We began our first day the same way we wound up beginning all but the last day, with a team breakfast at Cracker Barrel (we went to Waffle House on the last day). These breakfasts gave us a chance to just hang in a relaxed environment and talk with one another, whether it was about life, photography in general, or specific things about the festival. Plus we were able to load up with fuel to face the rest of the long day ahead of us. After breakfast each day, we had a little time to gather ourselves and our gear before we loaded into vehicles to head to the festival.
Now, let me preface all of this by saying one thing… I know that my Bonnaroo experience was not that of people who were just there in attendance, nor was it that of photographers who may have been there covering it for a publication or media outlet, nor was it that of the people who were shooting for the festival. So, if you’re looking at any of this in hopes of finding out what Bonnaroo is like from any perspective other than covering it for Red Bull, this will only be somewhat insightful. The passes I had allowed me to do some things and go some places others weren’t able to go, but I was also not able to do some things or go certain places others were able to go. With that said, here’s how my first day at Bonnaroo went!
Upon arrival each day, we parked in whatever lot it was we were designated to park in somewhere behind What Stage (aka the main stage), then walked to the Red Bull production trailer. Inside the trailer was a flurry of activity that included everyone from us photographers and our assistants to editors, producers, and a bevy of other people whose roles I’m still not 100% sure of, but I know they were more important than me. I’ll just suffice it to say that there was a lot of people doing a lot of work alongside each other in a relatively small space, but we all had a lot of fun together throughout the event.
Also each day before heading out, I would grab some sun block and spray it all over myself, then suit up with the SpiderHolster belt and cameras with lenses (usually the 70-200 and 11-24. My assistant, Jordan, carried the ThinkTank shoulder bag with the 24-70, extra batteries and memory cards, etc, as well as a backpack with snacks, a clipboard with model releases, bandaids, and other random stuff. We also grabbed some cans of Red Bull in case we needed to stage some shots for marketing and branding purposes.
The first day allowed me time to wander around the festival grounds to see where everything was, roughly gauge walking time between stages and tents, and shoot some general lifestyle shots of attendees before we needed to photograph any artist sets. We did this for about an hour, finding people who were dressed, um, interestingly, or just straight up energetic and willing to pose for us.
A quick note on the stage and tent names at Bonnaroo. It takes some time to figure them out, but once you do, you still get them mixed up because they’re hella confusing! They are as follows:
- What Stage (main stage)
- Which Stage (secondary stage)
- This Tent (I never even made it to this one)
- That Tent (spent a good chunk of time here)
- The Other (used to be a tent, but this year became a stage and was the primary venue for EDM artists)
- Who Stage (the smallest of the stages)
There’s also the Comedy & Cinema tent with standups performing and movies being screened, sometimes with the director or star in attendance to answer questions. And the Silent Disco tent, where an emcee is playing and pumping music out to headphones being worn by attendees, but you can’t hear anything that’s being played without the headphones. And we can’t forget Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Barn, which is basically home to a 24-hour a day rave.
For day one performances, I was primarily stationed at That Tent. I shot sets by Welles, The Orwells, Twiddle, The Lemon Twigs, and Turkuaz. The only band I had shot before was The Orwells, so I had an idea of what to expect from them, but no one else. The photo pits around the festival were all pretty decent sizes, but with the number of photographers there, they were still pretty crowded. But not uncomfortably so. Thankfully you could still move around to shoot from different angles, so I was happy all in all.
I shot all the sets I was assigned to, and then when there was time between sets, I would either go back to the production trailer to download and edit, walk around shooting lifestyle photos, or take a lunch/dinner break.
For on-site meals, Red Bull arranged for us to have meals in the artist catering tent. Everyone at the festival has a wristband (or multiple wristbands depending on the access you’re granted and whatnot). Each wristband has a different color “belt” on it which houses an RFID tag that gets scanned whenever you go into various areas. The color combinations of the wristbands and their belts also serve as visual guides for security to know where you’re allowed to go. So, when we would go to catering for meals, they would scan our wristbands and that would let them know if we were allowed to eat or not.
I finished shooting my last set a little after 2:30am, roughly 12 hours after I first set out to take lifestyle photos around the festival. Once I downloaded, edited, and uploaded, got back to my room, showered, and got ready for bed, I got to sleep around 4:30am.