MANCHESTER, Tenn. - The 2010 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival opened with relative calm Thursday.
Thunderstorms raked through the area just as the gates were opening, making things slightly soggy and muddy, but the dark clouds that loomed over the opening day never broke loose with a deluge.
As of 5 p.m., 41,423 music fans had descended on the small town of Manchester, Tenn., in Coffee County, only a few thousand less than the county's total population. The crowd was expected to swell to more than 75,000 before the four-day festival ends on Sunday. Attendance is limited to 80,000.
Now in its ninth year, Bonnaroo draws music fans from around the world. This year's headliners, among more than 80 artists, include Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z and the Dave Matthews Band.
A group of friends gathered around the Bonnaroo fountain had traveled from Orlando, Fla.
"We drove 10 hours straight," said Alex Sherrod, 19. "We only decided two days ago to come."
Phil Garcia, 22, had come from St. Louis.
"This is supposedly the best festival in the country," he said.
Sarah Fox, 22, of Toronto had already had an adventure just getting to Tennessee.
"On the way here I was on two different buses that caught on fire," said Fox, relaxing in the Bonnaroo campgrounds. "I had to jump out of the emergency window on one of them."
Fox was with a group of friends who meet at the festival yearly.
"It's good music, good people and we get to reconnect every year," said Claire Atkins, 21, of Nashville. "It's really the only time we see each other."
Fox said that, although the festival was only in its first day, the ordeal to get there had already been worth the trip.
Billy Cook, drug task director for the 14th Judicial District of Tennessee, took a break from overseeing searches for drugs at one of the entrances to the festival to talk about the festival so far.
"It's about the usual," said Cook. "We're seeing mostly pot, Ecstasy, not as many mushrooms as usual."
He said the crowd seemed well-behaved so far and, in fact, some who had been found with drugs had complimented the officers.
"Quite a few have remarked that they appreciate our being polite and nice to them," said Cook. "But that's kind of the way we always operate."
Cook said that while the officers dreaded how much work they had to do at the festival, they appreciated the tax money the festival generated for the area and that Bonnaroo contributed to local charities and schools.
"I think it keeps the (county) budget from being cut and that's great," he said.
Sitting in his trailer office behind the Bonnaroo stages, Bonnaroo co-founder Ashley Capps said, so far, the event was the most relaxed in its history.
"You build on the experience of the previous year," said Capps. "The team has not only had several years of Bonnaroo experience, but of working together. And I think our team is absolutely the best in the business."
Capps, who was still signing documents and approving plans during the conversation, said he was looking forward to seeing the shows - some of which would go on until 6 a.m. Capps said he usually got around four hours of sleep each night of the festival.
"Adrenaline is an amazing thing."
Wayne Bledsoe may be reached at 865-342-6444.
© 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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