Sun, Drugs and Rock N' Roll: Bonnaroo Goes Solar

Solar panels will provide about one-fifth of the festival's power.

(John Raoux/AP, file)

The panels were financed by an additional $1 charge on the more than 150,000 tickets sold over the past two years.

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This year's Bonnaroo music festival, which starts Thursday, will feature 80,000 sweat-soaked music fans, dozens of bands, countless ridiculous costumes and a permanent solar power array that'll help keep Paul McCartney's set running during "Hey Jude."

Since it started in 2002, Bonnaroo has quickly become one of the most popular music festivals in the country. After initially being seen as a festival catering to hippies featuring jam band acts such as Phish, the 'Roo has gone mainstream in the past few years, with headliners including Kanye West, The Police and Radiohead.

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The solar panels were financed by an additional $1 charge on the more than 150,000 tickets sold over the past two years (tickets started at $225 this year and steadily increased as the festival got closer) along with optional donations from festival goers. The panels will stay in the Manchester, Tenn. field year round for use at future incarnations of the festival, making it the first time sustainable energy will be used to permanently power a music festival.

The 196-panel array will be affixed to the roof of one of the stages.

For now, the panel arrays, built by the Oregon-based SolarWorld, will provide about 20 percent of the festival's power. The rest of the power will come from the Tennessee Valley Authority's power grid.

Though Bonnaroo bills itself as a fairly environmentally-friendly festival, it's tough to estimate whether 80,000 people on a 700-acre farm in the middle of June is ever going to be a net-positive for the environment.

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Previous festivals have generated more than 300 tons of trash. Hundreds of port-a-potties are carted in and it takes more than a week to clean up after the event. But in recent years, the festival has made more of an effort to go green: The festival recycles about a third of its total waste.

"Bonnaroo is setting an example for both high musical standards and low environmental impact," Kevin Kilkelly, president of SolarWorld, said in a released statement. "Fans sent out a heartening message about the American public's embrace of solar power."

 

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