Michael Franti (center) from Spearhead performs May 19, 2012, during Hangout Fest in Gulf Shores, Ala. (TMP Photo/Brittney Cantrell)
Tens of thousands of music lovers flock to nearby Manchester every single summer for The Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.
While the four-day music festival garners national and international attendees, it is slowly losing popularity with the locals, as more fans opt to make a several-hour drive north, south, east or west to attend any of a number of nearby festivals instead.
Kris Lee of Murfreesboro spent many a summer at Bonnaroo before he decided it wasn’t worth the money – or the 100-plus degree heat.
“For budget reasons, Bonnaroo is one of the most expensive festivals,” he said, adding that he’d rather go to the Forecastle Festival in Louisville. “It is on the Riverfront during the end of the summer, so it’s pretty nice weather instead of being hot as hell all weekend like at the ‘Roo.”
The 26-year-old musician has attended his fair share of festivals – Bonnaroo, Forecastle Fest, Electric Forest (a music and arts festival with light show in a Rothbury, Mich. forest), Memphis in May, and most recently, The Hangout Music Fest, which was held in Gulf Shores, Ala., this past weekend.
By far, Hangout tops his list, and for obvious reasons. Located directly on white sandy beaches surrounded by palm trees, the festival “treats guests to a unique festival experience and consistently features a diverse selection of top touring artists” and was recently awarded “Best Festival of the Year” honors by leading concert industry outlet Pollstar.
Better yet, festival-goers can stay in condos and beach houses and literally walk to the festival every single day. An air-conditioned space with soft beds and showers trumps camping any day, say some MTSU students and graduates who also attended Hangout this year.
During a round-table discussion late one night at Hangout, the topic turned to Bonnaroo and its pros and cons.
Despite being so close in proximity to Murfreesboro, these music lovers said they’re passing on the festival this year. Most had been before, some multiple times, but all called it “a dust bowl” and, gesturing to the beach, said the eight-hour drive to Hangout was well worth it.
With headliners like The Red Hot Chili Peppers playing both festivals, the decision really boils down to comfort and cost.
“You’ve got a beach vacation and badass music all in one – what’s better than that besides a whole entire forest lit up with lights and art?” Lee asked, referring to Electric Forrest.
That said, Lee added, “I still dig Bonnaroo’s atmosphere, and every year there’s at least three acts that I’d love to see, (but) I think it’s becoming way more mainstream with major rappers and pop music out there. As far as a festival goes, though, it’s everything I want for a good experience of interacting with new people.”
In an effort to appeal to more attendees, The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival has scheduled artists with more radio play in years past. Music festivals were long known as a way to discover new, up-and-coming artists, but without popular headliners, tickets won’t be sold.
Bonnaroo drew some 80,000 people last year and injected tens of millions of dollars into the local economy. Now in its 11th year, the festival isn’t going anywhere, but it might prove more relaxing and enjoyable if scheduled for September or October instead of mid-June.
“I think it would potentially be the best festival all year if it was in the fall because that’s the main factor for at least 85 percent of the people – being too hot,” Lee said.
During that roundtable discussion, Hangout Festival-goers called Bonnaroo a marathon of sorts – if you can survive it, you can probably survive anything – with four days of camping in a field, no running water and the heat of summer beating down with no trees for shade.
In the meantime, they’ll be heading to Wakarusa in Arkansas, Voodoo Fest in New Orleans and Forecastle Fest in Louisville to fill their ears with great music and enjoyable experiences for the next six months