A Bonnaroo Reading List

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We are on the cusp of summertime, my friends. And you know what that means. Beaches (and things to read at them)? Obviously. Dog parks (and things to read at them)? Yes, of course. Ice cream trucks (and things to not drip Chip ‘n Mint globs on while you read them)? That too. But mostly, it is almost time for Bonnaroo.

I believe in Bonnaroo. Or, as it is loving called by people who have been to the festival, BonnaroOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

It’s a music, art, performance, and goodness festival that fills Manchester, Tennessee for a few days each summer with all the beautiful sound and fury that human beings are capable of. I went for the first time last summer, mostly unsure what to expect. I mean, as you might guess, I have my own bookish tendencies. Because Book Riot. And a music festival seems in many ways an antithesis to a literary festival. Doesn’t it?

I can only guess, since I have never been to a literary festival.

But my trusty hunches tell me they are very much not the same experience. Yet I compulsively look for middle grounds in life, where unconnected people, places, and thoughts start to blend together in the marvelous, smudgy grey area where the best things start to happen. So I’ve been thinking about books and the festival. And the science is in, folks: books have a place at Bonnaroo because everything wonderful has a place at within its gates.

Maybe you have been there, or maybe you are going for the first time this summer. Or maybe you have never heard of this so-called event in this so-called Tennessee. It’s okay if you find yourself in the latter group—the idea behind the festival is almost as important as the thing itself. And I’ve put together a humble little list to either prepare you for what you’re about to get yourself into, or a list that’ll make you want to grab your old (faded, filthy, beloved) wrist band and aluminum Refill Revolution cup and remember what it felt like to be there, or to just bring a bit of the festival’s pulsing spirit into your everyday life. It doesn’t matter: every single person could use a little Bonnaroo. Excuse me, I meant to say Bonnarooooooooooooo. Forgive me?

Bonnaroo handbook The Bonnaroo Music Festival Handbook , by Connie Jenkins. Sometimes you have to start with practicality. But sometimes that practicality is worth it. If you are the sort of person who wants to go into a new frontier with something of a game plan or at least a partial idea of what it’s going to be like, then this guide is for you. All the Bonnaroo answers to all your Bonnaroo questions are found within. And being prepared makes you no less rock and roll, so don’t worry about feeling like it will suck the fun or spontaneity out of your experience. Because, um, that’s impossible anyway.

The Book of Questions, by Gregory Stock, Ph.D. The odds are good that you’re in for a lengthy drive if you’re heading to Bonnaroo. I believe with my whole heart that the best conversations happen in cars, and I believe that sometimes those conversations need a little help to get started. This tiny, portable, beat-up-able book is the perfect answer. You can take turns passing it around, having one person pick one of the numbers at random, and then go around the group sharing your answers to important hypothetical questions about dreams, love, what you might do for money, sacrifice, and more. Plus, once you get to the festival you might find yourself hanging around other folks’ campsites, and hello instant way to bond.

camping hacksCamping Hacks: How To Have A Blast On Your Next Camping Trip!  by Sarah Benson. Okay, one more practical one before we get rolling. But if you have never slept in a tent before or had to find creative ways to get clean or pack food, pick this one up and all will be revealed.

The Pop Festival , by George McKay. It’s nice to know context, and since you are about to participate in a sacred ceremonial tradition that spans eons back to, like, the ’60s it’s cool to understand its roots in order to get a sense of place. History!

The Soul of Rock ‘N Roll: A History of African Americans in Rock Music , by J. Othello. More History! Bonnaroo, while rooted in jam bands, has become a beautiful sonic melting pot with hefty dollops of rock, funk, and hip hop–all of which were born of African roots. The women and men who brought those early tunes all over the world, mixed them with local spices and transformed them into so many of the genres we love (and will see on Bonnaroo’s stages) are incredible, and  tracing family histories is enormously fun. Othello’s book is a superb window in the often overlooked cradle of rock and roll civilization and the people who cradled it, loved it, protected it, changed it, perfected it.

Big Magic Gilbert

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert. The cover of Gilbert’s wonderful book basically looks like it was born at Bonnaroo. And the ideas within those rainbow-splashed covers are a perfect fit for the festival, too. I was particularly jazzed about Gilbert’s passages regarding the nature of ideas—that they can actually, literally, physically/metaphysically travel as they search for a home within a creative person. Can you imagine all the ideas and dreams and vision and innovation that hums through the crowds, through the campsites, through the people standing in line to use the bathrooms in the morning before they get gross? So many! It’s an environment to nurture communion, and it’s hard to not feel at least a little creative when you’re surrounded by it all day every day for four days. This book will help keep get you started or help keep you going.

The Empathic Civilization: A Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis, by Jeremy Rifkin. Okay, I saved this one for last because I believe it deserves to be dessert. I confess that sometimes life is hard, and I sometimes feel the hollowness of tough times and lost love and failure and the other thousand natural shocks we are all heir to. But there is a core of my spirit that helps me always to endure, and that core is made of hope. I can’t help myself. Even in the face of the worst, my core will try to kick in and help me get out of that bleakness. And what is the message in the middle of Bonnaroo—its beating heart and glowing soul? It is this: radiate positivity. Radiate positivity. Radiate positivity. Breathe it. Project it. Bring it to dark places that need it. And if you are curious about how radiating thoughts and feelings can have real change, please check out this book. Our attitudes are part of the biosphere, friends. So radiate the good stuff.

You might not find yourself with a ton of time to read while you’re at Bonnaroo because everywhere you turn there will be something new and incredible. But grab these now or bring them just in case. Because if books aren’t rock and roll, what is?

Excuse me, I meant to say boooooooooooooooooooks!

Go radiate.