What is Burning Man? What is Bonnaroo! How do they compare? Which music festival is right for you in 2017? What did Alicia wear to Bonnaroo in 2016? Where on earth is Black Rock City? Can I take a shower at Bonnaroo? How will I survive at Burning Man? What is Burning Man REALLY about?
All of these questions and more answered in this ultimate discussion of Bonnaroo vs Burning Man. Have you been to either of these crazy festivals? Let me know what you thought of them in the comment section.
See You On The Farm.. and Welcome Home!
WATCH THE VIDEO ▶︎ BONNAROO VS BURNING MAN- USA Festivals of 2016
Main Points From ‘Bonnaroo vs. Burning Man’
Bonnaroo and Burning Man.. they both start with a B.
The word ”Bonnaroo” is actually creole slang for “good stuff”. And Burning Man refers to the actual burning of a giant wooden man.
They are both United States festivals that I would call ‘self-contained’ meaning that you GO and you STAY the entire time without leaving the festival grounds.
Bonnaroo does have a car service that will take you over to the Walmart for a supplies run, but at Burning Man you definitely don’t leave.
While Bonnaroo is a fairly classic music festival with it’s own unique culture, Burning Man is known as a gathering, or art festival.
Burning Man itself calls it ‘an annual experiment in temporary community’.
Bonnaroo highlights its well rounded lineup of, bands, solo acts and DJs. Along with art installations, art for sale, and artistic expressions everywhere.
Burning Man is similar with the artistic expressions but still LOT harder to explain which is why it’s SO unique and brilliant.
At Burning Man the idea is that everybody becomes an artist. There is no separation between fans and performers. So you might perform the music yourself.. or create a giant piece of art.. or spin some tunes from your giant art car.
While Bonnarro has ‘Centeroo’ and various tents and stages within it where all the action is actually held, at Burning Man you could host a party at your camp, or attend a party at another theme camp, or simply let the wind guide your path for the day.. The action is EVERYWHERE.
Bonnaroo and Burning Man are both events that have been going on for a very long time.
Burning Man takes the lead being in its 31st year with Bonnaroo in its 15th.
They have both evolved GREATLY over this time. Burning Man began as a small gathering of hippies on the beach in San Francisco with the idea of burning a wooden man,
While Bonnaroo began as a decent sized southern music festival featuring a lineup of mostly jam bands.
Bonnaroo brings in a steady crowd of about 50- 80K while the Black Rock City population is capped at 70,000 which can make even getting tickets rather difficult.
Bonnaroo is located in the small town of Manchester, Tennessee on land they own known as ‘The Farm’, or Great Stage Park.
Burning Man is held in a public land space in Nevada known as Black Rock Desert. This place is known to Burners as The Playa, or Black Rock City because once Burning Man begins, an entire city is temporarily constructed there each year.
While Bonnaroo is very much a Tennessee festival, Burning Man, despite being held in Nevada, is mostly represented by the northern California and the San Francisco Bay Area crowd.
While any fun free spirited person is certainly welcome and could easily fit in at either festival, Bonnaroo tends to draw about 1/3 Tennessee locals, 1/3 surrounding state southerners, and the rest mostly Americans from other states and maybe a few international travelers.
According to their official census, Burning Man is made up of about 80% Americans- half of which are Californians. Most others come from northwestern states but there is still a huge mass of International travelers that have come all the way to the states just to attend Burning Man.
Apparently it’s legendary in Europe.
As far as age demographic Bonnaroo tends to draw mostly the classic college aged crowd of 20 somethings who are totally comfortable with tent camping and living an easy party life.
It also accommodates some swanky RV campers and even little kids.
Burning Man generally draws a slightly older crowd with a median age of 34, which is actually really COOL.
These dedicated burners are more likely to plan all year designing an infrastructure to build, getting involved in committees to organize camps, attending the burn year after year and spending a significant amount of San Francisco money to make Black Rock City happen.
At Burning Man you’ll find everyone from babies to 70 year olds.
It’s so funny that, thanks to overblown mainstream music festivals like Coachella.. ‘festival attire’ has actually become a genre of dress in some stores.. It’s basically like I would dress on any given day.
True festival attire, I believe, is simply wearing whatever the heck you want (but may not wear in regular life) knowing that you’ll only be celebrated rather than judged for it.
Bonnaroo felt like a great time to break out those heart shaped sunglasses and fringe tops that are barely even tops, henna tattoos, flowy dresses and really just whatever keep cool on a hot southern summer day.
Burning Man will bring out all kinds of craziness in people, but it also seems to inspire a grungy almost steam punk look- but really this look is more a result of circumstance and survival.
Goggles, gloves and scarves are 100% necessary for dealing with playa dust so everybody wears them.
Everybody also sort of wears the dust and it has this really beautiful way of coating your hair, shoes and clothes and creating sort of a unified Burner look.
Besides that, people REALLY wear whatever the heck they want and complete nudity is also quite popular and accepted in Black Rock City.
This is where the differences really come into play.
The Bonnaroo farm has evolved from a warm grassy patch of Tennessee nature, to a warm grassy patch of Tennessee nature now outfitted with permanent fixtures for bathrooms, shelter and stages, all just for Bonnaroo.
The Playa on the other hand, is literally uninhabitable desert where nothing even grows. The nearest thing resembling a town is Gerlach about an hour away, but it’s only a few small stores and homes. The nearest real city would be Reno, about 3 hours away.
