Students and faculty back in full force at music fest after pandemic pause
Middle Tennessee State University not only resumed its pandemic-paused partnership this year with the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, it expanded efforts to provide additional learning experiences for its students seeking real-world experience at the iconic entertainment venue.
Students from MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment will provide video and streaming services for acts performing on the Who and the Other stages at Bonnaroo starting Thursday, June 16. Also, they will also report and produce a daily festival preview video podcast at 2 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, June 19, that will be broadcast on MTSU’s True Blue TV channel and on the university’s primary Facebook page.
Live video and audio operations by MTSU’s Media Arts and Recording Industry departments at “The Truck,” the college’s $1.4 million Mobile Production Lab, will be expanded to two stages: The Who and the Other. That’s no easy feat.
The stages are about 6,000 feet apart and the truck can only rest at one location. It required MTSU students to lay, embed or bury thousands of feet of fiber-optic cable to allow the truck to manage video operations at both sites from its one location at the Who stage.
“This definitely is the most complicated shoot this truck has done, by far,” said Justin Tart, a senior majoring in video and film production from Lebanon, Tennessee, who is working under the direction of Audio Production professor Michael Fleming. “Two different stages, six thousand feet of fiber, a lot of audio equipment the truck does not normally rest with.”
But the payoff is big. The professional, late-night DJ experiences that MTSU students will capture at the Other Stage will be shown on the popular Hulu streaming service. Bonnaroo tapped an industry director to sit in The Truck and work with MTSU students and faculty to produce the Hulu stream.
“I am elated that our partnership has reached a new level this year,” said Media and Entertainment Dean Beverly Keel. “MTSU students were chosen by Bonnaroo to capture performances for Hulu, which means our students’ work will potentially have an international audience.”
About 25 students and faculty from the college comprise this year’s Bonnaroo crew, traditionally a coveted assignment as it provides a resume boost and talking points to job seekers in entertainment journalism, music business and audio and video production. Faculty members from the college’s three departments volunteer to serve as mentors and coaches to students who are selected for the experience.
The pandemic prompted Bonnaroo to cancel its 2020 festival and torrential rains and subsequent flooding at the Farm caused organizers to scratch the 2021 event. Students picked for this premier duty were appreciative of the honor of restoring the partnership to post-COVID levels.
“It is important for us to be at Bonnaroo because it gives our students a very real-world experience,” said Robert Gordon, associate professor in Media Arts and supervisor of the Mobile Production Lab. “Nashville is a television production city and a tour production city. This experience gives our students a great opportunity to experience both worlds at once.”
This year marks the debut of MTSU’s True Blue TV, the university’s education resource channel, to Bonnaroo. True Blue TV will produce video webcasts during each day of the festival, Thursday through Sunday, which will air at 2 p.m. on MTSU’s primary Facebook page and the True Blue TV broadcast channel. For broadcast and streaming options to watch True Blue TV, go to www.mtsu.edu/truebluetv.
“Technology lets us take the classroom almost anywhere to help our students learn,” said Greg Pitts, director of MTSU’s School of Journalism and Strategic Media, who is providing faculty and student support to True Blue TV’s programing. “What better place than student reporters covering Bonnaroo?”
The True Blue TV episodes will have four student anchors:
- Thursday’s broadcast will be hosted by Izzy Gutierrez, a sophomore journalism major from Nashville.
- Friday’s show will be headed by Rebekah McGuire, a marketing and elementary education major from Murfreesboro.
- Saturday’s episode will be run by Kailee Shores, a sophomore journalism major from Manchester.
- And Sunday’s program will be anchored by Sarah Oppmann, a journalism and theatre senior from Murfreesboro.
The daily broadcast from the festival will also feature reports via Middle Tennessee News from the anchors, as well as Lily Manyara, a junior in music business from Richmond, Virginia, and Megan Cole, a graduate student from Clarksville, Tennessee.
“I am always excited about opportunities to work with my students on storytelling outside the classroom,” said Christine Eschenfelder, an associate professor in journalism and faculty advisor to Middle Tennessee News. “Engaging our students in hands-on experiences in the field helps them to connect and apply the theories and skills they learn in the classroom to real-world situations.”
A key component of providing that real-world experience is the Mobile Production Lab, a 40-foot rolling TV studio/classroom that includes a complete professional quality HD video production control room and seven cameras. This high-tech truck is used to teach multi-camera television production such as sports events, musical concerts, and awards shows. “The Truck” averages about 30 live productions each fall and spring semester and provides the students with a substantial amount of hands-on experience.
“Three years ago, the Recording Industry and Media Arts departments at MTSU made a significant investment in networked production audio and communications systems in our studios and the Mobile Production Lab. The motivation came, in no small part, from our prior work at Bonnaroo, where we pushed our capabilities year after year, beginning in 2015,” said Fleming.
“But due to the pandemic cancellations in 2020-21, this is our first opportunity to use the new technology on the Farm, and thank goodness we have it because we couldn’t cover two stages on opposite sides of Centeroo and contribute to Hulu’s livestream without these tools. The experience is incredibly beneficial for our students since live recording and broadcasting with a combination of local and remote workflows mirrors industry practice and gives them exposure to the significant engineering and creative coordination that’s required.”
Jonathan Trundle, associate professor of photography, will be supervising students John Chick and Reagan McKay as they capture performances and other images for personal portfolios as well as for MTSU’s news and marketing efforts. It marks the fifth year he’s brought students to the festival.
“The beyond-the-classroom experience of photographing events and festivals may help students secure future job opportunities,” Trundle said. “This will be a great chance for students to also experience if this type of work will be of interest to them for employment in the future and hopefully begin to establish connections now. Photographing at this event will allow for experience, networking with other photographers and journalists, how to work (and survive) out in the field with technology, how to think and troubleshoot when things do go as planned and deliver work in a fast-paced environment.”
Students have course credit opportunities as well.
“In an additional benefit, our Bonnaroo Audio Production elective is cross listed for undergraduates and graduate students in the M.F.A. in Recording Arts and Technology program. The interaction between these two cohorts creates important peer-learning and leadership opportunities for the students as they work in small teams to accomplish challenging tasks in a professional manner,” Fleming said.