Bonnaroo Volunteer Experience Essay

♫ It’s the time of the season for lovin ♫

… and as the weather cools, ideas for summer ’16 manifest. On the cusp of having to become real human beings or “adults," Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival is the perfect big-kid camp smack dab in the middle of the year. Re-awaken your senses and refuel all that was sucked out by the mundane day-to-day schedule we unfortunately have to abide by for the greater part of the year.

“But like… I can’t pay for that.”

Will you walk with me, Grasshopper?

The solution is this: if you volunteer, it’s free. Sure, if you have the funds to purchase general admission (which is around $275) by all means do it, but that doesn’t include the camping gear, gas money, food, drinks, etc. that you would need to bring. Not to mention cash for the vendors that make for a hippie’s dream. Things like tapestries, clothes, Enos, art, candles that warm up into lotion are extremely difficult to resist, especially when you’re shopping local. Add a few bucks for breakfast, lunch and maybe dinner too.

What’s the catch?

You work three six-hour shifts, picking your top five from options like toll-booth check-in, festival activities (what I got), hospitality, Comedy Tent and much more. You also choose when you’d like to work: pre-show, during show or even both like for the Clean Vibes C’roo, which help with all things waste and recycling. You get placed based on how early you applied and paid your full application fee and deposit. Somehow I was lucky enough to get put on working the slip-n-slide, yes, you read that correctly, which was conveniently enough right next to “The Other Tent” stage. So my “work” was to cool off my fellow Bonnaroovians by hosing them down all while having acts like St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Banks, Phoenix and Dr. Dog playing in the background. So surreal! And like I said, this is an adult-camp meaning the counselors and campers are allowed adult beverages, whenever. Did I mention you get a free t-shirt, two meal coins per shift good for a meal at any of the DELICIOUS food trucks in Centeroo? Oh, and free showers (normally $7). Game-changer.

Courtesy: Sydne Kilberg

Courtesy: Sydne Kilberg 

If you apply to have a higher position after having volunteered at least one year before, you become a “GuRoo." Your perks literally double; TWO t-shirts, FOUR meal coins, oh, and pit access at the What Stage; the biggest for the headliners. Need I say more? 

From what I can recall…

I don’t want to bore you with a detailed play-by-play, so I’ll try to sum up the week as best as I can. Volunteers get there a few days early to get acquainted with the process and the people. The first night there is a huge BBQ and meeting about the general guidelines, but it was all super mellow. Basically the only rules are that there are no rules. Except to radiate positivity, obviously. 

Courtesy: Sydne Kilberg

Everyone is just there for a good time and the people I met in the section where the volunteers were will always have a spot in my heart. They actually care about the music and the whole communal feeling of it all; not about wearing absurd fashion statements under a very warm sun because they mistook Manchester for Coachella Valley. 

Courtesy: Sydne Kilberg 

We immediately made a nuclear fam jam with our tent neighbors turning all of the tents inward for a make-shift living room, a tarp as our roof, rugs for comfort and tapestries for curtains. It was home sweet home for the six days. 

Courtesy: Sydne Kilberg 

Once that was complete we set out to meet our extended tent neighbors, who were very welcoming with a few pong tables lined up for games and eventually, a slip-n-slide. We became friends very quickly. Everyone is on such a general high from finally being on the farm and away from society. I swear, the smiles are so genuine it wakes your soul up. I want to say it’s the great escape, but in a sense I think it’s the opposite; it’s the great connect. You meet people in their bare state, completely ready to reveal themselves to you because you feel a sense of security and community. All of you came together to give up a few hours of your days to help the music festival that you love stay afloat. It’s amazing.

Courtesy: Sydne Kilberg 

You wake up, hang out, go to Centeroo, go about your day as you would just like if you purchased a ticket, work the few hours you’re scheduled and go back to hanging out (even though you were really just doing that whilst “working”) sleep, and do it all over again.  

How do I join the C’roo?

Fill out the application. It does not take long at all, and they come out around the first week of March every year. You pay a non-refundable $25 application-processing fee. Once accepted, you pay a $300 deposit in order to be considered for a position and “Provided that you show up on time to all of your shifts, do the job that’s expected of you, and don’t break any rules, your full deposit will be refunded to you after the festival is over.” I can vouch that they refunded me directly after, no problems, and if anything comes up that you weren’t expecting before May 15th you will be refunded your full deposit. Check out the site for more information!

