Thursday marked the return of Tennessee’s flagship music experience, Bonnaroo.
Following the festival’s cancellation in 2020 due to COVID-19 and unexpected flooding of the grounds in 2021, Manchester, Tennessee finally welcomed visitors from across the country for four days full of music, community and, for better or for worse, the southern summer sun.
Some attendees arrived early and hastily flocked to the grounds, while others stayed back at the campsite to set up their tents and get settled in.
Joining in on the excitement were the students in Belmont University’s Bonnaroo U program who will gain backstage insights at speaker panels, attend networking opportunities and research the festival’s cultural impact throughout the weekend.
The energy was relatively high among this year’s visitors.
Rising junior Thomas Wood couldn’t sleep the night before and nearly missed his ride to the Farm. This was the music business major’s first visit to Bonnaroo.
“This place is awesome,” said Wood. “I just met some of the coolest people I've ever met in my life… Bonnaroo is in its heat coming up right now, and I want every piece of it. I'm so excited.”
Bonnaroo U offers students the chance to embark on a journey of professional discovery through networking and educational opportunities behind the main stage curtain.
“I never thought I'd see myself here. I never thought I would live this or have the opportunity to do this. All in all, I'd say I'm thankful,” Wood said.
Wood is looking forward to seeing Tool, a metal band headlining on Saturday, he said.
The program is also providing some students, like rising junior Gavin Cox, with their first festival experience altogether.
“It's really cool to already just be like behind the scenes,” said Cox, a music business major. “I love the culture that's been created, and I've only been here for a couple hours.”
Cox is eager to discover new music and is looking to go with the flow this weekend.
“I think the highlight of my weekend is going to be something that I couldn't foresee. I think I'm going to see something hilarious. Or I'm just going to watch something super interesting, maybe discover a new band,” Cox said. “I really like surprises. They just have a better effect on me.”
Also attending are seasoned festival-goers like rising senior and music business major Maddy Nahigian, who believes Bonnaroo is different than other festivals she’s visited.
“I feel like adrenaline is pumping, and I don't think it's going to stop anytime soon,” Nahigian said. “I feel like it's a more grounded experience… It doesn't matter how hot it is, doesn't matter that we're in the middle of a farm. None of that matters because you're here for the music, and it's literally just hundreds of thousands of people here because they all love the same thing.”
Also looking to enjoy their time at the Farm were Bonnaroo U’s professors, Dr. Sarita Stewart, and Dr. Ken Spring.
The two professors agreed Stevie Nicks, who headlines on Sunday, was on the top of their shortlists.
Still, Spring finds the uncovering of smaller bands rewarding and looks to do some exploring.
“I really like that music discovery side. So, I will be hanging out most of the time at smaller stages and just checking out,” Spring said.
Stewart agreed that although the two have their own acts to look forward to, listening to new music would be beneficial for them.
“It's good for us too,” Stewart said. “It helps keep our music taste relevant.”
Whether attendees are looking to jam out with Machine Gun Kelly or reminisce with Stevie Nicks, one thing remains constant for everyone: Bonnaroo is underway, and the Farm is packed with anticipation.
PHOTO: The Which Stage at Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee. David Pang/Belmont Vision
This article was written by David Pang