Years of experience help police handle Bonnaroo

Years of experience help police handle Bonnaroo

By: AP

MANCHESTER (AP) — As police chief of the small farm town hosting the Bonnaroo music festival every summer, Ross Simmons follows the lineup of bands like any good fan. But instead of picking the shows he’d like to see, he tries to anticipate how the widely diverse musical acts and their fans can affect his job of controlling traffic and crowds. The festival, which opens Thursday, started in 2002 with a lineup of jam bands and their mostly laid-back fans. But as Bonnaroo expands its genres, from New Orleans jazz to rap, the audience evolves, too. This year’s lineup of heavier rock bands like Pearl Jam and Metallica has Simmons expecting a slightly different crowd. “If you work it year in and year out, you can tell a difference in attitude,” he said. “Metallica’s going to be here so that’s going to make a difference.” The four-day outdoor festival swells the population of Manchester from less than 10,000 to potentially more than 100,000. Monumental traffic jams have become part of the Bonnaroo culture, along with brutal summer heat, fragrant portable toilets and water smelling of sulfur. But Tennessee transportation officials say traffic control has improved over the last couple of years. Interstate 24 between Nashville and Chattanooga once became a parking lot on the opening day of Bonnaroo as officials tried to funnel about 40,000 cars from all directions onto the 700-acre farm, but officials say they’ve now got traffic moving, albeit slowly. “We’re really proud of the fact that the through-traffic on the interstate hasn’t completely stopped,” said Jennifer Flynn, a spokeswoman with the Department of Transportation. Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman Mike Browning said there could be a few more cars running out of gas because of high gas prices. TDOT’s roadside assistance trucks will be available to get those cars moving again. Heat is always an issue, and the first week of June has been the hottest in 60 years for parts of Middle Tennessee. If it keeps up, that could be an additional health concern for festival-goers, but the National Weather Service is expecting a line of showers and thunderstorms to cool down the high temperatures to the mid-80s over the weekend. “It does always seem to be hot the week of Bonnaroo,” Flynn said. Browning said this year there is an added focus on assisting fans with disabilities. Deputies can help guide them to special routes marked with wheelchair symbols where they can find accessible camping areas. Simmons, who became police chief years before the festival began, said his experience with Bonnaroo means he’ll have no trouble if organizers ever plan additional concerts on the site about 60 miles southeast of Nashville. “We just may move Music City down here,” Simmons said with a chuckle. “That’s what we’re thinking.” Published in the Messenger 6.11.08

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