Bonnaroo, once the jam band rite of passage in Manchester, Tenn., has expanded to so much more in the past two decades, with a reputation worldwide for its eclectic and abundant music bookings. But as more than one attendee has noted: “You could never leave the campgrounds and still have the greatest four days of the summer.”
With nine dedicated camping plazas – public spots throughout the campgrounds for the Roo community to gather, enjoy art and activities, with each plaza featuring its own distinct personality and appeal – the campgrounds at Bonnaroo are billed as “a world within a world.” An additional three new areas in ’22, plus the introduction of the Jamtrak Blue and Yellow shuttles to move the people in general camping from one area to another, as well as Centeroo where the billed music takes place, quickly and efficiently, this year’s “Return to the Farm” is slated to be the very best experience ever.
“The idea this year,” says C3 Presents’ Sophie Lobl, “was we’d build a lineup that you can’t find anywhere. This year, we have 60+ acts who won’t be performing on the Bonnaroo main stages. They’re just in the campgrounds, and we’ve spent a great deal of time putting together an experience.”
Lobl and her team have created a world where Bonnaroovians can go all day and all night, starting with yoga with Dena Borman and meditation in the Zen Zone of Plaza 2. There’s climbable sculptures from longtime favorite Brett Hunter Douglas in Plaza 7, an extension of Soberoo into the campgrounds and a 10,000-cap “party stage” in the BACARDĺ-sponsored Where In The Woods featuring a space-themed art installation that’s both interactive and breathtaking.
“There are always quiet zones for people,” Lobl explains. She also cites her C3 colleague Leah Espinoza, who tapped Brooklyn-based creative studio Wade and Leta to curate Plaza 7’s blues/jazz/smokers club reality for a sophisticated vibe – and the return of Brooklyn’s House of Yes for their immersive entertainment and all-night dance parties as peak experiences.
“Our festival prides itself on being welcome to all. House of Yes curates our Pride Parade through the campgrounds from 2-4 on Saturday, immersive performances, consent workshops, cinema and circus shows.”
For those who want to make it “legal,” 80 applications were received and a dozen couples were selected for the new MatROOmoney Chapel, where weddings will be officiated by a very special Dolly!
“The application process asked people to share their stories. Some couples are renewing vows, some are getting married for the first time; several met at Bonnaroo,” Lobl explains. “We have built a permanent 40×60 wedding chapel in Centeroo, with a video crew and photographer. We’re working with the county registrar to make these legally binding marriages, and we’re showing them on the Hulu livestream.
“The idea was we didn’t want people to feel rushed. We wanted all their friends to be part of it. It’s a very special thing, and we’re treating it that way.”
Also new this year is Plaza 5’s Galactic Giddy-Up with its Urban Cowboy line dance classes, Nashville Truck Show,Vinyl Ranch records, country artists Lainey Wilson, Turnpike Troubadours, Tenille Townes, Flatland Cavalry and Paul Cauthen. While country artists have participated over the years, this is a new commitment.
“We’ve toyed with being the Southside of Nashville for years,” admits Lobl. “There’s always been a debate about how much country to do. So this year, Giddy-Up is a full honky tonk build out; it’s our first real commitment – but it’s our way of doing country.”
A lot like everything ‘Roo, each of the Plazas refines its flavor to peak deliciousness. With craft beer exchanges, places to get wine and a true cocktail lounge until curfew, plus local food vendors all night long, no one will go hungry or get thirsty. Guest services for hydration stations, medical attention and security also run 24/7 over the length of the festival.
Even the VIP Platinum Camping has seen an upgrade for 2022. “It’s moved to a really beautiful place on the property. They have their own curated experience, one we don’t really talk about because there’s so much anyone with a general admission ticket can find across the plazas. But VIP’s going to be better this year than ever, too,” Lobl says.
With Stevie Nicks, J. Cole, Machine Gun Kelly, The Chicks, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Tool, Illenium, Flume and Roddy Ricch as billed headliners, Sparkle City Disco will keep the campgrounds dancing until the wee hours as noted DJ/producer Jauz closes things down Sunday night in Where In The Woods with Jauz Presents: Off The Deep End.
Noting that right after this year wraps, her team will start looking for 2023’s special performers, artisans and vendors, creating a living experience that rivals the music is Lobl’s priority.
“We have partners we try to bring back every year, but we’re always on the lookout for that special thing or artist we know will intrigue people. We are welcoming. We are always on the lookout, and this year, we even got some of the campers who’ve been coming for years to help us with the bookings. It all sets [the camping] apart for sure.”