What do you call 85,000 music-loving people partying and living in the dirt and mud for four days? If you're the state of Tennessee, Coffee County or city of Manchester, you call them big business.
The four-daycamping and music festival, in which tens of thousands of people gather to watch popular bands perform, has its roots in the historic 1969 Woodstock concert in upstate New York. Take those same basic camping-and-music concepts and sprinkle in top-flight corporate sponsors, state-of-the-art multimedia and an array of environmentally green initiatives, and you have today's Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
It's safe to say Woodstock did not have an on-site salon sponsored by Garnier or an immersive music academy sponsored by Red Bull. But Bonnaroo does, as international corporations tap the coveted demographic of 18-34 year olds who attend.
Bonnaroo had a $51 million economic impact in 2012, the last time a study was conducted. Direct local spending reached $36 million, and local governments use the festival to fill their coffers each year.
Now in its 13th year, Bonnaroo's key to success is programming with fans' tastes as the top priority, said founder Ashley Capps, whose AC Entertainment co-produces the festival with Superfly Presents.That means growing and evolving with new offerings each year.
"How can we build on the experience year after year to create the most memorable weekend we possibly can?" Capps said. "That's sort of our guiding principle. Beyond that, we also, from the very beginning, took steps to work closely with the community and really embrace and work with them so we had an event that works well.
Capps said it's necessary for organizers to approach the festival as a partnership with Coffee County and Manchester. According to census figures, Manchester becomes the seventh largest city in Tennessee during Bonnaroo with about 85,000 festival attendees added to the 10,000 local residents.
Sharing the wealth
In addition to festival-goers add extra days to their trip to spend time in Music Citypumping millions of dollars into the local economy when they eat at local restaurants, stay at area hotels or buy camping gear from nearby stores, Bonnaroo contributes $3 from each ticket sold to the Manchester and Coffee County governments. That money has helped build a community arts center and recreation center in recent years.
The festival also allows local organizations to run concession booths, which Coffee County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Susie McEachern said bring between $15,000 and $25,000 annually.
"It's not just the chamber, it's the Rotary club and almost every nonprofit organization in Manchester," McEachern said. "Whereas before we could barely survive, now we can actually do the things a chamber is supposed to do, help local businesses and promote Coffee County.
"Most people realize what a great service they do the the economy."
Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. President and CEO Butch Spyridon said Bonnaroo's positive economic impact is felt in Music City, too. Many festivalgoers fly in and out of Nashville and add a day to the front or back of their trips. For the second year, the CVC partnered with Bonnaroo to offer special packages that allow fans to stay in Nashville hotels and shuttle to and from the festival each day.
"If you came here on Wednesday or Thursday (today), you would see without any doubt in your mind hundreds of Bonnarooians that fly in or drive in, rent a room, hang out, play and get ready to go," Spyridon said. "Then you'll see the same thing on the back end, because they all can't get out and they want to rest or take a shower. We get the benefit on both ends."
The festival also has its own nonprofit arm that provides grants to local organizations with an arts and music focus. Nonprofits receiving grants this year focus on everything from improving music education in schools to providing a Bonnaroo-themed arts display at Nashville International Airport.
While its partnerships with charities and local governments have grown over time, Bonnaroo also has evolved in its approach to corporate sponsorships. Rick Farman, co-founder of Superfly Presents, said the goal is to partner with companies that can parlay sponsorships into improvement for the fan experience.
Farman pointed to the on-site Garnier beauty salon, where fans can book haircuts and manicures, and the Red Bull Music Academy, an immersive education program for aspiring musicians, as examples of corporations doing more than slapping their name on a banner or sponsoring a performance stage.
Bonnaroo counts as corporate sponsors major corporations like Microsoft, which in addition to its presence at the festival will stream the concert via its XBox video game console.
Farman said Bonnaroo has had to say no to companies that couldn't answer his simple question: "What is a corporate partner able to offer the audience? What's in it for the fans? Why are you here?"
Farman said, "If we can figure that out with a corporate partner, it makes sense. If we can't, then it doesn't."