Traditionally, my day 1 Bonnaroo blog usually consists of a sentence or two explaining that, while you may well have to wait upwards of 3+ hours to enter the Farm after arriving in Manchester TN, that’s pretty average for a music festival and it’s well worth the price of entry.
That being said, the first few days of Bonnaroo 2019 were marred by the worst possible festival arrival infrastructure, planning, and execution that I have ever seen. Although I hesitate to spend too much time focusing on the negative side of a festival based around the idea of positivity, I think it’s healthy to express just how dangerous and unprofessional the treatment of Bonnaroo attendees was prior to entering the festival. Here are just a few facts that may paint a clearer picture of what happened between arriving in Tennessee and entering the Bonnaroo music festival:
- My caravan left the Manchester Walmart at approximately 2:30 PM, just a little after we usually leave every year. This is our caravan’s seventh year of traveling to the festival and my fourth year. We know what to usually expect when it comes to arriving at Bonnaroo.
- Thanks to a thunderstorm that came as quickly as it went combined with a lack of planning and signage, we were redirected down the main highway that runs through town. Lanes got blocked up and the police were called in to solve the mess they had created.
- We were all directed down the highway in the opposite direction until finally being directed down a back road, christened “Helsboro” (aka Hilsboro) by most of our caravan and Reddit at large.
- There we sat in the breakdown lane of a country road with thousands of other eager festival goers. Tractor trailer trucks sped by as the minutes turned into hours and the day turned to night. We eventually started counting how many cars were going in the opposite direction had a “Bonnaroo Car Pass” on their window, indicating that they had been in line and decided to turn around for a different path into the festival.
- After hours of waiting, some festival goers relieved themselves in nearby fields. Personally, I don’t blame them, given that they could either walk miles down the road to the nearest gas station or give up the place in line that they had already invested 5+ hours into. The whole situation was FUBAR for those who had paid hundreds of dollars for their tickets and driven potentially thousands of miles to attend, as well as the Manchester natives who wanted nothing to do with the festival.
- Naturally, our caravan argued the merits of turning around and ignoring the directions of the Coffee County Police Department to try for a better chance at the main highway entrance. Eventually, around midnight, we decided that it had already been 10 hours and we were fed up with the lack of communication, the lack of phone service, and the lack of police presence on a dark, country road where thousands of festival goers were turning off their cars to conserve gas, therefore making the entire scene even more dangerous.
- We turned around and joined a growing line of angry, sleep deprived, and hungry festival goers along the highway in an only slightly less dangerous predicament. Another 2 and a half to 3 hours later, we arrived at the Farm. It took us from 2:30 PM to 3:30 AM the next day to enter the music festival.
Imagine the frustration we all felt when, after twelve hours of waiting, we finally arrived back at the Walmart that we had originally left from that afternoon. Some in our caravan had arrived in Manchester from their 1,100 mile road trip only to sit in line for another thirteen hours. We couldn’t even be mad, that’s how exhausted we were.
What is normally a festive experience was instead a frustrating and depressing exercise in “claiming” our little plot of dirt in a field full of people. That was our reward for driving across the country, paying hundreds of dollars, taking a week off of work, and then waiting more than half a day in our cars; a campsite the size of my KIA Sedona. That’s how arriving at Bonnaroo 2019 felt.
To top it all off, the first thing I did after setting up camp was lock both my pair and my girlfriend’s spare keys in our van. $60 and an annoying ride on in a go-cart later, I was able to finally lay down to sleep at 5 AM. The sun was already coming up. The first day of Bonnaroo was officially screwed.
After waking up and attempting to salvage what was left of the first day of the festival, my girlfriend and I were able to see Donna Missals and a part of the Grand Ole Opry. Donna was simply amazing and was well worth crawling out of the funk that Helsboro had put me in to see at 1 PM in the Tennessee heat. After that, however, we decided that we were still too tired to do anything of note, so we went back to camp, relaxed, and eventually went to bed early. So much for a four-day music festival.
Tips for Dealing with a Situation that is Incredibly Screwed Up But Entirely Out of Your Control
- Breath: It would be worthless for me to spend any time trying to prepare you for entering Bonnaroo if that is something you still think is a good idea after reading this blog post. Seven years of preparation could not save my caravan from the total fiasco that was arriving at Bonnaroo this year. If you intend on taking the plunge, all I can suggest is that you remember to breath. Breathing carefully can help keep you calm, lower your heart rate, and make it easier to deal with situations that are entirely out of your control.
- Stay Safe: Despite the fact that Bonnaroo’s treatment of arriving attendees on Wednesday was unprofessional and downright dangerous, there are always precautions you can take to limit your risks while waiting 12+ hours in the breakdown lane. For example, don’t wander aimlessly across a dimly lit road after sundown while tractor trailers fly by.
- Drink Plenty of Water: If you are in a situation where you don’t have proper access to food and water (maybe because you were redirected onto a country road and didn’t prep for Fyre festival), make sure to prioritize clean, potable water. Hydrate or dydrate.
- Drag Corporations Online: When all else fails, air your grievances against global corporate entities loudly and publicly. The catharsis is almost worth putting up with their bullshit. It’s not and I would never wish it on anyone, but it almost feels worth it in the moment. Get your pitchforks and sharp wit ready.
To make a long story short, we did really enjoy Bonnaroo 2019 despite all that happened. You should always prepare for the unexpected when traveling to a music festival, but sometimes things are completely screwed and out of your control. In those moments, you just have to push through and remember what really brings us all together. I fully intend to spend the rest of this series thoroughly detailing our experiences and adventures on the Farm, but I would be remiss to gloss over the first day and half of Bonnaroo 2019 like it never happened.
Stay tuned for next week when we go over what happened on the second day of Bonnaroo, including a review of Childish Gambino’s set, my first experience seeing Phish, and much more.