Riverbend 2015 online
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There weren't a lot of successful outdoor festivals in the United States in 2001 when Ashley Capps of AC Entertainment in Knoxville began talking with the folks at Superfly in New York about starting one on a piece of farmland in Manchester, Tenn., the following year.
Lollapalooza was around and big fundraising musical events like LiveAid and FarmAid had shown that people would pay to see multiple bands at a signal outdoor show, but would they camp out for four days?
Capps said a few years later that the big European festivals like Glastonbury, the huge 45-year-old English festival, were looked to for inspiration and some of how they did things like crowd control and staging. He also hoped that Bonnaroo would one day become a rite of passage for young people and a family reunion of sorts for more mature music lovers.
"I think we've definitely become a rite of passage," he said.
"The heart and soul of Bonnaroo is the camping experience. It's an immersive experience, and while some of what we do is inspired by what they do, we are not Glastonbury. We are Bonnaroo."
Among the more than 100,000 attendees in Manchester this weekend is Darren Gallop of Nova Scotia. His company, Marcato, a festival management software company, works with the CMA Fest in Nashville, Coachella in California, Osheaga in Montreal and Governor's Ball in New York.
A new group of young people come of age each year and they all want to have an experience like you can only get at a festival. Gallop said he came to Bonnaroo on his own to "see what it's all about, and to have a good time."
He could have stayed in a hotel nearby, but he wanted to camp like the majority of attendees to really get a feel for how things go.
"It's pretty amazing, so far," he said.
Just in the last few years, the number of American festivals has grown into the hundreds with events like Hangout in Gulf Shores, Ala., Forecastle in Louisville, Ky., Shaky Knees in Atlanta and Big Ears in Knoxville. None of those are as big as Bonnaroo, nor are they camping festivals. They are held in urban settings and are primarily evening events rather than the nearly round-the-clock extravaganza that is Bonnaroo.
Gallop said he believes the outdoor festival market is on the upswing and that the key to success is finding ways to appeal to a wide range of people. That is done both with the music lineup and the accommodations. At Bonnaroo, for example, attendees can rough it in the tent camping area or they can bring an RV and stay in the VIP area, and just about anything in between.
"Think about how young people buy music today," Gallop said. "They are into the next thing, which changes all the time, and there is a new group of them coming around all the time."
And older fans have found festivals a way to rediscover bands they loved, he said.
"The discovery that is happening where older people are rediscovering the experience, and the evolution of the VIP experiences, are big reasons why I feel the space is not in trouble. There is whole mass of people who haven't been in a while or they only it remember from years ago," he said.
Festivals like Bonnaroo are finding ways to reach and appeal to a variety of demographics.
"There are multiple different ways to experience Bonnaroo, and the same with Coachella," Gallop said.
Contact Barry Courter at bcourt email@example.com or 423-757-6354.