Bringin’ It to Bonnaroo: Let the Music Begin

I thought the Hug Deli sounded kinda dumb actually. When we were talking about it on conference calls during the planning stages of this trip, I thought it sounded lame. But it was going to be just one aspect of our camp, and I was heroically willing to look beyond the obvious unhipness of the so-called “hug deli” in order to appease the unworldly idealists who favored the half-baked concept. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Loki and Austin settin\' up
Loki and Austin settin’ up

The Bring It! crew woke up at Bonnaroo this morning and assembled for the 7:15 meeting to find that Danielle, Blue, Rebecca, DTR, Bash, D.A., Weld Boy, Austin, and Loki had worked on set-up until 2 or 3 am. Camp was looking great! We only had about four hours until the gates opened to the general public, so it was all hands on deck to make sure everything else got done.

First four people in the gate
First four people in the gate

Bring on the 90,000 people! Here are the first four through the gate:

Bash adds a third hoop

We staffed the Tiki Hut, Hugaroo Deli, Pledge Tent, Plastic Bottle Station, Putt-Putt Playa, and Hula-Hoop Station, and starting interfacing with attendees immediately. People want to know who we are and what we’re doing here, and their reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.

Marian and I were talking to five young shirtless guys from Tennessee and Georgia at the plastic bottle station about community involvement and taking action as alternatives to sitting around or watching television, and they were totally fired up. “F**k T.V.! Yeah, f**k video games!” Marian was like,”Yeah, that’s cool, but you guys need to get involved with something you care about.” They seemed to think about that concept for a moment, and then they were like,”F**k sitting around! Yeah, sitting around’s a waste of time!” They went on to sign the pledge, play a round of mini-golf, and order up a bunch of hugs.

They came from far and wide

We talked to people from all over the U.S. Everyone was so receptive and interested in our project, it made the afternoon fly by. People were constantly checking out the solar powered shade structure and reading the pledge. A lot of people have heard of Burning Man.

Austin said one girl hung out for hours. Evidently she just loved our camp. She said something pretty cool to Austin that sums up the reason we’re here: “You can only be an audience member for so long. You need a place like this to feel more involved.” Cool, huh?


DTR was rockin’ the Tiki Hut. It became the clubhouse for the Putt-Putt golf and for the whole camp really. He was checking people in, giving them clubs and balls, playing music, giving out stickers, and having people bang the Burmese gong. He did a great job.

Hippies hooping

The Hula-Hoop Station was going off. There was a sea of smiling hula-hoopers in front of our camp all day long. It’s funny because a LOT of people are like, “No, I can’t do it, I don’t know how.” Or “No thanks, I don’t feel like it.” But then they try it and they’re all about the hoop. Blue was out there for an eternity.

Hug Deli menu

So back to the Hug Deli. The Hug Deli is just a tent with a fun banner that says “Hugaroo Deli” and a colorful sandwich board with Main Dish hugs and Side Orders listed. Two tables and some chairs. A couple of burners in aprons. But to see it in action is a totally different story. Face it, the Hug Deli is gonna change your life.

Some people walk right up and ask what’s up. Some people hesitate just outside the tent until they’re invited in. Some people have to be dragged. But everyone wants a hug. I watched Carmen interact with people and she was genius. Carmen is super fun and wicked smart, and she drew people in while engaging them in the process of conversing and choosing a hug. Then she delivered a made-to-order embrace that knocked your socks off.

Group hug

Some of the more popular items were the Long Uncomfortable Hug, the Morning-After Hug, the Are We Hugging or Shaking Hands Hug, and the Group Hug. Bash’s Freestyle Hug was exceptional and so was his Gangsta Hug. During the course of the day we were coming up with custom-made hugs and adding them to the menu. We developed the Banana Hug when I brought one back from lunch (place in pocket and proceed to full-scale awkward) and then later in the day someone dressed as a banana actually came by and gave out hugs with us.

Megs, Austin, Carmen, Marnee

Another cool thing that happened at the Hug Deli was the unplanned recruitment of people to work there. People were so stoked they actually donned an apron and worked the booth. When Russ Bennett came by to see how we were doing, Playground brought him over for a hug, and one of the Bonnaroo attendees (now a full-fledged participant) gave him one and then wouldn’t let go because she had decided on a prototype You Want to Stop Now But I Don’t Hug. It was excellent.

Serra and a friend at the bacon obstacle

Something else we got all day long was people asking how much things cost. How much to hula-hoop, how much for a hug, how much to play mini-golf. They wanted to buy the hoops and pay for stickers. The reactions were always like, “Free? Huh?” It was a great segue way to talk about gifting and unconditional involvement. We asked people to perform a random act of kindness if they liked their hug, and they were totally receptive.

Around the Bring It! camp today we heard comments like, “THIS has never been here before,” and “This is such a great idea!” It was fun to see people’s reactions when they figured out what was going on and then to watch them get involved.

