At this year's Bonnaroo, I had a chance to check out some of the phenomenal production going on backstage -- and get a first-hand look at how a dedicated crew of the top production professionals in the industry made the sold-out event unforgettable for the 80,000 fans who attended.
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Bonnaroo is self-explanatory in it's name -- a Creole-Cajun slang term for "really good time"! Bonnaroo was founded in 2002 as a joint venture between Superfly Productions, a New Orleans-based promoter and music management company, and AC Entertainment, a Knoxville-based entertainment promoter. Originally focusing primarily on the jam band scene (the first Bonnaroo booked jam band heavyweights such as Phil Lesh & Bob Weir (of the Grateful Dead), String Cheese Incident, and Galactic), Bonnaroo has branched out into more diverse offerings.
2007's lineup included Tool, The Police, The White Stripes, Lily Allen, Feist, and many other unique artists -- representing a true cross-section of a diverse music lover's playlist.
Part of the Bonnaroo experience is becoming one with "Planet Bonnaroo" -- camping on the 700 acre property, filled with vendors and activities around the clock. And despite 80,000 music fans of diverse backgrounds sharing close space in 100-degree heat, very little crime was reported.
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One of the biggest issues at a music festival is high-quality sound; at an event like Bonnaroo, high quality sound reinforcement is the highest priority at every stage.
Bonnaroo's performance areas are broken up into several stages; the largest, the What Stage, is designed to hold 100,000 concertgoers, with viewing stands on either side of the stage for special guests and VIPs. With such a large area to cover, Bonnaroo brought in one of the largest industry heavyweights in touring audio: Eighth Day Sound, based in Ohio.
To simplify change-over on the main stage, the console of choice was the Yamaha PM5D, an all-digital mixing console. All dynamics and effects were handled internally, greatly reducing turnover time between artists, and allowing the artists' personal engineers to dial in their sound quickly. Aside from the PM5D, many of the larger, headline artists brought their own boards and outboard effects; Widespread Panic and many others brought their own Digidesign Venue boards, for both recording and mixing.
The next largest stage, the Which Stage, is designed to host 30,000 concertgoers. Sound reinforcement on the Which Stage was provided by Clair Brothers Audio, a Pennsylvania-based audio company known for their touring work. Instead of a digital console, Clair Brothers chose to go with a more standard approach: dual Midas Legend 3000 analog consoles, along with racks of the highest-quality outboard equipment (including the legendary DBX 160 compressors and Eventide Ultra-Harmonizers). Having dual consoles allowed for easy change-overs, as one band's input list could be prepared and loaded on one console while another band's engineer mixed a show on the other. And, of course, the system was set up for easy patching in case the band wished to use their own board; Franz Ferdinand brought their own D-Show Profile rig to use during their headlining set.
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On the main stage, image magnification was provided by Chicago-based Trio Video. Aside from i-mag feeds, Trio provided impressive high-definition, five-camera video editing in their mobile video units. Video (as well as a separate audio mix) was sent to several outlets, including the AT&T Blueroom Webcast. Audio and video feeds from the main stage were also sent to the backstage lounge as well as a mult-box for press recording.
Trio accomplished this feat using some of the highest quality equipment available; Trio's audio engineers mixed several channels of audio to make a custom audio mix for the video feeds, including crowd microphones alongside a time-aligned front-of-house feed, on a Calrec Sigma audio console. Using Grass Valley LDK-6000 MKII HD and WorldCam Cameras, all video was recorded and mixed on-the-fly on a Grass Valley Kalypso, a 60-Input HD video mixer. This provided extremely high-quality video, archived for possible DVD release in the future.
LiveBonnaroo.comAll stages had multi-track and on-the-fly mixing and recording capability, provided by a split to Bonnaroo's on-site audio engineers using Digidesign ICON consoles. Selected performances were recorded and mixed for distribution on Bonnaroo's live recording website, LiveBonnaroo.com, allowing fans to purchase professionally-mixed live recordings within weeks after the show. Of course, Bonnaroo's long-standing recording policy was in effect, allowing fans to record their own copies of whichever performances they wish to take home.
Together, Bonnaroo's production staff provides an incredible experience -- the highest quality audio, incredible quality video and lights, and lasting memories with the LiveBonnaroo.com downloads.
Recently, Superfly Productions and AC Entertainment purchased a majority of the Bonnaroo festival site, hoping to work with the surrounding community to expand the scope of events held at the site -- helping not only the local community's economy, but provide a great opportunity for more music fans to experience great festival lineups -- as well as guarantee a good Bonnaroo for years to come.
Special thanks to the accommodating and professional crews with Clair Brothers, Eighth Day Sound, Trio Video, and Muse Productions, as well as Ken Weinstein & crew at Big Hassle Publicity for their help in covering this fantastic event.