Gee, C. and S. Bales. 2012. “Manchester Tennessee’s Assimilation of the ‘Bonnarite’: A Qualitative Analysis of the ‘Other’ in Local Press on Bonnaroo.”

Gee, Charlie and Stephen Bales.  2012. “Manchester Tennessee’s Assimilation of the ‘Bonnarite’: A Qualitative Analysis of the ‘Other’ in Local Press on Bonnaroo.” Studies in Popular Culture 34(2): 73-90.

Bonnaroo as multi-day series of concerts and cultural events held in TN, annually in June, since 2002.  “The festival is intentionally reminiscent of the large multiple rock concerts of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s” (73).  Draws inspiration from Monterey and Atlanta International Pop Festivals and Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Reflection of past, but evident of modern capitalism (see also Cave et al 2004). “… serves as the current locus for the countercultural expression particularly associated with the hippie movement that emerged in the late 1960’s” (73) – of modern day pop festivals “it is a socially acceptable means of pursuing certain ‘”approved’ subterranean values’” (73, see Phillips 1973, 323). Where behaviors considered deviant (rebellion or sexuality in music, recreational drug use) are permitted or outrightly supported within time and space of the event. Media representations of Bonnaroo is a means to examine counter/extracultural ideologies associated with “mass popular culture events” (73).

Use of newspaper analyses to understand local representation of Other – the Bonnaroo consumer as lumpenproletariat – the undesirable. Works to contextualize historical, economic, and cultural forces (in pretty significant detail.) Manchester as an agricultural, industrial town of homogenous racial-ethnic origin, and lower-middle class orientations. Bonnaroo works to fill jam band festival vacuum left in late 1990’s (ex. HORDE – Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere). Built out of hippie and jam aesthetics that hearken to the Grateful Dead (Ratliff 2003), the music has more recently become genre- and generationally diverse – including hip hop, rap, country, electronica – but retains Woodstock hippiedom (Pareles 2009).

Use of grounded theory to develop in-depth understanding that goes beyond post-positivist methods (Denzin and Lincoln 2005), as a means to “apprehend meaning” through detailed (thick) description.  Glaser and Strauss (1999) as developers of grounded theory; Charmaz (2005) describes it as  “a set of flexible analytic guidelines that enable researchers to focus their data collection and to build inductive middle-range theories through successive levels of data analysis and conceptual development” (507).  Use of open-coding in the form of gerunds – activist imagery – that are used to describe events/phenomena, prescribed by Strauss and Corbin (1990).  Use of iterative process to collapse ideas into four broad, descriptive categories. Qualitative categories offer “conceptual power because they are able to pull together around them other groups of concepts or subcategories” (Strauss and Corbin 1990, 65). Use of these categories for constructing substantive theory “grounded” in data (Dilevko and Gottlieb 2009).  Use of simple content analysis – “is designed to produce an objective, measurable, verifiable account of the manifest content of messages.  [Content analysis] analyses the denotative order of signification” (Fiske 1982, 119).

Four categories: (migrant) workers, (legitimate) entrepreneurs, tourists, and undesirable others “consisting of a variety of outside groups portrayed in a negative manner and often described as putting unwanted stress on community values and local [community] infrastructure” (Bales and Gee 2009, 67).   Contemporary press surrounding Bonnaroo does not have such divisions – instead, take on themes of expansion of community, change, reinforcing cultural norms, and validating local authority.  Very little mention of Other, and almost non-existent mention of counter-culture – “a mode of life deliberately deviating from established social practices” (Stevenson 2007, 537). – Instead, festival culture that has been often identified with youth movements, has become inter-generational – with people of all ages, and some of middle-class and normative orientations, enjoying it.  “The sounds of the counterculture have become the legacy of the dominant culture” (81). Depictions of tranquility, social responsibility, non-radicalism, environmentalism, positively contributing to the local community.  However, some depictions of distress – drug possession and trafficking, petty crime – cast as minor afflictions, or when major, no indication of names or use of criminalizing labels.  Reflection of economic growth as a means to justify peaceable relationship with festival-planners and –goers.  Reinforcement of minor surveillance and authority within the community and festival sphere; informal rule-making and –enforcement in the effort of safety and smooth festival operations- “educating festival goers and promoting cooperation” (85). Use of “southern hospitality” as a means to welcome festival-goers as tourists and guests. Generosity and reciprocity as themes between festival and community relations.

Pop festival cycle, as noted by Phillips (1973): “eccentric invasion of youth, imminent danger, unruly elements, the fond farewell” (86-87 in G&B). “According to the description of outsiders drawn in the Manchester Times, there is no counterculture at Bonnaroo, not at least in the traditional sense of the term.  The counterculture of the 1960’s and 1970’s, once ostensibly aimed at developing ‘a model for an alternative culture’ (Hoffman 1989, 62) is now a commodity.  Attending Bonnaroo is a stand-in for true revolutionary action.  At Bonnaroo, the press portray the dominant culture as having assimilated the counterculture, leaving only the morphological detritus of ‘hippiedom’ or ‘punkdom,’ and replacing counter-hegemonic ideology with ‘jam band fandom” (87) –  performed through capitalistic means and end? Bonnaroo as “a corporate event organized down to the last hackey sack and water bottle” (CounterCultures 2003).

“What remains is a prefabricated Woodstock in which the spectator engages in a socially acceptable form of contrived counter-hegemonic action. The faux counter-hegemony at the festival, however, takes place within the dominant paradigm of the traditional family unit [kx^ local authority as father, festival organizers as mother, community members/festivalgoers as children] where it receives sanction under the watchful eye of parental authority” (87)


Bales, S., & Gee, C. (2009). Fear and loathing in Knoxvegas: Representations of the “other” in the official press before and during the 1982 Knoxville world’s fair. Studies in Popular Culture, 31(2), 61-79.

Cave, D., Diehl, M., Edwards, G., Eliscu, J., Fricke, D., Gitlin, L., Hendrickson, M., Miller, K., Scaggs, A., & Sheffield, R. (2004). Jamming in the woods. Rolling Stone, (951), 164.

Charmaz, K. (2005). Grounded theory in the 21st century. In Norman K Denzin, & Yvonna S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. 507-535). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Counter cultures converge. (2003, June 18). Manchester Times, p. 4.

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2005). Introduction: The discipline and practice of qualitative research. In N. K. Denzin, & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. 1-32). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Dilevko, J., & Gottlieb, L. (2009). The relevance of classification theory to textual analysis. Library & Information Science Research, 31(2), 92-100.

Fiske, J. (1982). Introduction to communication studies. London ; New York: Methuen.

Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory; strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine Pub. Co.

Hoffman, A. (1989). In Simon D., Hoffman A. (Eds.), The best of Abbie Hoffman. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows.

Pareles, J. (2009). Generations mingle at this year’s Bonnaroo. New York Times, p. C5

Phillips, D. (1973). The press and pop festivals: Stereotypes of youthful leisure. In S. Cohen, & J. Young (Eds.), The manufacture of news: Social problems and the mass media (pp. 323-333). London: Constable.

Ratliff, B. (2003), A festival to make Deadheads grateful. New York Times, pp. E1, E3.

Stevenson, A. (Ed.). (2007). Shorter Oxford English dictionary (6th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Strauss, A. L., & Corbin, J. M. (1990). Basics of qualitative research : Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, Calif: Sage Publications.


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