Set to the backdrop of rural Manchester, Tennessee, Bonnaroo Music + Arts Festival brings in crowds of up to 80,000 festival attendees every June. As one of the premier top-tier festivals in the U.S., attendees come from all over to relish in the spirit of Bonnaroo as it blankets the grassy plains of ‘The Farm.’
Attendees, especially on the first day, buzz about as they set up tent villages, high five each other in line for Centeroo, chirping “Happy Roo!” as they pass by. With big name artists from every genre filling out the robust lineup each year, people of all backgrounds travel far and wide to attend the euphoric 4-day festival that is Bonnaroo.
Breaking my festival inexperience in 2013, Bonnaroo holds a special place in my heart. It wasn’t until about two weeks prior to the festival that year, in the midst of my broke college days, when I had conjured just enough disposable income to swing a trip to The Farm. Naturally I called up one of my most music loving friends and convinced her to tag along. With Bonnaroo about an 8 hour drive away from our college, we decided to make the most out of the road trip to Bonnaroo and get into some shenanigans along the way.
After hearing horror stories of people getting pulled over constantly by Georgia police who set out each year to look specifically for people en route to Bonnaroo, my friend and I decided on the more scenic route if you will, taking US-231 to I-65 from North Florida through Alabama. We’d eventually make an overnight stop in Nashville before heading out to the festival early the next morning.
Besides Nashville, the only other locale we had decided to stop ahead of time was for lunch in Birmingham, the rest was up to the road trip gods. Windows rolled down, tent and sleeping bag crammed in the the trunk, the sweet smell of rubber hitting the open road, we were off!
Besides trees, flat farmland, and the occasional cotton field, there wasn’t much to see from the highway in North Florida/South Alabama. Still there’s this nostalgic effect as you pass through one small southern town after another dotted with rusty metal signs and paint-chipped clapboard houses.
“Uh, what is that?” my friend pointed, rolling down her passenger window as we drove north on I-65. Smack dab on the side of the highway there she was in all her roasted glory: the largest statue of a peanut we had ever seen. Possibly because it was the only peanut statue we’d ever seen. As we later learned, Alabama hosts a National Peanut Festival every year on the land behind the precarious monument. Oh Alabama.
Peanut statue aside, we trudged onward. “Whoa whoa whoa turn around! There’s a village thingy!” my friend gasped motioning to wrought iron gates with the words ‘Pioneer Village’chiseled across. Through all my years of stumbling across wacky roadside finds, this village torn right from the pages of a cowboy paperback will forever be one of my favorites. I turned the car around and drove through the open gate and parked next to a wooden shack titled Schoolhouse. The best part was not only did we have zero clue as to what we had stumbled upon in no-where Alabama, but that not a single soul was around to explain. At first.
After a quick climb aboard the antique fire truck, we set out to explore the various wooden structures dotting the perimeter of the village. Further adding to the mystique was that several of the shacks, although doors locked, had porches lines with tables of the most haphazard assortment of bygone baubles I’d ever seen strewn atop.
Eyeing a blue tinted mason jar and a rusted Alabama license plates, I considered leaving some cash on the table assuming that this place probably acted as some sort of flea market. That’s when Joe (I don’t remember his name but Joe seems fitting enough) rolled up – slightly out of thin air – in his beat up Ford pickup truck.
“Howdy ladies, we’re closed today but I reckon you can have a looksie around. Those? This ain’t my place but I’ll take five bucks for ‘em and give it to Patricia,” Joe horsed out through a mouthful of tobacco. Okay Joe, sure I’ll give you five bucks for Patricia. The exchange was made. After, Joe explained that the village was open on Saturdays and acted as makeshift flea market/craft mall/historical reenactment site/alien abduction center. All that was missing was a tumbleweed in the wind.
While Birmingham, Alabama isn’t much of a sought after tourist destination, it provides a great lunch break playground. Dubbed the Magic City during the height of the nation’s manufacturing age, Birmingham pairs metropolitan living with the Deep South. Oddly craving Asian food that day we opted for a noodle bar in the city. Although we didn’t have time to explore Birmingham’s roots as the cradle of the American Civil Rights Movement, walking around the brick masonry buildings adjacent to modern high-rises it became apparent the city still holds fast to its past and historical immanence.
Leaving Birmingham we set out for our last stop at Music City, U.S.A. – good ole Nashville, Tennessee. Growing up with family in the area I was very familiar with Nashville and knew it would be a great end-goal for our route. Especially because my friend had never witnessed downtown Nashville with all its neon lit bars and Bourbon Street-esque country flair. After we picked up my cousin we headed for dinner and drinks at what is aptly called, Main Street.
Once we stuffed our faces with some country fried chicken, we moved along Main Street and found ourselves in a karaoke bar stifling bursts of laughter at the poor souls who took the stage hoping this would be their big Nashville break. The next day we’d be waking up at the crack of dawn for the 2 hour journey east to Manchester where we’d be enveloped in festival vibes for the next 4 days.
If only our travel happened inside this beaut of an Airstream spotted at ‘Roo ↓