New gate may aid Bonnaroo travel chaos

New gate may aid Bonnaroo travel chaos

June 8th, 2011 by Barry Courter in News

The Bonnaroo Festival. AP photo by Michael Felberbaum

Officials with the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival hope that adding a second gate and opening both this evening will make Thursday's move-in day a little easier than in years past.

In order to accommodate the sold-out crowd of more than 80,000 people expected to attend the 10th Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn., gates will open at 6 p.m. CDT today, according to Coffee County Sheriff Steve Graves.

In the past, the gates officially opened around sunrise on opening day, which is basically move-in day for festival-goers who camp on the 700-acre grounds during the four-day event. Music begins Thursday at 5 p.m. CDT and continues almost around the clock until Sunday night.

The sheriff, who has overseen the county's law enforcement plan for the festival since the beginning, said the earlier opening time was initiated by Bonnaroo officials and he is not sure what effect it will have on traffic, but that it "basically doubles our manpower needs."

"I really don't know what it means this year because they are expecting a bigger crowd than in years past," he said. "If the people all come at once, there is not much we can do. We will deal with it."

Graves said he will have a total of 50 deputies working alternating 12-hour shifts beginning today at 6 a.m. CDT.

"It's like breaking up into another city for a week. A large city," he said.

Bonnaroo has made numerous changes over the years, including buying 580 acres of the festival site in 2007, adding roads, electricity and some permanent structures.

In 2002, the festival's first year, traffic along Interstate 24 was backed up for almost 20 miles on either side of the Manchester exit. Since that year, festival traffic has been moved to the shoulder and through traffic has moved relatively freely, according to Graves.

"We are constantly looking at ways to improve the experience for everyone," said co-producer Ashley Capps of AC Entertainment in Knoxville.

Since that first festival, Bonnaroo has become one of the premiere music festivals in the world. Rolling Stone magazine labeled it as one of their "50 moments that changed rock 'n' roll." The New York Times credits it with "revolutionizing the modern rock festival."

The word Bonnaroo is a Cajun word for "a really good time," and the festival has hosted some of the biggest names in music including Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Jay-Z, Radiohead and Tom Petty.

This year's headliners include Eminem, Arcade Fire, Widespread Panic and a reunited Buffalo Springfield, featuring original members Richie Furay, Stephen Stills and Neil Young. The group has regrouped after a 44-year break, and Bonnaroo is the only festival they will be doing. The band has been doing some smaller venues to get ready for Bonnaroo, which Furay said was chosen for a reason.

"I think [we chose it] because Bonnaroo is probably the most significant festival in the country," he said. "And I think it was just a great platform for us to be able to come out and be a part of."

Rick Farman is one of four college friends who formed Superfly Productions and co-founded the festival along with Capps. Farman said last week that the festival has exceeded all of his plans except one.

"I wanted after five years to feel like we were pretty good at it and after 10 years to be able to just show up," he said. "I didn't quite get there, but that's OK because it's actually a lot of fun to be in the mix day to day, dealing with how the whole thing comes together."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6354.