Bonnaroo is synonymous for music and drugs to most. For some, the name means an annual cash cow.
“It’s my biggest event of the year, as far as money goes,” said vendor Jim “Quick,” who is a self-described nomad originating from Baltimore. “I like to count money. I’m a capitalistic former hippie. It’s nice to have money to spend rather than just being out here spare-changing.’”
Quick has been vending T-shirts, official and non-official, for 14 years for events from Grateful Dead shows to NASCAR. In Quick’s opinion, Bonnaroo has no soul to sell.
“Come here Monday afternoon and look around. It’s a disaster zone,” said Quick. “That’s the sad thing because they’re supposed to be hippies and environmentalists and they trash this place . . . and there’s drug dealing. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I do my drugs, but the drug dealing is out of control. Everybody’s ripping everybody else off. You know what, personally, that’s why I have no qualms with coming in here and selling bootleg shirts. I think this festival is all about money. As a music lover, I would never pay to do this. It’s dirty, but I make a lot of money.”
Quick is one of many vendors who come in to the campsite every year with the goal of setting up an unofficial market, although they aren’t all as cynical.
Another vendor, Audrey Karlstad of Michigan, was part of a crew that ran a kiosk for a clothing retailer called Ethnic Creations. She explained how the campsite market comes together.
“Out here, we buy tickets and come in. We kind of got lucky this year by just talking to all the safety people and like letting our vans get here versus having to park where they camp ’em and bring all our stuff over here, which is what a lot of the venders have to do.”
Karlstad agreed that there is a lot of money to be made at Bonnaroo, however, she had a different attitude towards the crowd.
“We were kind of on the outskirts last year so we got a lot of interesting characters. But this year being on the main drag, it’s different,” she explained. “Not as much personal contact, more just selling stuff whereas last year we were more by the camp grounds , , , which was actually pretty nice. A lot of people going back to their campgrounds saw us every time and would say ?hi.’”
Still, others see the capitalistic side of Bonnaroo as a good thing. Kelly “W” and Greg “D” came to Bonnaroo from Connecticut. They switched to Bonnaroo from an annual festival called Vibes which takes place on an Indian reservation in upstate New York.
“We stopped going there because it’s only like $60 to get in and you’ve got crazy people there who are feeding people anti-freeze or whatever,” said D. “To get in here, you gotta pay $200, so you know these people at least have something.”
Another festival attendee, Sarah Kingsbury of Gallatin, Tenn., said she believes that the money of Bonnaroo raised its quality.
“Obviously they have to have sponsorship to run the festival. It’s pretty laid back,” said Kingsbury. “[The sponsors] weren’t pushing their stuff. Budweiser would just sponsor a tent or something like that. I don’t see it as being super corporate. I think they kept the bands pretty diverse. Especially this year, they changed up the headliners a lot more than they have in past years to where bands like Radiohead, who are unsigned right now.
“But they still had bands like Phil Lesh. I don’t see any huge problem as to how, if it is corporate, it affected the festival at all.”
Kingsbury and her brother worked for their admission for UrbanGroove, an entertainment and lifestyle marketing agency. Brian Lucrezia, co-owner of UrbanGroove, explained that they were there to promote the Onitsuka Tiger, a style of tennis shoe, by giving them free to the artists.
“We consider the artists opinion makers and trend setters. We hope that they will wear the shoes on stage,” said Lucrezia.
His tent backstage also gave him a glimpse at the artists’ experience.
“I didn’t see a single person who was pissed off about being there. Everyone seemed like they were really enjoying themselves if not just completely wasted. And everyone was going out into the crowd.”
One artist who can attest to that is Chuck Baril of Gallatin, Tenn. Baril was hired by Bonnaroo to fill the biggest rock-’n’-roll shoes of all, those of Elvis Presley.
“I did a mini set every hour,” said Baril. “Every time I did, scores of people would stop and they were singing along. They knew the words to every song. That was the most special part for me was learning that generationally, the love of Elvis has passed on from mother and father to the children.”
Sold out or not, Bonnaroo’s fifth year was increasingly successful. The gears are already turning for the sixth event to take place June 2007.
Perhaps Kingsbury put it best when she said, “If I enjoy the bands that are playing, I see nothing wrong with that.” Or perhaps she put it even better when she said, “No body cares about your opinion, anyway.”
? Holly Brown