.

    All said, if your precious snowflake, can team up with some truly responsible persons then this can be a very engaging and introspective time for them before they , say, graduate or move off on their own. They will definitely learn about their personal boundaries in the first 12 hours of them being there.

    June 13, 2009 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Faith

    No seriously, all you parents who are sure your kids would NEVER do drugs; they are. Don't be silly. And the few who are not doing drugs are blacked out drunk most of the time they are awake. But if you trust your kids enough to go by themselves you probably know that even if they are doing those things they'll be relatively smart about their decisions. Music festivals are great though, I have really missed going to one the past couple years. Work sucks...

    June 13, 2009 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. monalisa

    Deezus, Not showered in months??? I know not so. You have a sick warped mind and should keep your opinion to yourself and not post such things. You are probably just jealous that you are not there !

    June 13, 2009 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ryan

    Bonnaroo is an amazing experience, but it is SO essential to be prepared for everything. Especially the heat. Went in 04 and 05, ever since its been getting more and more mainstream. Not bad in and of itself, but still, its a neo-hippy festival from its inception and its getting away from that to become more like a lollapalooza. I am skipping it and going to Allgood in masontown,wv instead. The artist lineup looks more like what bonnaroo used to be, albeit quite a bit smaller. To the parents reading this, yes your kids are doing drugs, but relax bonnaroo is very safe. In the years they've had it, with a population around 100,000 people each of those years, I don't think there have been but a handful of serious injuries or deaths, which would make it safer than most similar sized cities. They will come home in one piece with a hell of a life experience that they will talk about for years. Long live the roo.

    June 13, 2009 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jeff

    Don't fry if you're not up to it. I wish I could have seen NIN again.

    June 13, 2009 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Deezus

    Bonna-poo!! I can't think of anything worse then sweating like an ox, around people who haven't showered in months and bathe themselves in patchouli to "make a statement". Please! But no seriously, have fun with your glowsticks, hackeysacks, pot brownies while wading in mud that is actually raw sewage and no running water while having a horrible acid trip. hahahahahahahahahaha.

    sorry, i think its funny.

    June 13, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dillon

    Julia Nunes!

    June 12, 2009 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  13. monalisa

    Thank you Renee! My daughter, boyfriend and others are there. She called me today and all is well and having a good time. Thank you for your positive comments. It makes a mother not worry so much!!!!!

    June 11, 2009 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tammy

    My son has been to Bonnaroo every year except the first one. He has always been safe and comes home tired and dirty, but okay. He does not do drugs. This year his 18 year old brother went with him for the first time. Sure I worry some, but if kids use good judgement while there, hopefully, they will have a great time and hear some good music. I would have loved to go to Bonnaroo if it had been around when I was younger!

    June 11, 2009 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Angie


    June 11, 2009 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Renee

    I live a few miles out of downtown Nashville and not too very far from Manchester. Between the people coming for the Country Music Festival and Bonnaroo think I'll just stay off the road for a few days! 🙂

    As for all the negative comments about Bonnaroo – come on – it has a little bit of music for everyone. Sounds like some of you just hung around the wrong people. Not everyone is a pot head, thief or doing acid.

    Welcome to Music City everybody! Have fun, buy lots of stuff and have a great time!

    June 11, 2009 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Russ

    I remember going to the two US Festivals in 1982&1983. I am glad that there are things like this for the younger people to go and enjoy. Life gets hard enough too soon. ROCK ON!

    June 11, 2009 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  18. StuckInMilwaukee

    Bonneroo has nothing on SummerFest.

    June 11, 2009 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Babygrand44

    Bonnarro sounds like fun, But Rocklahoma is the bomb if you like 80's hair bands for four days, and July heat in Oklahoma.
    Twisted Sister, Kix Thin Lizzy, Stryper, Anthrax, Saxon, Ratt, Night Ranger, Skid Row, Great White, Warrant, Vixen, Helix, LA Guns to name a few.

    June 11, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Allen Saunders

    Why go to this and hang with dirty hippies. Head lice...no way. I would rather go to Lollapalooza and stay in a hotel rather than camping with a bunch of pot head theafts.