Fortunately, Black Rock City sets up a temporary airport each year to help people deal with getting in and out quickly .. If they need to.
Black Rock City is built from the ground up each year and then destroyed completely, leaving absolutely no trace.
It’s a big part of Burning Man culture to leave the desert environment in pristine condition, especially given what has just taken place.
While Bonnaroo provides the basic bathroom, shower, wash stations and charging stations, Burning Man provides nothing, besides porta potties. But don’t worry, we cover SURVIVAL next.
At Bonnaroo you do need to provide your own shelter, and you can do this with your car, a tent, a pop up shade. I’ve seen people just sleep outside in tents, because the elements are pretty nice down there in Tennessee.
You can bring and cook your own food but if you happen to run out of it there are TONS of amazing and delicious food trucks, coffee stands, a beer garden and more. So you will need some cash.
I did make an informative Bonnaroo video just about the facilities and how to prepare for the event, if it’s helpful.
I feel really silly for being a little bit nervous about 4 days of car camping prior to my first Bonnaroo, concerned about my “survival”.
Although I do think seeing how absolutely FINE the experience ended up being prepared me for the extreme situation later on in the year ..that was Burning Man.
Burning Man provides porta potties and they do sell ice and coffee. Otherwise, there is no food to be bought, no bartenders to pour you a drink on demand and no carnival rides to pay for.
Does that mean these things don’t exist? NO! EVERYTHING and more beyond your wildest dreams exists and it’s all FREE.. because Burning Man is a gift economy. NO money exchanged all week long. Everyone just gives.
Soo everyone will bring something to share whether it’s a performance, a playground that you’ve built, a laser dance party you’ve constructed, a bicycle repair center, or maybe an adoption center for playa pets.
Of course people also give out wonderful things like food and drinks via the many fun themed bars. There is a saying at Burning Man ‘the playa provides’. It has to do with the magic that is created in such a utopian society where when everybody is giving… and everybody is receiving only what they need.
Although you can bring your car to these events for the purpose of camping, you definitely can’t just drive it around- unless it’s an art car in the case of Burning Man..
Bonnaroo covers a 650 acre park, so generally if you want to get somewhere, you walk. This is sort of frustrating if you’re in a far away campsite like I was, but generally it’s not unbearable.
Burning Man covers 7 square miles, which is about 7 times as large! Fortunately, they do allow bicycles and bike culture is a huge part of the event.
Since the action is everywhere on this grid, from other peoples camps to what is known as the deep playa where many art installations live, you may even put some serious miles on your bike throughout the week.
Or again, you can always just build an art car, register it with the Department of Mutant Vehicles, and provide entertainment and transportation all in one effort.
Now to touch briefly on the unique traditions that surround each festival
At Bonnaroo, High Fives are definitely a thing and Happy Roo is the phrase to add along with them.
Landmarks of Bonnaroo include the entry arch, the Big Ass Waterslide, the classic festival ferris wheel, and Roo Chute.. which I simply adored as it seemed to pop up at only the best of times.
At Burning Man, Hugs are definitely a thing, sharing how many burns you’ve been to and whether or not you’re a ‘ burner virgin’ as I was last year.
Different variations of these pendants are designed and distributed by many camps and individuals… part of the gifting thing PENDANT
Playa names are a thing.. they aren’t just normal nick names, apparently they playa must give you your name and this can take many years. I don’t have mine yet.
Besides that there is a lot of climbing and burning of things, LED lights are EVERYWHERE, as well as nudity and a general open vibe to accept and respect everything and everyone.
What It’s REALLY about?
Ok. I’ll start with Bonnaroo because it’s a lot easier. Bonnaroo is about the music! They really pick some amazing headliners that tend to be real rock legends along with pop artists, hip hop stars, leading DJ’s and lots of indie rock bands.
It’s also about the community, bonding with your camp mates and generally just having a great time. Seeing ANY live music that you love, especially with people that you love can be a transformative experience and that’s why you hear people talk about music festivals being life changing ALL the time.
Bonnaroo, with it’s isolation of 4 glorious festival focused days is definitely no exception.
Burning Man somehow goes much deeper especially IF you’re on that plane to receive it. I received it immediately, although I still struggle to explain it.
You will hear almost everyone talk about Burning Man in a very spiritual, magical sense, and it’s SO much more than the fact that there are things like meditation sessions and reiki healing going on. Burners often speak of magic in the playa dust and the deep connection you can foster with nature once you’re actually living out there in this raw environment.
Of course the burning of the man himself holds DEEP meaning for many. Some say it’s about letting go of negative energies you’ve built up throughout the year, anger, aggression and there is no more powerful way to do that than to connect with your deepest truest self over the course of the week prior to the main event.
Where To Learn More
There is SO much more to say about this.. one person who helped me get a grasp on it before I went is a long time Burner known as Halcyon. He’s super cool and has a lot of great insight and experience that goes MUCH deeper than my one year attending. His entire YouTube channel is mostly about Burning Man.
You can also check out my two full Burning Man experience videos here on the channel and THREE I made about Bonnaroo.
So what do you guys think? I can’t wait to read the comments on this one. I’m sure you’re wondering if I will be attending these festivals again this year and all I can say right now is that .. there’s going to be a major coming next week.
Thanks for watching, I love you guys, and if you haven’t been doing so already, I do sincerely hope you will strive to make these events or similar events a part of your life, they’re so good for the soul.
And if you can’t, just subscribe to my channel to follow along on all the adventures I pursue.
See you next time, bye!
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