Bonnaroo is next weekend already, and Wakarusa starts tomorrow. Summer Festival season is in full swing, and it's getting hard to keep track of all the offerings. In the next several weeks, we'll bring you guides to some of the best and biggest festivals within a day's drive of St. Louis. We start with the biggest camping party east of the Mississippi, which turns ten this year.
Bonnaroo June 9-12 Manchester, Tennessee
Bottom Line: Bonnaroo turns ten this year, and it's official: what began as a weekend-long jam-trip on Old Mac-hippie's 700-acre farm has evolved into a destination festival for some of the hottest names in popular music.
Distance from St. Louis: 6.5 hours, 375 miles
Cost: All tickets for the festival are SOLD OUT, but if you're curious: general admission tickets ranged from $209.50 to $249.50, while VIP packages cost upwards of $675 per person.
Lodging: Options include everything from BYO-Tent camping to VIP RV rental to a hotel in town. If you opt to bunk in the "Camping Only" area, you get to camp near the Main Venue and Centeroo - but far from the vehicle you rode in on. Most people will camp next to their cars, but on the extensive grounds, that could be a considerable distance from the music.
Key Acts: Arcade Fire proved its mettle to us as a live band fit for an epic-scale venue. This year's Bonnaroo also provides the unique opportunity to hear a reunited Buffalo Springfield, including Richie Furay, Stephen Stills and some dude named Neil Young in a setting the '60s would approve of. Not to be missed is the chance of basking in the platinum-blonde winter-sun of Swedish pop anti-diva Robyn. See? We're so excited we hyper-hyphenated.
Know this: Bonnaroo is really fucking huge. Basically every big act playing festivals this year will be there: the ubiquitous Eminem, the Black Keys, the "will assemble - just barely - for enough money" Strokes, etc. etc. But the festival's website is extremely helpful in navigating your experience: use it to create a personalized schedule of bands you can't miss and sort acts by "popularity" - based on votes by other site-users. Or fuck regiments, man, and just feel the vibes.
Pack: The theme seems to be: protect yourself from nature, and protect nature from yourself. Even if you're not primitive camping, you will be exposed to the elements so pack your tie-dyed galoshes for rain and your powder-blue Ray Bans for sun (as well as gallons of sunscreen).
Single most important item might be a flag or balloon with a long string to attach to your car, so that when you're stumbling over the miles back to your campground, you will find home - and not stumble into the wrong drum circle.
Staying green at Bonnaroo means bringing biodegradable plastic bags for trash, an aluminum or stainless steel container for water, bug spray without DEET, "organic, local food" with minimal packaging...and an ashtray.
Crowd: Use the bathrooms in Centeroo, which are cleaned each morning, and you'll like your fellow music lovers a lot more. Expect plenty of fairy wings, day-glo body paint, feathers and any other trademarks of the 2011 edition of the hipster-hippie-stoner. Though illegal substances are, of course, prohibited at Bonnaroo.
St. Louis Connection: Schlafly beer will be represented amidst the myriad activities and respites of Centeroo, where the hometown potable will be available in the Broo'ers Festival Tent. St. Louis festival-frequenters can also catch previews of Loufest 2011 artists like the Low Anthem, !!! and Deerhunter.
What's new? Radio Frequency Identification wristbands, which must be applied by a staff member and will be scanned entering and exiting festival grounds, as well as Centeroo and Main Venue areas.
This year, you can enter the camping grounds at 7 p.m. Wednesday night, before the music starts on Thursday, which could help disperse those notorious 12-hour traffic jams getting in and out of the 'Roo.
Worth it? The spectacle keeps growing, and Bonnaroo's feel-good reputation and abundance of diverse, high-quality acts have turned the festival into a checkmark on every live-music lover's bucket list.