As the dust settles on the 750-acre field in Manchester, Tenn., that days earlier hosted the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, producers and talent bookers should find satisfaction that they put together a talent lineup that not only moved tickets but also passed the grade with fans and critics.
Though the bill arguably didn't boast a "wow" booking as some past fests have (though one could make that case for Jay-Z or Stevie Wonder), the lineup was solid from top to bottom and included memorable performances that could serve to move some bands up the ladder in terms of elusive fan credibility. Among those turning in revelatory Bonnaroo performances were the Avett Brothers, Phoenix, Zac Brown Band, Miranda Lambert and the National. And making the most out of an opportunity to show younger fans what the fuss is all about were more seasoned acts like Wonder, Kris Kristofferson, Jimmy Cliff, Jeff Beck, John Prine and John Fogerty.
Producers have to feel pleased with fan reception, given the work and expense that goes into booking such a major festival. It's "never easy," according to Jonathan Mayers, president of Bonnaroo co-producer Superfy Presents, and agents' tendency to look at the big fests as big paydays may be misguided. "I don't know if the agents, managers or artists necessarily understand the expenses that are also part of putting a show like this with the experience we deliver," Mayers tells Billboard.biz. "We try and do fair deals; it's a challenging process sometimes to keep in budget and put together a compelling show that's over the top and draws 75,000-80,000 people to a field in Manchester, Tenn."
As the festival market has grown, driven largely by the success of both Bonnaroo and the Coachella Music & Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., bands have plenty of deep-pocketed options. "There are more festivals out there, and people are throwing around a lot of money," Mayers says. "Over the years I've seen it increase greatly, but we're trying to create this amazing experience, not only for the fans but also for the artists. And we're really expanding on that platform so that it isn't just about the paycheck. It shouldn't be just about the paycheck when you're playing a show like this and many other festivals. It's a whole different offering, and if it's just looked at as 'how much am I going to be paid,' we're probably not going to be the place where you're going to get the biggest paycheck."
AC Entertainment president Ashley Capps told Billboard.biz on the Saturday of the festival that ticket sales were up, somewhere between 75,000 and 80,000. "We surpassed '08 and '09 in the last two or three days," Capps says. "We're feeling great about ticket sales in this environment."
An appearance on Bonnaroo can be the gift that keeps giving for bands. This year, Bonnaroo live-streamed on YouTube.com for the first time in an integrated sponsorship deal with Ford, and much of that material will be archived. Fuse TV will offer a wealth of post-event programming, including a one-hour compilation show the weekend following Bonnaroo, and a June 17 show on the growth of Kings Of Leon from a Bonnaroo tent act to a prime Friday night headlining slot on the fest's mainstage. "These are all examples of how we can engage our audience more, how we can leverage our platform," Mayers says.
Bonnaroo keeps corporate participation subtle, but both Mayers and Capps say that revenue stream was up this year. "We continue to grow our relationships with a lot of Fortune 500 companies," Mayers says. "We continue to find ways to creatively integrate sponsors and do it in a way that's not in your face, where it's really authentic. We feel very comfortable with the way we integrate [sponsorships] and we have a great platform."