    June 11, 2009 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Bubba

    RIPCC, I kinda doubt one trip to Bonnaroo ruined someone's life. A life is a big, complicated, tumultuous thing, and if one bad experience is enough to make you hang it up and die, you weren't raised right.
    Corey, don't take the brown acid, man. There's a lot of really intense bad energy there.

    June 11, 2009 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  22. jen

    I went to Bonnaroo two years ago... not everyone there does drugs. There were actually a surprising number of families there with small children...all safe, all enjoying the experience.

    Also, it is unfortunate that people make bad decisions to put drugs in their body, but you cant blame anything bad that happens in a person's life to a music festival. At the end of the day, it is unfortunately the individual's fault for whatever drug they have introduced to their body. (I also have a friend who went the year before me, took something bad, and has not been the same since.) Still, I would not tell someone not to go to Bonnaroo, just warn them to not make bad decisions.

    June 11, 2009 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  23. ManchesterMom

    I live in Manchester. For one weekend a year, our nice, quiet, sleepy little town is busting at the seams. I don't go anywhere the Wal-mart which is the side of town where most of the Bonnaroonies hang out till the gates open. My parents, sadly, live in the path of all those who are entering and cannot get out of their driveway for almost 24 hours. At least the city and county are a lot better prepared to handle all the traffic now than they were in 2002 when everyone arriving locked up every available road in the State of Tennessee for the entire weekend and then some. Back then, I lived in the path of entry. It was not fun. The next year, we planned a vacation for that entire week or so, that way we were not affected by it. My daughter is now 16, and she and several of her friends will be going as she did last year. They have walk in tickets and she spends each night at home. It is the best of both worlds for her. She went last year and enjoyed herself. It really is not the hippiefest that it was at the beginning, and I think it attracts a more diverse group of people the way it is now. I cannot say that the people are not fun to watch, because they are, but I'm glad that Manchester only has Bonnaroo once a year. But they are good corporate citizens and give back to Manchester and Coffee County for putting the entire town out for that one weekend every year. Go Bonnaroo!

    June 11, 2009 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  24. linda

    my daughter is on her 4th year, she is a regular @ Roo! This will be her last, she says "my last hurrah summer mom" she is now 21. When I was that age it was Union Grove, oh the fun!!

    June 11, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  25. CSD

    I've gone the past five years, this being the first year I can't go due to my daughter's high school graduation....But rest assured, we'll be loading up the RV next year, and I'll have my 19 and 18 YO in tow. A great event, and for those hoping for good weather – it NEVER happens. It's ranged from 56 degrees to 104, from blazing, desert conditions to tumultuous thunderstorms – but it wouldn't be Bonnaroo without the mud!

    June 11, 2009 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Transformed

    You should quit this manic fest and instead go to Transformus, held the 3rd w/e of July in nearby Hendersonville, NC. The art is incredible and the music and DJ's are killer! Too, they play with fire = fire spinning/poi, fire hooping, fire art installations, two lakes, great people. This arts festival hs been going on for 6 years now. It's great! I love it! It "transforms" so many lives.

    June 11, 2009 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Adam

    How would Corey know it's less fun if he hasn't been in two years? I went last year for the first time and had a blast! It's great music in a great environment,and i'd recommend the experience to anybody. Wish I was there this year for Phish!

    June 11, 2009 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Vickster

    The first two years were AWESOME and completely out of this world (2002-2003). However, I stopped going after the third 'Roo because it's not the same hippie chill scene it once was. What was great about Bonaroo was the grassroots organization and a chill scene. The crowd has changed (lot younger and way more rowdy) and the music has changed (NIN at the "roo, C'mon!). It's not the same 'Roo that I once knew.

    June 11, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  29. Jenny

    I went the first year. Bonnarro 2002 was amazing! I refuse to go anymore. The newer crowd has ruined it.

    June 11, 2009 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Dave

    Ahhh Bonnarooooo!!

