Head to Bonnaroo fest 2016

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The annual US musical festival in Tennessee is calling all Hongkongers to take their summer holiday over the other side of the world

Where are you looking to head off to this summer? Somewhere hot? Somewhere packed with plenty of colourful and cheery people? Somewhere with like a gazillion bands playing an array of stages and tents? If you answer an emphatic ‘yes’ to all these questions, then we suggest the epic Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee, USA. It’s one of the biggest live music fests in the States and this summer it celebrates its 15th anniversary in what we predict will be anthemic style. So, as tickets to the extravaganza – from June 9 to 12 – have gone on sale, we look back to the 2015 fest, which we were lucky enough to soak up in person.

The reason we recommend taking the long trip from Hong Kong to Bonnaroo is because it’s an unparallelled experience that’s not just about the bands. True, the live acts are the focus – but, unlike so many Asian music fests, there’s so much more to do at ‘the roo’. Fairground rides, water slides, a ‘farm’, a huge metal pig, a hoedown barn, a silent disco, comedy tents, private parties, countless stalls focusing on sustainable arts and crafts, cinema tents showing live sports games and TV programmes, acres of camping grounds, bars galore selling any booze you can think of, dishes from across the world packed into hordes of food trucks and, well, tens of thousands of amazing people, all soaking up the Bonnaroo vibe under the hot Tennessee sun. This is a unique festival, done USA-style.

We spend five days in mid-June at the 2015 fest as part of a road-trip across the States. And, from our arrival at the site – which is in Manchester, Tennessee – to leaving almost a week later, we never quite appreciate the sheer size of the place, which is comprised of a huge arena, a system of roads and a mass of campgrounds stretching as far as the eye can see. Each camping area comes with its own showers, toilets and fast food facilities, making for a pleasant experience compared to other festivals around the world. In fact, it’s well worth taking a car and camping next to it as you can return to your tent whenever you want and also use your own vehicle for air con on occasions too. It gets really hot during the Tennessee summer, even if it rains and some sort of insane ‘cheer for the raindrops’ party begins out of the blue, as happens briefly in 2015.

The highlight of Bonnaroo is, of course, the live acts playing locations like What Stage, Which Stage, This Tent, That Tent and The Other Tent (yes, these stages and tents cause much confusion throughout the proceedings). Our faves for 2015 include headliner Billy Joel, British rock aces Royal Blood, surf metal gurus The Growlers, 80s indie-pop legends Tears For Fears and funk masters D’Angelo and The Vanguard. This year, Bonnaroo is playing host to grunge giants Pearl Jam, as well as top acts like LCD Soundsystem, Ellie Goulding, Tame Impala, M83, Blood Orange and Leon Bridges.

You don’t want to miss out on the bars at Bonnaroo (although there is a Soberoo group if you want to avoid alcohol and drugs – these guys are really approachable). There are tons of fab watering holes across the site, selling anything from Miller Light to various incredible IPAs from craft breweries. They aren’t exactly cheap, as you’d expect, but the variety is superb in some bars and, thankfully, as Bonnaroo lacks the more European ‘must drink heavily from 10am’ festival experience, they usually come without queues until pretty late on in the evening.

You also want to eat your fill at Bonnaroo to keep your strength up. And you’re spoiled for choice. Last summer, we bring only a few munchies for chowing down on back at the tent. The rest of our meals are bought and enjoyed in the arena. We sample loads of the food trucks which stand shoulder-to-shoulder in different areas like regiments in an army. All the local food is great – the southern-fried chicken, grits and catfish shine – and there’s plenty of delicious Mexican, Chinese, Indian and Thai cuisine, as well as ace burger and sandwich vans, which are all top nosh. Again, don’t expect it to come cheap – but this is America, so every portion is always twice the size you normally eat, so you’re stuffed for the day. And if you run out of cash? Never fear – there’s always an ATM to hand at any point across the site.

Shopping is a grand experience at Bonnaroo too. There’s an air of sustainability and eco-friendliness here, with clothes, artworks, accessories and all manner of souvenirs being crafted out in the American wilds by independent creatives who have an eye on best environmental practices. They bring their wares to the festival and their products sell like eco-hot cakes. Expect a hippie feel to the shopping experience. In fact, expect to slowly dress as a hippie over the weekend before you throw peace signs at your favourite bands.

It’s also worth popping into the cinemas at the ‘roo’ – when we’re there, the season finale of Game of Thrones hits the screens and we watch the final few episodes up on the big screen with hundreds of other people, booing, cheering, jeering ‘n’ all. In fact, there’s an awesome GoT theme to the 2015 extravaganza, including the addition of an Iron Throne and crowds of fans roaming the fields, sporadically shouting ‘the king in the north’! And it’s also worth watching the silent disco, which goes on throughout the festival. It’s not worth doing the silent disco – just watch all those people going nuts for added hilarity.

It may seem like you just go to Bonnaroo for the four nights and three days of live music but we recommend heading there for the whole shebang – get there on the Wednesday and enjoy an evening of campsite fun with your new friends before also staying for a while on the following Monday, allowing for the hordes of festival-goers to leave while you relax in the sun and bathe in the after-party glow before you really do have to head back to Hong Kong. This summer, you want to be there as long as you can so you can meet as many of the 80,000 music fans from across the world. You don’t want to miss a beat.

In fact, it’s worth just losing yourself in this immense beast of a music and entertainment fest. And, with it being an even bigger beast this June, we recommend you grab your tickets now before booking your flights and packing your bandanas. In Australia, a kangaroo is a beast that moves quickly and jumps high. In Tennessee, Bonnaroo is a beast and an incredibly unique party – from the music and the booze to the all-round entertainment, the food and, of course, the people. Roo would be crazy to miss this awesome gala of fun. Matt Fleming

How to get there
Delta Air Lines offers return flights from Hong Kong to Nashville, Tennessee, with two stops, from $8,900, including taxes and fees. Check out delta.com for more details. Once you get to Nashville, we recommend you hire a car, as you won’t just need to drive the 66 miles to Manchester and back – but having a car next to your tent at Bonnaroo is practically essential (particularly for a 10-minute air con break during the searing summer temperatures). We choose Alamo – however, shop around. There’s a lot of haggling to be done with rental car shops in the USA. Prices massively vary. Start, though, with the alamo.com website.

Where to stay
There really is only one option at Bonnaroo if you want the proper experience: camp it up. Book camping with your ticket and make sure you take an excellent tent, preferably one which actually attaches to your car. A gazebo is also highly recommended as double protection against the sun – and always load up with gallons of water to keep you going over the five days. For those with a little more cash, hire an RV as there are separate RV parking areas. But we think that’s too grand. We prefer our little tent and, of course, those of our neighbours at Bonnaroo!

Bonnaroo Festival 2016 IN Manchester, Tennessee, USA; see bonnaroo.com for ticket details.

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