Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival

Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival: 20 Years of Music History

You’ve heard of it by now even if you don’t totally know what it is because Bonnaroo is a big, big deal in the music festival world. A hundred thousand people attend it every year, and even more are talking about it. That’s because The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival is one of the biggest names on the scene.

We’re going to break it down for you, starting with the basics and building up to what makes Bonnaroo so unique and what’s helped it stick around for twenty years.

What is Bonnaroo? 

Bonnaroo is a music festival in Tennessee, arguably the music capital of the United States. What’s with all the fuss, then?

Bonnaroo is an annual music festival held on the second Thursday in June at the Great Stage Park in Manchester, Tennessee, which gets renamed Bonnaroo Farm every year. With ten stages and over 150 acts spanning the 4-day festival, it’s known for drawing big names and showcasing indie talent alike.

Bonnaroo is a big deal. Here’s why.

There’s no genre

The music at Bonnaroo runs the spectrum starting with our favorites indie rock, indie pop, and indie’s grandparents folk and bluegrass. There’s also R&B, jazz, hip hop, country, electronica, soul, gospel, and anything else you can think of. 

It’s festival inception

Festivals within festivals. The Bonnaroo Music And Arts Festival has art installations, silent discos, comedy tents, camping events, brewers festivals, and so much more than just the main event. There’s something for everyone, even when the sun goes down. 

It serves its community

Hosting a massive festival every year sounds downright exhausting for Manchester, but thanks to the Bonnaroo Works Fund, they’ve raised $7.8 million for local communities and greater outreach. You can check out more of that on their non-profit’s website

Where is Bonnaroo?

If you can’t find it by following the noise alone, here’s how to find Bonnaroo. 

Bonnaroo is held at the Great Stage Park in Manchester, Tennessee, halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga on I-24. There’s lots of off-site parking and plenty of nearby infrastructure to support the festival like local shops and hotels. Great Stage Park also has a large campground for attendees. 

Camping is all part of the festival experience for us. Music, friends, and s’mores? What could be better? Check out our guide on how to prepare the best food for your next festival camp experience

Now that we’ve established a little bit of what and where Bonnaroo is today, let’s go back in time a bit to how it all began. 

History of Bonnaroo 

Bonnaroo began as a twinkle in its founder’s eye when he realized his home base of Knoxville, Tennessee had no outdoor venues to host great concerts. Its history is one of necessity. 

Bonnaroo truly began with the Hot Summer Nights festivals, which kicked off in 1992. They created the World’s Fair Park for the event in Knoxville, TN, breaking ground because all the big venues were indoors, and the bands touring in the summers expected outdoor venues. 

When AC Entertainment built The Farm in Manchester, it was the first time they’d done anything to that scale. Mountain Oasis Festival was their model, but Bonnaroo quickly became their most ambitious project ever. 

Bonnaroo launched just three short years after the disaster that was Woodstock ‘99, and in many ways, it turned the tides for American music festivals. But, of course, it didn’t happen immediately. Still, the struggle led to triumph, and now Bonnaroo is one of the most famous names in US music festivals. 

Who started Bonnaroo?

All of that is a lot to accomplish! Doesn’t it make you wonder, who created the momentum behind AC Entertainment? Who actually started Bonnaroo? 

Ashley Capps is the founder of the Bonnaroo music festival. He began AC Entertainment in 1991 and is considered a patron of the arts in Tennessee. His company oversees two historic venues in Knoxville among countless other venues. He has made Bonnaroo a model for sustainable music festivals. 

Capps also serves on the board of the Americana Music Association, which is an awesome organization that advocates for heritage and traditional folk music in the United States. Naturally, then, Americana continues to have an important place in Bonnaroo’s lineup. 

Environmentalism and Bonnaroo 

When we say Bonnaroo is a model for sustainable music festivals, you have to understand that, ordinarily, festivals are costly, messy things. 

The fuel costs of getting all of those bands and attendees to Manchester every year, the electricity powering the festival and nearby hotels, and the water and waste alone are enough to make us cringe. When a city goes from a population of 10,000 to 80,000 in one weekend, you have to wonder how could it ever possibly be green?

Bonnaroo went totally carbon neutral in 2008 thanks to the help of the Clean Air Conservatory, which mapped the carbon footprint of everything from the planes and cars for travel to the gas in the golf carts that the security team drives around. They spent their carbon credits, then retired them forever. 

Bonnaroo spent the money to take ownership of their emissions, and that money goes towards offset efforts. It’s as close as you can get today to being green, anyway, and it’s more than most do for the environment. Kudos, Bonnaroo. 

Who attends Bonnaroo? 

Now, time for the fun stuff: the festival itself! Let’s dig in! 

