BLUE & ROO unite at Bonnaroo!

Jun 15, 2024 at 07:05 am by WGNS


Special thanks to Andrew Oppmann for insight into this article -- Manchester, TN - When the music starts at this year’s Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, fans around the world can experience its biggest concerts — from the comfort of their couches. And they might not realize a team of college students hustles to make it all possible.

Hulu subscribers can livestream dozens of Bonnaroo sets, with Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Media and Entertainment students behind the cameras, behind soundboards and behind the scenes for 53 performances. Students will collaborate to deliver the action to home viewers when highly anticipated artists like Chappell Roan, Thundercat, TV Girl and Grouplove take the stage. 


Leading up to arrival, Robert Gordon, associate professor and interim chair of Media Arts, and Recording Industry professor Michael Fleming, prepare students to expect the unexpected during this intense but rewarding experience on The Farm.  

“If you know how all this stuff works, whether it’s with Bonnaroo or sports, until the red light goes on, and the concert starts and the game starts, there’s no way to prepare for that,” Gordon said.

The festival’s relationship with the university began in 2014, when Bonnaroo’s founders convened on campus to answer student questions about festival promotions. Media Arts students were invited to work at Bonnaroo the following year. Each year, the festival entrusts students with increasing responsibilities. 

Students started working on the low-profile Who Stage in 2015. This year, students will cover two of Bonnaroo’s main stages, This Tent and That Tent. 

Thirty-two students from two classes will fill all television production roles for the shows, including directing, camera operations and audio, from two control rooms, including 10 cameras for both stages. MTSU’s Mobile Production Lab, called “The Truck,” is on site and will take the audio and video feed being captured by students and send it to a master control center in Austin, Texas.

“I don’t think they really see any distinguishable difference between us and the ‘pros,’ or they wouldn’t be using us,” Gordon said. “Now we’re doing 40% of their product.” 

As responsibilities grow each year, so does student resilience and skill. Students must work rain or shine, through chilly nights and blistering hot days.  

The team arrives three days before the music starts and remains long after the last note rings out. It’s a grueling Monday-to-Monday schedule that starts with laying cable in channels cut into dirt and helping to cover the wires, protecting them from dancing crowds.  

They will be working 14 ½ hours during each of the four days, providing the camera and audio work for Hulu’s live television streaming of 40% of all the Bonnaroo performances.

“Something our college does provide is real-world, hands-on experience,” said Beverly Keel, dean of the College of Media and Entertainment. “Wherever the action is, we want our students there.”  

MTSU’s provost and chief academic officer, Mark Byrnes, was at the Farm Wednesday, June 12, to see the setup. Echoing Keel, he added that “no other university provides such an extensive, real work opportunity to its students.” 

Working at Bonnaroo prepares students for post-graduate jobs, laying the foundation for positions on major concert tours. Past graduates used experience at Bonnaroo to land work with Beyoncé, Carrie Underwood and Post Malone, Keel said.  

“Students are learning the gear and learning how to think not only how to shoot music, but how to shoot unrehearsed music,” Gordon said. “From our point of view, the band knows what they’re doing. But it’s one take — no rehearsal, live internationally. And there’s no way to prep for it.” 

Though Gordon prepares his students to think fast and expect the unexpected, the nature of Bonnaroo is unpredictable. In 2020, promoters canceled the festival due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The next year, flooding from Hurricane Ida rendered The Farm unusably muddy, spurring another cancellation. These stories offer only a sample of the chaos that Media Arts students can endure.  

“We’ve got (heavy metal band) Gwar this time,” Gordon said. “They all dress like monsters and spill body fluids on everybody. Our handheld operators are going to love that.”  

All 53 sets at This Tent and That Tent will be available to Hulu subscribers, beginning at 7:05 p.m. Thursday, June 13, with artist Matt Maltese — streamed, of course, by MTSU’s Media Arts and Recording Industry students.




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