published Monday, June 11th, 2012

As Bonnaroo closes, evolution continues

Alice Cooper
Alice Cooper
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

MANCHESTER, Tenn. -- Every year, organizers of the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival look for ways to improve both the event and the site, a 700-acre farm.

This year, there can be no greater symbol of that evolution than the 110 deciduous trees planted before the festival that will provide shade in coming years, said Ashley Capps, owner of AC Entertainment, who co-produces Bonnaroo with Superfly Presents.

The sold-out event wrapped up Sunday night, and the last of the 80,000 campers are expected to be gone by this morning. Capps said unusually pleasant weather and the changes his staff made combined to make this year one of the smoothest in Bonnaroo's 11-year history.

"It felt like a really great year," he said. "I think our staff, many of who have been with us for all 11 years, knocked it out of the park. Experience is paying off."

Some of the changes are subtle, and some, like planting the trees, will take time, he said. This year, for example, campers were shepherded into new walking areas near the entrances, which kept them from sharing space with the many golf carts hauling people and supplies around the site.

Wristbands with radio frequency identification devices introduced last year were used more widely this year. Patrons had to scan their wristbands at entrances. If someone were lost and disoriented, the RFID device could identify him or her, Capps said.

"It also gives us a precise number of the people who are on site and at what location. This let's us know about capacity and things like that. It doesn't let us track where someone is, as some people think."

Capps said the bands have far greater potential for the future.

"We are just scratching the surface with the RFID chip," he said. "It can evolve into a pay system where you don't have to keep up with cash and you can keep up with your friends or podmates via social media."

Coffee County Sheriff Steve Graves has worked the festival since its inception and said Sunday this was the smoothest year. No deaths were reported on site, he said. Ten people have died at Bonnaroo since 2002.

"Traffic was better," he said. "We had a rush at the beginning, but then it smoothed out. We all thought attendance was down, but the Bonnaroo people tell us it's the same. We've not had any problems."

Chattanoogan Brooke Craig, 18, said everything about the festival was better than she expected.

"It's been an amazing, religious experience," she said. "I thought camping would be different, but they guided us to where we needed to be, and everything just went well."

Capps said planned future changes include making it easier for noncampers to enjoy the experience.

"We've improved the shuttle service and the day parking," he said. "We want people to know there are great places within an easy drive from Nashville and Chattanooga. You don't have to camp, but we are making that better, also."

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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