Janel Holmes volunteered. The Tulsa, Oklahoma native jumped right in for our offer to attend Bonnaroo and representing The Alternate Root magazine. Janel offered an insider’s view, from the ground up, of a weekend of music from June 13 through June 16, 2019.
Bonnaroo is not for weak relationships. This was my first time traveling in a car with my boyfriend, Josh, for thirteen hours. Adding to the road trip was arriving in Manchester, Tennessee, with a deadline of one hour to pick up our tickets or wait until morning to pick up the tickets, not knowing whether the traffic would be crazy. The cars waiting to exit any every ramp extended for miles and law enforcement has blocked off roads with no informational signs anywhere to help direct day or night. Frustrated, we turned around and found a gas station that pointed us in a direction to where we needed to go. With bare minutes to spare, we hit the deadline. Josh and I were the last ones admitted into the building to get tickets.
Once we had our tickets, we headed over to Walmart to wait for our Slither Squad to arrive, a big group of three RV’s carrying more than fifteen people. Reading Reddit helped with our wait once In line. We waited five hours in line which was honestly rough, and on Reddit we discovered some people waited ten hours. Little did we know at the time by storms had hit the festival grounds before we rolled into town which caused a three-hour delay in opening the gates for everyone. It was Mother Nature’s fault.
We finally got in and set up around 9AM.Our Slither group dressed up in “Fear and Loathing” outfits and took pictures under the Roo Arch. Beach button up shirt, bucket hat, yellow aviators…it was a really fun group activity. We had several hours before the first set we wanted to watch so we went exploring. The Other Stage had very high screens all around with the best visual set up and very close to the Ferris Wheel. Each stage was unique but The Other was my favorite. Giant forest trees light up everywhere with color changing lights bringing them to life, so colorful and exciting.
Friday we started the day by trying to figure out how to use our Media/photo passes. The information desk couldn’t help so we went exploring and asking questions. Eventually we were guided to the media area between the two main stages. They had a giant tent set up with tables, electric hook up, internet, air conditioning and free water….an oasis. Solange was the first set for the day. No photographers were allowed however we were escorted to VIP to watch her show. It was her first performance in the United States. Absolutely beautiful. Solange’s performance was stunningly artistic, soulful and appeared in every way her own vision.
There is so much to see and do, you couldn’t explore all of Bonnaroo in one weekend. Many varieties of food are available to purchase everywhere! Shop vendors every few feet, water filling stations, and bathrooms that were kept clean. There is a very playful colorful giant mushroom fountain right in the center of Roo. Kids and adults playing in the water to cool off. Impressively, Bonnaroo has a very organized recycling system set up with workers at each trash station to help people recycle correctly. That is the first time I’ve seen that a festival go to that extent. There was a Flintstones movie theatre that played short films explaining the history of Bonnaroo that played throughout the day. A favorite art piece I saw was a rainbow painted piano just outside the theatre. Two guys hopped on and started making music. It was special to watch.
There is so much shopping, I can’t believe it. Oxfamamerica.org was a fantastic organization working to end poverty. It was one of many organizations at Bonnaroo trying to spread awareness. It was the first time I had seen so many organizations at a festival. The Bonnaroo Merchandise did not disappoint. Everything is high quality material and I absolutely love the shirt and water bottle I got.
Saturday started with Bishop Briggs. I had wanted to see her for years and I was getting to photograph her. I’m crying inside I’m so excited. Bishop is a British Indie Artist. She walked out on stage, freshly shaved head, demanding feminine energy blasting out as she begins to sing “you”. I’m so close I could touch her if she reached for me. She got emotional after the second song, expressing her gratitude for everyone that showed up. She sounds even better live. Juice WRLD was next and I had permission to photograph. Is this real life? I’m loving this so much. Juice was fantastic. The crowd was pumping, he was dancing and interacting a lot with the crowd. He brought his girlfriend out on stage and sang a song to her, it was so damn cute. He is a solid performer. Odesza was beyond packed. We got sardined In a sea of people. A combination of colorful lights, space lasers and graphics shooting out at you with an epic drumming performance. Just stellar. The smoothies and lemonades are so good here. Luckily, the weather was pretty amazing but always stay hydrated! In one day, I walked 16 miles.
