Manchester, Tennessee- The first day of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, a day which has traditionally been a day of travel and arrival for most festival attendees, greeted an estimated crowd of seventy-five thousand music fans from around the world with some good old fashioned southern rainshowers. And this wasn’t a light rain, by any definition. The rain, which began shortly after the four-day festival’s first performances, didn’t dampen the mood of the smiling festivarians, but it didn’t help the speed with which people were able to enter the festival grounds and set up their encampments.
The elements may have slowed the entrance for many, but delays were nothing like those in years past. In 2002, for example, at the inaugural Bonnaroo, it took this author about 18 hours to cover the last 45 miles!
In terms of traffic management and easing congestion on the way into the festival grounds, the changes made between and 2002 and 2009 are palpable, to say the least. In the years since 2002, festival organizers have made considerable advances in maximizing all of the festival entrances and streamlining the wait for the music-hungry throngs. This year, it took my vehicle a paltry ninety minutes to get through the gates.
The difficulties that fans endure to experience Bonnaroo do not go unnoticed by the performers themselves who understand the import of their presence here and tend to step it up as a result.
“Braving the elements, the mud, the rain. We try to do do something different than we normally do,” said Ben Ellman of the New Orleans-based funk-rock allstars, Galactic.
The appreciative sentiment was expressed from most of the artists on the wet and muddy Friday. “It’s like a pilgrimage,” said Grace Potter of the Vermont-based Grace Potter and the Nocturnals who subscribed to the theory of stepping it up at festivals like Bonnaroo. “In the same way we need to be ready as musicians, the people who come here are like pilgrims and we owe it to them to be prepared,” said Potter.
But the improvements in routing and traffic flow do more than expedite the festival entry process, allowing fans to get in and get set up, they drastically cut the emissions produced by the thousands of cars idling along the clogged interstate highways and backroads of Tennessee. Improved communication, coordination and flexibility at the various festival entrances has allowed organizers to divert traffic to the lesser-used entrances and balance the load of the incoming cars.
And when festival attendees do get backed-up in traffic, they find innovative ways to lessen the impact (and the cost) of all that idling. “What I did in 2003 while waiting in line with my manual-transmission car was turn it off, put it in neutral and pushed it every time the line advanced,” said one fan. “It sounds a little goofy, but at least it wasn’t idling the whole time.”
Goofy, maybe. But just the kind of environmental consciousness that people bring to Bonnaroo and just the kind of consciousness that festival organizers hope others take home with them.
The traffic improvements are just one of several sustainability initiatives at Bonnaroo taken to lessen the environmental impact of large festivals like these.
Images: © Tim Hurst; Mark Macpherson