June 15, 2015


Tales of Whoa: Behind the Scenes With Bonnaroo Staff

Maritza Navarro for Fuse
Maritza Navarro for Fuse

With 85,000 people roaming the farm at Bonnaroo, you better believe there’s going to be lots of shit to deal with… literally and figuratively. We spent a few minutes this weekend talking with the brave souls who make the festival possible and learned that the farm can be a dangerous place if you’re not good to yourself and kind to other people.

Four days straight of 90-degree weather and dancing (or even laying) in the hot sun all day would take a toll on anyone. Mix in too many drinks, some alternative substances... and not enough water. Now you’ve got a lethal combination. One member of security at the festival told us that there was an exceptionally large amount of medical calls coming through. “People are spending all their resources out here. Time, energy, money; by the third and fourth day your body will tell you,” the security member told us of the people who were getting injured or sick. “One guy dislocated his hip.”

For the most part however, the safety and security team does a pretty good job of keeping people safe when they have control of it. Another security member from the Austin Event Specialists, W3 told us he saw “a girl punch another girl because she was trying to steal her purse.” However, security was able to resolve the situation. “The three years I have worked I have always heard about theft through the grapevine, but this year it seems everyone is being helpful, as I have witnessed recovery of phones, belongings, so that is always promising.”

The other obvious problems that security faces are bad attitudes and the constant battle with people for entry into blocked off areas. “You’d be surprised the things people are willing to do for access,” one security member told us. He didn’t give us a number, but money is a common bargaining tool. “A lot of people are more concerned with how much access they can get rather than just enjoying their time here,” the second security member told us. 

The incentive for many of Bonnaroo staff is catching the music and getting to meet some of their favorite entertainers, whether it’s John Hamm asking for directions or a securing a great spot at a live set. A security member told us his favorite part of Bonnaroo was, “Reggie Watts today. It is impossible to not like that guy. He is so weird and such a talented musician on top of being so hilarious on an entirely different level. Amazing dude.”

In the shadows of the festival are the integral vendors and catering team who keep everyone alive all weekend. Even farther into the shadows are the volunteers, one of whom we picked up as he was walking into the festival. Volunteers are granted entry to the festival for working at least 18 hours of shifts. I suppose it’s a fair trade depending on your going rate for hand picking cigarette butts and trash after the night is over. 

Maritza Navarro for Fuse
Maritza Navarro for Fuse

Some staff favorites while working the festival are the positive vibes, environmental consciousness and philanthropic nature of the festival. “The biggest thing that struck me is the amount of attention that is paid to recycling. That’s really awesome to see, especially coming from New York City where people just throw everything away,” one of the catering employees told us. “They do such a better job here of reducing the impact that’s left on the land, especially working in the food industry specifically.”

To extend this consciousness to Bonnaroo's neighbors, the music promotion company out of Knoxville, AC Entertainment, is designated for community outreach and support, which makes sense considering that Bonnaroo is almost 10 times the population of Manchester, the city that hosts the festival. The outreach doesn't stop there. AC Entertainment is also responsible for Roo Wish, yet another program that makes the Bonnaroo experience such a unique one, granting wishes ranging from free t-shirts to meet and greets with Mumford and Sons.

From our chats with staff, the consensus is that Bonnaroo is a positive environment to make new friends, help fans get what they want rather than keep them out and provide a sense of community. However, it’s not all rainbows and blowjobs. The staff does get to see the ugliest sides of humans with injuries and bad attitudes. Their advice to next year’s festival-goers? “Most of the people need to relax and let themselves have a good time no matter what side of the barricade they are on.”