Story by Delaney Johnson
Photo courtesy of Live for Live Music
For the past six years, Middle Tennessee State University and Bonnaroo have had a working relationship that benefits students studying in the College of Media and Entertainment. In 2014, the Bonnaroo team visited MTSU’s campus to discuss audio production and more with interested students. From then on, the university has had the opportunity to take students, along with the MTSU mobile production lab truck, to the festival every year.
Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, the festival held in Manchester, Tennessee, has been rescheduled to take place September 24-27 of this year.
According to Associate Professor of Media and Entertainment Robert Gordon, MTSU’s Bonnaroo production is a combination of a Media Arts class, an advanced Multi-camera production class and a RIM audio production class.
Gordon says, “It gives the students the opportunity to experience on-location, multiple-artist concert festivals with no rehearsal.”
Students working audio production at Bonnaroo complete the same tasks as professionals working the larger stages at the festival. Several students have graduated and gone on to crew and direct major tours such as Post Malone, Luke Bryan, 21 Pilots, Rascal Flatts and Little Big Town.
“The combined 15-20 student effort gives the students the experienced of producing up to 18 concerts in 4 days. Students in the Bonnaroo production have a wide range of previous experience – from a great amount to virtually none,” says Gordon.
Michael Fleming, recording industry/audio production professor and coordinator of production logistics for the student team, has been teaching a Bonnaroo summer course since 2016.
Fleming has worked closely alongside Associate Professor Robert Gordon and the two will be including the Bonnaroo project in their Fall production classes, due to the rescheduling. Professor Fleming had been doing pre-production for Bonnaroo for the last couple of months in anticipation for the summer event.
“The effect of moving the festival this year is that the summer classes are canceled. However, Professor Fleming and I are including the Bonnaroo project in our Fall production classes,” says Gordon. “This will just be one of several class projects that the fall class normally does such as producing MTSU Women’s Soccer and Volleyball games for ESPN3.”
Students working at Bonnaroo have the chance to produce upcoming and emerging artists performing on one of the smaller stages. The sets are usually 45 minutes and they work about four or five sets in a day, according to Professor Michael Fleming. Previous sets students have worked include artists Maren Morris, L King and more.
Not only do audio production and RIM students have the chance to work Bonnaroo, each year the School of Journalism and Strategic Media recruits between six and 10 students to cover the four-day event.Associate
Professor of Journalism and advisor to Sidelines Leon Alligood, tells us “I get nominations from fellow professors and some students who are eager to have the experience nominate themselves. In addition, I look for talent on Sidelines and MT10 and MT News. The students get paid by The Tennessean for producing content that is uploaded on a daily basis to the newspaper’s website.”
“Bonnaroo is a unique event,” Alligood goes on to say. “It’s 80,000 people in a pasture for four days. It’s either hot or it’s muddy. That’s a given. But the chance to cover musicians and their fans up close is also a given. It’s a wonderful opportunity to give students real-world experience.”
Former student Tiffany Brady, who was selected to write and cover events at Bonnaroo from 2017-2019 gives her testimony on her experience.
“During the 2018 festival, I wrote eight pieces and was published by both the Tennessean and Now Playing Nashville.”
She goes on to say, “My last year in the internship proved to be the most valuable year, though, because this was the year that I had all the knowledge/experience to make my mark. At the 2019 festival, I wrote 12 articles, was allowed photo pit access and did a fashion photo gallery. All of my stories were published in the Tennessean and Now Playing Nashville and would even be the leading stories on some days.”
Another former Media and Entertainment student, Madison Oler, described her experience working Bonnaroo as “exhausted excitement.” Oler says, “The behind the scenes work that goes into every aspect of festivals is insane. In terms of educational opportunities, I learned a ton. I never would’ve gotten the opportunity if it wasn’t for MTSU.”
When asked if the same students intending to work Bonnaroo this year will be able to, that remains to be seen. Leon Alligood explains “September is a different issue because we’ll be in fall semester by then. Students who have expressed interest now may not be available then. In at least one case, they will have graduated (in August.)”
Leon Alligood advises students to “stay positive” during this pandemic.
“The social distancing we’re practicing now will lead to a quicker plateau of the virus cases. I’m taking it one day at a time. I think that’s all we can do.”
“We are blessed that Bonnaroo and MTSU allows us to continue to offer this experience for the students each year,” says Professor Robert Gordon. “It is a highly realistic and practical project that benefits the students and the College greatly. No University in the region can do what we do, and we do it very well.”
Other festivals such as Big Ears, Coachella and Beale Street have also had to change plans due to COVID- 19 concerns. Big Ears Festival has been canceled for the year and is offering refunds to all ticket purchasers.
Coachella has been rescheduled and will now take place October 9 through the 18th, where all tickets previously purchased will be honored. Stagecoach will follow right behind Coachella, taking place on October 23, 24 and 25 of 2020. Beale Street Music Festival is also rescheduled for October and is going to take place October 16-18 in Memphis.
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