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Belmont’s ‘Bonnaroo U’ students mourn the loss of a learning experience after musi

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

After hearing the news that the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival was a no-go for yet another year, Dr. Sarita Stewart and Dr. Ken Spring’s Wednesday class meeting looked more like a support group.

With the festival grounds soaked and unusable due to flooding from Hurricane Ida, event organizers announced an eleventh-hour cancelation Sept. 1, one day before the event’s first acts were set to take the stage. For a number of Belmont students, the eleventh-hour cancelation cast a shadow over the semester, but the reasons go beyond missing their favorite artists perform after the COVID-19 hiatus.

For those enrolled in Belmont at Bonnaroo — a unique Curb College class engineered by Stewart and Spring — the result was missing out on an opportunity to jumpstart their careers in the music industry by taking a look behind the scenes at the four-day music festival.

Students in the class shared where they were when they heard the news of the cancelation, and took time to express their disappointment while also understanding the reasoning behind the change of plans.

“We were sad for the students; we were sad because we put a lot of effort into it. But there were a lot of silver linings. I think that appreciation for this class has gone up across the campus,” said Stewart.

“We’ve made so many new friends this particular year … We did everything we could, and we were ready to go. The only thing was the weather didn’t agree with us.”

Since 2017, Stewart and Spring’s Belmont at Bonnaroo class, sometimes called Bonnaroo U, escorted students to the Manchester, Tennessee, festival grounds an enriched music business learning experience.

Students got practical studies in sociology and marketing, shadow industry professionals backstage and met artists, all with an air-conditioned tour bus to sleep in at the end of every day. That’s no longer happening.

With Bonnaroo field learning now off the table, the class will transition into a study of other music festivals. Students were offered the choice to stay in the class or pick up a different course credit instead, even though the drop-add period ended Aug. 31. 

“I’m confused and stressed now. I’m going to stay in the class because I would not feel confident taking up another class at this point,” sophomore Ellie Lewis said.

Though underclassmen may get the opportunity to head to the Bonnaroo farm in June 2022 when the class is next in the university’s catalog, for seniors, the cancelation came with a tone of finality.

This uniquely Belmont experience will not be available to them again, and it comes on the tail end of a year with very limited learning opportunities off-campus.

“All of last year was canceled, and I didn’t get to study abroad, so this was how I was going to get an experience like that. But there’s no way for us to be able to do it next year or over the summer because we’ll be gone. It’s really bad timing,” senior Katy Gaspar said.

But it’s not just students in the Curb College who lost a Bonnaroo learning experience.

While the music and marketing aspects of Bonnaroo are the focus of the class, Belmont’s graduate nursing program was also preparing to send a delegation of Bruins to the farm.

Graduate nursing student Winston Voigt received an offer to work alongside the Bonnaroo medical team 24 hours a day at the festival grounds.

Studying to be a nurse practitioner, Voigt looked forward to getting a new type of healthcare education.

“I’m disappointed. My background is emergency medicine; I worked in the ER for ten years, so for me that’s really my bread and butter. I wasn’t really interested in the music. It would have been fun to see how that community comes together, but another aspect is that it would have been a really good medical experience,” Voigt said.

At this point, disappointed students and professors alike can only try to make the best of an unlucky situation.

“I keep telling myself ‘I go to Belmont, they’re gonna figure it out. There are so many amazing people and so many amazing connections here, they’re gonna find something that’s gonna make it worth it,’” said Gaspar.

PHOTO: Flooded festival grounds at Manchester’s Bonnaroo farm. After Bonnaroo 2021 was canceled due to COVID-19, this marks the second consecutive year festival plans have fallen through. Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.

This article was written by Margot Pierson.

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