(PICTURE ALBUM)

This past weekend I journeyed to a hot, dry, vibrating farm in Manchester, TN, along with 100,000 other patrons attending the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. Bonnaroo is a jungle of melodies and throbbing beats, unexpected connections, vibrant experience, sights of beauty and insanity, and outrageous freedom. Bonnaroo is a mad house: a gigantic party that never sleeps, eats dust and wallows in overflowing porta-potties by Day 3. Bonnaroo is a creative phenomenon staged by hundreds of comedians, artists and bands from first-time performers to superstars like Paul McCartney and Björk. It’s one big party, and everyone’s invited. It’s Bonnaroo!

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For the past several years, I have been privileged to work for the festival – an opportunity offered to me by my friend Tom, for whom I have deep gratitude. My job is to greet and cater to festival-goers staying in Tent City (tents provided by Contentment Camping). This is “glamping” folks: glamorous camping. You wouldn’t believe how many people checked in with delirious smiles, saying “I’m finally checking Bonnaroo off my bucket list!”

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I’ll refrain from gushing about all the perks of working for Bonnaroo. However, one in particular makes all the chaos worthwhile: the golf cart. People staying in Tent City have no clue how big Bonnaroo is. Their VIP world is right near the action, but most patrons walk a mile or more to reach a stage.

This year I worked alongside my husband Bobby (who is Contentment Camping‘s #1 man for summer tour), a pack of college boys aiding Bobby cross-country, and my twin sister’s husband Nolan. On Saturday afternoon, when the sun arced high in the sky and the tent scene was at peace, Nolan said “let’s go for a ride out to Pod 11.” Bing!

Left to right: Bobby, me, Nolan. All smiles.
Left to right: Bobby, me, Nolan. All smiles.

I immediately asked if we could hunt for Bonnaroo Eaters. Kevin, one of the boys who’s a wiz at photography, hopped on the cart and wielded my new camera. And off we went, with bandanas to filter the dust and our eyes peeled for forks and spoons.

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Everyone we met was overtly friendly and eager to show us what they were cooking or eating. Now, I’ll admit that I was surprised by what seemed like a drastic turn in the festival food scene since my early festival days at age sixteen. I recall towing in loads of fruit and staging veg-heavy, stove-cooked meals and fine grill-outs with friends. Sure, I love food and so do my friends, but there was also a smorgasbord of tree-hugging food vendors to choose from if we weren’t up for cooking: raw juice and heady veggie burritos please! Or maybe I gravitated towards fooderific festivals…

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Bonnaroo was swarming with carnival fare: fries, hot dogs, corn dogs, funnel cakes, cheese steaks and more. The eaters we met were subsisting on Goldfish, CHEEZ-IT’s, hot dogs, near-spoiled beef patties, and quesadillas. The patrons that were invested in quick morning rebounds were cramming in Clif Bars and Emergen-C vitamin packets between meals. And one crew did rave about their grilled asparagus the night before.

Whiskey in the morning coffee – check!

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Despite my mild concerns for the festival diet, it was a ball swooping in on parties of eaters, who hailed from all over the U.S., and beyond. I particularly enjoyed the crew of ten sharing a small pot of Campbell’s Clam Chowder at 11 a.m. – their burgers had run out. So sweet. And the adorable couple with flower crowns, who were relishing iced coffee and hash browns, free from “the church.” (We never did find the elusive, benevolent church). And the macho-morning-quesadilla-makers, swallowed down with Coors Light.

It’s also fair to say that Bonnaroo is huge and hot, and with endless activities to immerse oneself in, food may be a low priority. I’d like to propose a festival diet (below) that’s delicious, nutritious and easy to manage with a crew of friends and family.
 
What’s your favorite festival meal? Tell me in the comments below!
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Festival Diet: In it to win it!

 
A guide to eating at summer music festivals, optimized for good-feeling and low-cost. You can find most of these ingredients at a Walmart near you (look in their natural food section for some of the brands I specify below). 
 
What to bring
  • Extra large cooler for food, with ice upon arrival
  • Extra large cooler for beer, with ice upon arrival
  • Camping stove
  • Small grill
  • 2 medium saute pans
  • Reusable plates, cups and utensils
  • A roll of (biodegradable) paper towels
  • 2 plastic cutting boards
  • 2 sharp knives
  • Foldable bucket, for washing hands and dishes
  • Dr. Bronner’s Soap, for washing hands and dishes
  • Condiments: olive oil, salt, pepper, mustard and ketchup, hot sauce
DRINKS
SNACKS
DAY 1
Breakfast: Fresh chopped fruit, granola (your favorite brand, or home-made), yogurt
Lunch: Sandwich with whole grain bread or pita, your favorite cheese, avocado, tomato, sprouts, hummus and ham or turkey if you’re storing cold cuts on ice.
Dinner: Grill-out with whole grain buns, hamburgers and hot dogs (grass-fed, antibiotic and nitrate free), cheese, tomatoes, onions and other fixin’s. Grill fresh vegetables like eggplant, zucchini, corn, asparagus, peppers and other grill-ables – toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper before putting on the grill.
DAY 2
 
Breakfast burritos: Tortillas wrapped with beans (canned beans work), cheese, salsa, scrambled eggs (which were kept cool on ice) and avocado. Hot sauce optional.
Lunch: Another variation of sandwich with fixin’s.
Dinner Option #1: Mediterranean mightiness! Falafel (if you buy falafel mix these are a synch to prepare when camping), pitas warmed on the stove, cucumbers, pre-made / pre-bought tabouli, hummus and hot sauce optional. Protein packed and delish! Add any fixin’s you want (tomatoes, sprouts, etc.).
Dinner Option #2: Mexican madness! Grilled chicken or chorizo and grilled vegetables with avocado, beans, cheese and other fixin’s, wrapped up in a tortilla. Don’t forget the cilantro. Make margarita’s to celebrate the flavors!
DAY 3
 
Breakfast burritos: Back to the granola and fruit bowl.
Lunch: Another variation of sandwich with fixin’s.
Dinner: EAT OUT! By now most of your supplies have been devoured, and you’re probably too excited to see the last act (and to exhausted to cook and clean). Treat yourself to whatever your heart fancies.
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