Weld Boy

I want to mention that the entire Bring It! group is really solid. I see the same thing every time I get to hang out with people who make Burning Man go. They care about their community and they’re dedicated. They play hard and work harder. There’s conflict of course, but it gets resolved and everyone pretty much kills it.

Tonight a bunch of us sat on the counter at the Tiki Hut as people came by and grabbed hula hoops. As people tried to walk by and ignore the urge to hoop, we employed a few strategies to bring them in, from the friendly invitation and sincere compliment to the playful tease and outright mocking. Whatever it took. We even started rolling hoops randomly into the crowd so people would grab them before they fell to the ground. Inevitably someone in their group would start to hula and the whole lot of them would follow suit.


The best moment of the night, however, came when Carmen, in her pigtails, red cowboy hat and cowboy boots, started mooping while she was hooping. Marian and I were in tears laughing so hard while Carmen tried to bend down and pick up trash on the grass then make her way over to a trash can.

OH! The music started tonight. Vampire Weekend played in This Tent right next to us, and I caught Grupo Fantasma over at That Tent. Tomorrow should be good with Les Claypool, the Racounters, Willie Nelson, M.I.A., My Morning Jacket, and Metallica headlining at 9:00 on the Bonnaroo Main Stage.

Note to Cobra Commander: Things were looking a bit janky around the RVs so Danielle was channeling you today as she put up signs that say: “TIGHT SHIP, PEOPLE. TIGHT SHIP.”


About the author: Marnee Benson

Marnee Benson

Marnee is Burning Man Project’s Associate Director of Government Affairs. Her work focuses on permitting and relationships with the Nevada Legislature, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Pershing County, and multiple other Nevada agencies. She helps Burning Man navigate Nevada politics and federal issues affecting the Burning Man event. Marnee’s first trip to Black Rock City was 2001, and in 2007 she worked with the Department of Public Works and the Communications team, writing and photographing content for the Burning Blog “Building Black Rock City”. From 2009 to 2013, she served as the Deputy Director at Black Rock Solar. She loves the way Burning Man expands her world and flips ideas upside down.

16 Comments on “Bringin’ It to Bonnaroo: Let the Music Begin

  • affinity says:

    Marnee: Thanks for taking time to blog, it is great to hear peoples reactions and involvement.

    FUSE a TV station is showing nightly clip of Bonnaro and we will be keeping our eyes peeled for y’all.

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  • Ali_Baba says:

    *Great* blog! How exciting and fun, and I can totally envision this scene!
    Neat to read the “Bring It!” blurb on the bonnaroo website, too. (under “activities”)
    My partner Francis and I went last year – this sounds like such a wonderful addition to that environment!

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  • Rebecca says:

    Thank you so much for BRINGING IT! to Bonnaroo. It was wonderful to run into you. I was roaming around alone on Thursday night and came across the hula hoopers and had so much fun revolving and dancing in the beautiful lights that your camp provided. The most fun I had was when I stumbled upon the Hugaroo deli and recieved a much need POLAR Bear Hug! woohoo! Everyone was so open and I ended up working the deli and dished out my own polar bear hugs to fellow rooers and had lots of fun with the ‘awkward morning after hug’- he he. An hour passed and I left with a huge smile on my face. I’m hoping to make it back to the burn sooner than later so I can shine on and spread the love.
    Thanks so much again. Hope to see you all soon!
    Rebecca : )

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  • Halcyon says:

    Whew! I’m glad I kept reading… I LOVE Mikey’s Hug Deli!!! It is such an awesome concept. ((HUG))!

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  • Mikey says:

    Hi Marnee,

    My name is Mikey. I am the creator/owner of Mikey’s Hug Deli which began life on the playa at Burning Man 2005. And as been there every year since as well as the LA Decomp, LIB festivals and Santa Monica Beach.

    I have no problem with the Hugaroo Deli. But if you do copy someone’s original interactive art project, at least give the original artist credit.

    Pics of Mikey’s Hug Deli can be found in the Burning Man gallery or at my Tribe account:

    Note the names of the hugs on the menu.

    Mikey’s Hug Deli will be at Burning Man 08.

    See you on the playa.


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  • Kay O. Sweaver says:

    I have to admit, when I saw the post title my first thought was “Bonnaroo? Sellouts.” but then I read it and understood what it was you were doing there. Awesome! Imagine showing up at a festival full of commerce stands and instead offering… wait for it… free participatory entertainment! Well shit. Sign me up! A great way to spread the ethos!

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  • The Admiralllll says:

    Now Metallica has conquered Bonnaroo, we can only hope Black Rock City will be next. Wouldn’t that be a change from the the all electonica beat on the playa.!

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  • Antitelephonica says:

    I am a native Memphian, Burner/B’rooer.
    I have been to each thrice.
    How might one become involved with this incestuous crossbreed in the belly of the capitalist beast?
    It sounds so juicy!
    (and I’m tired of being the only guy at b’roo in a kilt)

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  • Jeffz says:

    Weldboy hooping? woah!

