More than 80,000 music fans will converge on Middle Tennessee roadways this week for the seventh annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester.
The festival may be held on a 700-acre farm 30 minutes southeast of Murfreesboro, but the impact of the modern-day Woodstock is still felt locally from the Roonies making stops for water and beer at the Old Fort Parkway Wal-Mart, heavier than usual traffic on Interstate 24 and no available rooms at area hotels.
Bonnaroo is more than just a music festival attracting such popular artists this year as Pearl Jam, Metallica, Jack Johnson, Kanye West and Widespread Panic. Small stages during the festival, running June 12-15, gives exposure to lesser known bands such as the bluegrass group The Everybodyfields from Johnson City and Nashville-based gospel rocker Mike Farris. Comics like Chris Rock and Louis C.K. also share some time on stage.
Additionally, the festival is a cultural event promoting environmentalism and activism.
Rolling Stone magazine even named Bonnaroo one of the 50 moments that changed the history of rock and roll.
Thousands drive hundreds of miles and then wait hours to gain entry into the campgrounds for the experience. Hundreds pitch tents on the grounds and commune together for the entire four-day festival.
Bonnaroo accomplishes the major feat of attracting music fans of all ages by serving up a diverse musical lineup from widely popular rock and hip-hop artists to lesser-known Americana, jazz and Latin artists.
Tim Fox, who lives in Manchester but works as the store manager of the Old Fort Parkway Wal-Mart, has attended every Bonnaroo more to people watch than to hear the live music.
“I just like to people watch,” he said. “I think it is so amazing to see so many people from different cultures.”
Fox, who volunteers each year to work at a lemonade and pretzel stand, said many who have never attended Bonnaroo have misconceptions about what the festival is all about.
Mostly the festival is a very hospitable place where festivalgoers look after and treat each other like old friends.
“I go every year, and I have never seen a fight,” he said.
Jennifer Danylo, of Murfreesboro, said she has no qualms about camping alone at Bonnaroo this year.
“There is a good chance I will be camping by myself, but I have no worries whatsoever about being there by myself,” she said.
Danylo, who will attend her fifth Bonnaroo this year, said festivalgoers create an instant community, which is what keeps her going year after year.
And as a music fan, Bonnaroo is a good deal for the amount of bands attendees get to see. Regular tickets are as much as $244.50 plus taxes and fees.
Danylo is anticipating seeing Pearl Jam, Metallica, Widespread Panic and Alison Krauss and Robert Plant.
“Metallica is a band that I have always wanted to see, but I wouldn’t go see them in an arena,” she said.
“The opportunity to see Robert Plant (lead singer of Led Zeppelin now touring with Krauss) this summer is going to be a good treat,” Danylo added.
Besides the music and the people, Fox said attendees should check out the wide variety of largely organic and vegetarian food for sale.
“The food is amazing,” he said.
Bonnaroo is an economic boon for much of Middle Tennessee. The festival generates more than $22 million for the local economy, according to a 2005 study conducted by the MTSU Business and Economic Research Center.
The average festivalgoer is said to spend $74.33, stated the study.
Rutherford County, perhaps second only to Coffee County where Bonnaroo is held, sees much of the financial rewards with motorists stopping for gas and supplies at area convenience and discount stores. Many festival organizers, artists, vendors and other out-of-town attendees stay at Murfreesboro hotels.
Fox said the Old Fort Parkway Wal-Mart will be bombarded with customers making their pilgrimage to Bonnaroo beginning early this week.
The store has stocked up on hot sellers, including water, imported beer and coolers.
“It is definitely a demand generator for our community,” said Pam Little, director of sales for Murfreesboro’s Doubletree Hotel.
Most Bonnaroo attendees booked at Doubletree are set to arrive on Tuesday, June 10.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau of the Rutherford Chamber of Commerce estimates Bonnaroo attendees take up 900 room nights, generating more than $78,000 in revenue.
Bypassing the traffic
Traffic on I-24 just prior and following Bonnaroo also has vastly improved since the first few festivals, said local attendees.
“It is not bad at all,” Fox, who takes I-24 to work, said, adding the heaviest traffic will be Wednesday night.
Jennifer Flynn, regional community relations officer for the Tennessee Department of Transportation, said TDOT, the Tennessee High Patrol and Manchester and Coffee County law enforcement have traffic controls in place to get festivalgoers off of the major roadways as soon as possible and to prevent traffic standstills.
Most construction projects and temporary lane closures on I-24 will be stopped throughout the festival, according to TDOT.
In recent years, Flynn said through traffic around Manchester has slowed on I-24 but hasn’t stopped. Festival traffic will be kept in the right lane and on the shoulder of the interstate.
TDOT will provide variable message signs to warn drivers of possible delays.
Bonnaroo traffic is funneled off I-24 at exit 111 but five other alternate exists are available if congestion occurs on the interstate, according to TDOT.
But Flynn still has some advice for locals.
“My advice is avoid the area on Thursday because traffic is heaviest on that day,” Flynn said.
All festival gates open at 6 a.m. Thursday.
Erin Edgemon can be reached at 869-0812 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the Web: www.bonnaroo.com