MANCHESTER, Tenn. — The parking lot at the Walmart near the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival site in Manchester looked like a tie-dye explosion.
Hundreds of flip-flop flapping, tie-dyed teens and 20-somethings prowled the store's aisles Wednesday looking for tents, towels, sleeping bags, coolers and water. Lots and lots of water.
"A few were here Sunday, and last night was the big night for everybody to start arriving," said store manager Candie Hedge, who like most employees was sporting a tie-dyed T-shirt.
"We're going to be going up on the roof in a little bit to take a picture of it," Hedge said.
Coffee County folks say their coffers experience a Bonnaroo-related explosion from what analysts say is a $51.1 million financial boost for the county and Tennessee from the 80,000-plus music fans who fill the 700-acre farm on the outskirts of town. Officials said Coffee gets about $36 million from purchases of gas, food and lodging before, during and after the event.
Philadelphia teenager Tom McHugh, a self-described "smelly hippie," said he had already spent most of the money he brought with him, about $90 of it on food and supplies for the next four days.
McHugh, 18, said he was a first-time Bonnaroo volunteer in town with three buddies who had volunteered last year.
Coffee County Mayor David Pennington said Bonnaroo is a godsend for county government, too, contributing an extra $600,000 in sales tax alone in 2012.
Other money comes from a $3 fee on every ticket sold that generated more than $260,000 last year and conditional-use permits for vendors that accounted for an additional $42,000. Those funds combine with $57 business licenses each vendor must purchase, of which the county keeps $7, Pennington said. The 210 licenses sold so far generated almost $1,500.
Manchester Alderwoman Roxanne Smith said a major spin-off for the town is the Musictree Festival, a five-day lineup of musical events held at live venues around the city the week before Bonnaroo. Smith said this year was the second for the annual event that seems to be considered a "testing ground" for acts that cast longing eyes toward Bonnaroo.
Pennington also feels a personal impact at the Jiffy Burger Restaurant that his wife, Nancy, and daughter, Tracy St. John, run downtown.
"Business is usually very consistent, but for those two weeks [around Bonnaroo] we'll see a 15- to 20-percent boost," St. John said of the festival's annual impact. "One day last week we had 40 double cheeseburgers. Yesterday, about every third or fourth ticket had a Bonnaroo Burger on it."
But not every business owner has Bonnaroo dollar signs in their eyes.
Karen Smith, owner of the new J&K Market just outside one of Bonnaroo's entrances, worries that this year's earlier festival opening will reduce sales outside the event site.
"They're starting to come in," she said doubtfully. "We'll see. Ask me next week."
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@times freepress.com or 423-757-6569.
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...