Bonnaroo with Baby (or Toddler)

I have been meaning to write this post for the last six months but I have been living at my desk (which IT guru Mark told me was dripping with girliness as he scratched out notes underneath a row of hearts and skulls after a failed attempt to find a gender-neutral sticky pad).

Bonnaroo = the best time we've ever had (excepting, perhaps, Amsterdam and our 7-hour road trip across the Autobahn).

Bonnaroo is five days of amazing music and art, the best people you will ever meet, hippie-made garlic grilled cheese sandwiches that will rock your world, all while camping in an open field in the sun crammed next to thousands upon thousands of other concertgoers, after enduring (in our case) a ten-hour-and-change drive followed by a marathon wait to get in (in our 7 visits, we've run the gamut between two and twelve hours and are luckier than some). Add in the complete inability to leave for supplies, often distressing bathroom scenarios, inescapable heat, occasional torrential downpours resulting in mud that smells like a portolet, no logical place to shower, the long days and nights, the loud, almost continuous thumping of music from Centeroo (the heart of the party, where the stages are), and I can reasonable say it's no small feat to survive this festie; add in a little one, and you have attained supernatural levels of coolness.

This guide is going to be a post-in-progress, so if you are considering going to Bonnaroo (with or without a little one) and want to know how the Yorktown Owens roll, you have to keep checking the post as there is a LOT to know and I will be adding more as I get the opportunity (hard to do with a full-time job and the A-bot underfoot). We were very nervous about taking Arthur at 15 months old and had read lots of negativity in forums about doing to Roo with littles, and I am here to tell you it can be done and can be the freaking apex of awesomeness. But you must, must, must be prepared (our first Bonnaroo, we brought no shelter for the oppressive sun and our food spoiled within two days, resulting in warm beer cans tainted with raw chicken juice, among numerous other problems...other years taught us to prepare for knee-deep mud and many other little surprises). This year we are planning on camping with my brother (a five-roo vet) and his wife (this will be her second year) and both of our two-year-old sons, and possibly a 12-year-old (she hasn't decided yet).

I hope to eventually add in some sweet downloads, including a packing list for families, a packing list for non-families, Bonnaroo tips, your Bonnaroo set list, journal pages and more, so please keep checking in. If you comment and ask me to, I will e-mail you when I make updates.

For now, I have begun putting in some brief pointers and lots of pics. I plan to organize them soon, but for now they are a chaotic mess. Enjoy, and we hope to see you at the big show!

Before the Arthuroo came along, infusing our lives with a mega-dose of supernatural baby love, we looked forward to each year as a time to regroup mentally and spiritually, to lose ourselves in a self-governing utopia where art and music reign, a world of freedom and whimsy, where rules and tradition would be left by the roadside behind us, and in their place would reside only gleeful celebration. For just a few days, there was nothing but the music, the joy around us, and ourselves. Bills, baggage, all the weight of the world was hundreds of miles away.

Reasons Bonnaroo is Awesome

The sunsets are amazing. As are the sunrises, should you see the sky from the other side of the night.

The fire garden. It's amazing. We enjoyed walking around it during the day, but it's fantastic at night as well. Arthur especially loves fire dancers. Definitely worth a visit before the baby passes out. It's also pretty cool to check out when you're wandering around during the day.

**Kidz Jam. These pictures are from their site:

Kidz Jam is an organization that focuses on making festivals a fun experience for the whole family, and they do a great job. They also promote safety and common sense, passing out earplugs (your child must have hearing protection), sunblock, safety tips, and water for little ones. They also have loads of fun activities for kids from little to big and even tend to the pregos. We love Kidz Jam.

**Funny, creative people. Even the graffiti cracks us up every year.

Going to the Show

**Packing for five days can be a real nightmare, especially because unless you win the campsite lottery, you probably won't be leaving anytime during those days. With a small child, you can't leave anything behind, and the water alone takes up a lot of space. You just kind of have to live with the fact that you're not going to have the most comfortable ride to the show, especially if you live ten hours away as we do.

**One of the most important concerns with traveling with (or without for that matter!) a child or infant to Bonnaroo is keeping everyone safe and healthy. Key to this goal is keeping everyone cool. In the seven Roos we've attended, we found that temperatures stayed in the mid to high 80s much of the time, which can be a nightmare with a kid, even if you're accustomed to the misery that summertime Tulsa can be (think highs near 100 for weeks at a time). Necessity is the mother of invention, and people find creative ways to keep cool:

But you needn't carry your kid around in a bucket of ice. There are other, better ways. And ice is like 8 bucks a bag at Bonnaroo. We have always found a wet bandana under the hat a pretty good cooling technique. I picked up a couple of little tie-dyed ones for the Roo and since he was too little to explain to why needed to keep it on his head, I would just soak it with frozen water every now and then and put it on his head and neck. He didn't have to tell me that it felt great.

