Ready to 'Roo: It's time for annual musical pilgrimage to Manchester

Ready to 'Roo: It's time for annual musical pilgrimage to Manchester

June 13th, 2013 by Barry Courter in Local Regional News

A group of travelers from across the United States share a shade tree in the Manchester, Tenn., Walmart parking lot in preparation for the gates to open at Bonnaroo. Bonnaroo is a four-day multistage camping music festival held on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tenn.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.


The festival takes place today through Sunday in Manchester, Tenn., on about 700 acres. It started in 2002 and has been named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the Top 50 moments in rock 'n' roll.

The name was taken from Dr. John's 1974 album "Destively Bonnaroo." It is a Cajun word that means "a really good time."

More than 100 acts will perform over the next four days. Most of the 80,000 attendees will camp on site.


Paul McCartney, Mumford & Sons, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Bjork, Wilco, Pretty Lights, R. Kelly, Wu-Tang Clan, comedian Daniel Tosh, The National, The Lumineers, David Byrne & St. Vincent, Passion Pit, The XX, Nas.


Some $269 tickets remained at press time Wednesday.

If you could simply hop in a van and be driven each day to and from the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival that begins today in Manchester, Tenn., would you go?

For some, the idea of fighting traffic, camping in a tent and/or spending the entire four days of the event on the farm is enough of a negative to outweigh their desire to see such musical artists as Paul McCartney, Mumford & Sons, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers or ZZ Top.

Organizers are constantly looking at new ways to improve the festival, according to Rick Farman, co-founder and promoter with Superfly Presents. One of those innovations is a new program that will allow residents of the Nashville area to be shuttled to the festival every day via van.

"It's just sort of coming out of some feedback that we got from people in the Nashville area saying, 'Well we are really curious about Bonnaroo but coming out for four days is a little bit more than we can commit to,'" Farman said in a telephone news conference this month.

"We very much feel a part of the entire Tennessee community and certainly Nashville and Chattanooga where we're closest to. We wanted to lower the barrier to allow people to come out and check it out."

Today is essentially load-in day with most of the expected 80,000 ticket buyers setting up their campsites beginning Wednesday night at 8 p.m. when gates opened. The music will begin at 3 p.m.

Emilio Craddock, 19, has altered his game plan for this year based on his first experience at Bonnaroo last year.

"I loved it," Craddock said. "First of all, it was the most fun I've ever had, and I remember being really impressed by it after hearing all these horror stories about the heat and the weather. It was perfect."

But he's going to do a couple of things differently.

"I'm taking more water this year," he said, "and I think last year I tried to do too much. This year, I'm going to pick out the ones I want to see and try to get up front and watch the whole show."

Farman said the new van program could be expanded, but that he does not foresee it altering the festival's "vibe" as a camping event, where attendees share a common bond by enduring the conditions brought on by the sometimes volatile weather in June in Tennessee.

"I don't think we're worried about it really changing the flavor of Bonnaroo," he said.

This new program comes on the heels of added focus over the years on newer programs such as day parking for people who stay overnight in nearby hotels, and improved RV and VIP options, Farman said. While the majority of people camp in tents or makeshift campsites, others choose the "high-end tour bus experience" or an RV. The festival itself offers tents for rent and this year is offering "a more luxury-style tent."

"Over the years we've really sought to diversify the ways that you can do Bonnaroo," he said.

"It's always been part of our plan to try and make Bonnaroo as attractive and accessible to a variety of different audiences and a variety of different economic levels."

Farman said he believes the festival "is going to be around for decades" and points to similar events in Europe such as Glastonbury and Roskildes as inspiration.

"They've been going on for 30, 40, 50 years and have really become iconic and part of the overall culture of the countries that they're situated in," he said.

Farman said that is part of the reason they looked at creating the new program. According to Jeff Cuellar, director of connectivity with AC Entertainment, another example of the festival reaching out to the community is that it works with several groups in Manchester that raise money for their organizations during the festival.

Everyone from cheerleading groups to marching bands set up booths on the grounds.

"For some of them, it has replaced things they used to do throughout the year," Cuellar said. "They make enough in four days to cover their expenses for the year."

Every year since the inaugural Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in 2002, organizers have made changes to everything from the site itself to wristbands the 80,000 attendees wear to gain access.

In 2007, co-producers Superfly and AC Entertainment purchased 500 acres of the nearly 700 that are used during the festival. The property is a working farm the rest of the year, but after the purchase, site improvements have included permanent roads, electricity and the digging of wells.

There are now 22 wells that provide free drinking water at 10 filling stations in both the general camping area and Centeroo, where the stages and most of the vending are located.

This past year, a permanent solar array was installed that will generate more than 61,000 kWh per year and provide about 20 percent of the festival's energy needs. Bonnaroo is the first major festival to install such an array.

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfree or at 423-757-6354.