Bonnaroo Co-Producer Rick Farman Shares His Takeaways From the Fest's 14th Year
Bonnaroo 2015 is in the books and more than 80,000 Bonnaroovians are now on their way back from whence they came, with slight sunburns, positive vibes, and echoes of My Morning Jacket, Billy Joel, Alabama Shakes, Mumford & Sons, Kendrick Lamar, and some 200 other entertainers ringing in their ears. We spoke with Rick Farman, partner at Superfly Presents, co-producers of Bonnaroo with AC Entertainment, about how Bonnaroo went down this year, the first edition since Live Nation acquired a controlling interest in the festival in April.
Billboard: What’s your takeway from Bonnaroo 2015?
Rick Farman: I think it was one of our best. We’re fortunate to have an amazing audience, amazing bands, and I think we keep getting better at running it, tweaking things here and there, tightening the screws.
What were your personal highlights?
I was really impressed starting on Friday with Kendrick Lamar’s set. He really did surprise me. I personally had a lot of fun at Billy Joel’s set. I grew up on Long Island with that music, so that was pretty fun to see. I was fortunate enough to be in the Comedy Tent when Zach Galifianakis and Jon Hamm came out, that was a pretty special Bonnaroo moment, for sure. I thought DeAngelo was great, Hurray For Riff Raff was a really good show. Just being there, really, is the highlight for me most of the time, seeing everybody have such a great time, being around friends and family. It’s just really fun.
What was it like showing the Live Nation guys around Bonnaroo?
It was fun, I think they’re even more excited to be involved. It was fun being out there with them, talking about all the things we’re going to be able to do to improve the whole thing, together. We’ve obviously had a lot of dialogue with those guys, but to be there at the event with them, now the talk goes from, ‘well, maybe we can do this,’ to, ‘OK, here’s what we’re going to do.’ It feels gratifying to be coming on our 15th anniversary having the resources to really do things we always wished we could do in the past. It’s a good feeling to have a partner that’s excited to do that with us.
Any examples, vague or specific, about what those things would be?
Not yet. We’re getting there, but we’re not there yet. It’s kind of like we’re still in the whole, ‘let’s look at the master plan of everything we want to accomplish,’ and then we’ll look at the definitive decisions from there. But we have some ideas that are likely to happen and some that are aspirational.
How was the ingress and egress this year?
It was all smooth, it just keeps getting smoother. Our coordination with all the agencies involved in the traffic in-and-out, and general running of things was really good this year. We’re continuing to see this collective intelligence, from the security guy working a post to the people planning logistics, we have years and years of experience. I talk to a lot of staff out there and I think the average staff person has been working this thing five or six years at this point, and a lot of people much longer than that, some eight, 10, 12 years, and some the whole 14. That collective experience makes something as complex as this so much easier when you have people with that much knowledge.
It felt like you tweaked things like crowd flow and fencing and keeping folks out of Production Road and directing them in a soft way toward the grounds, all of that felt more buttoned down.
That started last year, when we started to get better at it, and this year we perfected it. Now we have the opportunity to focus on more of the details, because everything else is so established and the level of experience amongst the staff like I was talking about. Now we can make all those little adjustments, tightening of things. The catering tent, for example, we’ve figured out how to make it run that much smoother. It’s nice to be at a place where you can focus on that stuff.
Bonnaroo’s always hot, this was one of the hotter ones. Did that cause any unusual problems or issues with the audience? [Ed note: A man died at the fest this year, from a heart-related condition.]
I’d say it was pretty consistent in terms of what we treat. I don’t have the numbers, but, in general, think I would say it was pretty average.
It seemed to me to be a happy, chill crowd, I didn’t see anybody having any kind of trouble.
I would agree with that, it was a really good crowd. The Bonnaroo community itself is teaching everybody how to do it properly. That’s huge. Some of it came together when we started our messaging campaign with the Code, which kind of helps. That was our job, supporting the community by putting that sort of communication in place so the community could then make sure new people coming would understand how to do Bonnaroo properly. When you look at the six things on the Code, it spells out the audience you just described, and that’s what should come from that type of setting.
What’s next for you?
We have a lot going on at Superfly, as you know, a lot of different projects, a lot of growth. We’re going to take a couple of days of rest, then get back home and right back at it. Our next big event is Outside Lands [at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park] in August, and there’s a lot of work between now and then.