20 Watts

ISSUE 20 | Q&A: 20 Watts Interviews Jim Farman, Founder of Bonnaroo by 20watts
February 21, 2010, 10:13 pm
Filed under: Interviews, Issue 20, Issue 20 Interviews | Tags: ,

Spectators have flocked in droves to Bonnaroo Music and Arts festival for most of the past decade

Part of 20 Watts’ Best of the Decade Coverage!
PREVIEW: VISIT Bonnaroo’s Website

Superfly Productions began with a group of college friends producing shows from their Tulane University dorm rooms. Twelve years later, the company is celebrating the eight-year anniversary of its Bonnaroo Music Festival, now one of the largest festivals in the country and the place where bands like My Morning Jacket and Kings of Leon got their start.

Superfly co-founder Rick Farman isn’t content basking in his accomplishments. He’s looking forward to the next ten years.

20 Watts: How did Bonnaroo gets its start, and what was the inspiration for it?

Rick Farman: A lot of different types of events, everything from the New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival to a lot of the big festivals in Europe … [We realized] that people would want to travel from all over the country to go see all the top bands in one spot at one time, and camp together for three or four days and be able to meet new people and have a sort of shared experience seeing a lot of music.

20W: What goes into picking and choosing the bands for the festival?

Farman: A lot of things. First and foremost, for us it’s about what bands are out there that are the best in live performance. It’s not nec­essarily a band that’s selling a lot of records or is on the radio, it’s really about the live experi­ence. That’s really our first criteria: is the band a great live band. Another thing that we look for is for bands who have a large, devoted fan base, you know, people who are really passionate about the band and who will travel to see them play, who really feel like that that band is really important to them. And also that that band has a sort of organic or grass roots following, that their fans are almost like a little community around them. And then of course it’s just bands that we like. That could be a new band that’s just breaking or an iconic artist, like Bob Dylan or Neil Young.

20W: What’s in the name Bonnaroo? Does it have any particular meaning?

Farman: We started our business in New Or­leans, and the term Bonnaroo is kind of a Creole slang term that means “good stuff.” We actually took the name from a Dr. John record called Destively Bonnaroo, and it’s a great record that features The Leaders, Dr. John and Allen Toussaint. We just thought it was a cool name and a cool word and would be fun for people to say.

20W: What are the plans for next year’s festival? What are your plans for the future?

Farman: We’re going to continue to feature not only a lot of music at the event, but also a lot of other arts. We have a huge comedy compo­nent to the festival, we have a huge cinema and film component to the festival, we have a lot of different activities out there, from our silent disco, to a lot of electronic music, to a lot of art. So for us it’s all about curating a huge art project with lots of different things that keep people entertained for a full weekend.

20W: What are some of your favorite Bonnaroo moments or highlights?

Farman: There’s quite a few. I would say when Neil Young played the first time in 2003, that was a special moment. Certainly when we had Radiohead in ’06, that was a very special mo­ment. My Morning Jacket is a band that’s really developed at our festival in a lot of ways, so they played a show in the rain in ’04 that was one of their defining moments. The White Stripes had an incredible show there in 2007. And having Metallica there in 2008 was pretty amazing, Pearl Jam that year too. And last year with Bruce Springsteen and Phish, those were pretty incredible moments as well. We’re excited to see more to come in 2009.

20W: It sounds like most of your favorite acts are major bands or headliners. What are your favorite lesser-known acts?

Farman: Bands like My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon and even Jack Johnson started at the festival really early on, before a lot of people knew who they were. Last year, for instance, a band that not a lot of us knew going into the festival was Phoenix, who put on a huge show at the festival and are now really breaking out internationally.

20W: Why hold the festival on a farm in Tennessee?

Farman: We wanted to do an event that was really national. Tennessee and our property are located within a day’s drive for 80 percent of the population of America … The other reason is there was really nothing quite like what we were looking to do in the Southeast, and we felt the Southeast was a good place for people to congregate.

20W: Are there other plans on how to use the location or take Bonnaroo on the road?

Farman: Yes. We are going to have other events at the Bonnaroo property – nothing that will happen in this coming year, but we’re actively pursuing other opportunities for this property. It’s available to anybody looking to do stuff there. In terms of doing stuff on the road, we’re not necessarily going to do Bonnaroos in differ­ent places … [though] we’re actually working on a comedy tour using the Bonnaroo name that’ll probably be at colleges in the spring.

— Interview by Olivia St. Denis
— Photos by Michael Murray

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