Ken had been on us to check out the Bonnaroo Festival since it started seven years ago.  Well, Matt and I decided to take the plunge and check it out.  Would it be Woodstock?  Woodstock '99?  Altamont?  Thankfully, it turned out to be none of the above.  We got to spend a few days with about 80,000 new friends.

Special thanks to Ken, Nancy, and Zakk for helping us out -- we can't say 'thank you' enough, and to Nancy's brother, Paul, for squaring away our transportation. There were many "life savers" over this weekend.  Viva KK's!

As a review, Bonnaroo is a five-day music festival held annually in Tennessee.  The site is on the 600 acre McAllister Farm in Manchester, Tennessee adjacent to Interstate 24. As we've pointed out before, the site is within 500 miles of 80% of the population of the United States.  You can check out their website for the line-up and see a huge array of photos.  We won't try to compete with that -- what we'll provide is some context and tips for next year.

Here are some initial planning factors/impressions:

1.  At any one time after 12 o'clock PM (Noon), there are up to 10 different acts playing on the grounds.  The challenge becomes trying to decide who you want to see play.  Matt and I had initially thought that we would catch part of one band, then move over to see part of another.  After trying to wade through the sea of people, and trying to find a place to sit down, it just didn't work out.  You have to commit, find a place to sit down, and start planning for the next show.

2.  Get a folding chair.  Rules prohibit a seat over 12 inches tall, so it will have to be a low one.  We recommend a WearEver chair/backpack with the high back so that you can recline.  Google it -- WalMart and Target both sell them at certain stores.  This is a much better alternative to sitting on the ground, and you can put essentials in the backpack.

3.  I can't recommend a way to get into the park.  We tried to sneak on to a staff bus and we got kicked off.  We finally got a ride in from a friend who had an "all access" pass.  Even with a friend you may get busted with your "general admission" arm band and be forced to walk out.  You'll find that once you're in, there is really no way out.  Make sure you pack essentials or you are going to pay high prices at the General Store.  You'll probably have to drive in and park in the sea of autos.

4.  If you aren't in very good physical condition and can't get around on your own, this is not the place for you.  Either spring for a VIP package or watch the DVD.  You have to pace yourself and maintain your energy.  Because of the high prices, make sure you bring some granola bars and trail mix.  Flip-flops?  Forget them except for showers.  Bring some shoes suitable for walking.

5.  Bring a one quart water bottle and a hat.  While bottled water is available for sale, I recommend bring a bottle to fill and drink from.  There were several water points available.  While the water kind of had a sulphurous smell -- it comes from a well -- it was free and keep us hydrated.  If you get dehydrated during the festival you are going to be hosed.  The hat?  A military-style "boonie" hat which covers your ears will be a welcome addition to your kit.  Finally, suntan lotion and bug spray are always welcome...along with a little first aid kit (band-aids and Neosporin).  They will be hard to get in the park.

6.  Bring your ATM card to replenish the cash.  Everything is expensive, and there are some pretty cool crafts for sale.  For example, we saw some guitar straps made from recycled automobile seat belts...for $60!  Make sure you have a way to secure your card and cash!  Bring ID!

While we didn't see any violence -- everybody was pretty mellow -- it makes sense to be prepared and use the "Buddy System".  That is, travel with a friend and watch out for each other.

Thinking about going next year?  Click here to get some training tips.  BTW -- brush up on your camping/survival skills, particularly when beer costs $15 per six pack...and we're talking Bud Light 12 ouncers.  Sweetwater 420?  Forget about it.... Bottled water is also expensive -- be prepared.

Click on the photos with blue borders below to see full-sized versions
Aerial views of the concert courtesy of the GuitarAttack AirForce.  Wow...

The "arch" is the entryway into the venue.  The left photo is of John and Matt, and the photo on the right features Zakk and KK.

Matt and Zakk check out a band one of the tent/sheds.  Matt said his favorite band was My Morning Jacket.  He and Zakk saw a number of bands during the course of the show.  Note the cool chairs.

Rock T-shirts and tie-dye seemed like they were standard issue.  Bring shorts and walking shoes...and some sturdy sunglasses.

Earplugs are optional...more on this later.  If you are in a shed, it can get really loud.  The big stages are not too painful!

A common sight -- people wandering around, trying to figure out where to go next.  Make sure you print out the schedule from the website before you show up.  Use a highlighter to mark who you want to see...then just have a good time. 

Raingear is optional.  We got quite a bit of rain...just determine what you can stand.

Remember this tip:  Practice using the bathroom while holding your breath in the weeks prior to the festival.  These porta-potties were brutal.

Make sure you bring some wipes -- they will really be welcome. 

While backstage, we got a look at the crowd.  This was inspiring, and made us want to jam!

Here is the stage.  Very interesting.  Not sure which band this is.

We talked about the fact that we got a hold of some VIP passes.  Here is a shot of the Gibson guitar tent in the VIP Area.  Note the disruptive goon playing a Firebird really loud through a little Epiphone tube amp.

The guys at the booth were cool even though they knew we weren't artists!  OK...John is the driving force in Kandahar Guitar Society, but they had to cancel because Bonnaroo couldn't meet his contract rider concerning his amp backline.  No...seriously.

Click here to read a story about a similar event.

A disoriented crowd at the Mastodon show.  Brutal and very sludgey...incredibly loud and a tedious mix.  After listening to some Mastodon CDs when we got home, it appears that was how they were supposed to sound. 

They were playing some very cool silverburst Gibsons -- and even a P-Bass with the same finish!

Earplugs were very welcome here.

B.B. King laying it down on the main stage.  The 82-year-old did an awesome job.  He had a great mix, the volume was pleasant, and he did some great songs.  A true professional.  Get out to see him if you get the chance.

One of the better shows was by Jack Johnson.  Matthew really likes Jack's music, and I have to say that he was a real crowd pleaser.  He is really a great artist and it was probably the best all-around show we saw at the festival.  BTW -- this was a master class on song writing.

We didn't get any photos of Metallica.  The kick drum was so loud that it shook the camera into being unusable!  Lars' kick sounded like a M109 howitzer going off...and we were in front of it.  Their set was great, though, and we really enjoyed them.

Heard about the Kanye West set?  No comment.

Overall, this was an incredible experience.  A festival like this one is probably something young people should experience at least once in their lives -- if they are mentally and physically prepared.  Thank goodness Ken had a travel trailer to crash in.  I'm not sure the old guys could handle sleeping in a tent!

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