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Before I started attending festivals, I had a pretty warped conception of what they actually entailed. Music festivals especially. I pictured long weekends with the great unshowered masses, comparing baby wipe brands and bad band tattoos, staying up late to drink beer competitively and/or experiment with hallucinogenic drugs, all while listening to an indecipherable stream of whatever genre of music happened to be headlining.

I was wrong. (I mean, mostly.)

Bonnaroo 2015

By the time I got myself to Central Tennessee and made it to Bonnaroo, one of the US’s greatest summer music festivals, I had gotten the hint that a well-done festival can be a beautiful experience — a wonderland for adults, not unlike visiting another planet entirely. Yet still, Bonnaroo managed to surprise me and change my perception, once again, of what a festival can be. Here were the six biggest shockers of Bonnaroo 2015:

1. The Food was Fantastic

Gone are the days of surviving on goldfish crackers in your tent and seeking out hot dogs between sets. Foodies have officially infiltrated the festival scene, and now most major events make it a point to brag on their updated dining options. But Bonnaroo took it to .

From the Food Truck Oasis to Hamageddon Circle to the Broo’ers Festival tents, there was no shortage of gourmet goodies to fuel our next dance-athon. And keeping with the festival’s sustainable and inclusive vibes, there were tons of vegetarian, vegan, and health-minded options available in the zero-waste cafe at Planet Roo.

One that that surprised me in a not-as-nice way? Beer, cider and wine are the only drinks available at Bonnaroo. Spirits lovers will have to sip away inside their tents!

Food at Bonnaroo

Food at Bonnaroo

Drinking at Bonnaroo

Hamageddon at Bonnaroo

2. It Was The Greenest Festival I’ve Ever Been To

Speaking of sustainability — wow. Bonnaroo has an entire village in the festival dedicated to sustainable living and social change! Planet Roo was a beautiful space that held the yoga-class-hosting Solar Stage, a knowledge sharing center called The Academy, a learning garden where workshops were held, and booths from groups like Eat for Equality and Oxfam America. There was even a booth registering festival-goers to vote!

What kind of courses can you take at The Academy? Weekend clinics included Letter Writing for Change, Social Justice Songwriting, Chicken Clinic: The Basics of Hen Health, and Death to Landfills: Take a Bite Out of the Waste Stream. Nearby, Heritage Radio, the festival’s own private broadcast, led entertaining panels with titles like Wasted: Drinking Stories and Sustainability and Crowd Sourced: An Open Mic for Food Rants Raves and Readings. I loved that Bonnaroo not only tried to reduce its own footprint, but also gave its community the tools to go out into the world and do the same at home.

Even outside Planet Roo, Bonnaroo took it’s commitment to green seriously. Every trash point featured three bins: one for recycling, one for compost, and one for landfill items. A refillable beer cup program (similar to the ones I raved about at Tomorrowland) in which participants receive a discount for using the same cup throughout the weekend cut down on plastic cups and cans. And refillable water points further eliminated the need for plastic — though, I admit, it was well water and tasted pretty vile. Taste gripes aside, I appreciate the festival’s attempt to make water healthy, easily available and free, and not contained within single use plastic bottles.

Planet Roo at Bonnaroo

Planet Roo at Bonnaroo

Planet Roo at Bonnaroo

Planet Roo at Bonnaroo

3. No One Gives a Flip What You Wear

Since I’ve started making it a priority to attend festivals around the world, I’ve had many a friend or reader ask if I’ve set my sights on Coachella yet. The answer is not really, and frankly, a huge part of that is I’m intimidated by the competitive runway that appears to be the Coachella porta potty line.

I can’t tell you what a relief it was to turn up at Bonnaroo and realize that no one was trying to top any best dressed lists. Yeah, I loved dressing up and putting together ridiculous outfits (I went with a romper theme for the weekend) but I would have been equally at home wearing anything from leggings and a tie-die t-shirt to an old bikini top and cutoff shorts. It was refreshing. Bonnaroo looks like it’s attended by citizens of planet earth, rather than bizarre head-dress-wearing fashion creatures from Planet Designer Fringe Fanny Packs.

What to Wear to Bonnaroo

What to Wear to Bonnaroo

What to Wear to Bonnaroo

4. They’re Fiends for Fitness

The dancefloor is just places to burn calories at Bonnaroo. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I saw a 5K run on the schedule for 9am Saturday morning. Who would go to that?, I wondered. Well, apparently I would — along with 1,999 other residents of crazy town.

And while the Third First Annual Roo Run may look like it’s nothing more than silly fun, in reality there are pretty awesome prizes for first, second and third place as well as best costume — you’ve got a shot to win 2016 tickets, shower and food tokens and prizes from the race sponsor, GNC. All proceeds from our $15 registration fee went to the Bonnaroo Works Fund, a charity that funnels funds back into the local community.

