If you have a pulse and a social media account, you already know that music festivals are widely gaining more and more popularity around the country.
Coachella is the first name mentioned – That girl you know from college will see that Beyonce is headlining and heard that Radiohead is good so she’ll tweet a picture of the lineup captioned, “OMG dying. Going to Coachella this year” (spoiler alert: she doesn’t end up going). For most, Coachella isn’t feasible logistically unless you have a few G’s to blow.
On the east coast, we’ve seen the emergence of many new festivals in an already oversaturated festival market. Governor’s Ball seems chill and usually puts out a solid lineup. While the brand new Goldenvoice New York City product, Panorama, has put together some smaller outstanding lineups over the past two years, they don’t really tap into the “Mumford & Sons was the best concert I’ve ever been to” crowd. Firefly does an excellent job at that – like a PG-13 rated Bonnaroo. Or an edited rap album. Similarly to Panorama, Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago seems to put out smaller, yet potent festival lineups yearly.
So, unless you have the money to go overseas to Primavera or Glastonbury and you’re not a raving EDM head (Ultra-obsessors), the two titans of the musical festival world in the middle of the country are Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo.
I’ve been to both of these festivals more than once (Bonnaroo 5 times this summer), so I’ll break down the pros and cons of each festival, systematically comparing the two to make your choice easier.
Bonnaroo vs. Lollapalooza
Location: Manchester, Tennessee or Chicago? It Aint Hard To Tell, the urban sprawl of Chicago is a much better travel destination than a rural town in Tennessee. Advantage Lollapalooza.
Venue: Imagine you cracked an egg in a skillet – the center yolk is the actual festival grounds at Bonnaroo, while the outer egg white is the camping ground. You can go back to camp to eat, change, and chug some beers and head back into the festival whenever your little heart pleases. At Lolla, you can’t really shimmy back and forth between your hotel and Grant Park often. Now, while Grant Park is a sight to behold on its own with the Chicago skyline in the background, it has nothing on the farm. In addition to the music, Bonnaroo features a comedy tent, a cinema, a silent disco, and a Christmas themed club right in the middle of the festival. Advantage Bonnaroo.
People: During my experiences at Lollapalooza, the majority of the crowd seemed to be comprised of teenage suburban kids who cared more about planning the perfect outfit and taking pictures with the Chicago skyline in the background for the perfect Instagram picture than enjoying the festival for the music. In contrast, most of the people you meet will share a smile, a high five, or a short conversation that ends up drifting into a deep life talk that ends with you exchanging phone numbers and social media accounts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met a random stranger and thought, “man, I really fucking like that guy”. Advantage Bonnaroo.
Food & Drinks: Bonnaroo. Lolla has your standard festival fare with the inclusion of some mass-produced deep dish slices at the food stands, but Bonnaroo has a food truck oasis with dozens of gourmet options (hello, Thurman Murman), an entire craft beer tent featuring over twenty breweries, if that’s your jam. Plus, Bonnaroo’s Spicy Pies are a delicacy that beat your average deep dish slice. While the city of Chicago obviously has innumerable tasty eateries in the city, you’ll spend most of your time inside the festival grounds, and Bonnaroo kicks Lolla’s ass. Advantage Bonnaroo.
Weather: At around nine o’clock on Saturday night last year at Bonnaroo, I felt myself swaying and losing my balance, on the verge of passing out due to the dehydration of drinking all day in 100 degree heat. The Tennessee sun in June can be damn near unbearable at times, while the weather at Lolla has been nothing short of perfect just about every time I’ve gone. Advantage Lollapalooza.
Security: Bonnaroo. The first time I went to Lollapalooza at 20 years-old, I had my fake ID confiscated from a try-hard security bro who was there to make sure that I couldn’t enjoy a cold one while watching some bands play. At Bonnaroo, you could write “I promise I’m 21” and draw a smiley face on a blank piece of paper and they’ll give you a drinking wristband for the weekend. You can openly ask for drugs, smoke a blunt in the open, and no one will say a word to you. Advantage Bonnaroo.
The Late Night: Most music festivals progress with lesser-known artists throughout the day, bridging into bigger and more popular acts and ending with a headlining performance. Bonnaroo follows this arc, but after the headliner is when the real madness begins, as the air cools, the darkness sets in, the weirdos come out, and neon lights coat the atmosphere like a sea of lightning bugs. You can go from Tame Impala at one in the morning to Blood Orange until 3 am, and spend the rest of your night getting weird in the Christmas barn, only going back to your tent to sleep when the sun comes up again. At Lollapalooza, after the festival ends sharply at 10 pm, the lights turn on and the security kicks you out to go back to your hotels or to go bar hopping in Chicago. They have late-night artists play across various venues in the city, but who the hell wants to blow $60 on an extra show after already purchasing a $400 festival ticket. Advantage Bonnaroo.
