An ambitious lineup helped the seventh Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival overcome inflated gas prices and a more crowded North American festival scene to post attendance of above 70,000. The festival ran June 12-15 on a 750-acre rural site about 60 miles south of Nashville.
That's shy of a Bonnaroo sellout of 80,000, but enough to please festival producers A.C. Entertainment and Superfly Presents. "Our sales are a little bit off, but not really what a lot of other people seem to be experiencing," says Ashley Capps, president of Knoxville, Tenn.-based A.C. Entertainment. "We feel very, very lucky."
When Bonnaroo began in 2002, major destination music festivals in North America were much more scarce than they are this year, with as many as a dozen new events cropping up in the past year. "With our sales down a little bit, it's hard to say what the impact of (festival growth) has been," Capps says, who adds that he believes the U.S. festival market is still not mature. And, with attendees from all 50 states and some 28 countries, Capps says Bonnaroo clearly remains a destination worth traveling to.
"There has certainly been a tremendous growth in the festival scene in the United States, but I still think it's young," Capps says. "I think there are a lot more opportunities for festival growth out there. The key for a successful festival is to provide the kind of unique experience that makes that festival stand out as a must-do experience. I think that's where Bonnaroo really sets itself apart."
Among the 158 bands on the bill were headliners Metallica, Pearl Jam, and Widespread Panic, along with a diverse range of artists that covers virtually all musical genres and comedy. Jack Johnson, My Morning Jacket, Phil Lesh & Friends, Raconteurs, Zappa Plays Zappa, Willie Nelson, Drive-By Truckers, Death Cab For Cutie, Alison Krauss/Robert Plant, Gogol Bordello, Ben Folds, Kanye West, Chromeo, Chris Rock, the Swell Season, Les Claypool and Sigur Ros represent just a few of the acts that performed.
Bonnaroo tickets this year ranged from $209.50 for early purchasers to $244.50. A pair of VIP tickets went for $1,169.50. Capps says the VIP ticket capacity was increased by 33% and sold out in advance.
Ticket prices were up slightly this year, but Capps says "there's no doubt" expenses were up more than the increase in ticket prices. "It's been a goal of ours from the very beginning to provide value. We've actually been criticized for having ticket prices too low," says Capps. "Our ticket price includes camping and when you factor all that into it, compared to other festivals it is an extraordinary value."
Logistically, Bonnaroo ran smoothly, with intense heat countered by sporadic rain. Local law authorities reported fewer arrests and there were no deaths this year.
"It's becoming almost a cliche, but every year surpasses the last in some really tangible way," says Capps. "I don't want it to sound in any way like we're resting our laurels, but it really had all the characteristics of a finely tuned machine and it was thrilling to see that in action."