Imagine yourself covered in dirt and sweat, going on three or four hours sleep, with hardly any food, and standing all day in ninety-degree heat. Now picture yourself in this state for four days straight, with one or two showers, if at all, and living in a city of tents with 90,000 strangers.
I knew I had to go to Bonnaroo. I had never been to a music festival before, and I knew Bonnaroo was the one: it is the largest in the Eastern United States and is known for its differing music styles, from indie rock to hip hop to electronic. So without any definitive plans from any friends, and after one look at this year’s lineup (Elton John, Arctic Monkeys, Flaming Lips, Jack White, Kanye West, and many more), I bought my $300 ticket, stuck my tent into a camping backpack that towered over my head, and got on a plane to Nashville, Tennessee.
Positivity radiated every corner of the 700-acre farm outside the town of Manchester. At any time during the festival, a stranger could give you a high-five. All the worries that I had from the outside world, every ache and pain – they all vanished when the music began to play.
By the fourth day, I was ready to leave. A real shower and a warm bed to sleep in after three nights of camping seemed dreamlike to my exhausted self. Bonnaroo made me appreciate the little things in life…but I still booked a hotel and planned to get out early to beat the crowds.
My plan was to go to the Arctic Monkeys show with my neighbors from the campsite and then pack up my stuff and head out. But during the show, with my arms around the shoulders of strangers, I became lost in the music, and it was in that moment that I could feel myself getting sucked in, and I knew I was staying at Bonnaroo for the night.
After the superb performance of Elton John, the final act, my neighbors and I ate some terrible food and then went back to the tents and chatted. It was there, for the first time, that Will, a college student from Tampa, asked, “What do you do?” It took four days for someone to ask me what is almost always the first question I hear when I meet someone in New York. When I pointed that out to Will, he remarked, “You’re just Jonah.”
And this goes to the heart of Bonnaroo. The people who go there may be from different parts of the country and even the world, but they’ve all come together for the love of music, and to simply have a good time. We can get so caught up in our ambitions that we forget to appreciate what we already have. My grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s, couldn’t remember my name, but never forgot one piece of advise, “Remember to always enjoy.” When my yoga teacher was asked if he has goals, he replied, “My goal is to be well.” Sometimes we’re so busy doing, that we forget to be.
At eight in the morning, I woke up sweaty and filthier than I had ever been in my entire life. I ate breakfast at a table covered in leftover food. I took down my tent and said goodbye to my new friends, telling them to look me up when they came to New York. Then I slung my backpack over my shoulders, and walked to the shuttle to the airport through the stifling Tennessee heat.