Bonnaroo is attended by anywhere between 75,000 to 100,000 fans each year, except for when it was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19 and then flooding. It’s back this year and already sold out thanks to festival fever and some amazing acts on the lineup like Stevie Nicks, Gryffin, and The Chicks. 

This year is probably going to be one to remember for a long, long time.

Two decades of Bonnaroo 

2022 is the twentieth anniversary of the festival, and you can bet they’ll be doing some awesome stuff to celebrate after a two-year hiatus. 

The acts alone would draw us right in! They’ve had killer lineups in the past, but 2022 is slated to be one of the best yet. 

Best acts at Bonnaroo

The lineups at Bonnaroo have been really amazing in the past. Like, really amazing! But, we can’t sit here and list every band for two decades, so let’s grab some highlights before we talk about what’s happening in 2022. 

2002-2005 

The first year of Bonnaroo saw Widespread Panic headlining along with Trey Anastasio, Jack Johnson, and Ben Harper. 2003 drew Widespread Panic and Jack Johnson back along with Blues Traveler, Ween, Steve Winwood, and more. Bonnaroo 2004 was a smash with Wilco, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Black Keys, and Kings of Leon, to name just a few. 

In 2005, the stages saw Dave Matthews, RJD2, Old Crow Medicine Show, Iron & Wine, and way, way more. There was also a movie tent playing movies like Airplane!, Team America: World Police, and Austin Powers. A comedy tent had stand-up acts like Mike Birbiglia and Vic Henley. 

2006-2010 

Bonnaroo continued to age like a fine wine in 2006 when Radiohead headlined along with Tom Petty, Beck, and Phil Lesh and Friends. 2007 saw The Police, The White Stripes, and Franz Ferdinand. Many bands from previous years kept coming back, too. In 2008 they managed to pull in Pearl Jam, Metallica, Robert Plant, Death Cab for Cutie, and Kanye. 

Bonnaroo 2009 included Passion Pit, Zac Brown Band, Beastie Boys, Phish, Nine Inch Nails, and way way more. Some of the bands in 2010 were The Flaming Lips, LCD Soundsystem, Kid Cudi, Galactic, Weezer, Stevie Wonder, Dropkick Murpheys, and They Might be Giants. 

And we’re only halfway through!

2011-2015 

Bonnaroo 2011’s acts included The Strokes, The Decemberists, Eminem, Gogol Borello, Matt & Kim, and Deerhunter. 2012 saw The Beach Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Foster the People. 

2013 included Paul McCartney, David Byrne, St. Vincent, and Wu-Tang Clan. 2014’s lineup had Elton John, Lionel Richie, and Vampire Weekend, while in 2015 the stages saw Florence and the Machine, Hozier, Childish Gambino, and so many more. 

Things got mainstream pretty quickly, but these lists are still so packed with awesome bands. It’s good to know the people who came for Kanye got to listen to Andrew Bird, too. 

2016-2019 

Tame Impala came to the bill in 2016 along with Haim and Chvrches. Lorde appeared in 2017 along with Glass Animals, Future Islands, and The Front Bottoms. In 2018, Bonnaroo welcomed Muse and The Killers as headliners, and in 2019, The Lumineers were joined by acts like Walk the Moon, Mac DeMarco, and Lil Dicky. 

2020-2021: The Lost Years

Tragically, Bonnaroo 2020 didn’t happen due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Day one would’ve been held at the Grand Ole Opry on the Thursday before the festival kicked off at The Farm. Headliners would’ve included Tool, Bassnectar, Flume, and Tame Impala. 

2021 also didn’t happen, but that was because of Tropical Depression Ida totally flooding the campgrounds. Acts slated to go on included Foo Fighters, Run the Jewels, My Morning Jacket, and deadmau5.

Indie bands at Bonnaroo 2022

This year’s headliners won’t fail to live up to their predecessors in terms of fame, but we’re way more interested in the indie acts. 

Bonnaroo’s 2022 indie lineup includes indie rock bands like All Them Witches, The Backseat Lovers, and Mt. Joy. Indie pop sensation Bleachers will also be there along with Judah & the Lion, Dayglow, Japanese Breakfast, and CHVRCHES.

Stevie Nicks herself is one of the night’s star headliners. 

Even though names like Miley Cyrus, Lizzo, and other mainstream, powerhouse acts have dominated the top of the lineup, there’s still so much indie goodness to love. Check out this Reddit user’s awesome list of bands by genre so you don’t miss a thing. 

Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival – Final thoughts

Bonnaroo’s a big, big deal. And, it’s easy to see why now that we know its history, founder, and some of the really mind-blowing acts that have graced the stages. The stages that are, by the way, humorously named “What,” “Which,” “This,” “That,” etc.

Let us know in the comments if you’ve ever gone to Bonnaroo, and if you did, which acts totally changed your life and made your experience something you’ll never forget.

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