Posted Jun 24th, 2015 (10:00 am) by Addie Provost
Image by Derek Duoba

Bonnaroo Music Festival is one of the largest music celebrations in the country and is well known among music lovers for being one of the hottest events of the summer. Literally. June in Tennessee is humid and the heat borderlines on unbearable. Couple this intense southern climate with 100,000 attendees and an optional shower policy, and things can get a bit... raunchy. Luckily, being on a 700-acre farm means plenty of fresh air to blow that hippie stench down to Tullahoma. But enough about the grueling heat. We've talked about that plenty in our daily reviews. Let's take a look into what helped solidify Bonnaroo as one of the best music festivals in North America.

Section One: Festival Production

Part of Bonnaroo's magic is in it's ability to attract music enthusiasts of all walks of life and bring them together in solidarity. The crowds that swarmed the five main stages were as diverse as the acts that performed upon them, yet a high five was never hard to come by. Strangers waiting in line for food truck cuisine or a ride on the ferris wheel would often find themselves in amusing conversations which always ended with a customary, "Have a happy Roo!" Throughout the four day weekend, the vibe remained jovial and communal, largely due to the Bonnaroovian Code. For the most part, everyone was courteous and cleaned up after themselves (taking care to differentiate between the trash, recycle and compost bins).

Despite the positive atmosphere, festival goers did have a shared complaint: too many bands and not enough time. Oh, if only we could've split ourselves into two we could've seen Deadmau5, Flying Lotus and Odesza, but alas it wasn't meant to be. Many of us had to make hard decisions about which acts took priority or whether it was worth it to leave the end of one set to try and catch the end of another. However, it's hard to find blame in the Bonnaroo team for booking so many worthy acts. In all likelihood, the move was necessary to keep the stages from becoming too crowded at any given moment. If anything, the lack of time traveling devices seemed to be the real oversight. Luckily, the stages were just close enough to allow for easy travel between sets, but not so close as to cause interference.

On-site camping was not only convenient but also enjoyable. Unlike many festivals, Bonnaroo allowed the majority of campers to keep their cars at their camp sites which meant you could easily bring more than you could carry and therefore camp in total luxury if you so desired. Access to amenities such as bathrooms, showers, food, water filling stations, information and the medical tent were all a short and reasonable jaunt from anywhere you may be standing within the campgrounds.

Security was tight, albeit inconsistently so. As those carrying VIP badges would attest, capacity rules for the front viewing areas at both the What and Which stages seemed to vary significantly throughout the weekend; at times, security seemed to be willing to let anyone into these prime viewing spots (e.g. Bassnectar). For other shows, attendees found themselves waiting in the sort of one-in-one-out lines familiar to anyone who has gone out in a major U.S. city during the weekends. In addition to security in Centeroo, a notable number of horse-mounted personnel patrolled the festival grounds throughout the weekend. We found that these security people gave Bonnaroovians a sense of relative safety without ever seeming overbearing or intrusive. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a cadre of EMTs wandered through both Centeroo and the outer festival grounds on a constant basis in search of people in need of assistance. Over the course of the weekend, we observed EMTs provide immediate help to dozens of festival attendees; this is a major reason why only a single death occurred at this year's Bonnaroo.

Our thoughts on Bonnaroo's food and drink offerings are mixed. On one hand, the low cost and huge selection of delicious grub from food trucks and other vendors was superlative; festival attendees could eat every meal at vendors over the course of the weekend without having to worry about breaking the bank or getting bored. On the other hand, while the quality of offerings in the "Food Truck Oasis" were on par with those in cities such as Austin and L.A., the same cannot necessarily be said about the rest of Bonnaroo's food providers. Unfortunately, we heard of several moderate food poisoning testimonies over the course of the four day event. Whether this is due to a wide-spread problem or not, it isn't terribly surprising, given the extreme temperatures during the day.

Much like the food selection, the beer offerings inside Centeroo were phenomenal. The "Brooer's Festival" tent hosted well over two dozen different breweries ranging from Magic Hat to Lagunitas to Tennessee's own Ole Shed and Bearded Iris. These offerings were head and shoulders above the majority of other national-level festivals, where Blue Moon is considered to be the "craft brew" option. Unfortunately, pricing for drinks inside Centeroo was nothing short of exorbitant. While we expected to pay a premium for festival-sponsored alcohol, we certainly did not expect to pay double what we would out in the real world. Of course, Bonnaroo is far from the only festival to price gouge on alcohol; in fact, we have yet to find a single national-level event that offers reasonably priced booze. Does this make it right? We'll leave this decision to the reader.

