Bonnaroo Hacks the Sun to Power Its Groove

Bonnaroo is the first large music festival to install a permanent solar array to help power its four days of rock and roll. (Photo: By micksphotos/

In just a few days, the Bonnaroo Music Festival will attract some 80,000 to 100,000 people to a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tennessee, to dance, camp and soak up the early heat of summer. The festival, now celebrating its 15th year, is considered one of the best in North America with more than 125 bands, 20 comedians, films, food and assorted other attractions going non-stop over four days.

"I think where Bonnaroo has carved out its niche is that the music part has created the community and we help foster that community," Jeff Cuellar, vice president of strategic partnerships for Bonnaroo, told NoiseTrade. "No knock against other big festivals, but when you add camping into the mix, it completely changes the festival dynamic. It also changes the financial model as well to find what it truly takes to build a city. It’s really brought people together."

With sustainability as one of the core pillars of Bonnaroo's mission statement, figuring out how to power its temporary city (the seventh largest in the state for a weekend) has always been a challenge. In 2013, festival organizers decided to embrace solar energy as one solution, adding a $1 optional surcharge to the more than 150,000 tickets sold to finance the purchase of a 196-panel permanent array. The festival also added a number of portable solar charging stations, as well as a 100 percent solar-powered stage from Pure Energy to help reduce consumption.

You can learn more about the festival's solar program in the video below:

All told, Bonnaroo's solar initiatives generated an estimated 110,774 kilowatt hours (kWh) in 2013 and 2014, offsetting more than 20 percent of the festival's energy consumption. Last year, the panels officially paid for themselves –– one year earlier than expected.

Beyond building on its renewable energy initiatives, Bonnaroo continues to lead the music scene with recycling, composting and generating social awareness and donations for dozens of organizations and causes. During the 2015 festival, 67 percent of waste was diverted for the landfill, including 197 tons of recycling/reuse and 125 tons of on-site composting. The event's impressive food recovery effort also was able to save more than 29,000 pounds of leftovers for Grundy County Food Bank.

“Bonnaroo has been committed from Day 1 to being the most sustainable festival possible,” Laura Sohn, sustainability coordinator for Bonnaroo, told SolarBuildMag. “Our sustainability work reflects the values of our lives, and we know that it is the right thing to do.”