With the recent announcement of a new festival hitting the outskirts of Toronto, HomeAway (temporary name for now) from the creators of Bonnaroo, I thought it would be a great time to share my first festival experience. In 2011 I had the privilege of making the trip to Manchester, Tennessee for Bonnaroo; a 3- night, 4-day camping and multi- genre festival. The festival itself is organized and hosted by Superfly Presents and AC Entertainment and is held on the Great Stage Park (a 700- acre piece of land); hosting about 80, 000 people from all over the world. With acts ranging from Rap to Country Western or from Soft Rock to Electronic, the festival has something for everyone. In the next few paragraphs, I would like to share with you my Bonnaroo experience and the memories it left me with.
Like most festivals Bonnaroo isn’t cheap if you buy last minute, so maybe buying my ticket just weeks, even days before and going out on a whim was not the smartest idea financially; but needless to say it was worth every penny. Flights booked and bus tickets purchased the night before leaving, people must have thought me and my co- worker at the time were crazy. Nonetheless we woke up on Wednesday, June 8th, 2011 eager to get to the Greyhound station to catch our first bus to Buffalo, the first leg of our trip. We decided it would be cheaper to fly out of Buffalo, NY considering how last minute we really were. Once we got to Buffalo we had a long wait for our flight to Atlanta, where we would then connect to Chattanooga, Tennessee (Ushers’s home town); during our wait we decided to take a trip to Niagra Falls as there isn’t much to do around the Buffalo airport. I’ll save you the lengthy story and skip right to where we landed in Chattanooga, on a small plane with about 40 others on it; terrifying to say the least, even the fact that the airport only had two gates was interesting to us as it was our first time visiting such a small airport. This is where we ran into our first issue. Being first time travellers to Tennessee, we figured the airport would be walking distance from the hotel we had booked, where we were to stay one night before taking our bus to Manchester for the festival; little did we know it was about a 2 hour walk and there was not a cab in site. When all else fails, hitch- hike. Well that’s what we did anyways, with a very hospitable couple just off their flights from Vegas (who ironically had a daughter who attended the festival the previous year). Once we got to our hotel we could not have been more freaked out: not a single person in site, no open bars or restaurants, a small creepy window at the hotel where you checked in, but tons of liquor at the gas station down the street. Well that’s where we spent our night, in what I would consider the creepiest rooming situation I have ever encountered.
The next day we were up and in a cab headed to the bus terminal to board our bus to Manchester, but wait, slight delays (4+ hours) set us back; due to the fact that the buses had been oversold and more were needed to get the large group of people waiting from point A to point B. However, in this time me and my co- worker had made friends, a group of 6 girls, each a pair from all over the U.S. How cool, our first friends at Bonnnaroo! It’s safe to say we spent every waking second of the 4 days with these girls, and still to this day keep in touch here and there. After our drive through countless mountains and valleys, we were finally in Manchester, but wait again, we needed to take one more bus into the festival grounds; my reaction was nothing short of “You’ve got to be kidding me”. So me and the girls all boarded the tiny white bus and off to “The Farm” we went. Yes, the festival grounds are referred to as “The Farm”; at that point I really had to ask myself what I was getting myself into.
Its now Thursday, June 9th and we made it in time for the beginning of the festival; 2 days of travelling and lugging a tent that sleeps 10 across the border later. Now to set up camp and get the party started, well so we thought. Unfortunately, the late comers have a lovely 30- minute walk to their campsite because everyone else had got the good spots. It doesn’t get much better, our campsite was merely a solid patch of dirt located directly beside a dirt path travelled by all festival- goers to get to and from shows. However, we were not about to let that get us down, so we pitched our tent as fast as we could and went straight for the first stage. To tell you I remember who we saw first would be a lie, because with 150+ artists and 5+ stages how can anyone remember who they say in sequential form? Temperatures were extremely hot (45+ degrees Celsius, beginning at 6 in the morning) which meant we had to keep hydrated and in the shade as often as we could. We did not let that stop us from letting loose though, we made sure we saw who we wanted and that ranged from: Robyn and The Scissor Sisters, to Pretty Lights and Ratatat, from Eminem and Wiz Khalifa, to even Florence + The Machine and Mumford and Sons. It was a ridiculous lineup, even the silent rave was mind- blowing as it was my first time ever experiencing anything like it. On top of all the fun activities like the water slides or the communal (and most unsanitary) watering hole, the stage names were quite confusing: What Stage, Which Stage, This Tent, That Tent, and The Other Tent. Now imagine trying to have a conversation with someone to figure out where what stage is (see what I mean?), it would go something like this:
Me: So who’s playing at That Tent right now?
Someone else: This tent? (Our current location).
Me: (Points to map), That Tent.
Someone else: But that’s The Other Tent.
Me: I give up.
That’s basically how it went, not the easiest conversation to have once you have had a couple of drinks. As hard as it was to jump from stage to stage and see our favoured artists due to the mass confusion at times and large amount of distance to cover in order to get there, the production made up for it. Without any over- the- top visual effects or lasers, the hosts of Bonnaroo tastefully put on a show that does not take away from the music. The tents and stages were absolutely massive but because of the incline on the ground you felt like you were close enough to touch the artist, and as for the sound, top notch.
It was a fantastic way to be introduced to the festival circuit; to meet new people in an estranged environment and be introduced to new artists/genres I would have possibly never showed interest in. Even though we endured harsh weather (including a mini- tornado and a thunderstorm like I’ve never seen before) and travelled across what felt like all of North America, I still got to see some of the best performances I’ve seen to date. I was satisfied, but it was time to go home where there was a proper shower and toilet waiting for me. I probably did not mention, porta- potties were made available and so were communal showers; but you can imagine the state of them after 1 day in desert-like conditions.
Upon leaving on Sunday, June 12th, it was very much the same: bus to the Greyhound terminal, bus back to Chattanooga and cab to our hotel where we would spend the night before catching our 6:30 am flights back so we could make it to work the following day. Well little did we think that maybe, just maybe, we’d be exhausted from the 4 hours of sleep we got in 5 days. We slept in till 6:15 am. Now here we are throwing everything we possibly can in our luggage all at once, just a scrawny tourist running across the street half- naked in a panic to check out while the cab was on its way to grab us. We thought we were superstars and would catch our flight, well weren’t we wrong. We got to the airport with two gates and were told right away we could not board our flight. Here I am crying and whimpering like a baby; it would have been different if I were stranded in the tropics somewhere but we are talking the boonies, not London, ON boonies, but the ‘you may get chased down by a chainsaw’ kind. However, Delta Airlines got us on a shuttle back to Atlanta and got us on the next flight back free of charge. This left me in absolute shock and was probably the most successful ending to a story that could have ended tragically; two teens stuck in Tennessee, what could be worse?
Apart from all the mishaps and nearly stranding ourselves in dry lands, we made it home with enough time to spare to make it work, as burned and bruised as we were. But needless to say, the entire experience on its own will live vividly in my memory for the rest of my life, so it came as very exciting news that the creators of Bonnaroo are bringing HomeAway to us here in Ontario; you are all in for a real treat. My suggestion to you is keep posted on further information from HomeAway as tickets will go quickly. This is the first of its kind to hit the Toronto market, so be prepared for something big and exciting this summer from the creators of the sensational Bonnaroo.
Peter Grande – EDM TOR