MANCHESTER, Tenn. — After experiencing Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival for the first time, I think I can sum up the effect the four-day event had on me in one short phrase: An assault on the senses.
I mean every sense.
You can hear music from speakers and stages along with choruses of people singing and conversing. You see outrageously dressed people, vendors, bands, tents of all colors, shiny bright lights. You taste a variety of foods ranging from pizza, tamales, pretzels, shrimp and ice cream. You smell food and sunscreen, among other things (those two are the best case scenarios). And you feel the sun on your skin, the water splashing on your face as you run under the giant mushroom fountain and the cool wind at night that blows through the festival grounds.
But despite taking all of this in for four days, I found that everything I experienced on the outside through my senses couldn’t compare to how Bonnaroo made me feel on the inside.
Warm. Excited. Effortlessly energetic.
And it was because of the people there. Attendees. Workers. Performers. Everyone I met throughout the course of these four days had a kind, infectious energy and attitude. Working as a reporter at the festival made me think on my feet in terms of finding story ideas, and I’ll admit that it worried me a little. But my stress was in vain because so many people were open to talking to me, to sharing their stories and experiences from Bonnaroo.
It really caught me off guard. Here’s all of these people gathered together. It’s hot. It’s crowded. It’s dirty. And sometimes the last thing you want to do is answer a random reporter’s questions.
But instead of being irritable or angry about the conditions, everyone filled the area with loving and quirky vibes.
On Thursday, I walked through a crowd who gave me high fives for at least five minutes. An old elementary school friend, Mason Mulkey, gave me a tour of the farm my first night there. Though I interacted with these amazing people time and time again, it still continued to amaze me throughout my time at the festival.
I don’t want to downplay the other aspects of Bonnaroo though. The music and art shined beautifully throughout the four days. I got to see Billy Joel on Sunday, which has been a dream of mine since I fell in love with his music after playing his hits “Piano Man” and “Pressure” while in the Gibbs High School marching band.
U.K. rock band Mumford & Sons’ Saturday night show also brought so much fantastic energy and sound, where thousands of people across the farm sang along and jumped to their hits “I Will Wait” and “Little Lion Man.” It only got better when they were joined by other Bonnaroo performers My Morning Jacket and Hozier and a banjo picking Ed Helms, who’s famous for his role as Andy from NBC’s “The Office,” in an epic cover of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
Other performers including the always funky Earth, Wind & Fire and Knoxville’s own Southern rock band Homemade Wine lit up the night and had audiences grooving, too.
And of course, there were some experiences I’d soon like to forget about from the music festival. Everything I took to the farm (including me) had a not so thin layer of dirt covering it after each day and night, and if I never have to use a porta-potty again, it’ll be too soon.
But the good overwhelmingly outweighed the bad.
When I first arrived at Bonnaroo on Thursday, I heard one attendee say “It’s good to be home,” as he ran down one of the dirt paths with excitement. I wasn’t sure why he felt that way.
And when I finally I packed up my gear and bags and ready myself to drive from Manchester back to Knoxville, I know I will agree with him.
I’ll miss this wonderfully loud, chaotic and amazing place. It feels like I’m leaving home.