Contributing Writer : Rashon A. Massey


Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival (Manchester, TN) just wrapped up the 9th year anniversary, and the event still stands as an American triumph of music festivals.  Bonnaroo is the only festival where the average person will lose ten pounds from sweat, dehydration and exhaustion throughout the course of the events duration.

Moreover, 2009 marked my 5th go at the Roo Rodeo, and I must admit that seeing the beast each year with 10-hour waiting lines for vehicles, a never-changing layout, scorching sun and those handfuls of lackluster sanitation stations are something of nostalgia; on the flipside, even the rodeo clown gets old.  My complaint about Roo prior to arriving was that nothing EVER changes, which meant finding new joy and wonderment in the event would be a little harder.

This year, being an official GREEN AUDITOR on behalf of A Greener Festival I was elated to explore Bonnaroo from a new perspective.  Assuming this role would allow me to investigate and interrogate those responsible for the greening initiatives and communities that not only orchestrate but blossom from the Roo.  This was my dream, momentous experience to branch out and begin finding new friends and exploring terra incognita within an experience I was developing a bad taste towards.

Alongside Derek Singleton, a suave, fedora-sporting young man who just completed an exciting, 82-page report taking a look into music festivals and their sustainability programs, we would examine the greening efforts together.  Both veterans of the event, I was excited to meet up with a new friend and discuss the potential and environmental impact a festival of this magnitude could produce.  The duty and jobs to be performed by Derek and I were to work with the Bonnaroo Sustainability Coordinator, Laura Sohn, and complete an overall, comprehensive walk-through while asking questions, exchanging information and documenting through photo and video the onsite highlights of the greening efforts.

The festival spans a full weekend, yet Derek and I didn’t meet with Laura until noon on the final day of the event.  With her brightly-humorous and enjoyable spirit, Laura greeted us in the backstage media compound on Sunday, and with cameras, pens and paper, Derek and I boarded her gas-powered golf cart (although they do have electric carts as well!) and began the onsite greening tour.

The first thing Laura explained were words that still resonate within me: “Although Bonnaroo takes steps every year to get better, our greening initiatives are far from perfect.  Each year is a lesson of success and failures.”  Well shared words from a woman who has assumed this part-time, year round position since 2007.

Talk numbers, shall we?  Good. In 2009, 329-tons of landfill trash were collected, and 33 percent of all waste by weight was separated into recycling and compost.  30-tons of organic waste was composted which totaled three times as much as 2008, and Laura attributes the improvement of numbers to the implementation of the onsite “Trash Talker” program.  A work exchange system, “Trash Talker” rewards those attendees that can commit three, six-hour shifts next to waste stations (while wearing blue-gloves) in aim to aid the festival patrons with the disposing of trash, recyclables and compost in the proper receptacles.  For their tireless work and oftentimes on the spot sorting, they receive a free pass to the four-day festival.  A fair deal since ticket prices were about $240 or $275 at the gate/box office.

The first stop on our greening tour brought us to the onsite compost sorting area, which surprisingly did not STINK!  Welcomed by a mound of sorted and ready to go compost, a well-developed system of trash drop off, identification, sorting and separation takes place.  In a tented pavilion, more blue-gloved volunteers extensively do the work that most people would dread.  Like a well-oiled machine, the rotational groups of fifteen riffle through bags of trash, acting as the first line of defense to protecting our landfills and festival community ecosystem.

Something worth noting, vendors are rewarded for using compostable utensils and plates, and even if you brought enough food not to purchase goodies within Centeroo (the main area where music and activities take place), you are sure to use or see the biodegradable cups for lemonade, beer and assorted other beverages.  Produced by NatureWorks LLC, the cup is made of Ingeo biopolymer, a corn-based material, which allows the product to be sorted into the compost receptacles with other wasted food.  Although more expensive than your normal grocery store party cups, Bonnaroo continues to work with the company after six years because in just over a year, “the cups pretty much break down with the other stuff in the compost pile,” according to Sohn.  Beware – according to an article at, “the cups are not, however, officially “biodegradable” as designated by the United States Federal Trade Commission since Ingeo does not break down in nature in a “reasonably short time,” as per the FTC Green Guide’s specifications.”  Again – as Laura stated, Bonnaroo is not perfect, but it is trying to get there.

The next stop on our green adventure lead us to Anna Borofsky , owner of Clean Vibes (the company maintaining the recycling efforts at several major music festivals) at the mega recycling station.  A colorful, glittering heap of containers, bottles, cans and other recyclable products proudly congregate together and await delivery to nearby recycling facilities where further sorting will take place.  To crunch numbers again, in 2009 nearly 81-tons of plastic was delivered to Tennessee recycling plants by Clean Vibes, “…a fraction of the 130-tons of total gathered recyclable materials including scrap metal, corrugated cardboard, boxes and vendor cooking oil,” says Borofsky.  “By the looks of this pile, we already have more recyclables than last year.” 

Laura took us past waste management, greening information stations and shared specific goals she would like to see addressed in the development and execution of Bonnaroo’s 2011 music festival.  Just like the budding projects for the desolate, rundown areas of Detroit, MI, Sohn hopes to begin community gardens around the town of Manchester to be tended and used by locals.  Not only a possible source that would provide fresh produce and fruit, but a cultivated idea which also opens the door for employment opportunities to stimulate economic revenue.   The Bonnaroo team would then be able to access and use these foods during the festival, guaranteeing organic food and residual profits for the locals.

At the end of the tour, I also was able to take my duties as a GREEN AUDITOR to a special place in Centeroo themed “Planet Roo.”  Adorned with vendors, non-profits, organizations, café, a solar-powered stage and small lounge showcasing eco-conscious films and open discussion forums, Planet Roo is an area that Bonnaroo improves every year.  Whether you’re looking for more information from an organization aiding the cleanup efforts of BP’s latest oil catastrophe, or interested in reaching out to the worldwide OxFam cause to end poverty and hunger, resources abound are available to activate, encourage and bring awareness to giving back to not only our planet, but your home-based community.

While Derek and I hope to see the planning and execution of renewable energy sources (how much electricity did Jay-Z’s massive set use?), Bonnaroo is on the right path and strives for improvement.  Many do not receive the opportunity to interact and witness the 24/7 energy and persons it takes to keep the four-day festival moving, and for that, I am incredibly grateful I received the privilege.

Brandon Merritt, Christine Clark, Megan Magill and Anna Borofsky

I left Bonnaroo 2010 with a perspective and acquired experience that trumps any prior reservations I once felt towards the music festival.  Being able to elevate the experience beyond the headlining acts and my year after year complaints reminded me that sometimes new adventures are happening all around us.  Even the Bonnaroo experience changes, but it is up to each of us to allow our view and focus to be broadened and opened to our surrounding environment. Just as Laura stated, nothing is perfect, but it is the quest to better ourselves and the land around us that matters, learning through each success and failure.

By |2016-11-01T15:05:47+00:00July 25th, 2010|AGF Blog|