Bonnaroo Music Festival: Making History One Band at a Time

Summertime might be the best time of year for students. Sure, there are those pesky summer jobs no one likes to talk about, but more importantly tis the season for great concerts. Summer is the time to experience the once-in-a-lifetime concerts or festivals that your parents still talk about. While today’s most memorable concerts or festivals seem to occur anywhere but here, one festival has transformed that theory into major cool points for our state. It’s all because of a little town in middle Tennessee called Manchester, and a little thing called Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.

Well, it’s not all thanks to Manchester, but without this town of less than 10,000 people Bonnaroo wouldn’t be the same. The festival takes place every June on a 700-acre farm, enough room for multiple stages, activities, and camping grounds for attendees. The 3-day music and arts festival boosts an eclectic group of artists (The Black Crowes, De La Soul, and Widespread Panic) along with activities that range from internet cafes to movie tents and a silent disco. Time and time again Bonnaroo proves that it’s not only the concert event of the summer, but of the entire year, and this year will be even better. But before we talk shop on who’s performing, let’s focus on the reason behind Bonnaroo’s creation.

Ashley Capps, a Tennessee native, has been a music promoter and booking agent for over 20 years. He became a lover of music early on, and knew his fate was not in making music but in sharing it. “I’ve always had this desire to share music I love with people.” Capps told the Metro Pulse last year. “I was the kid saying, ‘You’ve gotta listen to this! This is the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.”

After graduating from UT, Capps began AC Entertainment in 1991. His company has developed Knoxville into music playground for residents by bringing all types of artists here. He has introduced Garth Brooks, Norah Jones, and John Mayer to Knoxville audiences, and brought big artists Patti Smith to the Bijou Theatre and Prince to Thompson Boling Arena. After successfully setting up festivals in North Carolina and other surrounding areas, Capps decided to set up a one-of-a-kind event that would have 80-plus artists collide in one weekend.

It began in June of 2002 and he called it Bonnaroo, after the 1974 Dr. John record Desitively Bonnaroo. The festival, which is produced by AC Entertainment and Superfly Productions, has become the largest outdoor music festival in the country. Past performers include Widespread Panic, Dave Matthews Band, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Jurassic 5, and Modest Mouse. This year, its fifth, promises to be just as good with headliners Radiohead and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.

Bonnaroo marks the only American festival appearance this year for Radiohead, and an achievement by Capps. “We’re very excited to have Radiohead be a part of the festival this yearâÂ?¦we’ve been in discussions with them literally for two and a half years,” he told The Tennessean in February. Other artists set to perform include Beck, Death Cab for Cutie, Matisyahu, Bright Eyes, and punk cabaret (yes, it’s a real genre) artists The Dresden Dolls.

The unique lineup of artists is helping Bonnaroo ditch the jam band label that has been associated with the festival since its inception. Hopefully, the core audience of jam band lovers won’t fret but rather embrace the movement. “Part of our vision behind the Bonnaroo Music Festival was to really be open to all kinds of music as long as it was great music. If there’s a thread that could connect all of the Bonnaroo artists, it’s simply that they’re known for giving great live performances,” Capps told last year.

So you know its back-story, you know who’s playing, now you want to know if it’s worth going to? For Knoxville residents, the less-than-three hour drive to Manchester is an appealing notion, especially when you consider the same amount of driving is usually used just to see one of these bands. The biggest obstacle will probably be the prices since they range from $169.50 to $184.50, an increase from previous years. The number of people at Bonnaroo has also been capped at 80,000 this year, a decrease from the 100,000 people of the past festivals. The numbers have decreased because of safety issues, which in turn will make the festival that much more enjoyable. This also means tickets are more likely to sell out, which judging from the comments on Bonnaroo’s MySpace page ( is a definite.

People who have gone to Bonnaroo before rave about the experience, and continue to attend each year. The festival has won nationwide recognition for its ability to combine such diverse artists into one giant performance, and is the envy of all other summer events. Maybe this year will be the year you experience that once-in-a-lifetime concert, which you’ll tell the kids about over and over. Even if the flying sweat, mud pit, music all night long gig isn’t your scene, at least you can look forward to greater performances in your backyard thanks to Capps and his baby Bonnaroo.

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