MTSU Students Experience at Bonnaroo ‘Not Playtime for Them’

Middle Tennessee State University’s chief academic officer came to the 2022 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival to see for himself how students were learning and working at one of the world’s premier live-music experiences that also doubles as a university classroom.

University Provost Mark Byrnes, accompanied by Media and Entertainment Dean Beverly Keel and Greg Pitts, journalism and strategic media school director, spent time with the team of about 25 students who are producing content at Bonnaroo under the guidance of MTSU faculty and staff.

“This sort of hands-on experience is incredibly valuable to our students, because it supplements what they learn in the classroom,” Byrnes said. “It also gives them a chance to figure out if they want to do this for a living.”

The visit by Byrnes came before Friday’s weather alert at the Bonnaroo Farm over concerns about a fast-approaching thunderstorm with high winds. Festival organizers asked patrons to shelter in their vehicles at around 11:30 a.m. and closed gates and the main grounds until the storm moved past shortly after 1 p.m.

MTSU students, faculty, staff and administrators
A group of MTSU students, faculty, staff and administrators take a break Friday, June 17, at the 2022 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival being held Thursday-Sunday, June 16-19, in Manchester, Tenn. MTSU returned to the festival this year as part of its ongoing partnership with the event to provide College of Media and Entertainment students with real-world experience. The group is standing in front of the university’s $1.4 million Mobile Production Lab, fondly known as “The Truck,” which serves as the home base for the team of MTSU students, faculty and staff providing audiovisual and streaming support of performances as well producing original content at the festival. (MTSU photo by Jonathan Trundle)

The partnership between MTSU and Bonnaroo dates back to 2014, coming back in full force this year after a 2020 pandemic pause and a 2021 weather cancellation. It is an annual labor of love for Media and Entertainment students, who earn college credit for their work in video and sound production at Bonnaroo’s event stages and gain valuable experience in content creation, including video and photo storytelling and digital reporting.

“This is not playtime for them,” Keel said. “This is really, I would say boots on the ground, but flip-flops on the ground.”

Bonnaroo asked if students and faculty from MTSU’s Media Arts and Recording Industry departments could help them this year by doing video and audio production of the Hulu streaming service’s late-night DJ productions, which Keel described as a “next-level, new chapter.”

“It is absolutely an extension of the classroom, taking what they have been talking about and putting it to work,” Pitts said.

That’s exactly how Kayla Bradshaw, a video and film production senior from Lexington, South Carolina, sees it.

“I want to get hands-on live productions and concerts experience. New locations and trying to figure out what works best where — and I never thought I’d be able to do it here,” she said. “I knew we did Bonnaroo, but not at this level.”

Byrnes told Keel that the Bonnaroo classroom was “one of several signature events of your college.

“It really helps explain why it is a world-famous, world-renowned college — because your students in your college get opportunities that they just cannot get somewhere else,” the provost said.

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