This past year something came up that disabled me from going, and I actually felt different. The farm calls on you to come back and get grounded. I ended up hanging out more with the people I met there than my actual friends I came with and we still keep in contact today. Get groovy on the farm next year and leave with a satisfied soul knowing there is a place in this world where there are no worries, stress or frowning faces. 

Courtesy: Sydne Kilberg

1.How can I sign up to volunteer? Make sure you’ve read through the volunteering info online (bonnaroo.com/volunteers) and apply via the links listed under the Join Now section. You can only apply to either festival C’roo or Clean Vibes C’roos. Applications are usually live at the end of February for veteran volunteers and early March for new volunteers.

2.Are there any requirements to apply and/or volunteer? Will I be accepted? If you will be 18 or older by the Sunday before the festival and you have not gotten in trouble or bailed on shifts in the past and you apply before positions are full, you will get accepted. If positions fill up, the application should get closed. If anyone applied to C’roo in time but didn’t get a position, you will be emailed and likely put on waiting list. For the applications, it may be good to have your top C’roos, full names of any friends you want to work with (for C’roo, at least), and your top artists ready to put in your application. There are no interviews, references, long essays, etc. needed to apply. For an example of a festival C’roo application, please click here. For Clean Vibes, have payment information ready when registering. Also, when on shift, you will be required to wear your volunteer shirt, wear closed-toe shoes, and be sober/well behaved. More on this in a future email from the organizers.

3.Can I volunteer if I’m not from the United States? Yes, if applications are still available. Please make sure you follow any visa/travel requirements that may be required.

4.Can I volunteer if I have physical limitations? Yes. The festival C’roo application will ask for any important medical conditions or disabilities that can affect your volunteering experience. If you’re volunteering with C’roo, feel free to email them to ensure you have an accommodating position (volunteers@bonnaroo.com). You can also contact the ADA organizers (Access) to camp there if necessary; you can email access@bonnaroo.com for more info. Bring whatever snacks, cooling devices, etc. needed to be comfortable on-site and on your shifts (and in your free time). Post-show work may be difficult with much of the duties involving stooping down to pick up trash in the Tennessee heat.

5.Is there a fee/deposit? Since 2017, festival C’roo has not required a deposit or application fee. However, Clean Vibes still requires a $25 nonrefundable application fee and a $300 refundable deposit via a credit card payment. There is an extra $15 shipping fee for post-show volunteers to get your GA wristband in the mail. Your Clean Vibes deposit will be refunded if you do not get in trouble and go to all of your shifts. (There is also a $20 clean up deposit for post show that is not refunded if campsites aren’t all clean.)

6.What’s the time commitment to volunteer? Generally, volunteers work in three 6-hour shifts for a total of 18 hours. You may need to give extra time to get to check-in and/or to get to/from a shift. Give yourself enough time to get through the gates/security checkpoint if your check-in location is inside Centeroo. Post show volunteers work 20 hours total with two 10-hour shifts on the Tuesday and Wednesday after the festival. Clean Vibes may require slightly different timing depending on the C’roo. More info on that can be found on their website.

7.What C’roo should I pick, and/or what kind of work will we do? This is a very common question. Due to that, we created a separate, descriptive file that shares each C’roo description, some possible areas that C’roo gets assigned to, and some pros/cons. People’s experiences can be found in the comments as well. <a href=”https://www.facebook.com/notes/bonnaroo-volunteers/2018-croo-descriptions-and-proscons/1884262004940674/”>See 2018 C’roo info here.</a>

8.I have medical experience; can I volunteer? To work with C’roo or Clean Vibes, medical experience is not needed. At this time, we unfortunately do not have a good contact for those interested in helping staff Medical. You may be able to contact the local health department or hospital to ask for more information. You may luck out and get some helpful info from Bonnaroo directly at info@bonnaroo.com. If we find out more information, we will update this and our Other Bonnaroo Opportunities file. (If you know more about this, please let us know.)

9.Can I work with my friends? Yes. Festival C’roo organizers especially understand the importance of working with friends in the same C’roo and having similar schedules. They will do their best to make that happen. Your best bet is to request the same C’roos and apply around the same time. Picking the same top artists will also make it easier for them to schedule you together (and less chance of missing an artist you listed).

