“Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel. I have always needed Fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.”
~ Hunter S. Thompson
I wrote my first Bonnaroo Survival Guide in 2011. This year, in the spirit of self-aggrandizement, I’ve decided to revisit the issue, thinking that I can do a better job than I can.
Some of these points are mainly for comfort, but some will keep you from dying.
If you don’t take anything else from this article, take this. Drink lots and lots of water. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty because it means you’re already dehydrated. You should pee at least once an hour and your urine shouldn’t be dark. This is true no matter what you indulge in. Replace your electrolytes by drinking sports drinks or fruit juice, eat good food, and eat more often, but don’t overeat. The overarching advice is be careful, take it slow, get plenty of sleep, don’t get sunburned, don’t get too hot, and don’t do dumb things like walk in front of a car or bus or mix drugs and alcohol in the heat. The thing about the car isn’t a joke. Someone was hit and killed by a bus at Bonnnaroo a few years ago. Be aware and look both ways.
First, some legalese… This is not a medical treatise and I’m not a medical professional. If you have a medical problem, talk with your doctor before going to Bonnaroo. Bonnaroo is hard, even under the best of circumstances, and people have died there.
Not all of these tips will be appropriate for everyone. Again, if you’re unsure, consult a doctor before you take on Bonnaroo.
1) Dehydration Can Kill You.
The most important thing you can do for your health at Bonnaroo is to drink water, plain, cool, clear, water. Dehydration causes hyperthermia (overheating of the body). Your body cools itself through sweating, and the evaporation of it from your skin. When you become dehydrated, your body begins to overheat. Symptoms of dehydration and overheating include headaches, visual disturbances, decreased blood pressure (hypotension), and dizziness or fainting when standing up. Untreated dehydration can result in delirium, unconsciousness, swelling of the tongue and death.
Symptoms of mild dehydration include thirst, decreased urine volume, abnormally dark urine, unexplained tiredness, constipation, dry skin and lack of appetite.
Fruit juices, vegetable juices and sports drinks like Gatorade contain electrolytes and can be great for replacing them after you sweat them out. Start each day at ‘Roo with a large glass of orange juice, a sport drink or other fruit juice. My favorite drink at Bonnaroo is V8 juice. Another great way to replace electrolytes is by carrying vitamin packs like Emergen-C which you add to your water.
Caffeinated drinks like energy drinks contribute to dehydration. They increase metabolism and heart rate and are diuretics. Use these sparingly in hot environments.
2) Am I Dehydrated?
If you’re not urinating at least every two hours then you are getting dehydrated. Be aware, headaches, dry skin, dizziness and rapid heartbeat are all early signs of dehydration.
3) Drinking Alcohol.
Beware; Alcoholic drinks are diuretics meaning every time you drink one your body loses water. A day of drinking with no water intake in a hot environment will dehydrate you. Drinking alcohol without water at Bonnaroo can lead to hyperthermia (overheating of the body) and other very serious consequences, including a visit to the hospital, or death. Combining alcohol with other drugs such as Molly (MDMA) or LSD can exponentially increase your risk of dangerous health problems.
4) Drink After Dark.
Bonnaroo is not a one day event. It happens over multiple days, and exhaustion and depletion of physical energy can sneak up on you.
One strategy which has served me well is to save my drinking until after the sun goes down. At night, the temperature drops and I find that it’s much more pleasurable to have a drink an hour or two before going to bed, than to drink during the day in the heat with the sun beating down. To stay hydrated, drink at least one full water bottle for every one to three alcoholic drinks.
5) Drugs at Bonnaroo.
I am neither condemning nor promoting drug use. My purpose here is to educate. Drugs are a fact of life at Bonnaroo.
Some drugs commonly found at Bonnaroo can contribute to heat related problems. MDMA, also known as Molly, Ecstasy, or “E” is very easily found at Roo’. It’s a form of amphetamine, and as such, you should understand that when you take it, you expose yourself to a variety of side effects which can be intensified and complicated by alcohol consumption, heat and dehydration.
