A dozen years ago, a Knoxville music promotion company got together with a few New Orleans-based concert coordinators to scout a location for an outdoor music event. The place they settled on was a quiet, 700-acre farm in Coffee County, Tennessee. The group then got to work booking acts and selling tickets. Relying on nothing more than email blasts and word of mouth, the small band of entrepreneurs amazed themselves by selling all of their 70,000 tickets in just 11 days. With that, Bonnaroo was born.
The 12th installment of Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, winds up today. Who could've imagined what a massively positive impact the seemingly minor decision to locate the festival on the old McAllister Farm would have on our area's economy, workers, nonprofit community, music scene and cultural significance?
In Cajun slang, "Bonnaroo" means "a really good time." With a dozen stages, well over 100 musical acts, movie screenings, comedy performances, an arcade and a microbrew festival, the event never fails to live up to its name -- and the world knows it.
For four days every June, that old farm in Manchester becomes the sixth-largest city in Tennessee, drawing more than 80,000 patrons from every state and more than three dozen countries to our region. Manchester morphs from a sleepy town of about 10,200 into a global music mecca.
As a result of the festival's popularity, Bonnaroo has become the highest-earning music festival ever, pulling a profit of nearly $15 million annually, by some estimates. But Bonnaroo's backers aren't the only ones benefiting from the economic windfall created by the festival.
Analysts say Bonnaroo generates a $51.1 million financial boost for Coffee County and the surrounding region. Coffee County officials told the Times Free Press that county businesses rake in about $36 million from purchases of gas, food and lodging related to the festival. Consequently, the county government collects more than $600,000 in sales taxes.
Bonnaroo's $50-plus million infusion of money into our area is particularly meaningful to the more than 10,000 workers the festival directly or indirectly employs -- at least for a few days. One such beneficiary is Middle Tennessee artist Mary Deprez. Known as "Tye Dye Mary" for her handcrafted tie-dye art work, Deprez told the Nashville Scene that she earns a quarter of her annual income during the four-day festival.
Deprez is not alone. From food truck cooks turning out tacos and barbecue for festivalgoers, to sunscreen hawkers, jewelry makers and T-shirt vendors, there are thousands of stories of hard-working people who are able to make extra money for themselves and their families as a result of the vision of Bonnaroo's founders.
Not only does Bonnaroo bless our area with employment opportunities, the festival also is amazingly generous to local charities and community projects, as well. Bonnaroo leaders have given more than $1 million to organizations and construction efforts in Manchester and Coffee County, including the Coffee County Recreation Center, the Manchester skateboard park, the Manchester Performing Arts Center, Coffee County's Christmas programs, the Coffee County Sheriff's Department Christmas Charity Fund and the Manchester Police Department's Toys for Tots program. The festival also reached out to Nashville with money and other support when Music City was reeling from the disastrous 2010 floods.
Bonnaroo may mean "a really good time," but what the festival means to Coffee County and the rest of our region goes far beyond a just good time. The event provides jobs, tax dollars, charitable support and a great source of pride for our area.
Congratulations on another successful year, Bonnaroo -- and here's hoping for many more!