Team of 50 students, faculty, staff return to music fest for fourth year
MANCHESTER, Tenn. — It’s the fourth year that Middle Tennessee State University has deployed a team of multimedia students to cover the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, but the experience never gets old.
That’s because each year of the unique partnership between Bonnaroo and MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment is a fresh experience to the students who gain valuable on-the-job experience in one of the world’s top live-music venues.
“Each year, we bring a broader range of study to our ‘Bonnaroo campus,’” said Media and Entertainment Dean Ken Paulson. “This year, students majoring in photography, journalism, audio engineering and video production will pursue their academic interests in the fields of Manchester.”
A contingent of about 50 students, faculty and staff arrived Thursday at the 700-acre farm that serves as grounds for the four-day festival. It has been described by Rolling Stone magazine in 2003, a year after its debut, as one of the 50 moments that changed rock ‘n’ roll.
MTSU journalism students will be covering major music acts, including U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Weeknd, Chance The Rapper and Major Lazer, as well as a wide range of other artists and events on Bonnaroo’s several stages.
A broadcast-style student production team will capture audio and video of performances on the Who stage, using MTSU’s state-of-the-art, $1.7 million Mobile Production Lab already set up on the grounds.
“Most universities do not have the facilities or faculty experience that we have at MTSU,” said Robert Gordon, a media arts assistant professor who oversees the mobile lab. “We teach students the skills to produce the kind of entertainment that Bonnaroo produces.”
“We've learned to always be flexible and adapt to changing operational and artistic conditions on the ground,” said Michael Fleming, a Department of Recording Industry professor who teaches audio production.
Also, a student multimedia reporting team will be generating story, photographic and video coverage of Bonnaroo for area media outlets, including The Tennessean and USA TODAY NETWORK sites throughout Tennessee, including The Daily News Journal.
And, for the first time in the partnership, MTSU’s public radio station, WMOT Roots Radio, will be on the grounds to highlight some of the Americana acts playing at Bonnaroo. The station at 89.5 FM will broadcast live reports Saturday and Sunday, as well as the Bluegrass Situation’s Superjam on Sunday night.
Most of these students are enrolled in credit-bearing courses based upon their Bonnaroo experiences.
MTSU students last year filed 45 bylined reports at Bonnaroo, along with 12 sets of photos and a myriad of social media posts, for The Tennessean, its network affiliates and Sidelines, the student-run campus news platform.
“This is an excellent opportunity to receive up to a half-dozen publishing credits,” said Leon Alligood, an associate professor in the School of Journalism who serves as faculty adviser to MTSU’s student media platform, Sidelines. “I don’t know of another opportunity like this.”
This year, students will also contribute content to NowPlayingNashville.com, an arts and entertainment site administered by The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
“One of the most exciting and challenging teaching aspects about the weekend is being mindful of the audience metrics that help guide The Tennessean and other media outlets these days,” said Pat Embry, an adjunct professor and former journalist who returned to again help MTSU coordinate its Bonnaroo operations.
“The students and editors must ask themselves: Is this story relevant to readers and fans and followers of these bands? How can we create more digital traffic for our work?”
That, Paulson said, makes Bonnaroo both fun and valuable.
“When our students get their first jobs, an assignment to work a major media or music event won’t be their first,” he said.