By Gabrielle Fellows
Imagine 700 acres of Tennessee farmland — it’s hot and humid. Now add upwards of ten stages filled with dozens of the hottest comedians and over 150 touring musical acts. Finish up by introducing 85,000 guests, and you have what the world knows as Bonnaroo.
Bonnaroo is a music festival that makes its home in Manchester, Tennessee. For 13 years, bands and fans from all over the world have been migrating to what many refer to as “the happiest place on earth.” This year’s festival ran from June 11-14.
Some of the main acts this year included Billy Joel, Mumford and Sons, Slayer, Hozier and the War on Drugs. There is also Superjam! — which is a themed dance party where the festival brings out multiple acts to perform together.
The theme for Bonnaroo, often called Roo or The Farm, is “Radiate Positivity.” The festival’s aim is to create a positive environment for music lovers to sit back, relax and socialize with their fellow Bonnaroovians.
Part of the 85,000 guests included many Youngstown natives. The nine-hour trek does not stop locals from packing their best camping gear and hitting the road year after year.
The festival’s name came from popular New Orleans R&B singer Dr. John’s album, “Desitively Bonnaroo” in which the word Bonnaroo became synonymous with “a really good time.”
BJ Beck, a student at Youngstown State University, said he couldn’t agree more with that definition, adding that the memories made at the festival are some of his most treasured.
“Bonnaroo is really something I look forward to each year and reflect on very frequently. Memories like having Mac Demarco jump on your face, Ben Folds smiling at you and your friends during one of your favorite songs. Going so crazy that you thought Brown Sabbath, a cover band, was the real Black Sabbath. Thousands of people getting groovy with you during Earth, Wind and Fire. Getting your hometown shouted out because of a Pizza Joe’s box, and getting way too emotional during Billy Joel and looking over to see your best friend doing the same thing,” Beck said. “These things are memories that I keep for myself for a long time. The amount of inside jokes that were made this year are ridiculous and I love how I feel much closer to my friends because I shared this experience with them. Without them, this would have not been possible.”
Beck and a few of his friends were at the front of the main stage when the headliner, Billy Joel, performed.
“It’s an incredible feeling knowing that everyone there is in this moment of bliss and you are at the front of it,” Beck said. “It’s a bonding moment.”
Jeff White, a YSU graduate, describes Bonnaroo’s atmosphere as other-worldly and surreal.
“The camping area looks like a combination of a shantytown and a county fair, only it’s filled with 100,000 of your best friends that you have yet to meet,” White said. “The moment you enter the festival grounds, you’re greeted with a wave of frenetic energy and a barrage of high fives that only intensifies as the weekend progresses. I wish it were easier to explain, but it’s one of those things you just have to experience yourself to fully understand.”
Bonnaroo cultivates an atmosphere where people can be open and friendly with each other. Everywhere you turn, people are giving you high fives, shouting if they see a band shirt they like or giving out compliments on outfits and musical taste.
Brian Lawson, a YSU student, said that in all three years that he has attended Bonnaroo, this year he has ran into more Ohioans than ever.
“I seemed to run into a lot of people from Ohio, this year especially. It’s always a happy coincidence, and this year everyone was talking about the Cavs,” Lawson said. “Also, I wore a Vexfest shirt from a few years ago and a guy got really excited and approached me in a crowd to talk about it.”
This year, in the cinema tent, the NBA finals were streamed so crowds could watch the Cavaliers face the Golden State Warriors.
White also said there were a lot of people from Ohio present at this year’s festival.
“… There were a lot of Ohio plates and OSU flags on the farm,” White said. “Last year, there was a guy a few camping spots over who lived eight miles from my house in North Lima. Ohioans love Bonnaroo.”
White said he is always encouraging people from the area to experience Bonnaroo.
“It’s so fun to go and check out bands and shows you would never go see if they weren’t at the festival, and for only $300 a ticket. You can’t get a much better deal,” White said. “Where else can you go see Slayer and Mumford and Sons on one night and then Paul McCartney and Wu-Tang Clan the next?”