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  • Freddy Hahne says:

    I am still laughing at the image of Carmen Mauk hoola-hooping while mooping.

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  • Lil'Jen says:

    Rawk on! It’s so refreshing to hear that more is bring done to educate the masses and it’s so simple really. There are so many large festivals throughout the world who can benefit from a little playful education about gifting, community building and LNT. I would love to help out with this :)

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  • Megs says:

    Hi all,
    I am Meghan, the Production Coordinator for Bring It! at Bonnaroo. I want to give credit where credit is due. My first night at LIB this year, I went to Mikey’s Hug Deli and received the warmest, most magnificent hugs from 3 adorable little kids. I was so in awe of the Hug Deli and how such a simple gesture, a hug, can change one’s mood and remind us that giving is the most fundamental element of our community. I visited the Hug Deli many times over the weekend and brought friends over whenever we passed by.

    It wasn’t until the end of the event when I met up with Amy Bunker, our New Hampshire RC and member of our Bonnaroo project. We both talked about the Hug Deli and how awesome it would be to have one at Bonnaroo as part of our gifting concept. We had about a week to brainstorm how we would BRING IT! (the Hug Deli, that is) to Tennessee. In our mad dash to get our act together, we neglected to contact Mikey and in this blog, we left out any mention of the inspiration the Hug Deli provided for this project. I apologize.

    Mikey, thank you for creating such a fun interactive art project that has the power to reach the masses. The Hugaroo Deli brought more people over to our Bring It! area than any of the other activities. =) Once they were “disarmed” by a hug, we were then able to direct them to the other areas of our camp.

    I for one would be honored to volunteer at the Hug Deli this year at BM!


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  • Mikey says:

    Hi Meghan,

    Thank you for the credit. It is greatly appreciated. And thank you for participating at the Hug Deli at LIB. Without people participating, the Deli is just an empty art structure. Without you, the magic will not happen.

    The young Hug Deli crew was composed of great kids and they did a amazing job. They were the talk of LIB.

    I would be honored to have you work behind the counter this year at BM. The Deli will be located at either on the 9:00 pathway between the Esplanade and the Man or between the Man and the Temple.

    We’ll see you there.

    Peace, hugs & tequila


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  • well, last time i posted i used a false email, not on purpose but in error. anyway, this email definitely works.

    i have so many thoughts about bringing bm to b’roo that i don’t know where to start, but, thankfully, since my last post i have been somewhere that has given me a more optimistic spin… rothbury.

    rothbury is a festival that cares. from the ground up. b’roo is over. at least 20,000 people will boycott the event permanently after the disrespect they showed this year and the attendance at rothbury will get the swell… rothbury was the music festival of the year. b’roo will be remembered as “chopped liver and onions”… a festival that thought it was something but was really just relying on the good will of the attendees. it took that good will for granted and in return it gave us police shakedowns and bad vibes.

    no biggie. the circus can roll down the highway. and we will. rothbury was beautiful and amazing and not filled with the arrogance of the b’roo production team. it was humble and magnificent.

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  • Wendy, Sister of MIKEY original CREATOR of the HUG DELI says:

    Hi All!

    First, let me send huge hugs to all of you! I love anything that inspires hugs and smiles….and yes, they are are very contagious! Admittedly, I am a voyeur from the outside of Burning Man, at the same time, I am a very close admirer of my own big brother, MIKEY STUBBS, who has worked very hard since , I believe, 2005, on his creation of HUG DELI.

    I have read the blogs, and noted that his credit was overlooked, however, I strongly feel he should still be mentioned in the above article. A busy mom of three and a freelance artist, it took me a long time to read through the article, anxiously waiting for my dear brother’s name to be mentioned, even a photo would have been cool! But it ain’t there, folks. I appreciate all the peace and love vibe, but a true artist should be given credit for a phenomenally fun and peaceful concept.

    As stated by Rebecca Whitnall, article “Venturans visit Burning Man Festival for reasons of their own” dated Sunday, August 31, 2008:

    “Not everything here is bigger than life. Sometimes it’s the small things that catch your attention — like the Hug Deli, sitting out in the middle of the playa. A burner stands at the ready to give hugs to passers-by and welcome them “home,” a term often ascribed to the playa by burners.”

    This is an amazing compliment to the beauty and free-spirit of the original Hug Deli. Let Hug Deli be an inspiration to CREATE A NEW PEACE FORUM for BM 2009. If you know the true spirit of Burning man, you would not need to copy another’s imagination… use your own imagination… it’s truly not that difficult if it’s in your blood!

    love you, Mikey!
    wendy woo (go ahead…bring it…)

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  • EsourceTN says:

    Great recap of this festival. It looks like a great time was had by all.

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