MANCHESTER – As the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival returns to Manchester for the 2012 event, the tight-knit town is already taking steps to warmly welcome the more than 100,000 visitors who take town's population ranking from 56th to 7th for a long weekend in June.
According to Jeff Cuellar, Bonnaroo's director of community relations, the event is welcome in Manchester, and the community not only takes the wave of fervent festival-goers in stride, but prepares for the eclectic needs of 'Rooers like seasoned pros.
"It's inspiring to watching this city roll out the red carpet for the influx of visitors," Cuellar said. "They ramp up their businesses and host special events and activities with true Southern hospitality. It's very clear that they consider us part of their community, and we're honored by that."
According to local business owners, Bonnaroo is well-received by Manchester. Residents embrace the annual sell-out festival and many get in the Bonnaroo spirit in a variety of creative ways.
Manchester’s popular Coffee Café is a year-round hot spot that attracts Bonnaroo attendees.
Co-owner Lisa Moreland expands her hours during the Bonnaroo season and adds vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menu options for Bonnaroo guests. The now-famous 'Roo Wrap – a tasty combo of grilled chicken, spinach, tomato, purple onion, mango chutney, honey mustard and provolone cheese wrapped in a spinach tortilla – is a festival favorite.
“We start seeing 'Roonies several days before the event starts and really appreciate the repeats who seek us out each year," Moreland explained. "We love having them in town!”
Many local businesses experience a similar Bonnaroo boon. While Wal-Mart has long been considered the unofficial Bonnaroo headquarters, where campers park and early arrivals stock up on necessities, the local Walgreens also stands ready to accommodate attendees' needs.
"We stock up on all sorts of items that 'Rooers have requested over the years," said Trey Gooch, manager of the Walgreens at the intersections of Highways 41 and 55, just a short distance from the festival grounds. "Snacks, ice, coolers, and cold drinks are pretty typically festival supplies, but we've learned that baby wipes and sling chairs will also be in high demand, and we're stocked up and ready to go. We also added some leather jewelry to our inventory this year and expect that to be very popular."
Gooch says while they always carry an ample supply of toilet paper and other essentials, prepping for Bonnaroo requires doubling, tripling and even quadrupling many of their normal orders to gear up for the crowds.
Tonya Proctor, store manager at Manchester’s Home Depot, concurred.
“We always sell out of generators and extension cords, and we sell a lot of 5-gallon buckets and tarps. The Bonnaroo staff that arrives early is great about supporting all the area merchants, and that's much appreciated,” she said.
Manchester residents do not just see Bonnaroo as a business bonus; they look forward to the visitors and find tangible ways to make them feel welcome and helpful ways to help them cope with the Tennessee heat.
"Several community churches set up tables along the roads that lead into the main gate and hand out free water as patrons wait to get inside," said Susie McEacharn, director of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. "People want to give back, to support Bonnaroo the way it has supported us. A lot of businesses put up 'Welcome Bonnarooers' signs – they love to meet the people coming from all over the country – it's like old home week around here."
This year, Ryan French, a Manchester alderman, launched Music Tree Fest.
The new event kicked off May 31 and extends through Wednesday, the day before Bonnaroo officially begins. More than 90 bands will perform nightly at six local venues: 41 South Bar & Grill, the Rotary Amphitheater, Two Purple Pigs Barbecue, The Family Music Center, The Brew coffee shop, Beans Creek Winery and Coffee Café.
French and his partners, local journalist Chip Ramsey and Joshua J. Moore, worked with the Tennessee Department of Tourism and the Manchester Area Chamber of Commerce to plan the event as a way to put Manchester on the map as a music destination beyond Bonnaroo.
"I've always said that we attract a lot of people here because of Bonnaroo; I want us to be a destination along with Bonnaroo," French said.
Since its launch a decade ago, Bonnaroo has consistently delivered the impact it promised Manchester from the beginning. "The first year, they told us to prepare, but we didn't listen," Chamber Director McEacharn said. "They made good on their promise, and the people have come, year after year. It's made a significant impact on our city. We have three new hotels and a Starbucks. That's huge for a city our size!"
McEacharn also pointed out that the city and the state created an exit just for Bonnaroo.
"Exit 112 is only used during the festival, and it was designed specifically to help the Highway Patrol keep the traffic on I-24 moving and in good shape," McEacharn said. "It's worked great – I wonder how many festivals can say they got their own exit!"
Bonnaroo patrons aren't the only ones who make a mark on Manchester.
Dozens of Bonnaroo staff people land in town up to eight weeks before the event to set up the site, coordinate logistical details and prepare.
"Tres Amigos, Gasthaus German restaurant, O'Charley's, Coconut Bay and Prater's BBQ are all hot spots for the crew," Cuellar said. "They know us, and we know them. We're invited over for home-cooked meals, and a bunch of us go fishing every year with one of our site neighbors."
“The stage crew, and set-up and production crews stay at the hotel across the street, and they are wonderful,” Moreland said. "I prepare private dinners at the Coffee Café, so they can get more than burgers and fries ... something a little more homemade like chicken marsala, salmon and chicken parmesan.”
Another notable collaboration is the longstanding partnership between local Top-40 radio station Fantasy 101 and the creators of Radio Bonnaroo. The station donates six of its programming days to keep Bonnaroo patrons informed and interested in a free-form radio format.
“Our goal is for the radio station to feel like another event stage,” said Radio Bonnaroo Director Sean O’Connell. “We keep attendees up to date about events and shows; keep them safe and informed about weather situations if they arise; and offer an expressive, innovative space for musicians and DJs to share music.”
Manchester is already experiencing the 2012 Bonnaroo arrival, and Cuellar is doing double duty.
"I normally spend about six weeks a year in Manchester. It's part of our commitment to staying in touch with the needs of this community and responding to them whenever we can," he said. "This time of year, I'm here almost full time. I get to see a lot of old friends and enjoy the community spirit Manchester shares with us."