Festival Food: Finding The Perfect Music Festival Culinary Experience

We’re a few notches down the belt coming out of the 2015 Summer music festival season, having given a dedicated effort to finding the best eating experience a modern festival can offer. Before the internet age, culinary options at a music festival used to be limited to afterthought survival necessities; you were there for the music, and food – the limited offerings that existed – generally served as merely sustenance in a grimy, dust-covered music marathon. But now, generation Yelp has created a wild competition to curate the finest eating experiences possible.

While fests such as Coachella and Lollapalooza offer meager extensions of the standard fried carnival fare, San Francisco’s beloved Outside Lands festival routinely stomps out the competition by utilizing the Bay Area’s extensive epicurean varieties to satiate festivalgoers’ voracious appetites & skeptical palates, and alcohol offerings via Wine Lands and Beer Lands, featuring a diversified selection of local vineyards and breweries  For its Taste Of The Bay Area, more than 50 local hotspots were featured including Homeroom, Rosamunde, Andalu and food-truck qualifiers like Senor Sisig, and the inimitably awesome Kung Fu Tacos. If you want the best spicy chicken parmesan sandwich you’ve ever tasted, lathered in provolone and marinara, Outside Lands has your fix. Donut cheeseburgers? No problem.

For all its delicious variety, however, Outside Lands is eclipsed in the era of sustainability and accountable awareness by three nights of exquisite locally-sourced long-table community dinners at the Best Festival in America, Bonnaroo. While ‘Roo has expanded in its 14th year to include two dozen craft breweries and a world of food-vendor varieties at its 700 acre sprawl an hour from Nashville, its finest culinary efforts are setting a new pace of edible activism through a partnership with Oxfam called BonnaROOTS.

In a special partnership with Bonnaroo in Oxfam’s 8th year at the festival, Oxfam co-hosted a series of community dinners in partnership with ally Eat for Equity. These BonnaROOTS dinners are entirely locally sourced, and attended by supporters, chefs, musicians, and fans representing the dynamic intersection between music, food, and activism.

Roo Table - 8 copyA locally-grown dinner sounds as if your chances are strong for corn on the cob, potato salad and a generic beef dish of some kind. But the BonnaROOTS dinner was no small endeavor, running through four courses of increasingly delectable goodness, beginning with a cheese & nuts plate with brie, pimento, strawberry jam and pickled vegetables as well as a salad arranged from the produce at a family-owned fruit and vegetable farm in Anderson County (a couple hours east of the farm). 

Under a canopy of interwoven tree branches in the center of festivities, we moved on to pulled pork from a smokehouse in nearby Madisonville, with memory-lane salivation as I recall the Anson Mills Sea Island Red Peas, parmesan grits and tomato gravy that lined the dish. Finally – and this is in the center of a sweltering, noise-blasting music-marathon festival in the middle of nowhere, mind you – we enjoyed a final “best course” offering of lemon buttermilk panna cotta with fresh berries. Cruze Farm girls hand-churn buttermilk from pasture-raised Jersey cows. Each berry was an explosive flavor compound, the taste a near-hallucinatory delight.

The conversation proved as flavorful as the food. Flanked by Oxfam’s ever-ebullient manager of creative alliances Bob Ferguson on one side and a deeply enthused local farmer on the other, we sat directly across from Russ Bennett, the Head of Visual Design for Bonnaroo. A white-haired sage of the Bonnaroo farm, Russ dreams up otherworldly designs for large-scale gatherings like ‘Roo and Outside Lands, and is a designer, builder, sculptor, social activist and artist/musician in his own right. His enthusiasm for the festival’s continually expanding efforts to develop ecologically conscious habits on a large scale is infectious – which is precisely why Oxfam is such a perfect fit for the magic of Bonnaroo.


For the unaware, Oxfam America is global organization that works in more than 90 countries to address the root causes of poverty, hunger, and injustice. In addition to responding when disaster strikes, Oxfam invests in programs to help people assert their rights, and campaigns to change the laws and practices that keep people trapped in poverty. To this end, Oxfam America has engaged the music industry for 13 years. Over the years, partnerships with musicians, labels, and managers have helped grow Oxfam’s base of supporters and make real and positives change on a global scale.

Musician ambassadors include: Radiohead, Wilco, Ra Ra Riot, Fitz and the Tantrums, Neko Case, Spoon, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, The New Pornographers, Angelique Kidjo, Flogging Molly, Sylvan Esso, OK Go, and more. Learn more about Oxfam’s efforts.