Bonnaroo 2012: I Am Not On Drugs (But Everyone Else Is)


Hippies, henna and hula hoops all lived up to their stereotypes during a dusty weekend at Bonnaroo. (All photos courtesy of Mary Morgan.)

Have you ever stood in a crowd of 80,000 people and realized you are most likely the only person not on drugs? I just did that for four days.

When people hear the name “Bonnaroo,” three things come to mind: hippies, music and drugs.  I’m here to tell you that I defeated the impossible, and managed to hang out with these hippies without participating in certain extracurricular activities. I can’t tell you that these three assumptions aren’t true. The point of the festival is music, and it is indeed overflowing with hippies. And drugs. A lot of hippies on drugs.  And being totally sober for the entirety of the weekend resulted in witnessing more than one ridiculous shenanigan.

If you’re wondering why someone who has never done any drug – ever – decided to go to such a place, I have a simple answer for you: I love music, I love people and I love a good story. This seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And that it was. Let the record show that I had an unbelievably good time at Bonnaroo with my 11 hooligan friends who hopped in an RV along with me and made the trip from Washington, D.C. to Manchester, Tenn.

The stereotype of Bonnaroovian hippies exists for a reason. Let me run down the list of the most stereotypically hippie things that I ran across at Bonnaroo: sporadic groups of hula-hoopers (it was as if the official hula hooping society of Bonnaroo sent out a daily memo to all hula-hoopers telling them when and where to have a spontaneous hoop party); random spots dedicated to meditation; so many bare feet you wonder if somewhere there’s a pile of shoes that was blown up; multiple henna tattoo tents; dreadlocks of every size and color; women who decided they didn’t want to wear shirts or bras anymore; topless women covering up with a very thin layer of body paint; belly shirts – everywhere; signs saying “unregister to vote here;” massive pillar signs pleading you to recycle; the fact that there are three sections to garbage cans: recycle, compost and landfill; multiple make-your-own-drum tents; a whole booth dedicated to telling the horrors of Kentucky Fried Chicken; morning yoga sessions; the smell of incense around every corner; oh, and of course, tie dye EVERYTHING. And honestly, I feel like I’m only skimming the top of the hippie pool with that list. But I shall continue anyway.

The creators of Bonnaroo know exactly what is happening out in the fields. There are literally signs begging Bonnaroovians not to die.  I watched two police officers on an ATV drive by a dude blatantly smoking a bowl outside of his tent. They did not arrest him. They didn’t even stop, actually. They just looked at him and continued to drive away. It was probably at this point that I realized Bonnaroo is not just a casual festival, it is a whole different world. Once the cell phones are turned off and computers are unplugged, the outside world is suddenly forgotten and the only schedule you’re concerned about is the one about this tent, that tent and the other tent. (Yes, those are actually the names of the tents. Not at all confusing.)

The Other Tent, which as you may deduce, is not This Tent or That Tent.

Walking around with one of my friends at the end of Friday night, we came across a guy passed out literally in the middle of nowhere. There were no nearby tents or vendors or stages or RVs, just some dust and grass.  And there he was, passed out spread-eagle having what could have only been the best sleep of his entire life. My friend wondered if we should make sure he was okay. Perhaps check for a pulse. But then we looked up and realized that scattered every 50 feet or so was someone else passed out like a weird connect-the-hippies puzzle. I’m still not sure if passing out literally anywhere is acceptable Bonnaroo behavior, but no one was running around waking these people up. I’m starting to think they just left them there until Monday, when it became some poor volunteer’s job to scour the grounds for sleeping hippies and tell them the weekend was over and they had to go home.

And sure, the festival is about music, but at some point you need to figure out if it’s more important to see specific shows or to have an experience. I could have run around all day and all night to every show that interested me, but instead I made compromises in order to stay with my friends. It is with confidence I say this decision led to the best time possible. We had a silly good time. Don’t get me wrong, I saw a lot of music, but it would not have nearly compared if I had been without my circle of hooligans accompanying me.

As for the assumption that Bonnaroo is filled with exclusively hippies, that is certainly not true. You can decipher the true hippies from those who dressed to the Bonnaroo trend.  The vast majority is clearly people who took Thursday through Monday off from their real world responsibilities to grunge it hippie-style in Tennessee.

And grunge we did.  The dust in the normal camping areas was exceptional. Cars became dust-caked. I kid you not, every car was sporting a new matching dusty tan color by the end of the first night.  Don’t worry though, some prick ran around and drew ten thousand penises on every car he passed, so at least we had some art to look at on the walk from the RV campground to Centeroo.  (Originality at its finest!)

And even though the 12 of us drove an RV, we ran into a few grunge problems. It was a task and a half to hunt down the water and sewage truck brigade. As far as our water supply went, everyone was limited to a few minutes of ice cold shower time, which was just enough time to scrub off half of the never-ending layers of mud and dirt caked on your feet, and realize there’s mysterious sand in your hair. You could pay for a shower, but our one friend who did it said it was a horrible experience and that she felt dirtier, colder and just weirder. She did not elaborate.

