MANCHESTER, Tenn. — If buzz of activity all around Great Stage Park in Manchester, Tennessee, on Wednesday is any indication of the size of the expected crowd for this weekend's Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, it should be a huge event.
Whereas in recent years members of the media who showed up for the annual Wednesday walk-through were able to get access to both the main What and second-largest Which stages, this year they were not because those areas were covered up in workers doing everything from adding lighting and sound equipment to erecting fencing.
"We are very close to selling out, so buy your ticket now if you haven't already," the event's Vice President of Strategic Planning Jeff Cuellar said. A sellout for Bonnaroo is 80,000 tickets, according to Ken Weinstein of Big Hassle Media, which handles publicity for the event.
Media members did however, get to see several of the additions to the nearly 700-acre site on a working farm, including the massive new LED-entry gate and the Where in the Woods area.
The former replaces the Bonnaroo Arch, which was decommissioned and burned several weeks ago after falling into disrepair. Cuellar said organizers knew after last year's festival that it would have to be replaced because of age and deterioration.
"Everything about it was bad," he said. "It was not safe, but we embrace change and saw it as an opportunity."
The new gate is a massive video screen that fans will see from both sides. Cuellar said he understands that some people are resistant to change, but the sign is especially interesting at night, and he looks forward to hearing and reading reports from fans when the festival is over.
Another big change is that the Roll Like a Rock Star program has been replaced by the Where in the Woods area. The former allowed a limited number of fans to pay several thousand dollars to spend the weekend on a tour bus similar to what bands travel in.
The new area has a brand new stage, picnic tables, food vendors and shade.
"It's available to anyone," Cuellar said.
The Rock Star program was profitable but it wasn't worth the effort, Cuellar said.
Headliners for this year's festival are Phish, Brandi Carlile, The Avett Brothers and almost 90 other acts. The festival, which began in 2002, is one of the largest such events in the nation.
Attendance has been down the last four years, drawing as few as almost 46,000 fans, according to several sources. Bonnaroo does not release actual attendance numbers.
Admission wristbands cost around $350, though packages can vary.