Notice the green bandana on my brother's head.

**FREEZE your water bottles. We freeze a bunch ahead of time in our freezer at home and fill one of the coolers with them. When we leave for Centeroo in the heat of the day, we just stick a couple in our backpack, and we have ice cold water for a few hours.

**Take the opportunity to ride the ferris wheel. It's been $5 every year we've been, and it's an incredible experience. I honestly don't know how late it runs, but I think we once rode it around 2 or 3 AM while My Morning Jacket was playing below.

Safety note: I would not even think about riding it with an infant or small toddler, however, unless that kid is securely strapped or in some way harnessed to your body. This youtube video shows the inside of the ferris wheel...the ride lasts a few minutes and I think you can tell from the video it would be a super uncool/possibly terrifying experience with a little Roo. We skipped it altogether last year when Abot was 15 months old, and this year I'm pretty certain we'll be taking turns baby swapping with the other adults.

The ferris wheel provides an incredible view of the insanity of Centeroo and the main stages to one side and on the other, the vastness of tent city.

**Whether you have little ones or not, bring bubbles...tons of bubbles. Bubble necklaces, bubble wands, trippy light-up bubble guns. They keep kids happy and add to the festive vibe.

**Bring a ton of glowsticks, and don't buy the cheap ones. For some reason, they seem to have gotten cheaper over the past couple of years. We used to pick up a bunch of the dollar store sticks and they were fine, but now they fade quickly and many of them turn out to be duds.

Investing in some quality glowsticks with a little one is important for a few reasons.
First of all, glowsticks are fun, and goodness knows, hippies love them. They will be everywhere at Bonnaroo.

Perhaps the most valuable use of the glowstick at Bonnaroo is as a friend-finder at the shows, particularly the big main stage shows. Imagine, if you will: you've found the perfect spot. You are all settled in. You've got a happy baby and a happy husband. The crowd thickens around you, but that doesn't matter because you enjoyed two Captain and cokes at the camp site and maybe a beer...no more, because you're a mom and you are keeping a straight head tonight...and the music is rocking. Phish is onstage...you're really feeling terrific...you try to ignore your bladder...and suddenly the crowd becomes really noticeable...thank goodness you formed that glowstick perimeter to help everyone see where your blanket ends so they don't step on your precious little one...but wow...your bladder is really full now. Just one more song...okay, screw it. You know those portajohn lines are going to be long. You gather up your potty pack (t.p.--cause you know there won't be any--, an incense stick and a lighter, headlamp or flashlight, the toilet seat covers you swiped from the grocery store toilet [hey...you were buying 3 cases of water and a ton of lunchmeat!] and some antibacterial hand wipes) and head to the most depressing queue you'll ever stand in. You wait behind a dozen other people, slowly realizing as you wait that the person in the toilet may have passed out drunk with the door locked. No...he came to, finally. You become certain you are going to pee on yourself. But then, who would notice?, you think sardonically, glancing at the unbathed masses. Then you are next, finally. You wonder how your husband and infant are faring back at the blanket as you watch the red latch on the portapotty door disdainfully waiting for it to change back to green. Open now...you think...no, now! 1, 2, 3, open now! And then finally the miraculous happens...the door opens...you brave the carnage that awaits you behind Door number 1 because your family needs you...how long have you been gone? You missed dancing with your family to "Velvet Sea," your special family song. You must get back now!

You shudder as you look pitifully at the next person in line, thinking, "May the gods be with you. You'll need it...where you're going." And then you look up, toward the stage...it's so far away...so very far away...so tiny...and you look toward the crowd...and suddenly it's so dense...it almost reaches all the way back to the portolets...which way is your family? Weren't you somewhere near the arepa kiosk? You can't even see it now! Panic sets in. Your husband can't handle the baby by himself...you just know it...at least not in this crowd. Someone could step on the baby! You wouldn't even know it! Oh my goodness! How will they make it back the campsite? He's not answering his phone...not that he could hear it.

And then, just as your heart is in your throat, you see it.

It's so tiny from here, you can just make it out...but there it is...

It's the magical glowstick scepter your husband fashioned earlier in the evening using a spare tent pole, some zip ties and his own ingenuity. What a man, what a mighty good man!

You wouldn't be able to see it if he'd left it stuck in the ground, but this ain't his first rodeo, so he waited until you'd been gone about twenty minutes and then raised the mast, bobbing your beacon up and down in the air for you to see.


