As reported earlier, Bonnaroo 2011, the 10th anniversary of the Manchester, Tenn., festival, has sold out its 80,000 tickets. The lineup includes Eminem, Arcade Fire, Widespread Panic, Buffalo Springfield, My Morning Jacket, Lil Wayne, the Strokes, the Decemberists, Mumford & Sons, along with dozens of others.
But despite the top-billed talent on display, Ashley Capps, president of A.C. Entertainment and co-producer of Bonnaroo with Superfly Presents, says it's gotten to the point where the entire lineup drives ticket sales, not just the headliners.
"It's the aggregate [of talent], but the headliners are an important part of that aggregate," Capps told Billboard.biz. "We certainly look for headliners every year that we feel are perfect to have perform at the festival, but it is the whole that drives it."
Touring realities being what they are, it is inevitable that there will be some crossover of acts playing several festivals, which Capps recognizes as the nature of the festival beast.
"We certainly want Bonnaroo to be a unique experience, but artists have to work, and we understand that a lot of the artists that are playing our festival are going to play other festivals," he said. "But we do work to create enough unique experiences within the programming of the festival so that Bonnaroo stands apart and is very different from any of the other festivals out there."
As for the talent-buying process, "it's always a bit of a dance and discussion, because we're reliant on the artists and what the artists' plans are for touring in a given year," Capps said. "Sometimes it just doesn't work out this year, for a variety of reasons."
Capps said Bonnaroo talent buyers start out with a wish list of "artists we're excited about that we'd like to engage with, to see if it's possible for them to play the festival this year; sometimes it is, sometime's it's not," he said. "Artists also come to us and express their interest in playing the festival. It's an ongoing process, and it's a messy one in a lot of ways. In early December, we're not quite sure what we've got ahold of. The picture of what the lineup of the festival looks like can often be rather fuzzy up until the moment people start to make their commitments. Then it starts to come into view."
Often, Capps says, last-minute bookings can "significantly change the complexion of the festival. This year, two or three of our key acts, we did not know for sure they were going to be part of the festival two weeks before we announced the lineup," he says. "There are always new and unexpected opportunities that emerge."
Bonnaroo takes place June 9-12 -- if you don't have a ticket, be prepared to pay big bucks for one ...