I was more than impressed by the 80,000 attendees at Bonnaroo. Those I’ve talked to since getting back all seemed to know the tradition and history of the Bonnarroovian code, a lunchroom-like set of guidelines for good behavior and good vibes that mostly revealed itself in the endless chain of high-fives shared between folded segments of the same bathroom queue. I didn’t know of the Bonnarroovian code before I saw the name flash between shows on a side-stage screen, and though the name sounds more like the moniker for a set of space aliens on a PBS-Kids cartoon — “The Bonnarroovians and the Great Big No Good Very Bad Cosmic Dust Storm” — I think it must have contributed in some way to the behavior of the noticeably jocular mob of happy campers.
Growing up in a small, rural-adjacent Michigan town, the festival I heard the most about growing up was Faster Horses — in my mind, infamous as a content-creation hub for videos of adolescent classmates smashing Rolling Rocks across their temples to then spray down the hatch. When I arrived at the campgrounds, the lines of cars and standing tents, the rows of RVs sequestered into their own privileged, plugged in zone and the swaths of buzzed attendees shuffling in a near heat-stroke malaise all screamed “botched backflip off the bed of your cousin’s old pick up” again.
That first impression was mostly wrong. Pretty much everyone we met on the Farm was behaving respectfully and responsibly. They were the least aggressive crowd of drunk people I’ve ever seen — the activities at hand seemed no more (in fact, probably less) life-endangering than the average U-M tailgate; which is important, as a four-day, 24-hour festival is very much a marathon, not a sprint.
My two ‘Roo companions and I wondered how many of our fellow campers were Tennessee natives; the mass amounts of Tennessee license plates had me placing the proportion around thirty-five to forty percent, but one of them was quick to point out the possibility of rental cars snatched by coastal insurgents flying into Nashville. From talking to my driver taking me back to the airport, as well as to an old man whose car we backed into in a Walgreens parking lot, the locals of little Manchester, Tennessee love the festival and all the business it brings along with it. The signs leading into the town say things like “Birthplace of Bonnaroo” and “Home of the Farm,” an endearing local touch that eliminated my worry that the festival would be seen as a yearly invasion of outsiders, preying on small-town hospitality.
This general, genial attitude extended to the Bonnaroo staff, too. When we messed up our press request and scheduling, they were quick to allot us another parking spot and send us on our way. All the volunteers that helped us out were all smiles and high-fives, appearing focused on making the festival a memorable experience for everyone there. And it was memorable, I myself leaving with the single regret of not being able to spend more time within the Bonnaroo gates.