This is going to be the hardest review I have ever written. I had an absolutely wonderful time at Bonnaroo. Everyone probably did. The fact that this festival has headlining acts like Pretty Lights playing until the sun comes up gives Bonnaroo a huge leg up on the competition. With this being said, Bonnaroo is behind the times when it comes to the comprehensive fan experience. If they commit to fixing a few key problems (which would not be that hard), Bonnaroo would be the premiere festival in North America.
Location: Manchester, Tennessee
Dates: June 13th-16th
Size: 120,000 a day (They say 100,000, but there were way more people than that.)
Lineup: The lineup at Bonnaroo showed a change in philosophy. Instead of booking the biggest Jam Bands, they instead went for household names that would apply to a different festival audience. Nonetheless, it was definitely a great weekend of music.
Stages: The main stage (What Stage) at Bonnaroo is a wonderful place to see live music. It has enormous video screens that let you see the performers no matter how far back you are. There are also speaker towers half way back through the crowd that ensure the entire crowd hears every note the artist plays. Out of all of the different festivals I have been to, this stage is one of my favorite places to see a show. Unfortunately, the simple expectation of seeing the artist and hearing the music during the performance does not apply to the other stages. This Tent, That Tent, and The Other Tent (yes, those are actually the stage names….. AWFUL) do not have video screens, so if you are not in front of the sound board you will not be able to see the artists. The second largest stage, The Which Stage, has one screen to the right of the stage so only half of the crowd gets to see it. None of these stages have speaker towers going back into the crowd, so you have to get close to even hear the music. With the lack of video screens and ample sound, the crowd has to squeeze together to try and get to a place where they can see and hear everything. Therefore, you spend almost the entire weekend cramped next to everyone instead of having room to dance.
I also want to take a moment to discuss these stage names. Calling the stages This Stage, That Stage, etc., is not funny. It’s not clever. These stage names create confusion amongst the crowd all weekend long and it causes miscommunication between friends, which is very frustrating. The Which Stage doesn’t even have the stage name on the stage like all of the others do; it just has a question mark. I’m not sure why Bonnaroo thinks it’s funny to confuse their audience, because its not. This needs to be changed.
This is what it’s like to “see” music at Bonnaroo.
Crowd: The crowd at Bonnaroo this year was very interesting. When the lineup shifted away from jam bands (Phish, Widespread Panic, ect.) and was replaced with older more mainstream acts like Paul McCartney and Tom Petty, the crowd shifted away from the festival hippie crowd and into a little more blue to white-collar crowd. The end result was a super diverse crowd in terms of age and lifestyle. As you would expect from a festival in the south, everyone was super friendly and the vibe was great.
Organization: Bonnaroo is not a very easy festival to attend. The first issue festivalgoers face is the campgrounds. The festival is so large that you could face a walk that will take up to 40 minutes to get to the fairgrounds. This eliminates your ability to go back and fourth from the festival to your camp and wears you out over 4 days.
The festival itself has more lines than you will experience at other festivals. During Paul McCartney’s set I had to miss 5 songs while waiting in line for the bathroom. Other festival goers simply chose to pee inside the fairgrounds instead, so by the last day there was a very present smell of urine along the back wall of the main stage. Fans shouldn’t have to resort to this.
There were literally over 300 people waiting for 17 porta potties during Paul McCartney.
Food: The food at Bonnaroo is great. You have all different kinds of food to pick from and standard festival prices. There must have been 100 different vendors and the lines were not an issue. The one problem I have is the water price. $3 for a bottle of water is WAY too much. $2 needs to be the industry standard as it encourages attendees to drink water and stay hydrated.
Art: Bonnaroo decorates their fairgrounds by having people spray paint the plywood walls surrounding the fairground. This is a good start, but there are no art installations the really impress you. The other area where this festival was lacking was lighting. The only thing that was lit up at night was the ferris wheel and one tent. No where close to the magical world that you get at other festivals.
Overall: After reading this review you might be expecting a 1 or 2 star rating, but that is not the case. Bonnaroo is getting 3.5 stars, and with a little work they can become a guaranteed 5 star festival. Having music play all night is such a big advantage over its competitors that Bonnaroo can lack some of the important amenities and still be extremely fun overall. If they would add more lights to decorate the fairgrounds, shuttles to help make the campground experience less brutal, and improve the music watching experience (stages/sound), then their tickets would sell out instantly like other festivals do.
If you agree and think that these changes would help make Bonnaroo better, please share this article with your friends. Let’s make Bonnaroo the best festival in America!