We used the first tank of water within 36 hours, and couldn’t figure out why the shower wasn’t draining. Turned out our sewage tank was full. I’m sure you can imagine how awesome that smelled. We found that sewage truck as fast as humanly possible to fix that situation. I can’t imagine the exponential levels of impressive dirtiness that would be acquired from the normal tent campgrounds, or from not showering a couple times during the four days.

(Side note: The biggest mistake we made at Bonnaroo was not emptying our sewage RV tank before leaving the campground. For the 13-hour drive home, anytime we hit a bump the delicious smell of urine would waft through the RV. You would have thought we dangled a little air freshener tree off the rear view mirror that was Porta-Potty scented. Yay!)

But the dirt and grunge somehow becomes part of the experience. You are not alone in your dirtiness, that’s for sure. At some point during the weekend, you stop obsessing about attempting to get clean or trying to avoid getting dust everywhere. (Really, really cannot stress how much dust is involved.)   And suddenly, it’s like you’re a little kid again playing outside. Bonnaroo is summer camp for grown-ups.

The sun sets over Bonnaroo on Thursday, the first day of the festival.

And there is so much more to the ‘Roo than drugs, hippies and dirt. The 700-acre farm turns into a community for the extended weekend. I cannot even begin to explain the friendliness oozing from every individual. People shared everything they brought with pretty much whomever happened to be nearby.  While standing behind a couple strangers at SBTRKT, a guy turned around and asked me if I would like to share his joint. “No thanks, I’m okay,” I said. He smiled and said: “No worries brah… where are you from? Do you like this jam?” And you know what? I did indeed like that jam. Thank you for asking.

Meeting people was an experience in itself. Between the neighbors you shared everything with, the concert goers you packed into a tent with and the vendors in the little tent shops, there was great room for random conversation. I spent 10 minutes talking to a henna tattoo artist about how weird license pictures are. (Note: I did not get a henna tattoo.)

Also, some of the shops were just awesome. I bought a camera strap made out of the same fabric used in the 60’s to make Jimi Hendrix’s guitar strap he wore at Woodstock. That’s not something you stumble across every day.

It started raining on Saturday night, and lasted into the morning. Sunday was filled with random sprinkles and a general misty, hazy weather pattern. The rain turned the dust to clay-colored mud. I saw a lot of people pack up and leave, but our group didn’t even consider it. If you go to Bonnaroo, you stay for the whole festival, no matter what. COME ON PEOPLE.

The rain very politely held off for the majority of the day on Sunday. Phish was the last act at Bonnaroo, playing from 8 to midnight on Sunday. At the end of the last song they jammed, Bonnaroo set off a bunch of fireworks. So just picture this: We are all standing in very casual rain, kind of weirdly damp, watching Phish explode from the stage and suddenly, actual explosions. Everyone was cheering well through the end of the song and fireworks. In a massive, wet herd, we moved towards the picturesque Bonnaroo archway that leads you to the campgrounds. And sporadically, someone somewhere in the crowd would scream “BONNAROOOOOOOOOO!” And in a wave of sound, everyone started cheering. We went stomping through the mud as the rain started to come down harder, cheering “ROOO!!!” You would have thought that the 80,000 people we were surrounded by weren’t strangers, but comrades. Bonnaroo is a community.

The festival ended Sunday night with a four-hour set from Phish, accompanied by fireworks.

It was also on this walk that I came across my favorite person of the weekend. As we all came stampeding out of Centeroo, there appeared a 70-year-old drugged-out hippie man walking slowly in the opposite direction of the other 79,999 of us. And he just looked around with such confusion, it was as if he just popped up out of the ground and had missed the whole festival. “Wooaahhh!” He shouted, swaying around in place. “Look at allll these f*cking peeeooopple!” He screamed. “Where did aaalllll these peeeeooople come from?!”

You would have thought we were marching across his front porch.

That was the last Bonnaroovian I saw besides the other 11 people I traveled with in the awesome-smelling RV. And oh man, he was everything I could have hoped and dreamed for.

In total, it was absolutely an experience I would recommend to anyone. And if you think Bonnaroo isn’t right for you, you’re probably wrong. It may not be for everyone, but it could be. You just have to have an open mind.

We packed up in the rain on Monday morning, and by 8 we were driving through the massive once-farmland, watching the silo that sat near our camping pod drift smaller and smaller away into the background. And suddenly, we turned a corner and were magically back on a highway. It was as if Bonnaroo was a totally different secret realm.

On the way home, we watched the South Park episode “Hippie Music Festival.” It wasn’t that far off. There were definitely a lot of drum circles.

A hazy ending to a hazy weekend for the 80,000 attendees.


Author: R. Byrnes

Ryan is the founder and editor-in-chief of Yi! News.

2 thoughts on “Bonnaroo 2012: I Am Not On Drugs (But Everyone Else Is)”

  1. Mary.,,,I feel as though I was there! You are a fantastic blogger and photographer!
    Enjoy the rest of your Summer! Nora

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