5K Roo Run

5K Roo Run

Spirits were high for our 3.1 mile jog around the campground, with non-participants cheering runners on and offering encouragement from the sidelines. And while I might not have placed (not even close, but I did cross the finish line in 35 minutes), I did score a photo and a lovely morning chat with the members of , who were taking to the stage later that evening.

5K Roo Run

Back on the Solar Stage, there were three different yoga or meditation classes offered per day Friday through Sunday, along with bonus classes in the regular and VIP campsites. There was even a jazzercise class Friday morning! While sadly we gave that one a miss, we did get down to a live bluegrass music vinyasa on Sunday.

Yoga at Bonnaroo

Yoga at Bonnaroo

Yoga at Bonnaroo

As if that wasn’t enough, there were even further bodyworks offerings over at The Academy, from hula hooping to acro yoga. Kristin and I couldn’t resist trying the latter! Girlfriend didn’t think I could possibly fly her, but I reveled in proving her wrong. I’d be at acro every day if Kristin could be the other half of my dynamic duo.

Acro Yoga at Bonnaroo

Acro Yoga at Bonnaroo

Acro Yoga at Bonnaroo

5. The Lineup is Crazy Diverse

From country to hip-hop, from current Top 40 artists to acts of the 80’s, Bonnaroo’s lineup couldn’t have been more diverse. I’m the first to admit I’m clueless when it comes to what’s cool in music, but friends who live and die by their playlists told me that they were green with envy over the stage selections — and one of them every so kindly created a cheat sheet for me of which bands he’d go to see if he were in Tennessee.

I left the festival with a long list of new artists to listen to — and my ears and mind opened up a little wider.

Kacey Musgraves at Bonnaroo

Bonnaroo 2015

Belle and Sebastian at Bonnaroo

6. There’s So Much More Than Music

With seven stages and schedule stretching up for fourteen hours a day, it would be easy for Bonnaroo to let the music do the entertaining. But they didn’t stop there.

Throughout the weekend, Bonnaroo Cinema was host to everything from an advanced screening of Trainwreck to the NBA Finals, from quote-alongs of everyone’s favorite 90’s flicks to environmentally-focused documentaries followed by Q+As with the director. Birdman with a live drum score performance? They had that too. As a movie addict I was bummed I didn’t make my way in there, but it’s high on my priority list for next time.

Other forms of entertainment included the Comedy Theater, the Silent Disco, theme parties in Snake and Jake’s Christmas Barn (biggest regrets of the weekend list includes missing the classic hip hop party and the dance hall reggae jam), waterslides and a ferris wheel. Festival sponsors also brought the goods with Garnier doing free hair washing and festival styling, and Miller hosting a small venue for new and upcoming artists.

Bonnaroo Fountain

Bonnaroo Post Office

Bonnaroo 2015

For I festival I didn’t know much about and didn’t spend too much time prepping for, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed Bonnaroo. Attending may not have been on my bucket list before this summer, but returning has been on it ever since.

Bonnaroo 2015

Bonnaroo 2015

Bonnaroo Sign by Night

Have you been to Bonnaroo? What festival do I need to add to my list now?

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52 Comments...
  • Brittany
    October 29 2015

    that sounds like my kind of festival. I went to a small music festival here in MN once and after that was convinced they were not for me. I only lasted a few hours but this sounds like a ton of fun!

    • Meihoukai
      October 30 2015

      The heat and crowds can definitely be draining! I don’t blame you for needing a break after a couple hours πŸ™‚ That was the beauty of staying offsite for this one — we had a great place to refresh and recharge.

  • Anne
    October 29 2015

    I really love the two festivals where I live now – The True/False Film Festival happens in late Feb/early March and focuses on non-fiction film, primarily documentaries but also exploring the intersection of fiction and non-fiction. And, the Roots ‘n’ Blues ‘n’ Barbeque festival, which is in late September and as the name implies, includes great music and great food. Both are a blast!

    • Meihoukai
      October 30 2015

      Um, both of those sound amazing! I might just have to add them to my list.

  • 7. DOUGHNUTS.
    Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 30 2015

      Ha ha ha. I guess that kind of falls under number 1? Though I don’t disagree it deserves its own category.

  • Chelsea
    October 29 2015

    Oh my that looks like so much fun! I live in New Zealand but might have to make my way to Tennessee in June! :O

    • Meihoukai
      October 30 2015

      There’s a whole summer festival circuit you could plug into in the US, if you really wanted to make a trip out of it πŸ™‚

  • Eric
    October 29 2015

    Another thing you will find that you disliked about bonnaroo outside the heat is that in four years you will find out that you missed seeing an artist that you’ve just recently discovered.