**You will need rubber boots for everyone. You can pick these up at any discount store (The Store That Shall Not Be Named, for example), army supply stores, or check online for extra cute ones. Target usually has some pretty adorable rain boots.

I actually bought this pink pair off their web site a couple of years ago when I realized my blue pair (above) had disappeared into the Bonnaroo vortex. When you are super dirty, it's important to at least try to feel cute.

**Invest in some TEVAs or similar sandals. You will be walking a lot and you'll be glad you did. It's too hot for sneakers, and these kind of shoes (if you wear a quality brand) will survive the mud when flip flops are eaten by it.

**Bring low-seated chairs. At Bonnaroo, if you are lucky, you will get to see many, many shows. One of the keys to seeing a lot of shows is stamina, which you can only have if you are well-prepared. I like to sit on blankets, but hubster's back gets uncomfy, and if there's any of that icky Bonnamud, you really don't want to be sitting on your head shop tapestry for the duration of an afternoon show in the already sweltering sun (add in sweaty breastfeeding and you get a trifecta that starts to detract from the show).

Only low chairs are allowed into Centeroo (although year after year I am astonished at the things people manage to smuggle in. I know one way they do it, but it doesn't seem worth the risk of losing your good chairs/beer/etc.), and it takes up precious showgoing time, which you don't have to spare if you are there with a little Roo. Plus, who wants to be the jerk that blocks someone else's view at a show? You don't want to carry around chairs all day with all the other baby gear you'll be hauling. Craig's chair is a backpack:

And we used rope to make ours back-friendly. Look up, up, up at the picture of me in my rain boots for a closer look at this. It's not super comfortable, but better than handling an infant, a ton of gear, and an awkward chair.

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Dave Matthews Band 2005

A fire dancer at the Dave Matthews show

NIN 2009

The Mars Volta 2005

Eat at the Cracker Barrel on the way home.



Jami said...

Hello fellow Oklahoman. My husband and I are talking about going to Bonnaroo this year with our little one (she would be almost nine months concert time) and we are hearing a lot of naysaying. It was nice to stumble on to your blog and see how it can work. We will be driving in from Northern VA (but grew up in Claremore, OSU grad who lived 10 years in Stillwater). We were considering splurging for the VIP tickets and thought that might make the experience with a little one a little easier. Would love to hear your suggestions, thoughts and ideas. Thanks for posting this great information and happy day to you!

Mrs. Owen of Yorktown said...

Jami, sorry to not respond sooner...I missed your comment. Any questions you have, please ask. I am sad to be missing the show this year or we would happily be support for you. My advice is just to head to the family camping. You most likely will have a really hard time getting directed there. We put BIG SIGNS in all of our windows and just absolutely insisted. The key is to refuse to just move along unless you are absolutely certain you are headed to family camping.

Once in the site, there is lots of room and it's closed off (unlike the rest of Roo). Make some friends pronto and meet up with them at the big shows. We made a sort of "baby fortress" on all sides...three blankets and adults sort of at all the corners or whatever other barriers we could. It worked out very well. I will get busy and post the rest for you so you can know all you need to.

Please feel free to ask questions.

stephanie said...

I know this post is a couple years old, but we are Radiohead fanatics and are dying to see them, espe ially at festival and are considering going to Bonnaroo. Will you be attending this year? We have a 5 month old and a 2.5 year old and need some buddies! This will be our first festival ever and we're coming from Colorado. What are your thoughts about bringing an infant and toddler? Should we wait a few years or just do it? I appreciate your insight.

Kristi Roe Owen said...

Stephanie, I have lots of advice for you and I absolutely think it's possible to go! I wish we could afford to attend this year because we are amazing as Bonnaroo vets AND we are on your way! We have the system down. If you are on facebook or google IM, I would like to talk to you off this page so I can answer all of your questions very specifically.

Zachary Brown said...

My wife and I are in the same boat as the people above this year. My wife and I are thinking of driving from central VA with our 9 month old son. You think it's possible? We wouldn't get there until late thursday night, would that affect us getting into the family area? Any advice would be much appreciated!!!

Kristi Roe Owen said...

Zachary, I wish wish wish I was going this year! Yes you can do it. If you would like you can message me with specific questions at kristiroeowen at gmail.com because there is some specific advice I would like to give you. You are also welcome to add me on facebook. The main thing is that you have to be very very pushy about getting into family camping. My thought is that by thurs night the line to get in would have thinned a bunch which would make it easier to drive through camp. You just have to be really insistent about getting to family camping. Be polite but don't let anyone wave you on to the wrong way or if you aren't sure. Get out of your car and talk to them if you must. Family camping is nice and spacious, more so than other areas. Talk to me offline, because I want to give you more specific advice. There's a lot to it but you can go with little ones and have a wonderful time.

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