10.What perks do volunteers get? Generally speaking (for during-show volunteers), you get a free volunteer wristband that lets you see shows/explore when you’re not on shift, a volunteer shirt to wear on shift, free showers near the volunteer campground, and a meal token per shift. This meal token is generally worth $10 and will be given at the end of each shift (so 3 total). Parking is also included for free unless you are a post-show volunteer possibly. (See Question 14 for more parking info.) During show volunteers often get a bandanna and other goodies that are similar to what GA ticket holders get, but there are no guarantees. Pre-show volunteers arrive Sunday and during-show arrives the Tuesday before the festival, so you have more time on “the farm” than the general public does. You can also meet some other great volunteers, and people often find new friends by volunteering. Certain C’roos or situations may get incidental perks such as free food, seeing celebrities/artists, time in A/C, etc. Post show volunteer perks may be a bit more limited, such as not including free showers or meal tokens to use during the festival, but they are guaranteed to not miss music and may find cool stuff when cleaning the grounds.

11.Do we get fed? Is there ice? During show volunteers get a $10 meal token upon completion of each shift that can be used at a variety of food vendors during the festival. Feel free to take snacks and drinks with you on your shift. Some volunteers may luck out with a shift that happens to have free food such as those helping with Catering and Hospitality. However, there is no guarantee of this and you need to come prepared to feed yourself before vendors open and whatever you’ll need throughout the festival dates. Stay hydrated! Food vendors may not be in the main volunteer camp in what used to be POD 1, so plan ahead for this, and vendors may not open until Wednesday afternoon at the earliest. Ice can be bought at C’roo HQ for $5/bag. Some people use dry ice to help keep their coolers cold. Also, don’t forget the volunteer barbecue happening Tuesday night (during-show check-in day). More info on this in a future email. For Post Show volunteers, they will be fed breakfast and lunch on shift days (Tuesday and Wednesday after the festival.)

12.When can I arrive? What if I can’t come by then? Suggested check-in times will be announced closer to June. To get an idea of what they may assign, see the 2017 Check-in Times file. You can essentially arrive between 10am-6pm or so on Tuesday if you are a during-show volunteer. You MUST arrive on Tuesday if you are a during-show volunteer. The only exception is if one during show volunteer rides in with 2 pre-show volunteers and checks in on Sunday at the same time as the pre-show volunteers (all 3 in the same car). Please do NOT apply if you cannot check in on time (by Tuesday). Allow yourself extra time for waits in line, traffic on the way, buying groceries, etc. After you check-in, you may have a little time to run errands, but they will close the gates shortly after the last check-in time. **Tollbooth west/highway C’roo and Info/PODs C’roo volunteers need to be especially cautious as they camp in a different campground, and that gate closes earlier (likely around 3pm CST). I recommend arriving earlier than the latest on-site time listed to have time to set up camp and go to the volunteer barbecue Tuesday night. For post-show volunteers, they can arrive anytime the gates open to the public (as early as Wednesday afternoon).

13.Where is check-in, and what do I need to check in? The address will get announced closer to June, but is usually at the local high school for pre-show and during show C’roo and Clean Vibes volunteers. Once checked in, you will get directions on how to get on site from there. To check in, you need a valid photo ID with your birth date such as a driver’s license or passport. Shift check-in/check-out locations will be on-site and noted on your shift schedule for C’roo.

14.Do I need to pay for a parking or camping pass? If you’re a C’roo or Clean Vibes pre-show or during-show volunteer, no. This is one of the nice perks of volunteering. You will get your free parking pass at check-in, and it will include directions from there to your volunteer campground on the Bonnaroo grounds. For post-show volunteers, Clean Vibes may require you to buy a car camping pass online or possibly only offer a free pass if you give the names of 3 or more post-show volunteers in the same car (and notified by a certain date).

15.When can I leave the festival? If your shifts are done, you can leave the grounds. Most volunteers can leave by Sunday night, but please make sure you go to all your shifts and check out of each shift before you leave Bonnaroo. You want to make sure you’re not recorded as a no show and don’t get banned from volunteering in the future. The campgrounds close around noon Central on Monday. If you are post-show, you can leave by noon Central on Thursday after the festival.