    • Meihoukai
      October 30 2015

      That would be a bummer! I discover a lot of new music AT festivals and then am often upset later when I’m a superfan that I didn’t appreciate the set more in the moment πŸ™‚

  • LC
    October 29 2015

    It’s so encouraging to hear about a festival that actually cares about recycling, rather than most where the grounds end up being littered in a sea of plastic cups.

    • Meihoukai
      October 30 2015

      Agreed! Bonnaroo really goes above and beyond in their commitment to being green.

  • Sky
    October 29 2015

    Ahh, I just checked the dates and it’s early enough in June next year that I think it’s totally worth waiting the extra week to head to Honduras to go! Yay! Hoping the line-up is as incredible next year as it was this year…
    Sky recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 30 2015

      Absolutely. I might just have to meet you there!

  • Justine
    October 29 2015

    Bonnaroo sounds like a blast! Also, I’m loving the romper and boots theme πŸ™‚
    Justine recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 30 2015

      Ha, thanks Justine! Nothing more comfortable than baby clothes and boots when you’re spending all day in the Tennessee sun…

  • Eva Casey
    October 29 2015

    Woah! I did NOT know Bonnaroo was all of that! I admit I had dreamed about going a while ago, but gave up trying to convince any of my non-festival-going friends to come with me. But maybe I can show them this post in one last attempt for 2016?? πŸ˜€ You definitely made it sound not to be missed!
    Eva Casey recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      October 30 2015

      It’s well worth pushing for, Eva! Glad to hear this post convinced you it’s even more up your alley.

  • Wow! Bonnaroo sounds so much like my scene. I’ve been to a couple of festivals for the weekend and after about a day, you can get a bit fed up and if you go to Glastonbury in England, let’s just say that the rainy, muddy weather doesn’t make it any better so I prefer to stay on the European Continent where the weather is much better LOL! I’ve even gone completely diverse and attended the Wave-Gotik-Treffen Festival in Leipzig, Germany. I liked the renaissance fairs, the viking markets and the medieval stuff, but the music was way too dark LOL!

    Right now, I’m into independent music festivals and film festivals so if you’re ever in Berlin give Berlin Music Festival, Berlin International Film Festival and British Shorts Film Festival a whirl!
    [email protected] The British Berliner recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 1 2015

      I’ve never been to a film festival (other than Jawsfest, ha) but I’m a huge movie buff so it’s high on my list!

  • Leah
    October 30 2015

    This looks awesome! I’ve been to Coachella and didn’t feel the pressure to be decked out in fringe, I think that’s just the celebrity circus the media chooses to show you. You’d have a good time, I think. Plenty of normal people there as well. BUT I definitely don’t think they’ve diversified their activities as much as Bonnaroo seems to have! Would love to go to a festival that included workouts and hair styling and amazing gourmet food. Sign me up!
    Leah recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 2 2015

      That is good to hear about Coachella, especially now that I have a base in California. What the media shows you is definitely a circus… nice to hear normal folk can enjoy the festivities too πŸ™‚

  • Edward Smith
    October 30 2015

    This is amazing and is full of great fun.

  • Amanda Anderson
    October 30 2015

    As someone who has attended Coachella several times you definitely shouldn’t rule it out because of fashion!! 95% of the people there are just normal and wear whatever they like πŸ™‚ it’s such a fun festival, you should definitely try to go, especially now that you have a CA home base.

    • Meihoukai
      November 2 2015

      Are you telling me the media has mis-portrayed something?! Blasphemy! πŸ™‚ That’s really nice to hear. I do get so sick of all the Coachella fashion roundups and best dressed lists around that time. I’ve always assumed I was too bargain basement to attend.

  • becky hutner
    October 30 2015

    The reusable plastic cup scheme makes me very happy. All festivals should have this. I’ve tried to do it at Coachella but have thus far been refused although the blogger from “Trash is for Tossers” seems to have 100% success bringing her mason jars to festivals including Coachella? (ps, she is an inspiration, check out her site if you haven’t already!)

    And speaking of Coachella, my all time favorite festival (13 yrs and counting!), I must stick up for her & say that while a lot of the media coverage is on the fashion, when you’re actually there it’s not really the focus. In my experience, the crowd is super laid back, really sweet & much more concerned with the music & their crew than what other people are wearing. Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of attractive, stylish people but it’s not as in your face as the media would have you believe & I don’t find it to have any kind of negative effect on my experience (if anything, it’s positive. I love clothes!).
    becky hutner recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 2 2015

      First of all, thank you for turning me on to Trash if For Tossers! Love her site and will be spending more quality time there soon. Only this summer did I start having issues bringing my reusable cups places — in Nevada specifically I was told multiple times I that my fountain Diet Cokes HAD to go into the restaurant issued plastic cup for whatever bullshit health code reason. Lame. In New York, they sometimes give me a discount or give me a free drink!

