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How Belmont's Bonnaroo U turns the Farm into a classroom

Updated: Jun 18, 2022

Belmont’s Bonnaroo U brought students back to experience the program’s on-site learning component for the first time in two years.

And, in the fifth edition of the class, Dr. Ken Spring and Dr. Sarita Stewart, Bonnaroo U’s founders and professors, were able to drive their coveted class back to the festival once again.

“There's nothing like being at the farm,” said Spring, a sociology professor at Belmont. “It truly is a completely different experience when you're able to come down here and give the students the opportunities that they will receive.”

Students will attend guest panels in the press tent across the weekend and mingle with industry professionals as well as former Bonnaroo U graduates.

Throughout the summer session, Spring and Stewart prepared their students for a research project on the festival grounds.

During their stay at Bonnaroo, students will gather over 400 data points focused on the sectors of festival production and music discovery, said Stewart and Spring.

Two groups are focused on asking how attendees discover music at festivals, while two other groups will center their research on the aspects of a festival that make the event appealing.

When students return to campus, they will assemble presentations based on their research, discover common themes and showcase their work to the panelists they heard from and networked with at Bonnaroo.

“That has turned into internships, it has certainly led to jobs from these folks watching these presentations,” said Spring.

Together, the professors worked diligently to perfect the two courses that form Bonnaroo U: sociology of music and research methods and festival culture.

“We're really working together to create the content,” said Stewart, likening the program to an Interdisciplinary Learning Community. “Even though he’s sociology, and I'm over in music business, we're both trained social scientists. So that helps give us that shared perspective that we're able to translate to the students.”

Since 2018, Stewart and Spring evolved Bonnaroo year after year to create more successful iterations each time. As a result, the pair have garnered interest from universities across the country and internationally, presenting the course’s success overseas and at other institutions like nearby University of Tennessee and DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois.

Spring believes he and his partner are “writing the manual for others to go create something similar.”

Students kicked off their weekend on Thursday with a panel featuring Ken Weinstein and Jim Merlis, founders of Big Hassle Media.

Weinstein left students with some words of encouragement as the students prepared to embark on their exploration of music business and culture research.

“The more you do, the more you learn,” Weinstein said. “If you love something, do not talk yourself out of it.”

PHOTO: Belmont's Bonnaroo U class at the Farm in Manchester, Tennessee. David Pang / Belmont Vision

This article was written by David Pang.

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