In the heat of summer, the modern music festival attracts a throng of 70,000 to the heart of Tennessee.
Once a year, usually under a stuffy, stultifying Southern sky, the faithful begin to assemble on the side of Route 24, some 60 miles southeast of Nashville. Every tribulation will be worn like a badge of honor: the long lines, the lashing rain, the white Tennessee mud, the overflowing toilets, and the miles of tents, with nary an inch between them.
But for the roughly 70,000 attendees of Bonnaroo 2008, staged on a 750-acre farm in this bucolic corner of the state, there was also respite to be found: private showers sponsored by Garnier Fructis, a video-game tent sponsored by Microsoft's Xbox 360, and a shaving station sponsored by Gillette. There were art galleries, shaded tearooms, and a quiet Internet cafe.
Even by the raucous standards of the modern music festival, Bonnaroo has long enjoyed a reputation as particularly exhausting. For five days, overheated Bonnaroovians flood Manchester – population 8,294 – trampling over its pristine farmland and buying crates of water, beer, sunscreen, and bug spray. The sun is harsh, the thunder inevitable. The food is greasy. And stages are often surrounded by swarms of fans, jammed together in a Kodachrome mosaic of sun hats and beach chairs.