For 14 years, Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival has been bringing together pure magic down in Manchester, Tennessee. Though its roots are deep in the jam music scene, part of the joy of the annual event is how it’s branched out to cover fans of all types of genres. Just take a look at this year’s lineup; a bill that boasts headliners in the form of Mumford and Sons, Billy Joel, Kendrick Lamar, and deadmau5 is clearly an event for everyone.
There’s so much music happening on the Farm at any given moment that it’s easy to get lost in the schedule. But Bonnaroo isn’t only about the live acts. A ton is going on in every corner of Great Stage Park over those four June days, from incredible food, to comedy, to movies, to glassblowing, to art projects of all kind. And whether you go to Roo to cover yourself in glowing objects and dance till dawn or head bang yourself into a sore neck and a sweat-drenched shirt, there’s one other aspect of the festival that bonds nearly every attendee: beer. Good brews and good music go hand and hand, and there’s no better place at Bonnaroo to experience that connection than at the Broo’ers Festival.
Situated under a giant tent at the far end of the field from the Which Stage, Broo’ers Festival has been a part of Bonnaroo for all but its first two incarnations. What started as simply a location for craft brewers to provide libations beyond the beers found at stalls throughout the festival grounds has grown into a unique, multi-faceted feature event in its own right. It’s not just a shady spot to grab a quick cold one; it’s a place to expand your palette, meet interesting people, and even learn something.
Twenty-five breweries fill the space, including six “major” companies like Harpoon, Blue Moon, Lagunitas, and Sierra Nevada, with Angry Orchard Hard Cider thrown in for a bit of variety. Coming from as close as right down the road to as far as Seattle, each brewery provides two pours daily, tapping a total of 50 different drinks in the space. Many even alternate their taps throughout the weekend, providing a wide variety of styles and tastes. You can sample around with 3 oz. pours or go all out with 12 or 24 oz. options. A handful of the breweries are even direct sponsors of Bonnaroo, and you can purchase their suds at some of the festival’s stalls right next to the Miller.
But talk to Superfly’s Broo’ers Festival Curator Evan Sutherland, and he’ll tell you it’s about way, way more than just getting good beer into the hands of festivalgoers. For Sutherland and the Broo’ers team, the educational facet stands out as much as anything. With gruff, rapid-fire passion, Sutherland goes on and on about what they offer in the center of Bonnaroo.
“We connect with consumers who also want to learn,” he says, “even with everything else going on [here].” That’s why they offer Broo’ers University, or BrooU for short. In a small tent off to the side of the main one, daily talks are held with representatives from different breweries, each discussing their company’s mission and the art of brewing. Three of these BrooU sessions are held each day beginning Friday, and they’re not sparsely attended — they’re packed. People will wait in advance to snag a seat and fill in the extra space by standing. They interact, too, asking interesting questions about processes, hops, and all things craft.
Photo by Tom Tomkinson
A young brewer from New Belgium Brewing in Colorado named Kevin Cole coordinates the BrooU sessions, as well as the festival’s “secret” third SuperJam: Brewers SuperJam. Six years ago, there was a scheduling hole on the Solar Stage. Superfly needed something to fill the spot and turned to Sutherland, who in turn looked at Cole. Cole had begun his time with Broo’ers Fest as a volunteer ID checker and ticker seller, but had worked his way up to Sutherland’s right-hand man on site. Together, they came up with the idea of a SuperJam, where a group of brewers get together on the stage not just to hand out samples of their beverages, but also to discuss the ins and outs of their complexities. Again, it’s not just about sharing a good drink; it’s about sharing the knowledge and love of craft brewing.
When you think about it, it all makes pretty good sense. Folks coming to Bonnaroo aren’t usually shy about opening their minds to unfamiliar things, be that bands or beers. The fact that Broo’ers Fest has etched out such a lasting, loving place on the Farm isn’t all that surprising, but it’s very much worth celebrating. This year, I decided to do just that by really taking the time to dig into the craft concoctions the Broo’ers were offering and find out exactly what being there meant to the people and beverages inside that tent in the center of Centeroo.