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You might think that putting on a virtual festival is somehow easier than bringing 80,000 people to a farm in Manchester, Tennessee, but Jeff Cuellar, vice president of strategic partnerships with AC Entertainment laughingly said, "I think I'd rather do seven actual events than another virtual event."

The Bonnaroo Virtual ROO-ALITY is set to take place online beginning Thursday and running through Saturday night with a series of classic shows from past festivals, as well as newly recorded interviews, mini shows and special events put together just for the event. Everything will be streamed on the ROO-ALITY YouTube site each day beginning at 4:30 p.m. CDT.

Cuellar was talking on The What Podcast, and said that the same staff that put together the live event put together the virtual one, so while many of the jobs like booking talent and scheduling were similar, nearly everything else was new.

"I'd say that probably if I was a seasoned veteran at putting on a virtual event like I am a live one, it would be different, but this was new. And, things are changing so fast. There are new platforms that have come up. It's almost mind-numbing deciding which one to use. Do you charge or not charge [to watch]."

He added that many people are still not traveling and that added a dimension, as well.

However, he believes the virtual options offer a lot of exciting opportunities that will likely be incorporated into future festivals like Bonnaroo and Moon River in Chattanooga, which AC also helps produce.

"I don't think virtual will be gone because I think it can enhance the experience, especially for people who can't be on the grounds for whatever reason."

AC Entertainment in Knoxville co-founded Bonnaroo along with Superfly in 2002. Live Nation now owns AC and the festival, but AC is still very much involved in producing it.

ROO-ALITY took months to put together and the team began working on it as soon as it became clear that a live event was not happening in September.

As soon as it is over, the team will begin working on a return to The Farm, as Great Stage Park in Manchester is affectionately called, he said. He said the approach will be as if it will be a live event, but that many things have to happen before such a festival can take place.

"Fan safety is No. 1. It has to be. But it is not one thing. We need to have a better understanding of how this thing [virus] can be controlled. How receptive will people be? For example, if wearing a mask is required on The Farm, will people wear them? Some of it has to do with science and some of it has to do with lawmakers. There are so many things."

He does believe that while September this year offered an option, he believes Bonnaroo should, and will, be held in June when it returns. Whether it will be in June of 2021 is "to be determined," he said.

"It's summer. Can I say that the conversation hasn't happened regarding moving it to September? I'd be lying if I said it didn't, but it's not Bonnaroo. In our world, it's about summer escape and Bonnaroovians revere Bonnaroo as 'It is my summer escape.'"

Loolapalooza co-founder Marc Geiger has said in a past interview that concerts and festivals might not return until 2022. Until then, Cuellar says a virtual event like this weekend's is an option.

Highlighting the list of classic shows from the past that will be shown this weekend will be the 2014 Jack White show, which will air at 8:10 Thursday night and the 2009 Beastie Boys concert, which will be shown Thursday night at 10:30. Friday night's classic shows will include Metallica's 2008 set at 8:20 p.m., The XX's 2017 show at 7 p.m. and Dave Matthews and Friends from 2004 being shown at 10:30 p.m.

Saturday's lineup of past favorites will kick off with Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit's 2016 show and include James Brown's 2003 performance at 7:45 p.m., the White Stripes' 2007 show at 9:15 and My Morning Jackets's 2011 show at 11 p.m.

Cuellar said organizers chose several of the archival shows, such as the Brown show, because they took place before things like camera phones and YouTube made nearly every show available to fans. He added that Dave Matthews Band members have called their show at Bonnaroo one of their all-time favorites, and the Beastie Boys' performance was their last show before the death of Adam "MCA" Yauch.

"I'm so excited for people to see it," Cuellar said.

New performances will include mini shows by such acts as Lennon Stella (5:55 p.m.) and St. Paul & the Broken Bones (7:15) on Thursday. Friday's lineup includes Moon Taxi from the The Farm (Great Stage Park, where the event normally takes place), Trampled By Turtles (7:35), Pigeons Playing Ping Pong (9:35) and Nathaniel Rateliff (10 p.m,). His newly recorded show will actually precede a replay of his 2016 show with his band the Night Sweats at 10:10.

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Paul Janeway of St. Paul & The Broken Bones performs Friday, June 13, 2014 at Bonnaroo on The Other Stage.
 

Saturday's lineup of new material includes Old Crow Medicine Show's Bonnarootenanny featuring specials guests Billy Strings, Dom Flemons & Molly Tuttle at 7 p.m., Turkauz with Jerry Harrison & Adrian Belew performing the Talking Heads' classic album "Remain in Light" at 10:35 and Big Gigantic closing out the weekend beginning at 1:05 a.m. Sunday morning.

Some of these will be as short as five minutes or as long as 30.

There will also be virtual campfire stories from artists, fans and others sharing stories from past festivals and Big Freedia will be cooking up Booty Poppin' Potatoes on Friday at 8:20 p.m. Other experiences will include a Dog Dance Party and Cheers to Live, a fundraiser featuring bartenders mixing up their best drinks.

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

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