published Friday, June 15th, 2012

Courter: A lot more to a festival than the music

The lineup of acts and the music itself often gets most of the attention at festivals such as Riverbend, Bonnaroo and the newer Hangout Music Fest in Gulf Shores, Ala. There are many other factors, however, that make or break such events.

Some of these are controllable, and some are not. There is not much organizers can do about inclement weather except prepare for it, and that goes beyond having a few tarps on hand to cover things up.

At Bonnaroo, for example, organizers planted Bermuda grass and trees. The grass was planted to provide better walking and sitting areas and to hold down the dust, which was a major issue last year.

When Chattanooga launched its 21st Century Waterfront plan years ago, the city involved Friends of the Festival in planning the site.

One of the biggest things to consider is how people will move about. The first year after the new riverfront opened, Riverbend officials discovered they had some bottleneck areas to deal with, and they did.

Way back in the beginning, Riverbend switched from a cash-only policy for vending to the familiar token system used today. They've also used admission pins for most of its existence.

They know a single pin conceivably visits the festival on nine different people, but both are systems that work for Riverbend.

Bonnaroo has used wristbands for all of its 11 festivals. While they are more difficult to counterfeit and pass around, it is possible.

Last year, Bonnaroo officials added a radio-frequency identification device to wristbands that festivalgoers had to scan when entering and exiting the grounds and at various checkpoints throughout.

Ashley Capps of AC Entertainment, co-producer of the festival, said the devices are used to gather information regarding crowd control. Someone likely will spend the next several months studying how people moved around the site and trying to figure out a better way of doing things.

The RFIDs also can help identify someone who is injured or passed out. If a wristband is lost or stolen, it can be deactivated as well.

Capps said the potential for the devices is much larger, however.

"They can be used to pay for things so you don't have to carry cash, for example," he said. "We are really just scratching the surface."

I asked Capps if Hangout, now in its third year, was having any impact on Bonnaroo.

"Only in that it is an indication that people want to attend a music festival," he said. "They have a great festival also. They sold out this year, and we sold out the last two."

While the two have shared some of the same acts, they are different events. Bonnaroo draws 80,000 paid customers and is held on a 700-acre farm in the middle of Tennessee. People stay in everything from makeshift campsites to plush RVs. A small percentage stay in nearby hotels and commute. It's pretty much a 24-hour festival.

At Hangout, which is held on the beach, most of the 35,000 ticket buyers stay in a hotel, condo or rental property, and they commute. The event shuts down around midnight.

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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