      Also, I am thrilled to read all these supportive Coachella comments. I love to be proven wrong. I think I am scarred from years of working in an overpriced NYC boutique where Coachella was referred to as a season, required team styling meetings, and brought in squealing hoards of my least favorite kinds of customers. Clearly I love getting dressed up and playing around but I think that experience the media circus turned me off — and made me feel insecure about attending and being worst dressed in Indio!

  • Sara
    October 30 2015

    Wanna share where you got that adorable backpack purse??? I like this idea….you have free hands to dance, hold a drink, etc, while still carrying your belongings!

    • Meihoukai
      November 2 2015

      Unfortunately… I stole it from my sister’s closet! πŸ˜€ I will ask her where she got it, but if memory serves correctly she actually bought it at Chatuchak Market in Bangkok when she was visiting me here a few years ago. I love little backpacks for festivals!

  • Marta
    October 30 2015

    I doubt there would be anyone who read your post and was like: “well, that is just lame”. Your writing definately encourages everyone to go:)
    I have a question for you: do you have a way (website, newsletter, etc) that you find out about all these less known festivals? I have searched on google for a good general website but they all seem kind of … well, not user friendly, or have only US festivals…
    Thanks a lot.
    Marta

    • Meihoukai
      November 2 2015

      Just word-of-mouth! And lots from suggestions in my comments section here πŸ™‚ Sorry that’s not super helpful!

  • Dominique
    October 31 2015

    Gorgeous pictures! I’m always trying to not fall over or bump into people that I find it hard to focus on photography during festivals! πŸ™‚ Your pictures are amazing and I love your watermelon dress/romper!
    Dominique recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 2 2015

      I always agonize over whether or not to bring my camera but in the end I’m always so happy I did! I love taking pictures and seeing the festival through a literal lens.

  • Leigh
    November 1 2015

    Shower tokens as prizes for a 5K? Awesome!
    Leigh recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 2 2015

      Ha, right?! You’ll never have needed one more!

  • Britt
    November 1 2015

    I love how festivals are becoming more than just about the music that is playing. They always seem to have an awesome sense of community for me!

    I can’t say Coachella has every appealed to me but I could get around Bonnaroo!
    Britt recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 2 2015

      Indeed! And it’s fun discovering how they all have their own unique personalities, too.

  • Francesca
    November 2 2015

    I feel like festivals nowadays are so much nicer than they used to be. My first experience aged 17 was much more ‘warm beer and mud’ than my latest, which involved Polka lessons at one point (you HAVE to get yourself to besitval one year girl).
    Francesca recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 4 2015

      Warm beer and mud don’t sound very tempting… but something called Bestival does! πŸ™‚

      • Francesca
        November 4 2015

        You would absolutely LOVE Bestival, it’s my favourite festival on the planet.
        Francesca recently posted..

  • Lawrence
    November 4 2015

    Looks like this is an awesome experience! Great memory, fun event is a great way to spend a memorable weekend.

    • Meihoukai
      November 4 2015

      It was indeed! I can’t wait to go back someday.

  • Andrea
    November 29 2015

    Your article is wonderful but they do not sell wine in Centeroo. I’ve actually ed them about this and they only have a beer license and do not think that will change. 10 years of going, 10 years of sneaking in my own wine ?

    • Meihoukai
      November 30 2015

      Huh! My memory must be deceiving me. Maybe I had cider πŸ™‚ I don’t drink beer, but I definitely ordered something!

      • Andrea
        November 30 2015

        Yep I don’t drink beer either, which is why I am very aware there is no wine! I do drink cider occasionally and they do have that πŸ™‚

  • Rose
    January 27 2016

    Been stalking this blog for hours/days as I am getting ready for a three month stay in Crete but got so excited that you went to Bonnaroo last year! Roo has a special place in my heart — I’ve gone with two of my best college girlfriends for the last few years and its always a wild ride.
    Unfortunately it looks like I wont be able to swing roo this year because of Greece — I’m excited as hell for the trip but my heart breaks a little to know I wont be there (and missing out on the new flushing campground bathrooms)
    Hope you can make it again this year!

    • Meihoukai
      February 1 2016

      Oooo, flushing campground bathrooms sound fancy! I’m actually going to be at a different festival that weekend it seems, but I know for sure about Roo is in my future someday! Enjoy Crete — I bet you’ll return even more excited after a year off the festival circuit next summer.

  • Cynthia
    August 2 2016

    Looking forward to actually visiting Bonnaroo in the summer. Work has been stressful so far and would definitely deserve some time off. Can you recommend me some good hotels over there?

    • Meihoukai
      August 3 2016

      Unfortunately I can’t — I stayed with a friend who lives nearby. But I’d look into the VIP camping. It looks super fun!

  • Just popping in to say THREE WEEKS!!!!!
    Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate recently posted..