Like Bonnaroo Fest in Tenn, outdoor venues face climate change challenges

New You can now listen to the Insurance Journal articles!

Since its beginnings on a rural Tennessee farm two decades ago, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival has strived to be one of the greenest music festivals in the country, investing in recycling, composting, l solar energy and other improvements.

But last August, Tennessee received the highest 24-hour rainfall on record for a non-coastal state, leading to deadly flash flooding that killed 20 people. The remaining additional rains from Hurricane Ida dumped more water on the area in the following days. Bonnaroo’s campgrounds were waterlogged and the roads impassable, forcing organizers to cancel.

This year’s festival, held two weeks ago, was on a smaller scale, with fewer entries, a shuttle service for patrons and improved roads and drainage. Climate experts say festivals like Bonnaroo will have to make a lot more adaptations in the future: outdoor venues are more vulnerable than ever to unpredictable and extreme weather conditions. Preparing for these events and these new responsibilities remains a huge challenge.

While human-caused climate change has only slightly increased Tennessee’s climate, experts predict the state will experience historically unprecedented warming this century. Warmer air holds more water and heavy rain is one of the hallmarks of climate change.

Bonnaroo organizers have had to adapt to climate change and extreme weather in recent years, but sustainable measures to reduce their footprint and impact on the environment have remained a core mission since its launch in 2002.

“We were the first festival to have a permanent on-site solar panel and a permanent on-site composter,” says Kelsey Dewald, of the Bonnaroo Works Fund, the festival’s charitable arm that runs several community and social programs.

The four-day festival takes place on a 700-acre site that can accommodate 85,000 fans, many of whom travel from out of state and set up camp. There is shuttle service to the festival from Nashville, about 70 miles away, for those without a vehicle, although most attendees drive.

“The reality is this is a sizeable city,” said Anna Borofsky, co-founder of Clean Vibes, a company that manages waste at festivals and events across the country, including Bonnaroo. “We’re basically the public works department of a temporary city.”

Related: The Challenge of Replenishing Insurance Coverage for Live Events

As thousands of fans lined up for headliners like Stevie Nicks, J. Cole, Tool and The Chicks at this year’s festival, Borofsky’s “trash police” team comb through piles of very stinky and disgusting waste, separating what can be thrown into the giant compost heaps, what can be recycled and even the smallest of cigarette butts.

Food waste that ends up in landfills emits methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to warming temperatures.

Clean Vibes’ goal is to keep at least 50% of festival waste out of landfills and between 2002 and 2019 over 4,000 tonnes of festival waste and excess food was diverted. Food vendors are limited to compostable plates and utensils or recyclable and reusable cups. Clean Vibes team members stood by the trash cans and told people where to throw away their leftovers.

Bonnaroo, which is owned by C3 Presents, is unique in that the festival organizers bought the farmland several years ago and made permanent changes to the site to improve sustainability and efficiency and make it more adaptable to weather situation.

After the floods last year, they widened and paved some roads and started working on drainage. Some campgrounds and parking lots have been moved.

“In 2021, Mother Nature delivered an unprecedented amount of rain in the week leading up to the festival, and the hurricane arrived just hours before loading in time for campers,” organizers said in a statement. “The farm is usually not flooded, but with heavy rainfall it may take longer to drain or dry out. Given its timing, the hurricane created a situation that we were unable to overcome.

Janey Camp, research professor of civil and environmental engineering at Vanderbilt University, said more intense, short-lived rainfall can cause huge flooding problems because much of central Tennessee has bedrock. limestone and hilly terrain.

“We’re seeing these more intense precipitation events, and they don’t match historical data,” said Camp, who is also associate director of the Vanderbilt Engineering Center for Transportation and Operational Resiliency. “And the Corps of Engineers and FEMA and others have been working to update some of the flood maps.”

This year the festival remained dry, but experienced extreme heat with several days of highs in the upper 90s leading up to the festival. The Tennessee Valley Authority, the federal utility that serves Tennessee and parts of six surrounding states, set two electricity demand records in June, the same week as Bonnaroo.

In response, TVA and local utilities asked residents to conserve electricity, especially during peak hours during the day.

Article: Restrictions in live event coverage require policy review

Clean Vibes began in 2000, after Borofsky realized he could add value to a festival by taking care of waste management in an environmentally friendly way.

“It was really consumer-driven,” Borofsky said. “The patrons of these events, if they didn’t have the opportunity to recycle or, of course, if the event was messy, that really put them off.”

Campers are also rewarded if they clean up after them. Jordan Alvernia, from Orlando, brought a bag full of recyclables he collected from his campsite to a Clean Vibes trading post, where he got a voucher for free food.

“It’s not just for the incentives of course,” said Alvernia, who comes to Bonnaroo and collects trash for vouchers and other merchandise every year. “I do it because I love all things Earth,” he said, showing off a “Save the Animals” tattoo on his arm.

Nearby, half a dozen campers sat dozing in the afternoon sun while charging their cell phones via a solar panel. At a fundraising dinner, festival-goers received a locally sourced four-course meal prepared by chefs using a solar-powered kitchen. Music from a solar-powered stage played in the background as fans devoured fresh pickled vegetables, oatmeal and banana cream pie.

When Bonnaroo’s solar panel was installed in 2013, the panels were estimated to provide around 20% of the festival’s energy. And the panels help feed the farm all year round.

“Having this option of being less on the grid is a better choice for us,” Dewald said.

The Bonnaroo Works Fund is also funding energy upgrades to social housing in the city of Manchester, where the festival takes place. Volunteers go into people’s homes and replace light bulbs and plumbing fittings, upgrade faucets and do other weather protection projects.

But Tennessee needs better weather data to prepare for extreme and devastating storms, drought and heat, says Tennessee state climatologist Andrew Joyner.

“If you’ve had 6 inches in one day, that’s a lot of rain,” Joyner said. “If all those 6 inches fell in an hour, you’re going to have flooded campsites. You are going to put people in danger.

This kind of data would help cities, counties, emergency management offices and large outdoor live events like Bonnaroo, CMA Fest in Nashville and NASCAR races in Bristol, Tennessee, plan and react to weather conditions. unpredictable.

“It’s hard to say if Bonnaroo will be more affected by extreme flooding in the future,” Joyner said. “He is definitely vulnerable to that. I think that’s something that’s pretty well recognized.

Music festivals cannot totally eliminate their impact on the environment. But as Bonnaroo and others see climate change coming to their doorstep, the risks – and their response – have become all the more important.

“Obviously what we do at this event over a weekend doesn’t change the world. We have no illusions about it,” Borofsky said. “But proving that we can deliver such a comprehensive waste diversion system here is proof that it can be done on a larger scale and in other applications.”

Photo: In this image posted by Bonnaroo, a festival employee throws trash into a compost pile on June 19, after the festival in Manchester, Tennessee. (Dusana Risovic/Bonnaroo via AP)

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Climate change