When New Era Farms, the organization that owns the Bonnaroo property approached the city requesting annexation, the eventuality was a done deal. Bonnaroo is that important to the community.

As many have said, “It’s not if, it’s how. But as the saying also goes, the devil is in the details.

Reaching an agreement is and will be a daunting negotiation, yet with some give and take, a happy compromise, with a profitable arrangement for both sides is obtainable.  

On the one hand, there’s Bonnaroo. With the backing of Live Nation it has the resources to hire the best in the business. But the shrewdest negotiators can’t change the simple facts. Manchester needs Bonnaroo and Bonnaroo needs Manchester.

At the center of the discussion is better access to the site via proposed widening of New Bushy Branch Road. State grants will likely cover about half the $6.2 million price tag. Ticket revenues to the city should cover the city’s portion of the expense, though annexation laws and uncertainties about what exactly those ticket sales will look like and when the city will see them are clouding the discussion.

Bonnaroo has said that the property will be unviable for a large festival without a widened road due to the state closing temporary I-24 Exit 112’s direct access to the site.

While some have read this as an ultimatum from Bonnaroo, the organizers have also backed themselves into a corner with this bombshell.

Would Bonnaroo work somewhere else? Are they prepared to pick up and leave? In a presentation to the county, Bonnaroo community relations spokesman Jeff Cuellar talked about how competitive the festival market is. And that was before the pandemic shut the industry down for a year.

Bonnaroo has a multi-million dollar impact on the area that comes through strong attendance. To stay competitive in an experience orientated market (fancy talk for a generation that wants to do rather than buy stuff), the group has invested millions into the property.

New Era paid $8.7 million for the property from Sam McAllister in 2007. Additional investments include a $1.4 million match by Bonnaroo for an ARC water project grant, brick and mortar restrooms, not to mention the undisclosed but substantial investment Live Nation made in “partnering” with the festival.       

Bonnaroo needs the road, sure, but they are in many ways at the last option to get it.  Additionally, in the years that it will take to build it, alternatives will have to be developed.

While no one here can afford to be the one who killed the golden goose. A decade-old Bonnaroo sponsored study reported the total economic impact of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival exceeded $50 million, including $36 million in direct expenditures and $15 million in indirect and induced economic activity. Sales taxes to the county alone could range from $800,000- $1.2 million to the city.

Now is the time, the perfect time, to work out the deal, let’s just not lose our shirt in the process.      


John has been with the Manchester Times since May 2011. He covers Lifestyles in addition to handling education reporting and general news assignments.John has won Tennessee Press Association awards for Best News Photo and placed in numerous other categories. John is a 1994 graduate of Tullahoma High School, a graduate of Motlow State Community College and earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Middle Tennessee State University. He lives in Tullahoma, and enjoys the outdoors with his wife, Mitsy, and his 17-month-old, Sean.

Staff Writer

Download the free Manchester Times mobile app at the app store. John has won Tennessee Press Association awards for Best News Photo and placed in numerous other categories.

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