Inside Bonnaroo: The Festival Is Back In Full Swing

Sheryl Crow
Sheryl Crow’s performance on the What Stage on Saturday, June 17, attracted an audience of all ages. Photo by Caley Skye Photography

It was a good sign that the back rows of the first flight out of La Guardia to Nashville were filled with 20-somethings sporting wristbands to Bonnaroo for the rite of passage that typically takes place in June. For three years, now, the iconic Manchester, Tennessee, megafest hasn’t really found its glorious footing of previous iterations with COVID postponements, a weather cancelation and an underwhelming 2022. This year, however, with a powerful lineup that included Zeds Dead, Foo Fighters, Kendrick Lamar, ODESZA, Paramore, Subtronics, Pixies and more, the packed plane signified one simple truth: Bonnaroo is back!

“Every year for more than 20 years now, for a few days in June, Manchester, Tennessee, goes from the 50th largest city in Tennessee to the seventh,” Brad Parker, Project Manager at C3 Presents, told Pollstar via email. “Bonnaroo, a now storied tradition for many, remains the annual pilgrimage to a mecca of understanding, individuality and self-expression for thousands of music lovers. 2023 was no exception to this tradition. We are proud to have welcomed back 80,000 fans to The Farm for one of the most magical years to date.”

Within the campgrounds, which easily become a world of their own on the Farm, C3 Presents updated the experience including introducing the new UFO Stage. The camps opened up on Wednesday, June 14 with performances on the Where in the Woods stage including Zeds Dead (see page 22), Maya Jane Coles, Bob Moses and more.

Paramore 3
PARAMORE’s Hayley Williams is pictured on the What Stage on Sunday, June 18. Photo by Caley Skye Photography

“Bonnaroo this year really felt like Bonnaroo at its most beautiful, and the campgrounds and plazas were a great representation of that,” Sophie Lobl, Global Festival Promoter at C3 Presents, said. “Visual artist The Luminati created the new UFO stage featured in Where in the Woods, which showcased a great roster of electronic artists and turned the campgrounds into a festival within a festival. Also new this year was regional artist Brett Douglas Hunter’s Monster Face on Plaza 2, which was a huge hit with Bonnaroovians. In a fun turn of events, the House of Matroomony featured surprise guests to officiate weddings including Remi Wolf, DJ Paul from Three 6 Mafia and Elderbrook. We were excited to unveil a brand-new honky tonk in the Galactic Giddy Up and were thrilled to have Briscoe kick off the new space on Wednesday night. It was a fantastic year, and we can’t wait to share what we are cooking up for 2024!”

The festival grounds were updated with paved roads surrounding the campgrounds and Centeroo.

“Infrastructure is vital for operating over 1,000 acres to operate the festival,” Tim “Tuba” Smith, Director of Festivals and Strategic Initiatives at C3 Presents, told Pollstar via email. “We’ve made significant investments to ensure we are improving the experience for patrons and staff as well as making the event less susceptible to weather, which is dynamic at best in the late spring/early summer.”

Organizers spaced out entry times for the 2023 fest, allowing fans to choose when they could come in when purchasing tickets.

Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors took over the That Tent on Sunday, June 18. Photo by Caley Skye Photography

“We’ve also placed a priority on getting patrons on the farm as quickly as possible,” Smith said. “The priority coming out of 2019 was to nail the basics and get people on the farm and dancing as quickly and efficiently as possible. Historically, wait times to enter the campgrounds on a sold-out year could be as high as eight to 12 hours. We are proud to share that this year, peak wait times were reduced to an hour or two with a vehicle processing rate more than double what occurred in 2019. This is due to a massive enlargement of toll booth processing areas as well as a complete ground-up redesign of the traffic and parking plan onsite to ensure a safe and efficient entry to the Farm. Infrastructure done right is largely unseen such as improved drainage in Centeroo and in key areas. Improving back of house items as well improve the staff and artist experience, which turn into the real magic in radiating positivity both on stage and elsewhere.”

Behind the scenes, the festival also served as a major networking event for industry insiders. Red Light Management’s Coran Capshaw and Tom Lord; C3 Presents’ Charles Attal and Charlie Walker; UTA’s Scott Clayton; Wasserman Music’s Joe Atamian, Jake Bernstein, Jonathan Levine and Aaron Pinkus; Superfly’s Rick Farman; WME’s Bobby Cudd; Mick Management’s Michael McDonald; Governors Ball/Founders Entertainment’s Tom Russell, as well as CAA agents Marc Dennis, Tim Beeding, Kylen Sharpe, Ben Buchanan, Jeff Krones, Ryan Nagle, Justin Cahill, Hunter Williams and more could be spotted around the festival, both backstage and around Centeroo.