jakub | June 27, 2023

Bonnaroo: A Place Of Magic & Moshpits

All of the AMAZING photos you see are done by my ride-or-die photographer Stephanie Heath. She runs Smiling Eyes Media out of Atlanta and slays behind a camera. It is always an honor to work with her at Bonnaroo.

I am sitting here a week after we all left the Farm. I’ve lived a somewhat normal life this past week. I got a pedicure with my girlfriend (highly recommend), went to work (eeeeewww), and had a belated Father’s Day dinner, but this past weekend I found more Bonnaroo magic. My neighborhood hosted an event that brought me straight back to the happiest place on Earth. I got dressed up as a beautiful butterfly and walked into a family of friendly faces, compliments, YES energy, new and old friends, and genuine love for others. That’s so rare nowadays, guaranteed on the Farm, but so hard to find in the world otherwise. The following day I went to Shoot the Hooch (tubing down the river) with the squad, the squad being a few random college friends and these new pals I met at the Cabbagetown Olympics earlier this year. And again, I found that Roo magic, a glimmer of the good in life, just floating down the river killing beers, trading stories, and just enjoying the day. I even got that little sunburn that leaves with you Monday morning after shutting down the weekend at Where in the Woods (RIP this year’s Alesso set). I look forward to finding more magic throughout the next year before I make it back.

There is just something mystical about the Farm and the collection of folks who travel far and wide to visit it once a year in June. A true popup city forms in Manchester, making it one of the largest cities in Tennessee for a weekend. It is fueled by gifting culture with most street corners occupied by “take one, leave one” bins. Pedicabs zoom through the dust clouds as artists take to the Outeroo wall with paint and purpose. The arch shines brightly in the night, a signal to all that we made it back home. Vendors shack up on Shakedown Street with wook wares and tasty treats to fuel the weekend. Bass faintly echos from the woods as thespians take the stage at House of Yes for opening night. And this is all just in the campgrounds the Wednesday before the festival actually starts.

My group arrived on Tuesday for the extra two days on the Farm. I believe it is 100% worth it to arrive early to get the bonus time to explore the campgrounds and plazas. You get the chance to see the Dirty Circus and Little Cinema at the House of Yes on Wednesday. You can check out the Grove and stake a claim to the good hammock trees. You can dance in Where in the Woods without the massive crowds during the festival. Or you can enjoy great hangs with old and new friends at your campsite. The extra time is precious, even if you have to arrive later on Wednesday. Additionally, you get a camping spot closer to the arch the earlier you arrive, saving time walking to and from camp.

There were some noticeable changes this year, both good and bad. The arch entrance was not a zig-zag line, so High-Five Friday was a bust. There were plenty of folks dishing them out, but that moment walking into Centeroo as you high-five others is such a vibe. There were no discounted “happy hour” shower times, which was a bummer. Food prices were up as in recent years with all festivals, but there were a variety of options for food less than $10. Big shoutout to Roti Rolls for keeping their menu plugged with cheaper food the entire weekend, even their mac and cheese which ran out after Saturday last year. I was able to get a locally-made donut for $3 and a fresh fruit smoothie for $8 just outside the Ferris wheel exit. And the $2 grilled cheese vendor made their return to the campgrounds. One big issue that was brought up multiple times on Reddit was ADA accommodations not being met. Bonnaroo switched ADA compliance vendors roughly a month and a half before the festival started, and this new vendor provided less than stellar service to many disabled folks on the Farm. Some were even left stranded in the storm that came on Sunday. I hope Live Nation addresses this issue and provides a positive resolution to the disabled folks affected.

As someone who researches the entire Bonnaroo lineup each year, we definitely scored some major talent for 2023. Thursday started off with CVC playing an impromptu two sets due to a short weather evacuation during their show. Thursday night was heavy with EDM as the Grand Ole Opry is now a thing of the past. Zeds Dead playing two sets, one at The Other and one at Where in the Woods, on the same night was bananas. Friday started off with Black Midi and Knocked Loose bringing the moshpit energy. The night was stacked with Paper Idol, GRiZ, Kendrick Lamar, and Vulfpeck hosting a wedding during their set. And to close out the evening Subtronics opened for Diesel aka Shaq who lost his moshpit somewhere in the crowd. Saturday was filled with names including Cory Wong, Sheryl Crow, Remi Wolf, and Tyler Childers. GRiZ filled in for Rainbow Kitten Surprise on the What Stage for what was a magic throwback set before he takes a hiatus from music. Saturday night was a choose-your-own-adventure night where everyone started with Odesza but then had to choose either KoRn, J.I.D, or My Morning Jacket before regrouping for the STS9 sunrise set. Sunday was the day for rock bands including Franz Ferdinand, Girl In Red, Paramore, and Foo Fighters. And a special mention for Jacob Collier who spewed pure magic at his set Sunday.

As many of you reading know me for the Artist of the Day Series, I hope you enjoyed the series and had an amazing Bonnaroo experience! I do coverage for Music Midtown and Shaky Knees, but worst case I’ll see you next year around February for Bonnaroo’s 2024 Artist of the Day Series! Arrivederci!

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