The stories: If you go to Roo with some friends, “Dude, remember that one time at Bonnaroo when…” will be a staple of your conversations for years to come. The stories I have from Bonnaroo would make you question how the hell I’m in medical school, so we’ll say what happens at Bonnaroo, stays at Bonnaroo. The Bonnaroo atmosphere fosters adventure and spontaneity, while Lollapalooza is simply a festival that you go to and see some bands and leave. Advantage Bonnaroo.
The Vibes: You can’t meet someone who went to Bonnaroo without them mentioning the vibes, broo. While it may be a little played out and corny, at Bonnaroo you’ll meet friendly folk of all shapes and hues, see people running in a fountain tripping their balls off, and walk past topless girls with flowers painted on their boobs everywhere you go. At Lolla, people are mostly concerned with taking pictures and scoring some molly to frickin rage all damn day at Perry’s Stage to Tiesto. Advantage Bonnaroo.
Your Wellbeing: On the average Bonnaroo morning, you’ll wake up after sleeping minimally to a tent-turned convection oven that makes you sympathize with a thanksgiving turkey. You’ll have to chug waters throughout the day to stay hydrated in the Tennessee heat, and you’ll feel like your skin is hiding under a thick layer of sweat-coagulated dirt. In contrast, at Lolla, you can run back to your hotel to shower whenever and enjoy the comfort of a clean bed each night. So, if you’re the type that needs an long hot shower in the morning and another hour of perfecting your winged eyeliner and contouring your makeup, Lolla might be the move for you. And don’t get me started on the dreaded Bonna-flu. Advantage Lollapalooza
Price: Negating travel expenses depending on your location, both have similar prices for a weekend pass. Booze & food in the venue is also the same. Bonnaroo wins here because a camping pass is $60, whereas at Lollapalooza, you’ll have to purchase a hotel or AirBnb for four nights, which will inevitably be more expensive than the Roo camping pass. Advantage Bonnaroo.
VIP: Who cares?
Crowd Size: Many times at Bonnaroo, to get a decent spot for an artist you want to see, you have to go see three shows in advance so you can systematically move your way closer over the course of a few hours. At Lolla, you can simply stroll up to the stage thirty minutes before a show and only be a few rows back. Advantage Lollapalooza.
The lineup: A few years ago, Bonnaroo would win this category by a landslide, as it was churning out the best festival lineups in the entire country. Since the evil corporation known as LiveNation has taken over, Bonnaroo’s lineups simply aren’t as good as they used to be, while Lollapalooza consistently sports solid, yet unmaking collections of musicians. Lolla’s lineup isn’t out yet so I can’t say which is better. TIE.
In short it comes down to this – Bonnaroo is located on a farm in the middle of Tennessee, which isn’t glamorous, but does add to the escape factor of the festival. You put away your phones, tune out the rest of the world, and devote yourself to a weekend of unadulterated joy and debauchery. That said, the Bonnaroo experience is not for the faint of heart – you’ll be hot, you’ll be dirty, you’ll be sleep deprived. If you can withstand the elements, Bonnaroo is adventure, drawing the hardcore music fans and hippies alike, weeding out the majority of the “I heard going to festivals is cool now” group of people. While it is indeed a hassle, the camping experience at Bonnaroo is profoundly more fun than staying in a hotel.
In contrast, Lollapalooza is more relaxed and requires way less commitment and planning. If you like some artists on the lineup and want to have a good time in one of America’s greatest cities, you’ll have an awesome time at Lollapalooza. While you can enjoy Chicago for the eateries, the scenes, and the late night bars after a day at the festival, you can do that any weekend.
Lollapalooza is a great time, but I certainly have never heard anyone say, “damn that weekend at Lolla may have been the best weekend of my life”. After going to both, the “I’m here to take good Instagram pictures and rage to Marshmello” demographic and the 10 pm get-the-fuck-out attitude of Lollapalooza made me miss my beloved, dirty farm with all its weird, friendly people and nights that don’t end. If you’re a serious music fan who craves adventure, Bonnaroo is the move.