Live Nation Buys Bonnaroo: What Does it Mean For The Best Festival in America?

Uh oh. After spending the past year gaining a lionish foothold in the music festival industry, Live Nation has set its sights on a controlling stake in Bonnaroo, according to The Associated Press.

Live Nation Entertainment (NYSE: LYV) is in the process of purchasing a controlling interest in Bonnaroo from the Tennessee festival’s founding partners, Superfly and Knoxville-based AC Entertainment. Superfly and AC will reportedly continue execute the day-to-day operations of the festival and signature Bonnaroo initiatives, such as sustainability efforts and involvement with the Manchester community, according to today’s announcement. 

The true magic of Bonnaroo, however, is the freedom. The opportunity to be entirely removed from the big-box corporate marketing elements that have plagued so many of Live Nation’s other properties in the C3 framework, including Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, HARD festival and beyond. Carefully cultivating an atmosphere that has thus far sidestepped the hyper-capitalism circus most festivals engage in, Bonnaroo has become a mecca for festivalgoers eager to immerse themselves in a direct connection with the music, sweat and sunshine that the fields of Manchester, Tennessee have long offered in a near-exclusive orchestration of festival experience.

What does it mean for the experience?

So what will happen to Bonnaroo? Will the What stage soon become the Samsung Nexus What stage? Will the massive-shroom water fountain in the festival’s center start charging for access, or is it soon to be swarming with cut bros and bikini-clad shitgrinners offering up a sandpapery free Citibank branded towel as you exit the water? Will the amazingly varied food vendors and hedonistic little clothing/accessory stands be replaced by Bud Light and the same shitty teryaki plate offerings we see at every festival? Will they start arresting the topless girls?

These are important questions, as these are the details that have thus far enabled Bonnaroo to stand head and shoulders above the competition, easily ranking as the Best Festival in America – and here are six reasons why.

Bonnaroo has always led the pack of Summer festivals in both lineup caliber and their resistance to large-scale corporate sponsorship and escalating security (as we’ve seen with Coachella), opting instead to focus on contributions to the local economy, going solar and maintaining the highest importance of the most vital element of all: FUN.

Don’t Brand Me, Bro

Atmosphere is everything at a festival. Comparatively, other festivals choke out any sense of organic fun with schticky corporate-branded promotions at every turn and a downright intimidating police presence. When set against the freedom of the Bonnaroo experience, Coachella’s Heinekin-soaked double-weekend carbon-copy explosion in the desert looks like a strobe light party at Target – with broken air conditioning & the TSA for security. While Coachella promoters celebrate overflowing demand by promising exact-replica weekends back to back (putting zero effort into making each a unique experience), Bonnaroo simply kept working to improve its single-weekend domination by fine-tuning an already fantastic formula, and emphasizing fun and awareness over third-party promotional overdrive.

But not anymore.

In a highly telling statement, Michael Rapino, Live Nation CEO and president hailed the acquisition as a “crown jewel” in Live Nation’s efforts to dominate the festival circuit. “We continue to expand the industry’s most unparalleled and scalable festival platform all while driving strong revenue and growth for Live Nation on a global basis. Bonnaroo is another crown jewel in this festival channel strategy, one that appeals to both fans and artists in uniqueness and experience.”

You can almost see the dollar signs flashing in his eyes.

Bonnaroo 2015 Set Times Announced

“Partnering with Live Nation is a milestone for Bonnaroo. It opens up tremendous opportunities for us to continue to evolve the Bonnaroo experience in an exciting, powerful way,” said Ashley Capps, founder, AC Entertainment. Which sounds like more corpo-speak for “we’re going to take this shit over and milk it from every angle.”

“We are strengthening our commitment to create the best possible experience at Bonnaroo,” said Rick Farman, co-founder, Superfly. “Through this partnership with Live Nation, we’re even more empowered to enhance the festival while preserving the integrity of the event that we’ve thoughtfully built over the past 14 years.”

Additionally, Live Nation now also owns a share of the Bonnaroo property, Great Stage Park, also known as “the Farm, ” which the partners said will be enhanced. And whenever a massive corporation tells you they’re going to “enhance” a field that’s come to be synonymous with commercial-free festival experiences and true music-loving freedom, you know good things are on the way.

No, I’m kidding. This could be disastrous. Time will tell, but Rapino calling Bonnaroo a “crown jewel” in their festival channel strategy is just short of horrifying. 

This year’s Bonnaroo may be the last of its kind, celebrating its run as a largely commercial-free musical experience that has come to serve as the only escape our culture has to collectively let loose without being bombarded with branding.

Enjoy it while you can.