photo by Harrison Ezratty

“Our goal from the very start,” explains Bonnaroo co-founder Rick Farman of Superfly, “was to create special moments that can’t really happen anywhere else.”

Today marks the 17th consecutive year of doing just that.

One of the defining elements of the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival has been its ability to recast itself with each new installment. While certain elements remain consistent, there are always new discoveries to be found on a stage, at a campground or in a smile.

The core of the event lies not so much in a physical location as in a collective spirit that informs every aspect of the festival. Bonnaroo draws in a range of festivalgoers from across the globe who are eager to share their passion for live music and communal experiences.

Bonnaroo 2018 maintains this mission by presenting a variety of musical acts (blending some returning performers and some new to the Roo), while continuing to redefine the festival environment.

Much of the effort behind the scenes this year has been to bring new programming into the campgrounds that mirrors what happens in the formal performance spaces.

This has yielded new physical structures and novel ways to envision the festival experience.

“It’s exciting to see how excited everyone is this year,” explains Superfly’s Caitlin Maloney. “A lot of our focus has been on thinking about what happens when we come together and live here for four days in this collective home. One thing we wanted to do was find a way to connect fans in deeper ways to the creativity of the artists.”

This focus has led to expanded programming in the plazas located throughout the site. These gathering spaces were previously known as pods but have taken on revised titles to reflect their expanded roles.

photo by Harrison Ezratty

One of the new structures to appear on the site is at Plaza 3. Here a barn has been given over to the House of Yes, the inclusive, spirited Bushwick, Brooklyn nightclub and performance space. House of Yes will offer both daytime and evening programming, including a circus, a dance party and the immersive “Little Cinema” experience. “While all of this new,” Maloney observes, “it also feels very Bonnaroo.”

Plaza 9, which also offers new construction, features the creative inspiration of Cage The Elephant’s Matt Shultz. The musician, who has attended Bonnaroo both as a performer and a fan, approached the festival about becoming more involved and the result is “Happy Roo Day.” Here festivalgoers can “Get ROOCHARGED, ROOLAX, ROOFLECT, and hit ROOSET.” Plaza 9 will feature interactive art, live performances, and the enigmatic figure known as Baby Roo.

In Plaza 7, the structure previously known as The Grind has been rebranded The Ville, in partnership with the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp and the local maker-space Fort Houston. The Nashville creative community will be represented not only by area musicians but also by a range of artists (whose work will extend behind the building into The Grove), as well as Prince’s Hot Chicken—a Nashville staple since 1945, which the James Beard Foundation named one of America’s Classics. Additionally, Plaza 7 will feature a nighttime karaoke bar, which is expected to draw some of the festival’s performers as well.

Returning to the subject of food, Chef Tim Love will be on hand at Plaza 2 sharing his urban western cuisine at The Love Shack. There will be a tequila bar and Love will lead a communal grilling session. Plaza 2 also provides the garage that houses the oversized party vehicle Big Red and will offer some late night spectacle from Walter Productions, the creative force behind Big Red as well as the Kalliope stage, which is back this year, following a hiatus in 2017 (festival co-founder Kerry Black of Superfly raves, “We are very excited for the triumphant return of Kalliope to Bonnaroo with trademark fire and intensity and expanded programming throughout the day. The fans spoke and we listened!”)

Kalliope in 2016 – photo by Dean Budnick

A somewhat more subdued vibe will predominate at Plaza 6. The Well will focus on physical, spiritual and mental wellness. Yoga, exercise and meditation all are in the offing, complemented by mindful craft vendors and healthy dining options. Then by night the Plaza will give over to Tonalism by dublab, a chill, downtempo electronic experience where “visitors are encouraged to bring pillows, cushions, or blankets to lay down and listen.”

Plaza 4, which is located near the giant tower just outside Centereoo, is also the gateway to Bonnaroo history. Here one can revisit the past and also leave a mark for future festivalgoers. Plaza 4 is home to the Bonnaroo Yearbook, the Bonnaroo annex of the Sketchbook Project and also the Bonnaroo Census, all of which has earned this locale, the designation as the B-Hive.

Exhausted yet?

We haven’t even started to talk about the food, the various activities in Centeroo and, of course, the music. You can expect to read much more about all of the above, throughout the weekend, right here in the 17th annual edition of the Bonnaroo Beacon. Somewhat to that end, here’s a fun fact from the 2017 Bonnaroo Census: When asked to provide advice to first-time Bonnaroovians, the top suggestion from last year’s attendees was to make new friends (41% of them also pledged to deliver over 101 high-fives during the fest). One place where this might happen is the Broo’ers Fest, which has a new look this year and features over two dozen participating breweries. Another option is while waiting in line at the popular Hamageddon in Centeroo, where there will be expanded offerings. Or maybe connections will be fostered the old fashioned way, while waiting on clean, dry laundry at the LG LaundROO Lounge and Vintage Clothing Swap.

But wait there’s more…How about the return of Eminem, first time appearances by The Killers, Muse and Future, two unique sets from Bon Iver, a SuperJam celebrating the music of Tom Petty, the Grand Ole Opry, CHIC featuring Nile Rodgers, Mavis Staples, Adam Devine, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, Dua Lipa, Sturgill Simpson, Sheryl Crow, Sylvan Esso, Reggie Watts, Bassnectar, The Revivalists, Tash Sultana, STS9, T-Pain, Old Crow Medicine Show, First Aid Kit, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Thundercat, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Rebelution, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Amadou & Mariam, Spafford and the proverbial so much more.

The long wait for Bonnaroo 2018 is over. It’s time to choose your own adventure.