Column: How my Bonnaroo trip became hell in Manchester

By Katie Harriman

Sunshine, live music, boobs, death. Don’t get me wrong, music festivals are a lot of fun, but there is one four-day celebration to which I will never return.

When I purchased my almost $300 ticket to last year’s Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., I pictured myself frolicking through a field, possibly intoxicated, while listening to tunes by more than 160 awesome bands of every genre. When I left the festival before one of my favorite bands, Arcade Fire, even went on stage, I rejoiced with my friend and shouted, “We made it out alive!” as I barreled down the highway in my grandma’s minivan.

Bonnaroo 2012 has an impressive lineup, including Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beach Boys, Alice Cooper, Bon Iver, Ludacris and The Roots, but is it worth it?

In my opinion, the folks behind Bonnaroo have decided — not surprisingly, — to make as much money off the festival as possible, which has resulted in too many people and not enough resources to accommodate them. Despite having an incredible lineup, the overcrowding of dehydrated, sickly people overshadowed the music. The festival, which is held in the middle of June, has seen 10 deaths in the last eight years, many of them heat-related. If this festival was moved to May, or some other time when Manchester doesn’t feel like Hades, I probably wouldn’t still be complaining about it a year later. It was too hot to sleep after 8 a.m. Maybe I had seen too much footage of music festivals on TV, but this wasn’t at all the freewheelin’, good-spirited time I had imagined.

When my friend and I arrived after the seven-hour drive from Columbus, we had to wait in traffic for another four hours to enter the park. By noon, the smoldering sun and humidity had reached 98 degrees. The Centeroo, where all the action happens, was a good two-mile hike from our campsite. Once we reached the entrance, we stood in the sun for another hour, waiting to enter.

Going from the Centeroo to the campsite between shows is not really an option, so you have to be prepared to stay all day. The only relief is the air-conditioned Cinema Tent, which is another one- or two-hour wait, depending on the movies and celebrities scheduled to appear.

While I might not be the best camper, I’m also not typically the biggest whiner, but the heat, humidity and lack of water stations, showers and toilets made every part of the festival miserable. As I mentioned, my friend and I left right before Arcade Fire went on stage, which was the band I had wanted to see most. The thought of staying one more day was unbearable. Because we were parked near the outskirts, we managed to weave through the maze of tents, vehicles and bodies. Leaving the festival was the highlight of the weekend.

If you choose to ignore this warning, I have some advice:

1. Get a huge group to go (minimum 24 people) and stay in the Groop Camping area. You will have a reserved spot, located closer to Centeroo and a water station, and it is only an extra $30 per person (Group camping for the 2012 show is currently sold out, but take your chances on the waiting list, anyway).

2. Dress as if you are going to run a marathon in the middle of summer, but with less clothing.

3. Because of Bonnaroo’s jam-packed schedule, it is tough to see all of the concerts you hope to attend. Unless you want to see your favorite band from a mile away, you have to get to the stages early and miss out on other performances.

4. Save your money and plan a trip to Indio, Calif. for Coachella or Chicago for Lollapalooza. I haven’t been to either, but the weather and accommodations have to be better than Bonnaroo.

The entire experience probably cost $700. Maybe it was an especially hot and dry year for Bonnaroo, but for the amount of money, effort and crushed high hopes suffered, I wouldn’t risk wasting another weekend in Manchester — not even to see my favorite musicians of all time, Radiohead.

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