    I went the very first year and it was the greatest experience I've ever had. Best concert ever! I'll remember it forever.

    My advice to those wanting to go ... RENT AN RV! We headed a caravan of 8 cars 18 hours. I drove the RV the whole way and felt terrific when I got there. Plus – after Day 2 – you don't want to go near the Porta-Potties.

    The people are the greatest ... at least they were when I went since it was mostly hippies – myself included of course. I agree that it's changed so much over the years and I honestly probably wouldn't attend now.

    It took 12 hours to get out of the parking area afterward – hope they solved that problem.

    And yes. Your kids are doing drugs. 🙂

    June 11, 2009 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  31. svgklingon

    Unable to go to the Roo because of performances I am in myself. However I did see Phiah last night in Knoxville and they are sure to smoke the festival. It was a real rocker and they will no doubt turn on many new fans over the next few days.
    I'll be following you on twitter.

    June 11, 2009 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  32. Mom

    My daughter called this morning to let me know she may be blown away by a tornado! Yikes, bad weather. I told her to watch out for flying houses. She said there aren't any houses, just tents!

    June 11, 2009 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  33. Jo Ann

    My daughter and her friends left last night from Philadelphia – this is at least her 3rd year. By reading your article at least now I have an idea what all the excitement is about! She talks non-stop about it. I wish everyone a great time and a safe journey back home.

    June 11, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  34. Kate

    I went to Bonnaroo in 2004 when it was more of a hippie-fest. One of the most fun road trips/concerts/experiences of my life. Your kids will have a blast. And yes, it is a madhouse. Esp. when its pouring rain with a foot of mud underfoot and lost shoes abound, ugh. And yes, the tent is an oven by 9am. But absolutely well worth the dirty, sweaty, hot, smelly 4 day experience.

    June 11, 2009 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  35. Randy

    Great time but hydrate hydrate hydrate! I've been to two Bonnaroos but each year its lost its hippie vibe. Its best to look for quality acts like Ben Harper, Marvis Staple, Los Lobos etc. the headliners like the Police, Phish are usually marginal and only there for the pay day. I'll be back when its less like a fraternity party and more like Woodstock....the real one.

    June 11, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  36. Jody

    Corey, so true...so true.

    June 11, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  37. Dustin

    Phish is playing two shows! I can't think of anything else that would be more in tune with the spirit in which the jam fest began.

    June 11, 2009 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  38. Tommy boy

    My nephew is there with friends and sending shots to facebook. Looks like way too much fun!

    June 11, 2009 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  39. JS

    Ha ha Corey. They sure are!!!!! Been there, done that!!!!!

    June 11, 2009 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  40. Dustin

    Hahaha, Corey is freaking out the establishment, man!

    June 11, 2009 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  41. Ernest

    I went last year and it was a blast. What Corey says is true. You can't make it out of there without being offered everything at least twice, even the most hardcore stuff that you never come across.

    June 11, 2009 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  42. fuzzbutt

    Every year my husband tries to convience me to go to this, and after reading this I am more convienced that I made the right decision in NOT going. He doesn't like crowds (but why does he what to concerts you ask? I don't know) he doesn't like camping, he can't be in the sun, he doesnt do well without sleep, etc. etc. Yep, glad we aren't going.

    June 11, 2009 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  43. Tammy Porter

    If you are going, check out the Solar Stage tonight at 8pm, Stephen Smartt and Brian Pierce will be playing aka One With Life!

    June 11, 2009 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  44. James L. Holloway

    As Jeff Pechow best said it, "Reality is the absence of Bonnaroo."

    June 11, 2009 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  45. Rick

    Went last year. Will get there again this year too. Lots of naked girls, many willing to do everything in this party atmosphere! A virtual paradise for teenage boys who may not normally attract or get any attention from girls normally. I was actually sore when the festival was over!!

    June 11, 2009 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  46. Kathy

    My son and his friends left New York last night and arrived at 11 a.m. this morning. Hope everyone has a safe and fun time.

    June 11, 2009 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  47. R.I.P.C.C.

