Volunteering at Bonnaroo

Are you thinking of volunteering at Bonnaroo? Read along for tips, tricks, and to get hyped on what is possibly the coolest festival ever!

Returning from Bonnaroo back into the real world is a slap in the face… with a giant hammer. Going into the festival during the day and heading back out and chilling with buds at the campground at night is an experience everyone should have at least once. Look at this Tennessee sky!

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This was our beautiful nightly view.

I don’t regret it at all. Regretting it is the emotion farthest from how I felt about the whole experience. A lot of non-volunteers feel like the whole thing blows by way too quickly. But as a volunteer, you’re pretty much guaranteed camping for a whole week for free. That’s a whole week of meeting and making new friends, a whole week away from the real world and in nature, safe and judgment-free of how dirty you are.

How did I get there and back?

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Before I went, I scoured the internet for taxi services, legit and not. It’s good to have these numbers on hand before you strand yourself at a music festival, but I really didn’t need them.

Getting there, I used a rideshare program specifically for music festival goers (Ricky Rides). I don’t know if this thing still exists since I went in 2013, but feel free to Google it! I asked for a spot in this guy’s truck, we exchanged numbers, and he came to pick us up at the airport when we landed! If you’re coming in with a big group like we did, you might need to split your group into different cars.

Getting back was way easier and cheaper. All I did was write my destination onto a sheet of paper and stood near the festival exit, hoping to catch a ride. I was prepared to be out there for more than a few hours, asking an endless line of cars for a ride. BUT I was on my way within 30 minutes!

Best parts of being a volunteer? How was it?

In a word: awesome.

Other than the huge lineup of any type of band that you’ve ever wanted to see, the volunteers at Bonnaroo are the friendliest and chillest people you will ever meet. Think about it: it’s a group of people that attend music festivals and are put together in gross, dirty conditions for about a week.

It’s a community. I don’t want to sound too hippie or anything, but it is. Everything anyone owns is shared, gladly. Beer, food, supplies, tools, you name it and your neighbor will probably lend it. 

For example, we planned our arrival poorly this year. My friend and I were the first of our group to arrive at our campsite. We weren’t the ones with the tent and it was another 6 hours before our friends (and any form of shelter from the sun) would arrive.

Thankfully, this old Bonnaroo-veteran, who saw me actually having a heat stroke in the sun, walked by. “Hey, do you guys want a few beers… or some shade?”

Not to be dramatic or anything, but I might not be here without him. After that, we regularly gathered under his large tarp to hang out, along with a few other people from neighboring tents.

Before everyone arrived.
Before everyone arrived.

Another thing that was definitely a plus was the overall affordability of it. I was a student at the time; my bank was always running on empty. If I didn’t volunteer, the whole experience would’ve cost around $600. But because I was a volunteer, my $300 ticket was waived and refunded within a month after Bonnaroo was over.

Along with a free shirt and ticket, they gave me a food token for each shift I worked while some of my luckier friends received 2… and they fed me for each shift too! Sometimes twice! Simple things like a box containing a sandwich, chips, and plenty of water. And the night we arrived on the farm, they hosted a huge BBQ fest for the volunteers. But only one plate… let’s not get too carried away here.

Thanks to the meal tokens (and a stop at Wal-Mart before arriving on the farm), I bought way less food than I expected to. I had about $100 on me and was prepared to spend it all on food. But thanks to the community and the food provided, I only spent $60 on the whole trip, not including airfare. And half of it was in the airport.

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What Did I Do as a Volunteer?

There are 3 types of volunteers: pre-show, during show, and after show. Pre-show volunteers have to arrive a whole week beforehand, but your 3 days of working are before the festival even starts so you won’t miss anything. During-show volunteers have to arrive the Tuesday before. After-show volunteers stay until the Wednesday after. All volunteers have to work 18 hours within the four days of the festival. If you think about it, you’re really just missing less than one whole day. But not every shift is created equal.

This year, I was a during-show volunteer. I worked the tollbooths. If you entered or exited Bonnaroo any time Thursday or Friday, you probably saw me. As tollbooth people, we usually got the shaft. Every tollbooth/parking volunteer works one 12-hour shift (yes, you read that right) and one 6-hour shift. That meant that tollbooth volunteers probably missed the most out of any other during-show volunteer thanks to that 12-hour shift.

As a tollbooth volunteer, I basically greeted people enthusiastically, gave them the trash and recycling bags, and scanned their wrist bands for entry. I had shade, they gave us meals, and I had a port-a-potty all ready to go for my tiny bladder.

On top of missing a whole day, unless you were one of the lucky people who worked on Wednesday, you probably got a shift in the middle of the night. That also sucks because you basically only have 4 hours a day to sleep. No matter how hard you try, you cannot sleep once the sun is shining on your tent.

Anyways, my shifts were 6 am – 6 pm on Thursday and 12 pm – 6 pm on Friday. You can request to work with up to 4 people, I believe. This way, you can all work a 12-hour shift together and still have a lot of fun.

How do you become a volunteer?

To become a volunteer, you have to drop money up front. There are 2 deposits: the $300 ticket in case you’re a no show and a $25 non-refundable deposit. On top of that, you have to think about transportation costs to and from the festival. For me, it was a $200 plane ticket and $15 one-way for a rideshare I found on Ricky Rides.

There’s also more information on Bonnaroo’s website, so I’m not going to say any more.

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Have fun ya filthy animals!

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