Stories of Community, Love, and Friendship on the Farm

Big Red’s Essay Contest reminds us all what Bonnaroo is about.

Below is a selection of entries from Big Red’s Essay Contest held by the magical crew at Walter Productions, creative forces behind beloved soundstage Kalliope, giant roving wonder: Big Red- the oversized VW Beetle, and The Garage out at Plaza 2. This year they wanted to let Bonnaroovians get a chance to ride their happy art car around The Farm, so the held an essay contest to let fans earn a ride by radiating positivity through written word. All contestants were asked the question, “Why do your friends deserve a ride on big red?”, knowing the most heartwarming tales of friendship, love, community, support and kindness would win an epic cruise around the campground for them and up to 5 of their friends. The grand prize winner would also receive 2 tickets + GA camping to Bonnaroo 2018!

Walter Productions had no easy task, narrowing down a small selection out of hundreds of incredibly heartfelt stories. Kate Swarm, Production Manager for The Garage: Home of Big Red, said that her team was in tears several times as they would read the inspiring tales of friendship and community.

“We are the lucky ones” she said, “We feel incredibly honored to share Big Red with such wonderful and kind individuals. Big Red was created to make the world a happier place, and it is moments like this that we are reminded what it is all about.”

Below is a selection of the essays, in no particular order. All names have been changed to protect privacy and honor the intimate nature of these stories.

Question: Why do your friends deserve a ride on Big Red?

Answer 1: Because Bonnaroo is one of the most magical places we have ever been. My best friend Kevin absolutely loved Roo, All of our friends worked it for many years together. Kevin absolutely loved Kaliope and Big Red. We spent many sleepless Roo nights in front of the stage into the sunrise. It was our escape from reality. Kevin also was a veteran for the U.S. Army Retired at only 28 after 4 tours in Afghanistan. In 2015 on Veterans Day tragedy struck home. Kevin and a few of our friends went out for drinks at a local bar. When leaving one of our buddies asked Kevin if he needed a ride since he was on his motorcycle. Of course Kevin being the badass superman he was he said no. While driving home Kevin sped down the hwy. Slamming into the back of a dump truck stopped on the shoulder. He lost his life on impact and we lost our best friend. One of the most beautiful and loving human beings I’ve ever had the chance to meet. It would mean the world to us to get together on BIG Red and celebrate Kevin’s life in his all time favorite place. One more ride for Kevin the way he would want to spend another Roo night.

Answer 2:
I’ll tell you a tale of 2015
Of a girl named Stacy who had a dream
She wanted to go to Bonnaroo
But sadly her funds were far too few
As life would have it, she lost her job
Her employer had closed, leaving her to sob
Her friends convened and made a pact
“Together we’ll make what Stacy lacks”
They donated gear, supplies, and cash
They worked overtime to fill her stash
A tent, a cot, a canopy, and chair
A pillow, a lantern, she’s almost prepared
A tapestry to hang, a flashlight that’s bright
A few blinky lights to wear out at night
Do not forget the water and food
Hydration and snacks promote a good mood
Piece by piece, the pile grew tall
In a short time it was no longer small
When looking upon what friendship had done
One thing was missing, required for fun
Surfing the waves to a virtual domain
They purchased a ticket to camp in GA
As time passed by, and Roo grew near
Just in time, the package was here
They gave her a cereal box of surprise
Joy and excitement was shown in her eyes
“But what about camp, I don’t have much to pack”
They pointed to the pile, “this is your stack”
A long drive later, they arrived without harm
A long wait in line, they sat foot on the farm
She assembled her camp and was very proud
And after some rest, ventured out in the crowd
To shakedown and main street, she rolled with her croo
“There is so much stuff, I don’t know what to do”
Making their way to the line of high fives
In Centeroo was the time of their lives
She spun in the fountain like cleansing rain
As all of her worries went down the drain
While wandering around she tried Spicy Pie
She soon found out that the name was no lie
They ate Amish Donuts as a midnight treat
Which gave them the energy to delay their sleep
Over the weekend, they saw many shows
From Kendrick to Spoon to Childish Gambino
The late nights were filled with wonder and sweat
At Kalliope they danced and watched secret sets
They marched in parades, they followed Big Red
They danced through the Pods, on the way to bed
As the weekend was closing, they sat at What Stage
And reminisced fondly of the time they had made
On the way to our camp, a few things were said
And one that will always stick in my head
“I can’t believe I’m here, I have been so poor”
“But together we’re rich, that’s what friends are for”

Answer 3: My friends deserve a ride on Big Red at Bonnaroo 2018 because Bonnaroo is the most special place in the world to us. It is where my friends saved my life 4 years ago after I was in an accident where I broke my neck in 7 places. Bonnaroo is where we return every year to be reminded of how beautiful our lives are & how precious our time spent together on the Farm is.

