One of the things we as people search for in our lives is a place where we belong. No matter how old we are, where we’ve been to, what we’ve experienced, this search for belonging is universal. I have a friend who once told me about a backpacking trip she took to Ireland right after she graduated high school. At one point while she was there, she stayed in a hostel. At the hostel she spent a bit of time getting to know the other people staying there. She described the experience as on that gave her a sense of belonging. She’d found ‘her people’, so to speak, amongst these strangers, far away from home. I was in awe of this anecdote and admit to feeling a jab of envy when I first heard this story. Up to that point in my life, I’d never known what that sense of belonging felt like. That is, until I went to Bonnaroo.
I’ve been blessed to attend the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival twice in my live, in 2013 and 2015. When friends and coworkers ask me about it and ask me why I go or what appeals to me about it, it’s honestly hard to encapsulate the experience in an 8 second sound bite. I usually tell them “because it’s awesome”, which it is, but that doesn’t really translate. It’s undoubtedly awesome, but it’s also the place I’ve found where I truly belong.
I work in a retail pharmacy and I’m constantly surrounded by sick, cranky, ill tempered, and, unfortunately, sometimes rude and seemingly hateful people. It can take a toll on you mentally to have to deal with so much negativity on a daily basis. So going to Bonnaroo for the first time, in 2013, was like a breath of fresh air. My fellow Bonnaroovians were surprisingly chill and upbeat. At Bonnaroo I found myself among fellow music fans who were not only passionate, but also excitingly positive. I know that sounds corny and clichéd in our derisive, irony laden culture –but at Bonnaroo the people there were and are genuinely nice and friendly; the staff, volunteers, artists, vendors, fellow fans, etc. I got to see firsthand that the ‘Roo maxim, “radiate positivity”, was and is a very real thing. Going to Bonnaroo felt like I had left the “real world” and all its’ stresses behind and had entered some sort of magical realm. Not even the smothering heat of middle Tennessee in June could kill the fantastic vibes and energy I got from being on The Farm.
Another thing that sealed the deal for me was being knee deep in a sea of fellow music fans. I grew up in a small, backwoods town in east Tennessee. High school was a drag not only for all the usual reasons, but also because there was literally no musical culture to be found there. So few of my peers seemed to have any taste, let alone enthusiasm for music. If it wasn’t Top 40 country, they didn’t know or care about it. As a teenager I can remember this lack of musical connection with my classmates as being one of the chief reasons I felt so disconnected from them. Unfortunately going to college and even getting my first few jobs didn’t change that much. Some days, it felt like I was living in a musical dead zone.
When I went to Bonnaroo though, it all changed. Finally, I was with people who loved music. Not just average, generic Top 40, but real, genuine music. I know how Hipster and pretentious that sounds, but until I went to Bonnaroo I could count on one hand how many people I’d ever met who were interested and passionate about music and all the plethora of genres out there. It was amazing to find myself connecting with so many other, diverse people about one of the things most dear to me. I no longer felt alone. Instead it was like a whole new world had opened up for me.
Bonnaroo has been so important to me ever since. Even if I’d only ever gone that one time, it’d still be one of the greatest experiences of my life –and it’d still be the place where I feel like I truly belong. In a lot of ways, going to Bonnaroo helped me grow up and grow into the person I am today. It gave me not only that sense of connection, but I also gained a sense of confidence in myself as a person. I really feel like I found myself there. It’s where I feel most positive in this otherwise dark and negative world. It’s where I’ve met some of the nicest people and formed some of the best of friendships. It’s where I’ve had the greatest fun and had some of the best times of my life. And as I recently told Taryn, it’s where some of my dearest dreams have come true.
Only at Bonnaroo could I discover new and exciting acts like Father John Misty, Django Django, Glass Animals, and a flood of other up and coming musicians. Only at Bonnaroo could I feel like I was witnessing something spiritual while watching Florence + the Machine. Only at Bonnaroo could I sing along loudly to every Tears For Fears lyric. Only at Bonnaroo could I feel like a member of the Run The Jewels family. Only at Bonnaroo could I fulfill a lifelong dream to see my all time favorite artist, Paul McCartney.
I’ll never forget having my wristband scanned on the first day, for the very first time, back in 2013. Taryn and I had sat in line for almost an hour, the air conditioner was useless in my car, and I was hot and tired, ready to just get in there! When the time came and the car had been searched and we’d been given our booklets, they finally scanned our wristbands. When they scanned mine, they asked me if it was my first time coming to Bonnaroo. I remember nervously answering “yes” and suddenly feeling very anxious about what was awaiting me. I’d never been to a music festival before, so everything was new for me. Next, when they scanned Taryn’s wristband, they noted how she was not only wearing that year’s band, but as a seasoned veteran, she was still sporting last year’s wristband. One of the volunteers scanned her band and with a dreamy, airy voice told Taryn “welcome home.”
As we left and headed for the day parking, I laughed and joked to Taryn that it all sounded like some sort of Hippie cult. But after having experienced Bonnaroo for myself, I can’t think of it as anything else, except “home”.