Yes, it’s true: I spent an entire weekend at Bonnaroo alone and survived, and I am going to explain to you how you can do that, too. But before we jump into this I want to clarify that I attended the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival with a media wristband, which grants me access to more of the festival than a general admission wristband would. Also, I recognize that going to a festival for work occupies your time in a different way, however, as someone who has attended a dozen or so festivals alone — both as press and just kickin’ it — I definitely feel qualified to write this. (Also, there is really no way to write this without it being about work, because the very act of writing it *is* work, you ever think about that?)
Here’s some helpful tips to navigating a festival when you’re rolling solo.
If you’re going to be traveling alone, that means you won’t have anyone to mooch off — so it’s time to grow up and actually make a packing list so you don’t forget anything.
A portable phone charger is a must, this one from Amazon will give you 5 charges before you have to park it somewhere and miss out on the festival. Regardless of the season or location of your festival, you’re also going to want wipes. All the wipes. Every kind. Hand sanitizer wipes, makeup wipes, baby wipes. You never really know what the bathroom/running water situation will be until you get there, I promise you will absolutely not regret filling half your backpack with wipes. It’s also a great way to make friends.
Other things to bring: A small backpack or fanny pack, chapstick, snacks if the venue allows, ibuprofen, band-aids.
Optional: Flash tattoos and lollipops to hand out to strangers.
Be open to the kindness of strangers
For this festival I’m crashing the campground of a college friend who is rolling 55 people deep in Bonnaroo’s group camping area. The trip was last minute, and accommodations in Manchester, Tennessee (the surrounding town) were limited, plus it sounded like a cost-efficient adventure. I swore up and down that I would take up as little space as possible and they’d barely know I was there, not wanting to be the buzzkill that was always on her phone posting festival pics to Instagram or running off for an interview.
In the true spirit of Bonnaroo, they couldn’t have been more welcoming or accommodating. They literally never stopped feeding me or throwing me water bottles or cans of beer since as soon as I arrived.
Talk to some randos
I talk to strangers on the internet quite literally all day but initiating a conversation IRL stresses me out. Lucky for me, at Bonnaroo all you have to do is walk a lap around the festival grounds and give strangers a half smile at minimum and people will just start talking to you. I know, it blew my mind at first too. Bonnaroo is a festival built on positive vibes, (One of their catch phrases is “Radiate Positivity”) everyone here is looking to have a good time. Also, it’s the south.
From engaging with randos this weekend I met a couple who have been Bonnaroo together 8 times. I met an architect from Spain who developed buildings in my hometown of York, Pennsylvania during the Major Lazer set. And I got the inside scoop from an operations manager who has been doing the electrical work for Bonnaroo for 10 years about what really went down when Kanye West had fans waiting until 4:30 am for his 2008 set (I am sworn to secrecy, sorry not sorry).
Be flexible with your lineup
By far my favorite thing about flying solo at festivals is being able to see whatever sets I want to see without having to coordinate with a squad. When you’re with a group, there is pressure to stay together but it’s almost impossible to see every show on everyone’s list. You spend a lot of time shuffling from one stage to the next tripping over people, neck craned to make sure you’re not losing your one short friend.
For this festival, I made a list of my must see acts (Tegan And Sara, Lorde, Lucy Dacus) and beyond that, I went to whatever show I felt like with no pressure to stick it out for a friend to hear ‘that one song’ or see someone I had no interest in whatsoever. If I went to one of my planned acts and just really wasn’t feeling it (Sorry, Chili Peppers) I left. During the day I bounced around from stage to stage discovering new acts that are now added to my Spotify playlist for the plane ride home. I’m also high key claustrophobic so being able to dart in and out of crowds on my own is a huge plus.
Music festivals are one of the best places in the world to do some solid people watching. Pop a squat and put your phone away, observe how crowds come alive directly before a set starts and then start to bleed out three songs in. Watch how people interact with festival staff. Take notice of how many families are here with their young children, or couples over the age of 60. Everyone around you is having the same, but totally different experience from you and that’s so cool. You might even witness something like this…
The key to enjoying yourself, regardless of how many people you’re with, is to remember that there is no “wrong” way to do a festival. You’re not missing out if you don’t end up making it to the silent disco. If you want to skip The Weeknd to sneak in a final ferris wheel ride, that’s okay. Be open, make it yours and have the time of your life.