This June, I'll be heading to Manchester, Tenn., to take in my fifth consecutive Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. I keep going back for the music and the last four years have taught me a handful of tricks of the trade to help get me through the days a little bit easier. Here are my hints and suggestions if you're heading to 'Roo:
• Stage names — The first thing everyone notices and has to get a handle on are the stage names. From the Which and What Stages to This Tent, That Tent and The Other Tent, Bonnaroo reads like an Abbot and Costello routine. They're all clearly marked — you just have to remember which tent is which. A few tips — The Other Tent is in a far corner, What Stage is the largest. That Tent is on the road from Which Stage.
• Porta-johns — Let's get this crap out of the way. There's no avoiding the porta-johns. You'll be sharing them with 80,000 people, it's gonna be hot and they're probably going to smell worse than you can imagine. The good news is that they do get cleaned with relative frequency. The best tip I can offer — visit them immediately after they are cleaned whenever possible.
• Weather — When it's hot, it's like the surface of the sun. When it's raining, it's like a rain forest — without the forest. There doesn't seem to be much middle-ground here. Bring suntan lotion — I've seen far too many shirtless lobsters on the farmlands of Tennessee. Bring a poncho — no one wants to deal with an umbrella. Drink a lot of water and drink it often. Far too many people collapse from the heat. Speaking of which ...
• Water — Again, drink lots of it and drink it often. My best advice is to freeze bottles of water and even a gallon jug of it before you leave town and keep it in your cooler. Not only does this add to the ice you're trying to keep for four days, but bringing a frozen bottle with you out to the grounds will slowly melt and stay cold longer.
• Food — It's always nice to bring some food from home, but there are some good eats around the festival if you know where to look. One highlight of the last two years is the Samosa Man. There's a stand on the road between the Which Stage and That Tent where the Samosa Man stays and offers delicious curry chicken pockets for just a few dollars. Great for a snack or meal and the highlight of my culinary 'Roo experience. It's hard to beat cheap and delicious.
• Schedule — The schedule for every day of Bonnaroo is now posted online, so it's easy to plan ahead. There are some frustrating overlaps and the only thing you can do is pick a favorite, split the time if the stages are close or opt for the one you haven't seen before/are less likely to see again. Matt & Kim are on at the same time as Grace Potter, Big Boi overlaps with Lil Wayne, Dr. John is on at the same time as Bootsy Collins, Ryan Bingham is up against Nicole Atkins ... and then there's the triple-threat of Gregg Allman, Iron & Wine and Robyn, right before The Strokes are up against Explosions in the Sky and Superjam.
• Start/Finish — Four days in the Tennessee sun can be long and grueling. I usually start my day in the early afternoon on Thursday, but when I head home is a different story. It all comes down to the last band you'd like to see. If you're sticking around for Widespread Panic, I'd stay the night and leave Monday morning. If Widespread isn't your thing, I'd pack up early on Sunday so that after your last Sunday band you can hit the road, find a good hotel and get a hot shower and good night's sleep.
A lot of what you need to know about Bonnaroo can be found on the main festival website at Bonnaroo.com and also at message boards like Inforoo.org. Plan ahead, plan smartly and, most of all, enjoy the music!