Bonnaroo 2014: A Photo Diary From The Guts of a Real Person

“I don’t believe in any of it
but I believe in all of it.”
— Jack White

There are probably at least a million places in Tennessee where you can go to be you. If you walk down the hill to the pond in my backyard, for example, you can be you right then and there with the frogs and the cattails. You can drive down Darbytown Road to McCord Hollow and find Cane Creek and Slippery Rock and be the youest you you’ve ever youed, and probably find some really pretty creek rocks in the process. But if you’re wanting to add some music to the mix, and maybe 89,999 other people, there’s no better place to be the youest you than at Bonnaroo. Once a year, Manchester, Tennessee becomes the third most populated place in the state, thanks to Bonnaroo, the music festival closest to my heart. When it began in 2002, I was living in Murfreesboro, Tennessee — a college town with nothing more to offer me than some crappy retail stores — and I couldn’t believe I wasn’t on that farm. I watched the evening news when they reported on cars being backed up for miles on I-24 and how people were getting out just to say hi and meet each other, because they weren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and wasn’t that the point? To say hi and be welcomed into a space that hadn’t even existed before they’d arrived there?

My uncle, who’s a musician — I tried to learn guitar from him when I was 13 but it just never took — mailed me a copy of the double CD from the first year. I almost couldn’t listen to it because WHY HADN’T I BEEN THERE. Why had I been sitting in an apartment in Murfreesboro, pretending to be ok and pretending to be moving forward, while thousands of people had camped out and shared a real, actual thing for a full weekend? Why was I not like those people? When was the last time I’d shared a real, actual thing?

It would take another eight years for me to sorta figure that out, and in 2010 I applied for press passes. Autostraddle was the smallest of beasts then, and my dad had died just a few months prior and I really honestly felt like there wasn’t anything that wasn’t worth trying. I was reckless with my trying, actually. I flung my heart in every direction that year. Bonnaroo is the one place where it stuck. Or Bonnaroo was the one place that would have me.

It’s about a two and a half hour drive to Manchester from my mom’s house and we were leaving before the sun came up. I cried the entire way because all I could think about was how excited my dad would’ve been for me, if he’d still been there. I can’t tell you how excited he would’ve been — there are literally no words to stitch it all together. I mean he probably would’ve died, if he hadn’t already been dead.

So that first year at Bonnaroo was a series of shock, dehydration, confusion, and life-changing shots of time that taught me — or reminded me? — that we’re all right here. I’ve tried so hard to keep that with me. I wrote it into the Runaways credo. I cried when those Runaways put it on a t-shirt. I write it on my wrist when I can’t believe he’s gone, or I can’t believe he’s 15, or I can’t believe she’s still here, or that I am. I mean, that I even am.

be right here

photo by katie o’donnell

I hope I’ve grown since then. It definitely feels like Bonnaroo has — sometimes in the worst way, like people wearing headdresses this year when I’ve honestly never seen that shit before — but I do believe the crux of the festival is still what it was 12 years ago, that we’ll all just be the best versions of ourselves here. For that reason, I hope they’ll issue a statement within the next year that outlines their stance against cultural appropriation like Lightning In A Bottle did in May 2014. Just a thought!

Megan and I took our hippie bullshit feelings back to Bonnaroo this summer and it was everything we dreamed it would be and a couple of things we didn’t want or enjoy, like heatstroke. This here is a photo diary of our four days on the farm. You can click to enlarge these little baby images! Do it, it’s neat.

Shots taken by Megan and me using a Sony a600, Canon T50 and iPhone 5s.

Thursday

Lineup that we cared about:
ZZ Ward
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
MS MR
Cloud Nothings
Banks
Poliça

packing
Packing List from Phoenix:
blanket
fanny pack
flower crown
eye mask
inflatable turkey leg
kangaroo onesie

Processed with Moldiv
We skipped the interstate traffic and instead made our way through a bunch of little towns using winding highways and country roads. There were barns and wildflowers everywhere and I have no idea why I live in Arizona and not Tennessee.
tiny town

getting there

Every moment at Bonnaroo is a toss-up, to be honest. A lot of things go into making sure you just stay alive and it’s likely that the plans you’ve made will need to be adjusted, so you have to be flexible. The one thing I know for sure will always, always be amazing and exciting and perfect is driving onto the farm. It’s mostly the anticipation and how nothing is fucked yet — the whole weekend is still full of possibilities and you’re not even slightly dehydrated — but it’s also coming home.

water station

emerald city

happy girlperson 2

She liked my tattoo and I liked hers.

bw megan

chairs

#RBF; no apologies.

bonnaroo moonrise 2

The moon was ridiculous all weekend. This was its first appearance. If you squint and use your imagination, you can see the ferris wheel in the blurry photo at the bottom. Trust me.

first night

We used battery operated tea lights at night because the LCD bullshit lanterns they sell in the camping department make the tent feel like the opening scenes of Joe vs The Volcano.

