The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festivalis an annual four-day music festival created and produced by Superfly Productions and AC Entertainment, held at Great Stage Park on a 700-acre (2.8 km²) farm in Manchester, Tennessee. It hosted its tenth annual event June 9–12, 2011. The main attractions of the festival are the multiple stages of live music, featuring a diverse array of musical styles including indie rock, world music, hip hop, jazz, americana, bluegrass, country music, folk, gospel, reggae, electronica, and other alternative music. The festival began with a primary focus on jam bands, but has diversified greatly in recent years. Past notable acts include Neil Young, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z, The Strokes, Dave Matthews Band, The Dead, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Arcade Fire, Jack Johnson, Kanye West, Phish, Primus, Tool, The Flaming Lips, Widespread Panic, Nine Inch Nails, The White Stripes, My Morning Jacket, Buffalo Springfield, and Eminem. The festival features
craftsmen and artisans selling unique products, food and drink vendors, a comedy tent, silent disco, cinema tent, and ferris wheel. The festival was named one of the 50 moments that changed the history of rock and roll. Sponsors of the festival are required to provide free activities for attendees. Visit Bonnaroo website for more information.
The following is a story published by the Manchester Times June 8, 2011 – prior to the 10-year anniversary of the festival.
By Josh Peterson, editor
It’s in the middle of nowhere. But it is beautiful. It’s lawless, but it isn’t. It’s eclectic, amazing, well run and hands-down, it’s the best music festival in America.
Ask Rolling Stone music critic Austin Scaggs what he thinks of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, and that’s what you’ll hear. Well, that’s the short version, anyway.
Scaggs, an eight-time ‘Roo’er himself – soon to be nine-time ‘Roo veteran when this weekend is over – has been to late-night sets Kanye West and LCD Soundsystem, wandered the campgrounds inebriated on more than music and taken the time to ride the Ferris wheel. He has had the full experience.
“You feel like you are a million miles from the cities,” said Scaggs, explaining why the festival his magazine has called “The Best” has been able to bring 80,000-plus people to Manchester, Tenn. for 10 years.
“You feel like you are in your own world,” he said. “It’s the middle of nowhere. The remote location helps get people into that atmosphere.”
Scaggs has worked for Rolling Stone for 12 years, most of which it seems has been spent covering Bonnaroo. His views on the festival are mostly in the positive.
He has managed to find more to enjoy about the festival than most.
He likes watching bands climb the musical ladder from nobody stages to headliner status; he wanders the campgrounds, somehow took positive from the Kanye West debacle of 2008, praises the festival for its diversity and says the guests are as good as it gets.
Perhaps a sin to hardcore Bonnaroo faithful of the first year or two, Scaggs admitted he isn’t a jam-band type. And despite the moans from a few original bonnarites, the decision of festival organizers to take a turn towards more diversity only made economical sense, Scaggs said.
“[Promoting a diverse lineup has] been a good economic decision for [Bonnaroo],” Scaggs explained. “People listen to different kinds of music, yanno’. It’s not like you listen to one kind unless you are just totally submerged into the jam-band scene.”
That diversity, which spreads out amongst two super-size stages, three major tents and a handful of other lounges and unique corners of the festival from daybreak until daybreak, feeds everybody a little bit of something they like, and probably exposes them to something they didn’t know. And it lasts all night, every night.
“There is no curfew, which also sets Bonnaroo apart from all the other major festivals in the United States,” explained Scaggs. “You have music going on pretty much 24 hours a day. You get some situations like with Kanye West where he is playing at four in the morning. One of my favorite nights last year was Kings of Leon playing the main stage then The Black Keys after them in a tent then LCD Soundsystem in another tent at 2 a.m. … No other major festivals in America are like that.
“There are 150 to 200 acts there every year. There is plenty for everyone.”
Plenty of acts if you can handle the heat. Or the rain and the imminent mud bowl that is soon to follow.
“The only bad thing is the heat,” said Scaggs, emphasizing last year may have caused a few more sunburns on festival-goers than years past. “Last year in particular was overwhelmingly hot for most of the weekend.
“It’s unpredictable. It will rain at some point. And it will get muddy. And that can either bum you out or you can embrace it.”
However the weather plays out, whether dust prevails, heat scorches or rain leaves the distinct smell of farm mud overtaking the usually overwhelming mix of “herb and body odor,” as Dave Matthews put it last year, the majority in attendance go home happy.
“The best publicity is word of mouth,” stated Scaggs. “There are some intangible feelings you get when you are down there. It feels like a lawless place, even though it’s obviously not. People are cool. There is no overbearing security. All of that helps create a vibe of trust among people there.
“They don’t do a lot of promotion because they don’t have to do a lot of promotion when you have nine years of that positive energy.”
Once again, Scaggs is drawing from experience when it comes to positive vibes and word-of-mouth promotion.
“I went the first year. Since the beginning, I’ve been telling everybody about it. I’ve been responsible for dragging a lot of Rolling Stone people down there and when you write in there and say it’s one of the 50 top moments that changed rock and roll and hands down the best in America, people pay attention.”
Perhaps what separates Bonnaroo from other festivals as much as the 24-hour entertainment form arts shows to movie tents to music, is the artist involvement with the festival.
Surely, at some point, you’ve seen Michael Franti, wandering the festival grounds. Probably barefoot, as his stage presence suggests.
Kings of Leon, a 2010 festival headliner, has been known to stay for the entire weekend.
“At Bonnaroo, you get musicians who actually enjoy hanging out there … stay for the weekend,” explained Scaggs. “Guys with Kings of Leon drive down from Nashville and spend the whole weekend there. That doesn’t happen in a lot of places. With that kind of vibe you get a lot of bands playing with each other, some jam sessions. That Superjam (which is returning in 2011), that’s always pretty amazing and really a once in a lifetime treat.
“Bonnaroo is a rare opportunity for artists to go hang out and check out the bands.”
Not to say that Bonnaroo is turning into a rap-oriented festival, because that couldn’t be further from the truth considering the return of festival-favorite Widespread Panic, Neil Young’s Buffalo Springfield, indie rock group Arcade Fire and the many other various genres that will fill the air with sounds this weekend. But the inclusion of rap superstars Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, Kanye West and now Eminem and Lil Wayne has certainly pushed the limits of diversity that festival organizers have been trumpeting for years.
“Once they crossed into the hip hop area – Jay-Z, Eminem – the flood gates are open,” stated Scaggs. “They have turned this festival into the most eclectic festival that I know of.
“Bonnaroo can do anything. They can bring in anybody.”