When I moved to California, the first friends I bonded with shared a love for Bonnaroo. I had been to my first Roo in 2011 & it changed my life. After sharing similar stories, my friends & I decided we would all go on an epic road trip the next year & do Bonnaroo together. On 6/5/14 we packed up an SUV with camping gear & positive vibes & headed east to our buddy’s family cabin in Tennessee. It was a hell of a trip – we got pulled over, our windshield smashed in & our car broken into – but despite these 2 hiccups, we made it to the cabin, together, ready for the real Roo adventure to begin!

On 6/7/14, we went hiking & came across a notorious cliff jumping spot. Running on adrenaline & excitement for what lay ahead, we all decided to jump. I jumped first. I remember being in the air for what seemed like a really long time. When I hit the water & struggled to come up for air, I gasped. I heard my friends land in the water around me. I made eye contact with them, & they could see in my eyes something wasn’t right. I yelled, “I can’t move my neck.” My buddy looked at me & immediately swam to the edge of the ravine while my other friends led me swimming out of the water. The only way to get out of the ravine was to climb up the side of the hill, using a metal wire guide. My buddies climbed behind me as I assured them I was fine, it was probably just a pulled muscle.

When we got to the top, an ambulance was already waiting. It took me to the small forest hospital where X-Rays determined I had broken my neck in a bunch of places & needed to be helivac to the nearest trauma center immediately.

At the second hospital it was confirmed I had broken my neck in 7 different places & would need to be put in an emergency surgical halo. Luckily, I was not paralyzed or dead. When the bones in my neck broke, they broke away from my spinal cord. I’ve never been so lucky in my life. My friends were by my side the whole time – even when my parents flew in from Virginia. When I got out of surgery, my friends were there. They didn’t feel right going to Bonnaroo. I told them they had to go. I would be with them in spirit.

My friends went to Bonnaroo & sported bandanas, fanny packs, totems, all with my name on it, so I would truly be there with them. My recovery took 9 months. But we all went to Bonnaroo 2015 the next year together – everyone who had been a part of my journey, my parents, siblings, best friends – my Bonnaroo family. We’ve gone together every year since. Bonnaroo is so much more than a place to us – it’s our home, it’s where we feel the most alive.

Answer 4: Bonnaroo 2017 is where I fell in love. I fell in love with music festivals, strangers, my best friends, my sister, and even myself. When I first bought my ticket to Bonnaroo, I had no idea what I was getting myself in to. Since I was 17, I dreamed of going to Bonnaroo. However, being so young, it was hard to convince my parents and friends to allow three 17 year-olds to drive 5 hours to a music festival with no supervision. Three years later, I finally decided to try it again. The only person I could convince to come with me, at the time, was my best friend, Sara. As the time got closer, more friends and my sister decided to join us on the adventure of a lifetime. I had no idea what to expect when we arrived. I had never met so many loving, happy, amazing people in such a short time. Our camping neighbors became some of our closest friends. My love for music grew as did the love for my best friends. The overwhelming happiness and acceptance that flows through the farm is enough to bring you to tears. Thinking back on my time there, I can’t help but tear up in a sense of longing and bittersweet memories. The most unforgettable night, by far, was Saturday. Somehow, my friends and I were able to get into the pit at Red Hot Chili Peppers. We were so close we could see every facial expression. Unfortunately, we had to leave early but then we found ourselves at Marshmello. Absolutely the happiest show I’ve ever been to. All I could do was look around as the faces of my friends and complete strangers and smile at their joy. Friends became family, strangers became friends. When we left the farm last year, we vowed that we would continue to come for as long as we can. I already have my 2018 tickets and can’t wait to make so many more memories and friends as the nights turn into day. Bonnaroo 2017 is what opened my eyes and my mind into what music festivals are. Since then, I have become a different person: a happier, more open-minded, loving individual. I honestly think that Bonnaroo changed my for the better. Without going, I never would have dived into the world of music festivals and never would have made the amazing friends and relationships that I have. I think me and my friends deserve a ride on Big Red as a commemoration for what happened there last year. Although nothing will ever live up to our first experience, I know that it will only be a different kind of amazing. We will be able to live up the nights that we took for granted and enjoy more artists that we’ve discovered over the last year. Even though Bonnaroo 2018 will be one of the most incredible things that I do this year, I think a ride on Big Red would make it that much more worthwhile.