Post Malone was a must see. He was the only person on the stage and somehow made you feel like you were in his music videos. We left his set early so we could watch the Lonely Island. I had permission to photograph them. This group had the most photographers out of all the artists and hands down the largest crowd I had witnessed out of the fifteen sets I saw during my time there. Laughing so much while singing along was so enjoyable to experience and made for some blurry photos, ha ha ha. They turned it up. Now we left this show early so we can see the full set of ZHU. Just WOW, I have waited so damn long to see a performance like this. ZHU is an anonymous singer who has a guitarist and saxophone player. I have never seen a DJ sing and play with a band. It rocked. The visuals where simple, artistic and magnetizing. He sang smoothly and melodically connected with the audience. Don’t ever miss seeing these guys.
Sunday we decided to skip out on a any photography opportunities and spent the rest of the day with our Slither Squad. Starting the day with Brandi Carlile. It was Father’s Day and Brandi gave a big shout out to all the fathers and shared a personal story of her family, about her wife and two daughters and their right to exist. It was beautiful and pulled my heart strings deeply. I really only knew one song by heart, “The Joke”. Not only was it flawless, she had me balling. And I couldn’t stop. It was so beautiful, Brandi Carlile moved my being like no other artist ever has. Ever. Her voice heals. To change it up we decided to go see Lil Dicky the rapper. DAMN! He is no joke even though he is a hilarious rapper. My jaw kept dropping I was so impressed. He raps fast. He pulled a girl from the audience and basically stripped on her rapped about it. Dicky was completely committed. He was the best male rapper I saw at Bonnaroo.
I can’t miss Cardi B. It is packed and we arrived late on accident. The trick to getting through a packed crowd is by dancing through people rather than push or break through. We got stuck in an area that got to hot and I needed air so I took the lead and started dancing. It was working. We landed around a group of girls getting super down, it was the most fun crowd I had been in yet. Cardi can rap so freaking good, but needs to let go of her DJ. He was awful. God awful. Her outfit malfunctioned and the backup outfit they gave her was a white winter robe. Not a silk robe, a winter robe. What the fuck! She was definitely over-heating but she killed it nonetheless.
The festival starts to close up so we decide to go get phishy. We caught the last two hours of Phish. I had never heard one song before, wanting a fully raw experience knowing nothing. Why have I been in the dark? These guys are ridiculous in their jam sessions. The buildup just keeps going and going and soon I’m screaming with excitement and I cannot control my urge to dance. Hands down brilliant music, brilliant light show, and amazingly good vibes from Phish fans. I’m hooked!
We meet up with our Slither Squad and journey to the Where In The Woods exhibit. On our way, a friend needed food so we stopped by the YES barn. Soon after a surprise DJ named cherub started playing and we all freaked out. A 1AM on Monday morning surprise. We dance for a bit and keep journeying to Where In The Woods. We walked into a forest filled with people dancing everywhere. The DJ Justin Nyce was playing and he had the crowd booming. I couldn’t stop smiling and dancing. My bf and friends had never seen me dance before and I lost control. It was amazing. There was a giant blow up unicorn being tossed around in the crowd, staggered with creative totems and light up accents on people. What an ending!
Bonnaroo has a spirit. It Started with “Happy Roo” at the Manchester Walmart. The friendliness I experienced from all the workers and most of the goers was amazing. The organization and cleanliness for a festival of 100,000 was impressive. With stage names as questions like Who, What, Where, Which Stage; led to some hilariously confusing conversations. It’s the Roo spirit. You can only feel it if you go. This has been my most favorite festival yet. I can’t wait to attend next year. See ya in 2020, Janel!