Overdoses of Molly can be very dangerous and even more so in the heat. One of the potential side effects of MDMA overdose is hyperthermia. In other words, if you’re already at risk of hyperthermia from dehydration and sun exposure, and you take Molly, you run the risk of putting yourself in a life threatening situation. Many people combine it with alcohol, which in the climate at Bonnaroo can be not only dangerous, but can kill you. Again, Drink Water. Drink Water. Drink Water.
MDMA which is sold as “Molly” comes in the form of a white powder. If you buy a white powder from a stranger at Bonnaroo which the person says is Molly, you really have no idea what it is. It could be absolutely anything from meth to ground diet pills. In other words, Caveat Emptor, or “Buyer Beware.”
LSD and other hallucinogens are also very popular at Bonnaroo. A lot of research has been done into the function and effects of LSD. There have been no documented deaths associated with overdose of LSD, although there have been instances of people dying under its influence because of a reduced ability to recognize common dangers and personal safety. There is also evidence that LSD can trigger fugue states or seizures when combined with some antidepressants. LSD has also at times been linked to both hypo and hyperthermia.
One side effect of LSD is a reduced ability to accurately gauge the effects of alcohol making it very dangerous to combine large amounts of alcohol (especially liquor) and LSD in an extremely hot and humid environment. In other words, if you’re going to take any hallucinogen, be very careful with your alcohol intake, or better yet, don’t drink at all.
There other, harder drugs that can be found there, which I won’t mention. If you’re taking them, you probably already know they’re bad for you, and what I say here isn’t going to change your mind. If you’ve never tried them, and someone offers them to you, then be like Nancy Reagan and just say no.
6) Safe From The Sun.
One important strategy for keeping cool at Bonnaroo is to dress for the sun and heat. A lot of people spend their time at Bonnaroo wearing nothing but sunglasses and a bathing suit. Exposing large areas of skin to direct sunlight for long periods will greatly increase the rate at which you lose moisture and speeds dehydration.
Bonnaroo is a four day event. If you get a wicked sunburn on Thursday, it’s going to make the rest of the weekend harder. Protect your skin from direct exposure to the sun.
The best way to stay cool at Bonnaroo is to wear loose fitting, light weight, light colored cotton clothing. On very hot days, it can be good to wear long sleeves. Wearing loose fitting clothing allows breathing room between your skin and your clothes which allows for the movement of air and dehydration of sweat.
Use sun block. If you allow your skin to burn it creates an inflammatory response and forces your body to deal with the damaged skin. Not using sun block allows UV light to penetrate your skin, speeding dehydration as it dries. You should use sun block on every exposed skin surface, including your feet if you’re wearing sandals and the back of your hands.
If you start feeling overheated, take a T-shirt and soak it in ice cold cooler water, put it on, and go sit in the shade until your body temperature comes back down which generally is about as long as it takes for the T-shirt to start to dry.
7) Fuel for the Engine.
Eating right at Bonnaroo makes a big difference in the quality of your overall experience. Don’t use Bonnaroo as an excuse to eat horrible food, because you absolutely don’t want a stomach upset having you spend a lot of time in the port-ap-otties.
Eat raw vegetables and fruits, like cucumbers, apples, celery, bananas, nuts, oranges and grapefruit. Eat salads at Bonnaroo. A salad with a vinaigrette dressing and chicken or tuna gives you protein, digests easily and wont slow you down in the heat.
Eat smaller more frequent meals at ‘Roo and supplement your diet with nuts, power bars and dried fruit. They’re easy to carry and are packed with vitamins and minerals that help to replace nutrients lost through sweating.
Bananas contain a lot of potassium and fiber, which make them a must have food for ‘Roo. Potassium is one of the minerals depleted when you sweat and Bananas are an easy way to replace it while giving yourself other nutrients and fiber.
Once again, the strategy here is to keep your energy up, and keep yourself out of the port-a-pottie. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
8) Pace Yourself and Pay Attention.