16.What is the camping situation? Can I bring an RV? Can I camp with friends? Volunteer camping is similar to how General Admission camps. You need to bring all camping gear (or find people to share with). Once your car is parked on-site in the campground, you cannot/aren’t supposed to move your car until you’re ready to leave the festival. There may be a free staff shuttle again and/or locals who’ll ask for a small fee to drive you to the local Walmart or nearby if you need to go back off-site. If you’re not sleeping on site, please email the organizers for more info/to see if there are any special instructions. If you’d like to camp with other volunteers, you need to arrive on-site/to the campground together or you can walk your gear to their campsite if they have enough space. If you’re trying to camp with friends that are not volunteering, you may be able to move once the grounds open to the public, but please give yourself enough time to get to each shift check-in. This may be as early as Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning. Be prepared to haul your gear a decent distance if moving to a Groop or General Admission camp (A wagon may help). NO RV’s or motorcycles are allowed for volunteers unfortunately. More info in our Volunteer Camping file.

17.Will we get searched coming in? We still have to follow the general rules and not bring in prohibited items. There will be a car search before entering the campground area, and just like with the public, we will get searched when entering Centeroo. Do not bring glass, large mirrors, fireworks, weapons, etc. Please click here for Bonnaroo’s rules on what’s allowed in the campground and in Centeroo.

18.Where can I offer or find a ride? There are several options for finding transportation to the festival including our very own database (croo.wozzle.com) . Please see our Rideshare Options file.

19.Can I choose my schedule? Can I avoid missing certain shows? You cannot choose your detailed schedule except if you’re a during show Clean Vibes volunteer. (Imagine a thousand or more volunteers wanting to do that!) However, your application info will be used (for festival C’roos, at least) to try to schedule you around your top artist choices and to work with your friends, and you may have the opportunity to swap shifts with someone in the same C’roo. Feel free to look at our database (croo.wozzle.com) and look through the linked Google doc where some volunteers have offered their previous shift times; you can get an idea of possible schedules for each C’roo.

20.When do we get our schedules? Can I change my schedule? Schedules are assigned a few weeks before the festival. For festival C’roos, you may be able swap with someone in the same C’roo if you both agree to it and it’s available again. In 2017, shift swapping opened on May 22nd and ended on May 30th. We will announce anything we find out in the the Important Dates file. For Clean Vibes, there are some listed daytime hours for certain Clean Vibes C’roos on their website.

21.Who can sign up for pre-show positions? Pre-show volunteer positions are very limited, and they are *only* offered to returning volunteers from the past 2 years. Only festival C’roo does pre-show, and they email a password to previous volunteers ahead of the February application date. Pre-show positions will likely fill early on the first day that applications open. In 2017, they filled within the first hour!

22.What if I already bought a ticket? The volunteering process is separate from a regular ticket. You will have to find someone else to take your ticket.

23.Is there a map to get acquainted with Bonnaroo? The 2018 map has yet to be released, but we can assume things will stay mostly the same as the previous year. The 2017 Bonnaroo map. Note the main volunteer camp is in the lower right corner of the campgrounds near Medical, and Tollbooth West/Highway C’roo will camp near the West Tollbooth in the upper left. C’roo HQ is to the left of Medical (near main volunteer camp) and C’roo Compound and Clean Vibes tents are inside Centeroo across from That Tent.

24.What if I have to cancel? We’re sorry to see you go! To cancel when you’re assigned to a festival C’roo, you need to stop confirming you’re attendance if/when asked, and email volunteers@bonnaroo.com immediately. Clean Vibes requires cancellations via your Festivol account. For Clean Vibes, there is a $25 cancellation fee, and no refunds after the deadline in mid-May.

25.What if I have other questions? Please make sure you’ve read info on www.bonnaroo.com/volunteers, search posts here, and information in the Files section. Also, feel free to ask here on the Facebook group, directly to me and/or another admin, or email the organizers directly. You can email volunteers@bonnaroo.com, and they will answer anything not already found on their website. Please note there is always an immediate automated response to emails, and they will get back to you when they get a chance. If you’re trying to reach Clean Vibes organizers, you can email volunteers@cleanvibes.com.

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