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Tennessee trip to Bonnaroo offers challenges, opportunities

Journey to Tennessee music festival provides lessons in variety of topics, from what you will spend, to where you will stay, to what you will see, to what you need to prepare for next time.
BY WHITNEY ORTEGA, Staff Writer Published: June 17, 2011
Much past my bedtime on June 9, I was embarking on a 12-hour journey toward Manchester, Tenn.

It was 4 a.m. and I was running late. Tardiness tends to make me grumpy, particularly when it's delaying an event I'm looking forward to attending.

After putting $30 of gas in the tank, the first of many expenditures, I was flying down empty roads toward my first-ever Bonnaroo.

Bonnaroo is an annual music and arts festival held in Manchester, on a 700-acre farm. This year marked its 10th anniversary. According the event's website, the main goal is to “bring together some of the best performers in rock and roll,” but it also hosts jazz, Americana, hip-hop and “just about any contemporary music you can think of.”

There were nine main stages but several smaller venues scattered throughout the festival grounds and artists were scheduled simultaneously. The festival also had comedy and cinema tents, an arcade, a beer festival, a sports bar and art exhibitions.

General admission tickets for the four-day festival ranged from $209 to $249 and people from all over the world annually find the price well worth it. Flags from Canada, Germany and hearing a West European language being spoken in front of me attested to that fact.

Getting there

The majority of the festival's attendees were college-aged students who traveled cross-country with just enough money for gas. In fact, a few people played jam sessions outside of Centeroo, which is the inner area where all the stages were contained, hoping enough cash would be donated to get them back home.

I met two fellow travelers — Nick Reetz, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, and Whitney Gibson, a junior at Kent State University. Reetz' pilgrimage took 19 hours, while Gibson traveled eight. Both said traveling with a buddy was the best plan because if you got tired, there was always someone to take over. Besides, gas was cheaper when split between two people.

My trip seemed easy compared to both Reetz, who had car trouble, and Gibson, who had a difficult time getting through Kentucky road construction. My main obstacle was lack of sleep. I'm convinced now that Five Hour Energy is the invention of a genius.

The route from Oklahoma City to Manchester is simple. Travel Interstate 40 to Tennessee. Then, I recommend using Mapquest or Google maps for directions to the festival site.

Made it. Now what?

Once there, you could rent a hotel room, but most visitors camped out on the festival grounds. The camping areas were sectioned off and named odd things like Luke Skywalker and Ferris Bueler. One seasoned Oklahoma attendee, Justin Goff, 23, from Edmond, said camping was the best choice. He's camped each of the three years he's attended.

“It's honestly a lot cheaper because you don't have to pay for a (camping) spot and it's a lot more fun that way,” Goff said. “You get to meet more people if you camp out because you have neighbors and you all hang out.”

I stayed in a hotel. Looking back, I should've camped out. I missed out on part of the essential Bonnaroo experience and could've saved about $230. But campers found the days were hot (over 90 degrees) and the nights were cool (between 65 and 70 degrees).

Being prepared for that sharp change in temperature was necessary. It was also necessary to be prepared for dust. Most people's accessory of choice was a handkerchief to cover their nose and mouth as there was an ever-present haze of dust at festival grounds.

Hundreds of Port-a-Potties were scattered throughout the grounds, but there were also sinks for face- and hand-washing near the campgrounds.

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