Why Volunteering at Bonnaroo Changed My Life

♫ It’s the time of the season for lovin ♫

… and as the weather cools, ideas for summer ’16 manifest. On the cusp of having to become real human beings or “adults," Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival is the perfect big-kid camp smack dab in the middle of the year. Re-awaken your senses and refuel all that was sucked out by the mundane day-to-day schedule we unfortunately have to abide by for the greater part of the year.

“But like… I can’t pay for that.”

Will you walk with me, Grasshopper?

The solution is this: if you volunteer, it’s free. Sure, if you have the funds to purchase general admission (which is around $275) by all means do it, but that doesn’t include the camping gear, gas money, food, drinks, etc. that you would need to bring. Not to mention cash for the vendors that make for a hippie’s dream. Things like tapestries, clothes, Enos, art, candles that warm up into lotion are extremely difficult to resist, especially when you’re shopping local. Add a few bucks for breakfast, lunch and maybe dinner too.

What’s the catch?

You work three six-hour shifts, picking your top five from options like toll-booth check-in, festival activities (what I got), hospitality, Comedy Tent and much more. You also choose when you’d like to work: pre-show, during show or even both like for the Clean Vibes C’roo, which help with all things waste and recycling. You get placed based on how early you applied and paid your full application fee and deposit. Somehow I was lucky enough to get put on working the slip-n-slide, yes, you read that correctly, which was conveniently enough right next to “The Other Tent” stage. So my “work” was to cool off my fellow Bonnaroovians by hosing them down all while having acts like St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Banks, Phoenix and Dr. Dog playing in the background. So surreal! And like I said, this is an adult-camp meaning the counselors and campers are allowed adult beverages, whenever. Did I mention you get a free t-shirt, two meal coins per shift good for a meal at any of the DELICIOUS food trucks in Centeroo? Oh, and free showers (normally $7). Game-changer.

Courtesy: Sydne Kilberg

Courtesy: Sydne Kilberg 

If you apply to have a higher position after having volunteered at least one year before, you become a “GuRoo." Your perks literally double; TWO t-shirts, FOUR meal coins, oh, and pit access at the What Stage; the biggest for the headliners. Need I say more? 

From what I can recall…

I don’t want to bore you with a detailed play-by-play, so I’ll try to sum up the week as best as I can. Volunteers get there a few days early to get acquainted with the process and the people. The first night there is a huge BBQ and meeting about the general guidelines, but it was all super mellow. Basically the only rules are that there are no rules. Except to radiate positivity, obviously. 

Courtesy: Sydne Kilberg

Everyone is just there for a good time and the people I met in the section where the volunteers were will always have a spot in my heart. They actually care about the music and the whole communal feeling of it all; not about wearing absurd fashion statements under a very warm sun because they mistook Manchester for Coachella Valley. 

Courtesy: Sydne Kilberg 

We immediately made a nuclear fam jam with our tent neighbors turning all of the tents inward for a make-shift living room, a tarp as our roof, rugs for comfort and tapestries for curtains. It was home sweet home for the six days. 

Courtesy: Sydne Kilberg 

Once that was complete we set out to meet our extended tent neighbors, who were very welcoming with a few pong tables lined up for games and eventually, a slip-n-slide. We became friends very quickly. Everyone is on such a general high from finally being on the farm and away from society. I swear, the smiles are so genuine it wakes your soul up. I want to say it’s the great escape, but in a sense I think it’s the opposite; it’s the great connect. You meet people in their bare state, completely ready to reveal themselves to you because you feel a sense of security and community. All of you came together to give up a few hours of your days to help the music festival that you love stay afloat. It’s amazing.

Courtesy: Sydne Kilberg 

You wake up, hang out, go to Centeroo, go about your day as you would just like if you purchased a ticket, work the few hours you’re scheduled and go back to hanging out (even though you were really just doing that whilst “working”) sleep, and do it all over again.  

How do I join the C’roo?

Fill out the application. It does not take long at all, and they come out around the first week of March every year. You pay a non-refundable $25 application-processing fee. Once accepted, you pay a $300 deposit in order to be considered for a position and “Provided that you show up on time to all of your shifts, do the job that’s expected of you, and don’t break any rules, your full deposit will be refunded to you after the festival is over.” I can vouch that they refunded me directly after, no problems, and if anything comes up that you weren’t expecting before May 15th you will be refunded your full deposit. Check out the site for more information!

This past year something came up that disabled me from going, and I actually felt different. The farm calls on you to come back and get grounded. I ended up hanging out more with the people I met there than my actual friends I came with and we still keep in contact today. Get groovy on the farm next year and leave with a satisfied soul knowing there is a place in this world where there are no worries, stress or frowning faces. 

Courtesy: Sydne Kilberg