In less than a week, Sept. 2-5, the 20th-anniversary installment of Bonnaroo will commence, returning after a year off, and delayed later into the summer than its typical June timeframe. Due, no doubt, to the challenges and uncertainties of pulling off a major music festival during a pandemic, a lot of things are happening later and more flexibly than usual this year, with late lineup tweaks, increased (and welcome) health and safety procedures, and the latest arrival of the full schedule we can remember. One last piece of the Bonnaroo puzzle is the official app, which still seems to be getting fine-tuned, and this year’s map, which the fest dropped earlier this week!
If you’re a Bonnaroo veteran, you already know that many things about the fest stay fundamentally unchanged, with many structures on the site more or less permanent, and the general layout the same from year to year. The main stages and tents stay where you expect them to, as do the boundaries of Centeroo and the campground, and, for many years, there was very little variance at all, even down to vendors and ancillary activities. Since its acquisition by LiveNation a few years ago, however, we’ve seen more gradual changes each year. Some, like the addition of permanent flushable bathrooms, the conversion of The Other from a tent to a proper stage, the overhaul of basic campground Pods to immersive and activity-filled Plazas, and new activations like Where in the Woods, have been fresh and exciting. Others, like phasing out the Cinema and Comedy tents, cutting the number of smaller stages in Centeroo (though moving some smaller acts to the Plazas helps make up for that), and trending closer to the nation’s other major fests in booking for recent lineups, have felt like a bit of the loss of the Bonnaroo we came to know for so many years.
Still, each year, we await the map release with eager anticipation, because it’s our first glimpse of what changes might be in store when we get to the farm. Here’s the 2021 edition:
Upon first glance, we notice some changes and tweaks we already knew about, and some that are a surprise. If there’s one thing that always changes from year to year, it’s the specific layout of the campground (the broad layout is unchanged, but where exactly different types of camping are situated is often tweaked), and this year’s changes seem to reflect the new staggered daily entry procedures. Elsewhere in the campground, the Plaza placements are the same as are most of the themes (the changes are ones we knew about- Bayou Libre is now Veeps House, the Sanctuary of Self Love has scooted between Plaza 2 and Where in the Woods, Plaza 2 is The Zen Zone, The Ville is now just The Grove Barn, and, in one surprise, what was meant to be a Killer Mike-curated Swag Shop has seemingly been switched to a Rootanical Garden). The biggest new addition to the campground, though, and perhaps the reason Day Parking has been moved to the fest’s outskirts, is a free, 24/7 onsite transport system called “JamTrak,” which bridges the site’s east and west corners with Centeroo, and runs like a public transit system with predetermined stops. And the biggest surprise, likely to ruffle some long-time Roovians, is the absence of named campgrounds this time around, an inconsequential but always fun and silly tradition, where each section was given some pop culture reference, instead replaced by a numbered and lettered grid system.
Looking at Centeroo, we see a few surprises and expected changes there too. Anticipated ones include Jake & Snake’s Christmas Barn becoming the House of MatROOmony (no doubt to limit indoor crowding, and probably temporary), no dedicated Silent Disco (we noticed on the schedule it’ll share with the Who Stage), and some new branded activations like assorted beer, liquor, and energy drink stations. There’s also a return to the old style of arch, promised to be bigger and better than ever, after controversially moving to a digital one in 2019. Things we didn’t anticipate are a new placement for the Who Stage, down in the southwest corner where the Kalliope used to be (we weren’t positive the Kallipe would be missing, but news about it had been suspiciously absent), seemingly freeing up what appears to be a less-cluttered path to the What Stage (great for a sold-out year and less crowd-density); the Broo’ers Festival apparently renamed the Who’s Broos Pub, and moved near the new Who Stage area, along with a slightly shifted Food Truck Oasis; no more fire-breathing Hamageddon pig, apparently (can’t say we’re too worried about that one); and a dedicated merch booth for Tyler, the Creator’s “Golf Wang,” which is rad.
All and all, this year’s Bonnaroo tweaks and changes aren’t particularly radical, and the biggest ones, like the JamTrak, sound like welcome improvements! Familiarize yourself with the map if you’re a newbie, but if this isn’t your first time on the farm, you should have no trouble finding your way around this year (just don’t forget which way to walk to the Who Stage).