Answer 5: I booked a trip to Bonnaroo 2016 as a once in a lifetime adventure. I was coming from Canada as a solo camper and did a lot of research online. I found a group called Reddaroo and instantly was welcomed into this group as family.

Not only did they make me feel welcome, they helped me get to and from the farm, bought me supplies for my festival adventures that summer, shared tips and tricks, gave me presents to welcome me, and truly have become my family. I could go on and on about that first trip but to sum it up, I knew I found something bigger than I’ve ever experienced and am so thankful to have done it with the amazing group. I talk to at least one person from the group every single day since I met them online in late 2015. These people have become some of my closest friends and made a music festival 1700 miles away feel like home and a necessity for me to remain grounded and feel true to myself. It’s become a retreat, reunion, and celebration all in one.

I would love to win the ride on Big Red to say thank you for all they’ve done in making me feel a part of something bigger and celebrate love and friendship at truly the happiest place on earth. Big Red was actually out and I got to go in it at the Beehive on my first night, so it would be so fitting to bring those folks along for a second visit to celebrate what they, Bonnaroo, and Walter mean to me. Much love to Walter Productions and Bonnaroo for being a part of that.


Answer 6: I have fallen in love with music festivals ever since my first in 2011…Bonnaroo. I did not know much of the culture but was a huge music fan and I knew Eminem was there, extremely hard to see, especially in Canada. Unknowingly I came back a new man from that weekend and have fallen in love with Bonnaroo ever since. I have returned in 2013 and 2014 with my now Fiance and we have shared so many amazing experiences together in that musical wonderland.

Knowing of my love of music festivals, my Best Man asked what I wanted to do for my Bachelor Party, and suggested Coachella. Not the vibe or price range I would ever ask of these boys that I have loved for the past 15-20 years since elementary and high school. All I could really ask for is a night out with these guys, knowing it will produce enough laughs to compress our chests so tight we cant breath. Share stories and inside jokes from the past nobody but us could ever understand. But now that the topic has risen…LETS GO TO BONNAROO BOYS!

That being said, 10 of my closest friends from all ages and cultural backgrounds did not hesitate to take my word on the fact that Bonnaroo is a magical place that I simply cannot explain to them and they must feel it for themselves. They are trusting that Bonnaroo is not simply about who you already know, its about who you don’t know but learn to love. Music and people alike, since most of them didn’t even know half of the lineup but each of their musical tastes range from Midland to Bassnectar this made for a perfect lineup.

I do not want to run out of words again, so I will bring this to a close. Why do my friends deserve to ride on BIG RED? Aside from the obvious answers “they are the best”, ” I love them”, ” I’ve known them forever”, although those are all true, my friends deserve to ride BIG RED because they have all sacrificed an arm and a leg, time off work, time away from their family’s and financial priorities, just to make me happy before the big day. Little do they know, I am just as happy to take them there as their registered Bonnaroo ambassador, and watch them run wild like a proud father, as they high five total strangers, and radiate positivity through the farm with each word and action. My friends deserve a ride on BIG RED because they have done so much and continue to do so many great things for me and my Fiance daily. This would be a great experience for them as this is each and everyone of their first Bonnaroos.

I will gladly give up my seat for another to ride. I will happily jog along side!!!

Answer 7: Internet Friend –> Real Life Friends

I originally found out about Bonnaroo from my friend Z who posted on Facebook about how much fun he had in the 2013 edition. Z is from Tennessee, and I’m from Oregon. How I know him is unusual. I met Z in 2007 in a Runescape clan which is a group of people playing the game together. Z is one of my best friends that I’ve ever met.

About two weeks before Bonnaroo 2015 what happened is the schedule dropped and I saw how awesome it was going to be and decided that I wanted to go. I remember seeing a FB post from Z talking about how he couldn’t make it this year and he was bummed out. I had never met this person in real life, but he was my friend, and I wanted to go to Bonnaroo. I messaged him and said “ticket for campsite?” “What?” “I will buy your ticket to Bonnaroo this year if you let me camp with your squad.” “For real? ” I just had this feeling inside of me, I felt like I HAD TO GO.

I remember telling my friend S that I was nervous about meeting 14 people I had never seen in real life and spending a weekend with them, but my friend reassured me that it was going to be awesome, and boy was she right.

I was anxious and excited about meeting the Giraffe Pack, just because I didn’t know them, but I knew one thing I could do to be friends with these people is try my hardest to learn all their names. I learned all of their names on the first day and that was a positive first step.

The real entertainment started when we got in the venue on Thursday during Glass Animals, Even though I had never met the Giraffes before they accepted me as their friend, and it was so fun sharing smiles and dancing next to them. My friends radiated so much positive energy, I love them.

