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Published: 2012/06/07

From The Bonnaroo Beacon : Taking It To Eleven

Trey in 2002- photo by Dave Vann

It’s been quite a ride.

The paper you hold in front of you right now is the 41st issue of the Bonnaroo Beacon. We began publication on June 20, 2002 and we’ve been cranking out papers at the breakneck pace of four per year ever since. Okay from the perspective of 365 days perhaps that’s not quite a madcap rate but over the span of a long weekend on a Manchester, TN farm, it can feel hypersonic.

What began as an eight page black and white tabloid has long since become much more ambitious, with color photo spreads, twice as many pages on a few days and many more staffers.
The same also could be said of the festival we chronicle, except that Bonnaroo was rather ambitious from the get go, drawing together a range of artists while aspiring to be a world class event on the order of numerous European festivals, with some New Orleans Jazz Fest flavors as well.

There was a steep learning curve that first year as Rick Farman, one of the principals in Superfly Presents, who created the event along with A.C. Entertainment recalls, “Things were so crazy on the production / operations front. It wasn’t until late on Friday evening when I ran into my brother that I realized we hadn’t ruined the whole thing and people were actually having a good time.”

They were indeed, even if it all flew by in a rush. Celebrated photographer Danny Clinch, who has created artist portraits at the festival since year one, adds: “I remember running around with Russ Bennett, the creative director of Bonnaroo. We have been friends since Phish’s Clifford Ball and he is one of my favorite people on the planet. He was showing me the Centeroo fountain and all the strange things his creative team had come up with. In fact the festival was close to opening the doors and they were still building thing—buzzing around like worker bees with smiles on their faces and inside jokes being shouted everywhere. It appeared like they’d never finish in time but they had the ‘I will sleep next week’ attitude going. The backbone of the creative energy that is Bonnaroo was happening right in front of my eyes.”

That same attitude predominates, it’s just that things have evolved and escalated.

As Farman’s partner, Jonathan Mayers explains in the new book Bonnaroo: What, Which, This, That, The Other, “While music is the core to the festival’s programming, other mini-festivals and attractions have emerged underneath the Bonnaroo umbrella: a comedy festival, a film festival, a craft beer festival, and art installations. There’s something for everyone and no two people have the same experience.”

Those experiences have become even richer with additional offerings and nuances.

When asked to name what he most anticipates at Bonnaroo 2012, the festival’s head of publicity, Big Hassle’s Ken Weinstein, responds, “This year has me excited about so many things. The late night sets especially. I’m also really into what we’re doing in the cinema tent this year with the live-music soundtracks by tUnE-yArDs and others.”

Mayers points to the art and community aspects that complement the music and help to define the experience for him and give it resonance.

Performer Steven Bernstein (Millennial Territory Orchestra) acknowledges Bonnaroo’s growing reputation for its cuisine, which will be enhanced by an expanded Food Truck Oasis this year.

For Clinch, it’s all close to home as his 15 year old son Max will be making his second Bonnaroo appearance. “He’s is a huge music fan. You’ll see him and his friend Joe pumping their arms at Skrillex Saturday night/Sunday morning, no doubt!”

As for Farman, he’s a bit more cryptic in suggesting, “Don’t miss the dog.”

When cars began arriving on site in the late afternoon on Wednesday, a poll of initial attendees, suggested that Radiohead and Phish are the two acts that generate the most excitement. Both are intimately tied to Bonnaroo as Farman acknowledges that Radiohead’s prior performance in 2006 “felt like the moment we really arrived as a truly iconic event.” Meanwhile, much of the core crew that began with Bonnaroo in 2002 and continue with the fest to this day, also have been associated with the Phish festivals.

Of course there were many more groups named by this year’s early arrivals, including Skrillex, Umphrey’s McGee, Bon Iver, Alice Cooper, Foster the People, The Word, The Avett Brothers and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, affirming Bonnaroo’s breadth.

Bonnaroo 2012 also marks the first year that music will take place throughout the day on Thursday, rather than solely at night (which itself is an expansion from the outset when the first acts performed on Friday).

Indeed, with ten installments of Bonnaroo now firmly in the rear view mirror, perhaps it’s best to paraphrase the great Spinal Tap guitarist Nigel Tufnel, as it appears that this is the year the festival is primed to turn things up to eleven.

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