Jun 16, 2022 - News

All eyes on Bonnaroo's attendance

A large crowd of people at Bonnaroo in 2019
A massive crowd of people at Bonnaroo in 2019. Photo: Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean/USA Today Network

With major questions swirling about its current popularity, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival returns to Manchester on Thursday after a two-year hiatus.

  • The 2020 festival was canceled. Last year's event was delayed by the pandemic and then canceled at the eleventh hour due to flooding.

Why it matters: Bonnaroo has become a massive music industry success story and one of the nation's premier festival experiences. The 2019 event was declared a sellout.

Yes, but: Four-day passes for this year's comeback remained on sale Thursday morning.

  • The last two cancellations didn't help, and there's now way more competition within the festival business.
  • Summer music festivals have proliferated across the country in recent years, giving fans who were willing to sojourn to rural Tennessee less-expensive alternatives.

Between the lines: Considering those factors, stakeholders will be scrutinizing the size of the crowds to gauge the popularity of this year's event.

  • Bonnaroo, which is primarily owned by the corporate concert giant Live Nation, doesn't disclose its actual attendance. However, public records kept by the Coffee County budget office revealed how many fans purchased tickets in previous years.

The intrigue: It's also been a tumultuous few years for Bonnaroo organizers dealing with the local government. Bonnaroo pays for the emergency responders, trash collection and other festival-related expenses incurred by Coffee County and Manchester governments.

  • After Bonnaroo was unable to reach an agreement with the Coffee County government for road improvements around the venue, organizers struck a deal with the city of Manchester to annex the farm. That agreement means Manchester will get the tax revenue generated by the event rather than the county.

Coffee County responded by working with state lawmakers to pass a law that will allow it to impose a new fee on each ticket sold for future concerts on the farm.

Bonnaroo booked Stevie Nicks, Tool and J. Cole as headliners for this year's festival, which boasts its typically deep and genre-diverse lineup.

  • The Chicks, 21 Savage and Machine Gun Kelly will also play prime time slots.
  • But forecasts show high temperatures will take center stage.

This year's festival will be defined largely by how fans and organizers manage the heat.

What we're watching: The vast majority of fans camp on the festival grounds, where there is precious little shade.

💭 Our thought bubble: The Axios Nashville team is too reliant on central air to attend. But Adam's brother, Luke, who is a diehard Bonnaroovian, offered this take on how to make the most of the festival.

  • "For a quick blast of chilly relief, give your bandana a quick dip in the bottom of your cooler," Luke says. "Fold it up with a few ice cubes, and soothe your sweltering forehead with an ice-cold, fashionable headpiece."
  • And: "Go to a show solo. Bonnaroovians are a peaceful, welcoming bunch. Going to a show without your crew can open you up to some wonderful, or downright weird, interactions."

For the casuals: If you don't have tickets and prefer to avoid the heat, you can catch Bonnaroo from the air-conditioned comfort of your living room. Hulu will livestream performances throughout Bonnaroo.

  • A Hulu subscription is required, and a lineup of which artists' sets will be streamed was not released as of Thursday morning.

The complete Bonnaroo lineup.

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