So I spent last weekend with about 80,000 of my closest friends at the Bonnaroo music festival down in Manchester, TN. I'm still (slowly) recapping it over at the Zen Arcade blog, but suffice it to say the music was awesome and the weather was miserable.
I was doing it solo this year for the second year in a row, and when you're on your own (and when you have an air-conditioned press tent to hang out in between bands) heading back to the campsite to cook something is more trouble than it's worth. So I kept my campsite as spartan as possible, packed a few provisions for breakfast and late-night noshing, and did the vast majority of my eating at the festival itself.
I'll offer up a few general observations here, and then a couple more posts on specific topics:
--Thanks to the adventurous (or, if you prefer, hippiefied) nature of the Bonnaroovians, the food available in Centeroo stretches far beyond the usual festival fare. Plenty of ethnic foods, plenty of vegetarian options. That said, there aren't many truly healthy options, and if you're smart you'll bring along a nice big bottle of fiber supplements.
--The last thing you want if you're dancing your ass off in sweltering heat is a full belly, so the best way to eat at Bonnaroo is to graze and snack throughout the day. Since the food is generally heavy and in largeish portions, this can be difficult if you're by yourself. Pairs and groups should share freely and frequently.
--If you're lucky enough to have access to the guest area, there is a "Messy Hall" with real caterers set up. It's not bad, but it's expensive if you're solo (since portions are big enough to split, easily) and too reliant on that enemy of all that is delicious, the wrap. (It's entirely possible to make something wonderful that's wrapped in a tortilla, but not if you call it a "wrap".) Thursday night I was famished and not up for much exploring, so I had a Cuban pork and black bean wrap that could have fed me twice for $9, if only I had a fridge to stash the other half in. Same goes for the fries--great when they're fresh, covered in herbs and parmesan, and not bad at $6 for a Chinese takeout container full if you want that many fries.
--New this year was a Farm-To-Table dinner at the Planet Roo Cafe, a sit-down, multi-course affair featuring products from the many farms surrounding Manchester. It required an advance reservation and cost $25, but I was still surprised that the turnout seemed light; I guess I underestimate the number of local food nerds at rock festivals. (They didn't seem to push it very hard. I think it was experimental this year.)
I thought it was a steal for four well-prepared courses, including a salad with some sort of fritter, a really nice trout dish with local vegetables, and strawberry shortcake with peak strawberries. The only slight misstep was the gazpacho, since early June is about as far as you can get from worthwhile tomatoes, but on a hot night like that one even the hothouse version felt great going down.
I hope they do this again next year; it was nice to eat a civilized meal in the middle of such a frenzy.
--You can't bring bottles into Bonnaroo (theoretically), but the saints at New Belgium have made it all OK by putting their delicious Fat Tire in cans. I knew I wouldn't be drinking much at the campsite (since I would barely be there) but I still bought a case of it, since they don't sell Fat Tire in Kentucky yet. (Could y'all hurry up with that?)
Up next: the awesomeness of the samosa.