Culture + Style

Don’t Want to Play in the Mud? Here’s How to Bonnaroo Like a Boss

Bonnaroo. The Tennessee music festival with the weird name has become one of the industry’s most essential events. Recent lineups have included mega-acts such as Chance the Rapper, U2 and Pearl Jam, plus smaller artists such as Margo Price, who you might not have known when you bought the tickets, but you’ll be thrilled to discover.

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, held about an hour outside of Nashville in early June, has many charms. More than just a showcase for cutting-edge musicians, Bonnaroo is a full-on arts festival, originally designed for festivalgoers to stay onsite.

It’s possible to camp, eat, dance and even shower (or not) in the Woodstock-like, communal environment. This can be fun but not if you’re looking for a luxury experience with air conditioning and a little privacy.

Over the years Bonnaroo has grown up a bit, and it’s now possible to have the best of all worlds: You can balance the good vibes and appreciate the community feel but from the comfort of air-conditioned VIP spots, without sharing a port-a-potty with 85,000 music-loving strangers. Here’re the top tips for making it happen.

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Planning is key to conquering Bonnaroo. (Photo: Getty Images)

Click “Buy Now”

To Bonnaroo in baller style, the first step is to buy VIP tickets (only available in pairs) rather than general-admission tickets. The VIP package is the foundation on which any of the official luxury options are built.

Platinum pass holders get up-close-and-personal seating from the pit at several of the best stages (including those named “Which,” “What” and “Other”), plus they can hang out in a VIP lounge before or after the show (those shaded lounges are skin-savers during a day under the hot Tennessee sun).

General admission folks have to stake their claim on the grass (or dust or mud) far in advance. And, because VIP lounges lie closer to the thick of the festival than the campsites do, if there’s a spontaneous show at one of the smaller stages, you’ll be able to get there quickly.

VIPs also get invites to pre-event parties and special concerts, like Gospel Brunch (a Sunday morning party with a gospel choir performance), as well as access to restrooms with attendants.

Opt to add on catered Farm Fare lunches at $200 for the full weekend, and you’ll chow down on quality food in an air-conditioned tent and won’t have to resort to corn dogs and curly fries with the general-admission crowd.

All of these options include parking and admittance through a special entrance, which may not sound all that luxurious, but at Bonnaroo it is critical. Getting 85,000 people in and out of anywhere is complicated at best.

Add people carrying tents and backpacks (and, well, a reputation for smuggling in substances), and the lines for parking and security can be long and tedious. You still have to go through security at the platinum gates (which should put your mind at ease once you get inside), but the lines are significantly shorter and the process simpler.

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Aim for VIP, up-close experiences. (Photo: Getty Images)

Get a Room

Because lots of the fun at Bonnaroo takes place late at night (in 2008 Kayne West famously didn’t take the stage till 4:30 a.m.), most people like to stay on site. But pitching a tent in a crowd isn’t exactly glamorous and doesn’t always contribute to a good night’s sleep.

Yes, there are upgrades — like Le Bon Cabanas, which are locking, hard-sided tents, and the RV oasis, which has air-conditioners — but in the end, you’ll still be camping in the dust and mud. But fear not; there’s a better way to Bonnaroo.

While Manchester, Tennessee, is where the Bonnaroo magic happens, pony up for a ticket package that includes a (twice daily) shuttle to and from Nashville. Not only are you ditching the tents, you’re ditching the parking lines.

These air-conditioned shuttles will take you back into the city, where you can dine at one of Nashville’s high-end eateries, such as Husk Nashville or the Butcher & Bee; take a shower; and sleep in a real bed at a luxury hotel such as the renovated historic Union Station Hotel Nashville. After a snooze you’ll board the shuttles clean and refreshed to do it all again the next day.

If there’s only one day in the lineup that floats your boat, buy a one-day pass with the shuttle (in fact, this is the only way to purchase a one-day pass).

Play the Part

Bonnaroo is a term used as both a noun and a verb. “Bonnarooing” means dressing in music-fest style (after all, this in an arts fest, not just a concert). This is your chance to wear bright colors; light, floaty dresses; and the most epic sunglasses you can find (how else can you discretely people watch?).

Carry some scented face wipes in your bag along with a killer scarf or hat (perfect if it gets windy, dusty or rainy, which it almost always does). Grab a HydroFlask or other insulated water bottle that will keep water cold for hours.

Along with your sunscreen, grab a lightweight lawn chair (less than one foot in height) and you’re good to go. And, well, if you let your freak flag fly a little, that’s okay, too. That’s the Bonnaroo way.