Bonnaroo 2016: MTSU students volunteer, earn class credit at festival

MTSU student volunteers gather around the Who Stage. (MTSU Sidelines/John Connor Coulston)

Photo by John Connor Coulston / MTSU Seigenthaler News Service

Middle Tennessee State University’s involvement at the 15th annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival goes far beyond the hundreds of students driving 30 miles southeast with a paid $350 general admission wristband in tow.

Instead, a number of current students and recent alumni have opted to either volunteer, work for modest pay alongside media professionals or earn class credit in exchange for a free ticket to the festival.

Last year, about 40 electronic media production and recording industry students, along with faculty and staff members, staffed the university’s $1.7 million Mobile Production Lab at the festival’s Who Stage during all four days.

The production truck is back on “The Farm” this year, but this time attending undergraduate and graduate students will receive course credit for working the festival.

Senior recording industry student Matthew Gallagher has returned for his sixth Bonnaroo experience, with this year his first time working on the Who Stage. Gallagher, who volunteered his first year, says he’s looking forward to working at the stage.

“Career-wise, this is exactly what I want to do,” Gallagher said. “This is just another great opportunity for me to gain experience in a new environment. … This is what I want to be doing with my life, working at festivals and rock ’n’ roll shows.”

Throughout the weekend, Gallagher and 40 other students will act as stagehands and operate cameras under the guidance of professors and graduate students. In addition to electronic media and recording industry majors, public relations and journalism students also are looking to gain experience this weekend.

Kimi Taylor, a senior public relations major, is set to shadow Nashville-based Kaleidoscope Media public relations personnel this weekend.

Taylor, a Bonnaroo veteran, is also on board as one of 11 students being paid at Bonnaroo this year as part of the MTSU Seigenthaler News Service, which for the past three summers has provided editorial content — including stories, photos and social media such as Snapchat — to media partners, including The Tennessean and MTSU student newspaper Sidelines.

“I’ve contributed to The Tennessean for three years during Bonnaroo now, but now I also get to try out something else,” said Taylor, who will begin an internship with Kaleidoscope this year. “This is what my major is, so it made sense to work with them.”

In addition to working production or journalism jobs, many students opt to volunteer — or, as Bonnaroo calls it, join “The C’roo” — to attend the festival for free in exchange for 18 volunteer hours.

Brandon Wyatt, a senior computer information systems major, is volunteering and camping this year with three other MTSU students. Wyatt says his shift allows him to roam “Centeroo,” the festival’s main area, during the day and to work during the cool overnight hours, in addition to receiving free food and showers.

“When you volunteer, you get all the extra benefits while also arriving two days early,” said Wyatt, who will begin his first shift Friday night, scanning wristbands under the Bonnaroo arch. “Everyone is so happy, and the extra time at Bonnaroo gives you more time to be around like-minded people.”

Graduating college doesn’t necessarily mean the fun is done. Fall 2015 MTSU graduate Markey Harvey is attending his seventh Bonnaroo, his third as a staff member. Although Harvey works to attend the festival, his job with wristband customer service is unlike most — a 24-hour ticketing shift leading up to the festival.

“It’s a rough day,” Harvey said, “but as soon as it’s over, the festival begins for me, and there is no more work.”

“The work is worth the experience,” he continued. “I always tell people, ‘Bonnaroo is like Christmas for me. I just can’t miss it.’ … The sense of community, the great music, the great food and the happy people make for a special experience you just can’t find anywhere else.”

This article was published in cooperation with the Seigenthaler News Service. To see the version of this article that ran in The Tennessean, click here.

Follow Dylan Skye Aycock on Twitter @dylskye.

Follow John Connor Coulston on Instagram @jccoulston.

To see our full archive of Bonnaroo coverage, click here.

For more updates, follow us at, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter/Instagram at @Sidelines_Life.

To contact Lifestyles editor Olivia Ladd, email

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