As the use of clear backpacks becomes more common at American schools and large gatherings, it’s now a requirement at one of the nation’s premier music festivals.
The Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival – taking place June 7-10 in Manchester Tenn. – has issued new bag guidelines for attendees entering “Centeroo,” the event’s main concert grounds.
While conventional bags and backpacks were allowed in the past, now all bags brought into Centeroo must be made of transparent material. The festival is also limiting the number of pockets that can be present on a hydration backpack for drinking water and banning aerosol cans for sunscreen.
The policy change — announced three weeks before the festival's start — has been met with swift criticism from Bonnaroo ticketholders, an overwhelming majority of whom live on the festival’s sprawling campgrounds for the four-day event.
When making the trek into Centeroo, most bring along items like sunscreen, water bottles, snacks and blankets.
Adopting new guidelines wasn’t an easy move for Bonnaroo to make, according to Jeff Cuellar, the festival's community relations director.
“It is a difficult decision, because we know we're different than any other event,” he says.
“How you prepare for Bonnaroo, even leaving your campsite and just walking into Centeroo, and what that means for your day and your experience — this is one that I think we belabored over for quite some time, but in the end, it comes down to fan safety."
More than 65,000 attended Bonnaroo in 2017. Every year, the festival site becomes the seventh largest city in Tennessee. In the wake of the policy change, its "citizens" have been speaking out and taking action online.
One Reddit user organized a letter-writing campaign, while another is calling for "civil disobedience." Many have expressed that the gear they'd already purchased for Bonnaroo was no longer permitted on the festival grounds. The short notice of the change has also been roundly criticized.
Bonnaroo officials have been active on those forums as well, offering further explanation.
"...this decision was reached after a lot of back and forth between our security teams and the rest of the festival," a spokesperson wrote on Reddit. "For example, initial drafts were more strict on hydration packs, and we pushed back. This caused part of this delay."
The festival is permitting small clutch bags and fanny packs to be made of non-clear material. They're also providing all attendees with a free fanny-pack — it's among the bonus items included in their wristband package.
The policy changes have extended to other festivals produced by Bonnaroo co-producers Superfly such as Outside Lands and Clusterfest, both in San Francisco.
This year’s Bonnaroo will be the first since a music festival became the site of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history: The Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas.
Over the last several years of Bonnaroo, safety at music events has become a growing concern. Last year’s Bonnaroo took place just weeks after a bombing at an arena concert in Manchester, England, and Bonnaroo 2016 occurred over the same weekend as the shooting in the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
“It's a challenging world that we live in now, and where we were in 2002 (Bonnaroo's inaugural year) and what was going on versus what's happening now,” Cuellar tells The Tennssean.
“Some of the things that we have to prepare for is different. It's sickening in a way that we have to think about some of those things, but we have a responsibility to provide that safe atmosphere for people.”