    My daughter's best friend went to Bonnaroo last year, she came back all messed up from something she took while she was there. She was never the same after Bonnaroo and killed herself in Feb of this year, she was 20. She was like a daughter to us. This is not the first person this has happened to...DON'T LET YOU'RE KIDS GO TO BONNAROO!

    June 11, 2009 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  48. Amber

    I went to Bonnarroo in 2003, the second year that had it. It's a truly amazing experience but you've gotta be prepared - physically, emotionally, mentally - to bear the heat, people, noise, traffic and general overstimulation.

    I haven't been able to make it back since, what with a real-world job and limited vacation time. But I think the only way I really could go again is to do so in an RV/camper, with a generator and AC and toilet! It's still a great time no matter what though. One hell of an adventure.

    June 11, 2009 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  49. Kris

    big names kill the whole event, but there's always mt. jam and the vibes to make things better.

    ps. not all do drugs 🙂

    June 11, 2009 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  50. patricia

    my son just left with his friends, what was I thinking when I said yes to this!

    June 11, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  51. case

    I have been to Bonnaroo twice it becomes the fourth largest city in Tennessee and I have never seen one fight. People take care of each other and there is a true sense of community I have not found anywhere else (including the army and sports teams). People accept you for who you are. This year I will skip Bonnaroo and head to 10 thousand lakes in northern Minnesota. I like the bands better there this year. I also have a hard time dealing with that southern heat. I think society as a whole can learn lessons from the community music festivals create.

    June 11, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  52. mikecheck1212

    Corey speaks the truth – I went the first three years, but since then it's become way too big to be as fun as that first year. And yes, they're all on drugs... every last one of them!

    June 11, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  53. scott

    I agree with corey. First two years were awesome. 3rd year there was a lot of meth floating around, and the whole scene was very sketchy. I haven't gone since that 3rd year so things might have gotten better, but from what I hear...it hasn't.

    June 11, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  54. Jeff

    My son and his group of music loving friends left yesterday from Austin, TX to drive to Manchester, TN. I hope the weather is good for driving and camping. There should be a great music. The people watching is unprecedented. I would be beside myself if it were my daughter going though.

    June 11, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  55. HankParsons

    I went to the first two, and have not gone back since. Just because there are mainstream acts does not make it better. The fun of it was going to see a big name act like Neil Young and then after you could walk around and watch live music of performers that were so happy to be there. Snoop Dogg? Metallica? Can't say that I would enjoy gangsta rap and heavy metal when I would be coming from a Phish show. Bonnaroo started out as a festival for jam bands and other good music, now its a commercial monster that forgot it's roots. A very good example of this is that my car battery died too while I was there, but I didn't pay $75 to get it jumped because our neighbors all volunteered to help me out. Bonnaroo sucks now.

    June 11, 2009 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  56. roo 08

    I went last year and had a blast. As long as you have a little common sense, drink water and find shade every once in a while you'll be fine. Last year we had the heat and the storm, could not sleep in past 7 AM because the tent was an oven and went to bed between 3 and 5 most nights. You definitely need a few days after to recover but it is soo worth it.

    June 11, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  57. Corey

    It was a lot more fun when it first started. Every year it gets more and more corporate and less fun. I've skipped the last two years.

    ps. Your kids are doing drugs! (it's ok, everyone there is)

    June 11, 2009 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  58. kywildcatmom

    My daughter and 3 friends left yesterday. They wanted to try to miss the heavy traffic of today. She went last year and I am pretty sure she is more prepared for this one. She even took jumper cables as her car battery went dead last year and it cost her $75 to get jumped. It can be very expensive if not prepared.

    June 11, 2009 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  59. oklahomagirl76

    My son and his girlfriend just walked out the door ten minutes ago, loading up their car to head to Bonnaroo. Your story leaves me torn between thinking "Oh, this will be okay, they will have fun", and "OMG, this will be a madhouse, what were they thinking??" I will be reading your Twitter entries non-stop during the next four days, and praying for nice weather, for your sake and theirs!!!!!

    June 11, 2009 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |

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