On Friday we saw such great music, every act left us smiling from ear to ear After two days I knew I was at the right place with the right people.

I think the musical highlight of the weekend was when we saw Childish Gambino and then we all decided to camp rail for the 2 and a half hour intermission between Childish and Bassnectar. it was a fantastic experience with my friends filled with pure magic. Immediately after Bassnectar we all ran to the fountain to take a quick shower, watched flume, and then the sunrise over Kaliope with Nashville natives Cherub, the smiles never left our faces. and the love continued throughout the weekend.

I wouldn’t have been able to have a Bonnaroo 2015 experience if it wasn’t for my friend Z and the Giraffe Pack! When you hang out with people at a music festival you really learn who they are, you become close, and after just four short days with these people I knew I was not done with them yet. My adventures across America were only beginning with the Giraffe Pack.

Answer 8: As we age I think it becomes easy to pinpoint exact moments in our lives that we label as “turning points”. It’s funny, because we expect these moments to be these huge milestones. Like the day we walk across a stage and are handed our college degree. Or the day we say “I do”. And while these examples can certainly be turning points for some, I think more often than not, we reflect back on the smaller, less obvious moments. The ones that sometimes go unnoticed until much later when we say to ourselves ‘that was the day that changed everything’. My turning point came one weekend in 2010, on a 700 acre farm in rural Tennessee.

Weeks before my first Bonnaroo and just three months before our scheduled wedding date my fiancé left me for someone else. We’d been together six years. He was all I’d ever known. I felt like my life came to a screeching halt. Every plan, every expectation for what my path was supposed to look like was effectively erased. I was heartbroken and most importantly, I felt lost. My girlfriends convinced me that the Bonnaroo plans should move forward and that this would be a good way to get my mind off everything. So, early one Thursday morning, we loaded up the car and started the 12 hour drive to Manchester, TN.

The moment I entered Centeroo I experienced an energy I’d never felt before. My troubles seemed to melt away and before I knew what happened I was completely immersed in this strange and beautiful place. I hugged strangers, had important conversations about life, participated in spontaneous dance parties and laughed harder than I had ever laughed in my entire life. We were collectively hot, dirty and lacking sleep. But instead of using these things as an excuse to become agitated or restless, something magical happened. Everyone became extra polite, attentive, kind. Offering water, a quick mist with a handheld fan, an extra spot on their blanket in the much coveted shade. I was so inspired.

I’m not sure if it was when the crowd sang Jay-Z’s “Forever Young” at the top of their lungs, or when I sat under a tree and listened for over an hour to stories told by a man who had attended the first Woodstock. Or perhaps it was the kind, beautiful hooper who so patiently tried to teach me her ways, no matter how many times I let the hoop drop from my hips.

Trying to describe when exactly it happened is impossible, because it was an accumulation of all of these things and more. All I know is that early Monday morning I awoke before everyone else and sat in my campsite and cried. Deep cathartic sobs no longer laced with sadness, but brimming with relief. Everything was going to be ok. I was going to be ok.

The people of Bonnaroo taught me that happiness is a choice and that no matter how tough life can get, we will always have each other to lean on. I’ve carried these lessons with me for 8 years. I will forever be grateful to Bonnaroo for providing me my ultimate turning point.

Answer 9: My first Bonnaroo experience was last year in 2017. I went with my father and my best friend of all my life. In looking up pictures and past Bonnaroo years I was quite intimidated bull the sheer size of the festival and how many people go from near and far. When I went to Bonnaroo it was truly an eye opening experience. I learned how to love myself better and enjoy the moments at hand. I learned how great my best friend Beth is and how this is a memory we will have for the rest of our lives. I learned how genuinely nice people can be, even complete strangers. I know I will forever keep with me that my father came and although he is still with me no one can ever tell what the future holds and that experience will forever be close to my heart. My father is my only family and my best friend. This year has been rough for me and my best friend to put together Bonnaroo travels again. She lived in Key West and due to the hurricane season of 2017, her apartment was destroyed leaving her and her two children displaced from their home and forced to relocate. She now resides about 40 minutes east of tampa in a town called lakelaLa. Slowly she is rebuilding her life for her and her kids. As much as I can say I would love the opportunity to go to Bonnaroo this is more about my friend. Allowing her to have a chance to unwind and enjoy a truly wonderful time not to forget what all has happened and the chaos she has in rebuilding, but for her to enjoy the positive vibes and people coming together as a whole. I think she would truly be absolutely amazed if she was able to go. Her and I text back and forth talking about Bonnaroo last year and sending sad faces with the reality that it probably isn’t going to come this year for us.