Seeing my family experience Bonnaroo for the first time made this year’s edition an unforgettable weekend on the Farm.
Bonnaroo is simply one of those festivals that should be on every music fan’s bucket list. With a rich history, massive attendance, and close to every genre you could imagine, there’s something for everyone at this beloved Tennessee tradition that takes place every June.
My first trip to the Farm for Bonnaroo 2017 was also my first-ever festival when I was 18, where, naturally, everything went wrong. That said, I still fell in love with that place and was in awe of the community, the music, the views, and the aesthetics. I was hooked from that moment on and driven to do the next festival better. Many plans were made for my return to the Farm, including 2020’s lineup that got away due to the pandemic, but it just so happened that 2023 was finally my year to make it back.
With the brand new addition of day-pass wristbands for this year’s Bonnaroo, I immediately noticed that my mom’s favorite bluegrass artist, Tyler Childers, who she’s been dying to see for years, was slotted for Saturday alongside Sheryl Crow and My Morning Jacket, whom she loves as well. I’d never taken anyone from my family to any kind of show, as they wouldn’t like the EDM-dominated events that I frequent, but it’s not often I go to a festival as diverse as Bonnaroo. So, when I suggested she come for the day, she was so on board.
The Farm and the Bonnaroo community were everything I’d remembered from six years ago and more.
From sharing a “Happy Roo!” with everyone I’d encounter to exchanging high-fives with strangers, the love that fills this place is the true embodiment of the festival’s mantra “radiate positivity.” I made friends everywhere I went, whether it was at camp, on the walk into the venue each day, or eating Spicy Pie pizza with strangers at The Which Stage vendor tables. While I often forget to hand out many of the gifts and trinkets I bring to festivals, I still managed to give out a couple of sprout clips, candy, and disposable earplugs.
Bonnaroo is a festival that has a heavy focus on sustainability efforts, yet I was disappointed to see as much litter around the festival grounds as I did at the stages each day. The vendors even gave out reusable cups for the majority of lemonades and other drinks sold inside the venue, and there were places to return them alongside the plenty of trash and recycling cans everywhere around the festival. It seemed plenty of trash bins were around and accessible, but not enough attendees were utilizing them, and no staff was going around trash picking at the stages, either.
Music-wise, Bonnaroo is always on another level of diversity. While I caught a handful of fabulous electronic sets, like a double dose from one of my favorites, Zeds Dead, a heavy set from Apashe, and a fun final closing performance at The Other stage from Alesso, the variety of genres on the lineup was a breath of fresh air from electronic music events I’m typically at. Bands like Girl in Red, The Band Camino, and Paramore did not disappoint; of course, neither did my mom’s favorite.
Tyler Childers put on a performance that even non-country fans couldn’t help but love.
When it was time for my mom, older sister, and sister’s best friend, who’s also like an older sister to me, to arrive on Saturday, I was beside myself with excitement. Taking my family to even one day of a festival was a moment I wasn’t sure would ever come, but it was really happening. They arrived barely in time for Sheryl Crow, whose set was another one of my top moments of the weekend, as I was relishing in the old tunes I knew so well from my childhood while staring at my family next to me in shock that they were really there.
It was so wholesome watching my mom become giddy with excitement when I walked her to The Which Stage, where Tyler Childers would be playing hours later. She was set on camping there to wait for him, and we did just that to secure a perfect spot in of the most courteous crowds I stood in all weekend. After flooring everyone with an insane acapella cover of Cory Branan’s “Sour Mash,” Tyler put on a performance that the crowd was absolutely eating up as they whistled, hollered, and sang along to the talent’s biggest hits. I can say with confidence that I’ve never heard a voice as surreal as his in my life, his live band was on fire alongside him, and I left with a whole new appreciation for his music that I normally wouldn’t have reached for.
The most special part was seeing my mom happier than ever during his set. I was watching her reactions as much as I was watching the performance itself, as she laughed, sang, and cried to the music she had waited so patiently to hear live. When the lights dimmed from Tyler’s stunning set, she immediately turned around and said, “I’m so happy I came.”
My Morning Jacket’s set was a bit later than my family was up for staying, so we said our goodbyes before I settled in with my friends on a blanket in the back of the crowd for a dreamy, nearly three-hour set from the band.
With a closing slot at The Which Stage from 12:30-2:30 AM, it was no surprise the beloved act kept playing until almost 3:30. It was a peaceful and rejuvenating musical recharge from the hot and high-energy weekend we’d endured thus far, and I sat having meaningful conversation and grooving with people I love. The dew settling over The Farm made for a chilly, damp night, and we finished out the early morning hours after My Morning Jacket with some house beats from Shiba San at Where in the Woods.
Sunday brought impending severe weather, so much of our afternoon was spent packing up camp so that we were prepared to leave that night. The after-hours sets were all canceled in preparation for the storm, and tons of campers were getting ready to make a run for it that night after the sets finished. I was happy to have caught a daytime What Stage set from Paramore and a closing set at The Other Stage from Alesso before retreating to camp one last time as the rain loomed closer.
Leaving was bittersweet as I reflected on a long and eventful weekend.
While I heard tons of campers had gotten stuck in line trying to leave The Farm for hours as the storm unleashed, I made it off the property just in time. Our far-from-the-venue camp spot out in Plaza 10 was ideal for exiting, as it’s so close to the East Toll entrance/exit where we entered. Soon enough, I was home again.
Despite my exhaustion, dehydration, and urgency to get to my bed and my air-conditioned apartment, I still wondered how it had taken me this long to make it back to Bonnaroo.