The gates open later today (Wednesday) for the annual group of Bonnaroovians ready to return to Great Stage Park, and local groups are ready to set up shop and help out with the annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.
One of those local groups is the Tullahoma High School Band, which has manned a beverage booth and worked other jobs for the festival for nearly a decade to raise funds.
According to Director Justin Scott, the band program has had a presence in the festival for around eight years, working beverage tents, parking lots, shower ticket sales and other jobs on the grounds in order to raise some money for the program.
In fact, Scott said, the festival raises a “significant” amount of money for the program each year.
“We’ve raised anywhere from $25,000 to $35,000,” Scott said of the benefit the festival brings to the band program. “It’s a significant chunk of our budget and one of the main things that helps us keep our band fees low so that the majority of our band students can enjoy the benefits of our band program without having to have exorbitant fees to be a part of it.”
While it may seem odd to see the high school band program manning a booth that sells alcoholic beverages, Scott stressed that no current students ever work that particular job.
In fact, he said, former students can only volunteer to work the booth once they’ve been one year removed from high school.
“Our general rule for students is that they have to have been graduated for a year from Tullahoma,” he said. “So they’re allowed to start working [the beverage tent] when they’re a year out of graduation.”
Bonnaroo itself only requires that volunteers in beverage tents be 18 years old, but Scott said the program made the decision to keep younger students away from the alcoholic sales.
“Just for our own peace of mind, we felt it would be better if the kids had [been] graduated for a year,” he said.
For the most part, Scott said the high school students work the parking lots or sell tickets to the on-site showers.
In years past, the band also managed the foot traffic coming out of the rows portable toilets, but since the permanent restroom facilities have been constructed, Scott said the students were offered the chance to sell tickets for the showers.
That leaves mostly parents and older alumni, as well as community friends of the band program, to man the beverage sales.
According to Scott, it takes hundreds of volunteers to successfully man each of the band’s assigned jobs at the festival each year.
The last estimate was in the neighborhood of 280 to 300 volunteers, Scott said.
Another factor in the students sticking to the parking and the showers is the “access to the festival” itself.
When the students work either of those jobs, they’re more likely to work multiple days of the festival, which means they can see more artists they like.
“The beverage tent is scheduled on a day-by-day basis,” Scott said. “A lot of kids will come out for two days to catch some of the bands, so they’ll work two days of parking and that gets them into the festival for two days.”
When asked what’s been keeping the band program’s booth stationed inside Centeroo for that last several years, Scott attributed the group’s success to the “dedicated” individuals who help out with the band regularly.
“We’ve always had such highly-organized, dedicated parents that are adamant about inventory and the money count and just making sure that everything clears,” Scott said. “Bonnaroo’s real big on that.”
That reputation and organization has kept the band in a good spot, Scott added.
“They’ve kept us there [in Centeroo] for a while,” he said, “and they enjoy having us there.”
The influx of happy people willing to help out local groups like the band are what makes the festival great, Scott added.
“From our perspective, sometimes there can be a misconception about the atmosphere at Bonnaroo,” he said. “It is one of the most welcoming, happiest atmospheres I think I’ve ever been around. The people are so cool. They are so giving, and they love the fact that…everything they’re doing while they’re at the festival is giving back to the community around us.”
Scott added that multiple times a day, people will come up to the tent and ask what group is running it, so they can know who they’re helping with their tips.
Yes, tips – the band doesn’t make money off the sale of any alcoholic beverages. According to Scott, while the band does get paid flat rate fees from the parking jobs, the money made at the beverage tent is pretty much only from the bills stuffed into the tip jars.
For the shower ticket sales, Scott said the group makes a certain amount of money per ticket, though the amount changes from year to year.
“Each job is different, and that’s because they’re managed by different groups,” he said.
All the beverages are managed by a company called Spectrum Concessions, while the parking is managed by the festival itself.
Though the group has already amassed its group of volunteers for this year’s festival, Scott said those interested can always contact the band office for information on how to help in the future.
“We’re always seeking volunteers,” he said.
The band office can be contacted at 931-454-2629.
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.