How To Do Bonnaroo

One of the world’s largest music festivals takes place on a Tennessee farm each June. Here’s a quick guide to Bonnaroo.
Farrah Austin

For most of the year, Manchester, Tennessee, is a sleepy town of about 9,000 about halfway between Chattanooga and Nashville. But for four days, it’s wide awake as 70,000 fans flock to a nearby farm for Bonnaroo, the festival that feels like equal parts Woodstock, the Sundance Film Festival, and a county fair. Since 2002, Bonnaroo has included performances by musicians and comedians, a “cinema tent” showing movies, and even yoga classes.

What to Expect
Bonnaroo is a musical mixture of rising stars and big names—Bruce Springsteen, Phish, and the Beastie Boys headlined in 2009. The 2010 festival stars the Dave Matthews Band, Stevie Wonder, and Jay-Z.

What it Costs 
The 4-day tickets don’t come cheap ($234.50 plus $23.10 in service charges), and anybody over the age of 6 has to have one.

Where to Stay
Most folks camp in one of the designated areas around the farm. If that’s not your style, consider a motel. Three of them—the Ambassador Inn (931-728-2200), Hampton Inn (931-728-3300), and Holiday Inn Express (931-728-9383)—are available in Manchester. They fill up quickly, so you might have better luck finding a room in either southern Nashville or western Chattanooga.

Make a Plan
Snag a printed schedule at the gate and make a plan before you head in. Bring a cell phone battery booster; otherwise you’ll have to get up early to recharge your phone at one of the free plug-in stations before the lines get too long. No matter your musical taste, don’t limit yourself to one stage; the festival is a great place to hear new groups. Do stick around after the music ends, because many performers sign autographs in a nearby merchandise tent after their show.

Take a Break
When your ears start ringing, it’s time to back away from the stage and explore. Refresh with some yoga—sessions start at 9 and 10 a.m. at the Sonic Stage. Or for a little bit of pampering, visit the Garnier Fructis Tent, where volunteer stylists will wash your hair for free in air-conditioned comfort.

For directions or more information, visit bonnaroo.com, or e-mail the festival at info@bonnaroo.com.