Bonnaroo can get a bad rap. It can be extremely hot, there’s a ton of people everywhere, the lineup has taken a turn away from what it used to be. Did we mention how hot it gets…by 9am in the morning?! The lineups of the previous verses the present decade have polarized the people who used to go to Bonnaroo and those that do now. Some will argue that the festival is unrecognizable – which it is to a degree but it has kept it’s personality and mission.
Here’s a full look how Bonnaroo has evolved in the last 5 years.
First and foremost, Roo is a music festival. The 2002 festival was headlined by Widespread Panic, Trey Anestasio, Ben Harper, String Cheese Incident, Phil Lesh & Friends. It really looked more like a current day Lockn’ lineup than Bonnaroo. The festival went through a jam phase for 10 years, with interchanging headliners in the scene and a dedicated fanbase along for the ride. After a couple of years of success, the festival began to incorporate legend acts – think Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, and more – and usually the Sunday night performance, to close out the fest. This was one of my personal favorite phases of Bonnaroo. Knowing that at the end of the weekend, everyone would join on the main field (with any bags of wine that were remaining) and belt out these oldies songs that we grew up listening to. Unfortunately for me and others who reveled in the dose of nostalgia, this phase may be something of the past. Maybe not…but probably. We’re in the phase where country, rock, and jam are taking a back seat to hip-hop/R&B, alternative/indie rock, and of course EDM. The lineup, in general, has obviously changed from the years. However, it remains almost an industry standard to be upheld with internationally touring & up-and-coming artists.
KALLIOPE – So, this is a thing you should be aware of. There’s a small side stage (well, it’s been moved to the middle of the field, between Which Stage & This Tent) that basically comes to life at night with surprise DJ sets until the sun comes up. Over the last couple years, Kalliope has really found its place in the festival. Fans have come to expect late nights turn into early mornings, ushered by once in a lifetime performances by the likes of Skrillex, Kaskade, and more!
Oh, also – Kalliope took the place of the Cinema/Comedy Tent…so that’s not a part of Bonnaroo anymore. Honestly, I don’t think the new generation of Bonnaroo goers even knew that was there before. Gone are the days of waiting in line at noon for Comedy show tickets.
OTHER STAGE – Remember how the Other Tent used to kind of suck? People used to say just adding a simple LED screen would help it immensely. Well, Bonnaroo did one better and threw away the tent & threw up LOTS of LED panels! It’s transformed into a full stage, which really helped open up the Centeroo’s layout.
It goes without saying that both of these major changes have a common thread: they’re both catering to the EDM artists and community…but is that such a bad thing?
It’s going to be hot – that hasn’t changed. However, the way Bonnaroovians adjust and deal with the heat has evolved. Every year, the festival has added more and more spots to dodge the heat in Centeroo and camping areas. A major factor of this has been the expansion of Pods into Plazas, in 2018. These areas have become a place “for the community to gather, enjoy art & activities, as well as access amenities, info, medical or other safety needs” – many coming equipped with air conditioning, charging stations, & wifi! Find the full list of Plazas (each with some additional amenities & activities): HERE
Over the years, the festival has aligned with bigger and bigger sponsors. It’s definitely a side effect of the festival becoming “more corporate” under the Live Nation reign. Huge names like Miller Lite, Lays, LG, Coleman, & more are present throughout the festival giving out samples, offering discounts, & of course signing up fans to email lists. Some activations are more creative than others but one big thing we noticed in 2018…there were so many free samples from food sponsors! There was even an official Bonnaroo email, dedicated to the schedule of free food at the fest. How can free food be a bad thing? The only negative side of this brand competition is that bigger brands will raise the price of sponsorships at the event, which could edge out smaller vendors from having any presence on site. Hopefully, Bonnaroo remains committed to reserving some space for the little guys!
As Bonnaroo grows, one thing stands out among the ever-evolving nation festival landscape, Bonnaroo remains dedicated to the people that make up it’s eclectic community. Every year, the festival sends out emails right after or hosts surveys on site asking fans about their experience and how it could improve. It’s basically Bonnaroo’s primary post-festival marketing strategy, year after year. Not only do they send out the survey but it seems like festival organizers dedicate some of the next year’s planning to what they find in the survey. That’s how many of the changes, already listed came to be! Some changes take longer to come to life than others but it really is remarkable that Bonnaroo continues the conversation with its fans throughout the year. The community of Bonnaroo may change a little year-to-year but Bonnaroo’s dedication to cultivating that community grows stronger and stronger. THAT is why Bonnaroo remains at the top of my list of festivals to attend, year after year. So, even if you’re not necessarily a big fan of the headliners, return to Bonnaroo for the community and to be part of the conversation.