Score: 25/30

Section Two: Presentation

True to Bonnaroo tradition, many of the much-loved aesthetic elements were present this year including the graffiti murals, the mushroom shaped water park, the ferris wheel, and those beautiful arches. As always, there was a clear focus on environmental consciousness throughout the fairgrounds. Sponsors of the festival were easy to pick out but never in an overbearing way. As policy dictates, sponsors could only market their products to interested consumers through fun and free methods of entertainment including contests, giveaways, workshops, and communal art installations. This kept the festival feeling authentic despite it's affiliations with several large corporations (e.g. Anheuser-Busch, Ford, etc.). The Trojan banner flying overhead, and the existence "New Music on Tap Lounge brewed by Miller Lite" stage were the only instances in which we ever felt forced to witness advertising.

Score: 16/20

Section Three: Sustainability

When it comes to music festivals, Bonnaroo is a leader in maintaining a sustainable and relatively pollution free event with recycling and composting encouraged throughout. The shower water is even recycled! Don't freak out, it's just filtered rainwater. Bonnaroo teams up with environmentally conscious groups every year to offset it's carbon footprint as much as possible, vendors provide compostable utensils and containers, and festival goers can charge their phones on solar-powered charging stations. There's even prizes awarded to do-gooders who pick up cigarette butts and solo cups at The Clean Vibes Trading Post. Last, but not least, there are over 25 non-profit organizations that teamed up with Bonnaroo this year to help attendees rest, relax and learn about their connection and responsibility to Mother Earth. All of this combined helped to preserve Bonnaroo's title as the "greenest festival" in America for another year.

Score: 22/25

Section Four: Non-Musical Entertainment

Let it be known that there is more to do than can be done at Bonnaroo. Art cars, parades, costume parties, theatre classes, sustainability workshops, yoga and meditation, the viewing of the Game of Thrones season finale and a plethora of comedy acts means that there is never a lack of variety to the fun you can have. This year, a new and exciting area to hang out was unveiled and Bonnaroovians flocked to it by the hundreds. But what is it? It's a small wooded area called "The Grove" which is filed with hammocks, some big enough to cuddle all your friends in, that was a haven away from all the stimulation. Sometimes. Other times it was transformed into a kaleidoscope of colorful lights and artistically arranged ropes and home to spontaneous performances. Bonnaroo was full of surprises this year, all of them quite pleasant.

Score: 9/10

Section Five: Overall Festival Atmosphere

Bonnaroo did a spectacular job at maintaining a clean and safe environment, making it easy to have fun enjoying our favorite music with friends, new and old. The vibe was stimulating and exciting and, admittedly, sometimes draining. In comparison to other multi-day musical events of this nature, Bonnaroo remains one of the most family friendly festivals in existence (yes, seeing an entire family walking from stage to stage was a common sight) and the majority of attendees radiated positivity throughout the long weekend.

At over $300 (~$81/day), general admission wrist bands may seem expensive but when compared to other similar festivals it proves to be a pretty sweet deal. South by Southwest costs approximately $104/day and Coachella runs at about $125/day. However, Electric Forest and Governors Ball manage to beat Bonnaroo's bargain at an affordable $70/day and $78/day respectively. Presumably, the abundance of big name artists and non-musical activities played a part in the overall price but when it comes down to it we'd say it's worth every penny, especially considering the high quality camping environment that is nearly impossible to find at other festivals. Plus, you can always consider volunteering in exchange for a free ticket.

Score: 13/15


Even with the heat and the dust, Bonnaroo is sure to beat any weekend you might spend in the comfort of air conditioning. In fact, you may even start to enjoy the grimey Bonnaroovian lifestyle by the end of your stay on the farm. Abandoning your typical hygiene standards is a small price to pay to experience the biggest musical event in the country and we can promise that no other festival can possibly compare, and that's not just because the musical acts were unbelievable or because the staff was so incredible. There simply is no other place where you can raise your hand into the air for a high five and know that no one will leave you hanging. There's no other festival where it's socially acceptable to shout "FUCK KANYE" from the top of a ferris wheel (and still be guaranteed to hear a hundred voices on the ground shout it back). And where else do you have to seriously debate between seeing Childish Gambino or going to a Tiki Disco? Only at Bonnaroo. So start pinching your pennies and put some camping gear on your Christmas wish list because we want you to be there with us next year dashing from stage to stage, napping on hammocks, and ranting about overpriced beers.

Final Score: 85/100

Want more? Check out our full coverage and photo galleries of Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.

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