Bonnaroo leaves you sweaty, elated & chanting 'Encore!'
We had done it. The tent, canopy, airbed, tables and eskies were all set up. After travelling from Savannah, Georgia to Manchester, Tennessee on Wednesday afternoon, we had finally finished setting up camp.
Unfortunately, the light streaming across the sky wasn't Wednesday's sunset. It was Thursday's sunrise. Six hours of driving, five hours of waiting in vehicle queues to get into the festival camping grounds and I was ready to pass out.
It was a good kind of exhaustion, knowing the next four days would be spent at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
'Fancy a celebratory beer?' I asked Chelsea.
My question was answered by light snoring from inside the tent. I didn't know whether to crack one or join her. I managed to get through a beer before I was asleep as well.
I woke up four hours later covered in sweat. The hot Tennessee sun had turned our tent into a canvas sauna. Chelsea had moved outside onto the extra camp bed and was cuddling the battery-powered fan like a plush teddy.
This was my first Bonnaroo lesson: It's impossible to sleep beyond ten in the morning. Fortunately, I never wanted to.
That morning we had set up camp in a blurred frenzy, hoping to get some sleep before the first acts began. The field in which we were staying – a small section of the 700-acre farm that annually hosts the festival – had only been half full.
When I arose, I found the area completely transformed into the eccentric tent city only found at camping festivals.
Most people had packed the basics – tent, canopy, chairs and tables – but every so often I would encounter a more creative abode. Walking back from buying a bag of crushed ice, I looked up to see two guys lounging on a sofa attached to the top of their van.
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The neighbours started to rise shortly after I opened my second beer and a couple of icy cold mandarins (anything to combat the sweltering heat).
We'd all been packed in tightly, so it would have been unbearably awkward not to say hello. Besides, I would have to be God of the Antisocials not to interact with other people at a festival.
On the left was a group of five from Pennsylvania (they'd endured an even longer night than us) and on the right three friends from North Carolina.
By this point Chelsea had also given up on sleeping. We lost track of time that first day and didn't actually enter the festival until Glass Animals at 9.45pm. I found this a constant struggle. There never seemed to be enough time, not with so many acts to see, side stalls to visit and good people to connect with around the campsite.
It's not a bad problem; just one that wouldn't exist in a perfect world.
The Friday felt more like Bonnaroo's official first day. I was fresh after dousing myself under the camp shower attached to our 4WD, the charcoal grill was browning burger patties and beer pong was underway.
Chelsea and I had already decided to see the Alabama Shakes that night, but our neighbours from Pennsylvania were heading in early to see Royal Blood and Moon Taxi. I didn't recognise the names, but when presented with drinking at camp or seeing live music the choice was easy.
We came back that night raving about the new music we'd discovered. This isn't reserved to Bonnaroo. All festivals have them; bands you never knew existed that you stumble upon when no one you came to see is playing.
It wasn't until the Saturday night that I discovered why people love coming to Bonnaroo. We waded through the crowd to get up close for Hozier, My Morning Jacket (MMJ) and Mumford & Sons, the festival's headliner.
Mumford & Sons' performance left everyone with such a high most of us hung around a little longer just to keep it going. Marcus Mumford had such love and appreciation for the crowd. He played from the heart and soul, rocking and sweating through the humid night alight with lanterns loosed into the sky by Bonnaroovians.
At one point he brought actor Ed Helms out on stage to play banjo during Awake My Soul, but this was just a taste of the finale to come.
After playing new and old songs, accompanied by a chorus of singers in the crowd, the band invited other musicians playing at the festival onto the stage.
Jim James from MMJ, Andrew Hozier-Byrne from Hozier, The War On Drugs, Danny Clinch and Ed Helms all joined Mumford & Sons for a rendition of The Beatle's With a Little Help from My Friends performed in the soulful style of the late Joe Cocker.
The amount of talent and passion on the stage at that moment could have only been surpassed by a cameo from Sir Paul McCartney.
At that point I knew why I would come back to Bonnaroo. It's those moments of collaborative brilliance that convince 100,000 people to wait five hours in line for camping.
That experience exists at few other events around the world. And to have that night followed by Robert Plant's performance on Sunday (the closest I will probably ever get to seeing Led Zeppelin), created an even greater love for live music.
Tick off some of the world's best music festivals in Europe and the USA with a discounted Black Market airfare from Student Flights.
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