Valerie June is your new best friend, if she wasn’t already.

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Profile photo of Laneia Nicole

Laneia is the Executive Editor and founding member of Autostraddle, and she thinks you're fucking rad. She's 33, has two kids, two dogs, one Megan, some personal essays and a lot of emails in her inbox.

Laneia Nicole has written 363 articles for us.

29 Comments

  1. Thumb up 3

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    these photos are really beautiful, laneia. they remind me so much of austin and just looking at them evokes all the feelings i have when i’m in that city. maybe it’s because i have visually similar memories from all the festivals i’ve been to in austin, from all the cute tattooed girls i’ve seen in austin, and from all the weird shit i’ve seen people wear in austin. or maybe it’s the graffiti or the music that reminds me of austin. but perhaps, just maybe, it’s because austin is the someplace where i can be the me-est me.

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    I didn’t get to go this year [as I was saving to move out of the Midewest] and I am just oh so thankful for this article. The atmosphere of Bonnaroo is unlike any other music festival I’ve been too. You’re engulfed in it.

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    Wonderful photos. Going to Bonnaroo seems to slip my grasp every year. The first year I actually bought tickets and ended up not being able to use them. I so wanted to go to Bonnaroo this year, because Neutral Milk Hotel is one of my all-time faves! Your photos make me want to double my effort to go next year. It looks like fantastic fun.

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    My boyfriend goes to Bonnaroo every year and missed it this year. The way he talks about it reminds me of how I talk about pride festivals and queer spaces. I really want to go to Bonnaroo with him someday because I feel like I would see a different version of him (when he could be his more honest self). Someday.

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    I have never been to a big music festival like this – the closest I ever got was having a ticket to HFStival (’90s alt-rock radio station festival, it was like the raddest thing) when I was in high school but then I got cast in Jesus Christ Superstar and had a performance so I couldn’t go. Sad.

    But every one of Laneia’s Bonnaroo posts make me want to go to there, even though I am a socially awkward person who hates camping and hasn’t heard of most of these bands.

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    Beautiful pictures! Festivals are where I am the best version of myself, too. Although I usually go for smaller, regional fests. My favorite thing is volunteering at smaller festivals- you get a free ticket and get to know the festival organizers. Two weekends ago I volunteered at a festival and I got to drive a shuttle van and met tons of cool people and musicians.

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    i went to bonnaroo in 2008 and 2009 and both times it was like a religious experience. it is very life-affirming to hear that someone else has cried from a feelings overload in the middle of a bonnaroo crowd. you are speaking my truth, thank you so much, and you are not alone.

    i had always felt very grounded by music my whole life, but then at some point (after some no good very bad personal shit) it just became another reminder of how sad i was. i spent a lot of time contemplating what it meant that music just sounded like noise and what would become of me if that never changed. it was disorienting and terrifying…like waking up and not being able to taste food. something was broken and i couldn’t fix it. i have thought about going back to bonnaroo pretty much every year since my last visit. each year i think maybe going back will help me find what i lost. but ultimately every summer i decide that being confronted with that much unadulterated life would be too heartbreaking in some way. but! things are way better now. and even though i live in a ridiculously expensive part of the country on very little money i dont care i am going next year no excuses. i am going, i am going, i am going. i am making that promise to myself in front of god and the internet and everybody else in between. because i am ready, i deserve it, and the farm is calling my name.

    oh and i should mention that your photos are really stunning. i only wish i had more information re: elton john. was it fucking sublime or underwhelming? those are the only two ways i could see it going.

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      shit i meant to tell you! it was sadly underwhelming. i’m not sure if this was a result of having seen paul mccartney in 2013, which literally nothing in my life will ever top, ever, or if it was also underwhelming to other folks. tbh most of the 2014 lineup was underwhelming. and yet! it was still an amazing time. wtf bonnaroo i can’t quit you.

      i hope i see you next year! can we cross our fingers for band of horses please?

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    I came back to comment on this because my past idiot self felt your hippie bullshit feelings in my heart and didn’t tell you that and I’m sorry! Sometimes you feel so incredibly different than who you were supposed to be but then these posts come along and let you know that there is always a place where you can be the youest you. Maybe it’s Bonnaroo or A-Camp or like, just driving around in your car but it’s out there.

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