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It’s Wednesday the week before Bonnaroo and Jeff Cuellar is already on-site in Manchester, Tennessee.
“It’s hot, I’m not gonna lie,” Cuellar says by phone, laughing. But, he says, the heat is part of the magic of Bonnaroo. “If we didn’t have the heat, I don’t think we’d know what to do.”
Cuellar is AC Entertainment’s Director of Connectivity. He says that early on the festival promoters realized they had “lightning in a bottle” and have been letting the festival grow organically ever since.
Cuellar also attributes Bonnaroo’s success to its emergence at the dawn of social marketing, but also says the programming choices have been key.
“It was never supposed to be strictly a jam band music festival,” says Cuellar, even though the organizers were looking at the types of tours that Phish and Widespread Panic were doing, as well as European festivals. “It’s a festival for great live performances.”
“If you go back and look at some of our first lineups, there were sprinklings all throughout of all the different genres,” says Cuellar.
To gauge what audiences wanted, Cuellar says AC employees looked at themselves and realized how eclectic their tastes were. “We’ve definitely taken some chances. Some positive, and some didn’t work out as well for us,” admits Cuellar.
He says Bonnaroo sets itself apart from other festivals by booking iconic acts, like this year’s Buffalo Springfield reunion, but has also been successful by branching out into other areas, like comedy, cinema, the arcade, and the silent disco. “These are the features that make it a festival,” says Cuellar.
“We focus on what we call ‘the experience,’” says Cuellar. “Anybody can curate a lot of artists and throw them on stages. But it’s really everything that makes up that experience: from when you purchase your ticket, coming through the gate, setting up your camp spot, and walking in for the first time.
So every year Bonnaroo’s promoters look for new ways to heighten that experience.
For the 2011 festival, Bonnaroo’s tenth anniversary, they’re putting in lockers for the first time, a feature that a lot of people had been asking about.
This year there will also be a giant waterslide in addition to the slip and slide and volleyball court.
“Obviously when you’re in Tennessee and it’s this hot,” says the Knoxville-based Cuellar, “any kind of water feature is gonna be a lot of fun.”
The festival organizers have also increased the number of water stations. “We’re actually pulling up our well water which is cold and then we use UV rays to sanitize it,” says Cueller. The well water program helps the festival keeps the festival’s footprint down by lowering trash generation.
But Cuellar won’t reveal all this year’s Bonnaroo’s secrets ahead of schedule.
“We’ve got some other fun stuff playing that are still in the works right now. All I can say is it’s our tenth year. You know we’re going big.”