Eat when you’re hungry, eat small, frequent meals, make up your mind to drink water constantly, and don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Rest frequently out of the sun, and try to get as much sleep as you can. If you find yourself getting overheated, or over-tired, immediately find a place to get out of the sun and rest. Remember the symptoms of dehydration and over-heating and when you experience them, do something about it right now. Remember, that if you feel thirsty you’re already dehydrated.
9) Ways to Stay Cool
During the heat of the day, I keep a glass of ice-water handy, which is one of the best ways I’ve found to keep cool. You can also get a case of bottled water and freeze the bottles before you leave, then throw them in a cooler. As they melt, they keep your cooler cold, and provide a convenient source of icy-cold water.
I’ve already mentioned this, but I’ll say it again, because this is how you can directly and immediately reduce your core temperature and help to reverse hyperthermia. Soak your T-shirt in ice water from your cooler, then put it on, and sit in the shade for a while. The ice-cold water cools you quickly, and as it evaporates, it continues to cool your body.
Put your tent under a tarp. The silver ones reflect sunlight well, and if you tie a large tarp between two vehicles and put your tent beneath the tarp, you make your tent much more comfortable by not allowing sunlight to hit it directly. Otherwise, the Manchester sun will bake you like a cookie in your tent as soon as it come above the horizon, and force you to get up early.
10) Must Haves.
Headlight – I bought mine at Wal-Mart, and it’s indispensible. The LED lights burn for hours on a single set of batteries. They’re useful for walking at night on uneven ground or digging through a backpack at night. Probably the most important reason to carry a light is so that you can use the port-a-potties at night. Sometimes, the port-a-potties are a disgusting mess and finding one which isn’t is only possible if you can see.
Ibuprofen - Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory drug which helps with all kinds of muscle aches and pains as well as the occasional hangover. Be careful not to combine ibuprofen with large amounts of alcohol, as this can damage your liver.
Garbage Bags – I carry these in my backpack. They can serve as an impromptu rain jacket, for body, camera or pack, and can also act as a ground cover. They’re lightweight and don’t take up much room. When you’re done, use them for garbage.
Pepto-Bismol or other Stomach OTC Med – In case of food poisoning.
Rubber Mud Boots – I bought mine at Wal-Mart, and if there’s a lot of rain at Bonnaroo, they’re invaluable. The commonly used foot paths become mud pits when a heavy rain falls at Roo’. Having boots means you won’t slip and fall, and you won’t get covered in mud.
Tarps – I bring extra tarps. You never know when you’re going to need them, for shade or protection from the rain.
Rope – Simple cotton clothesline rope which you can buy in 100’ sections at Wal-Mart for a few bucks and is great for tying things down, or tying a tarp.
Windbreaker – I carry a windbreaker stuffed in the bottom of my backpack where it serves as extra padding for my camera. For me, it’s all about weight, and a nylon windbreaker weighs almost nothing and can be compressed into a small space. The windbreaker can be very handy if you find yourself far away from camp and it gets cold. When night falls at Bonnaroo, the temperature drops quickly. Also, if you make your way into the theatre or comedy tent, the air conditioning can quickly make you cold. Having a wind breaker handy is very helpful at times and it also doubles as a ground cloth.
Air Mattress – This is another thing I can’t live without at ‘Roo.
Heavy Duty Tent Stakes – The tent stakes that come with some tents are bendy aluminum things which are nearly worthless. You can get heavy duty stakes at Wal-Mart which last for years. These prevent your tent from washing away in the event of a heavy rain or blowing away in heavy winds and are also useful for staking a tarp.
Skin Powder – If you’ve ever had heat rash, you understand the need for this. The weather and long distance walking over days can make anyone susceptible to this painful skin problem. I like Gold Bond powder, but you could also use baby powder or anti-monkey butt powder.
Aloe Vera Gel – Great for soothing sunburned skin.
Emergen-C - These packets of powder have become an integral part of my life, and are a fantastic way to supplement your diet in a hot, sweaty environment.
The most important idea here is that you pay attention to how you’re feeling and what your body is telling you, because your body doesn’t lie and will almost always give you a sign if there’s a problem.
Remember, Bonnaroo is a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time, have fun and be careful, so you can do it again next year.
June 9, 2016