Billy Idol on Bonnaroo Debut: Hoping for 'Biggest Contact High of All Time'

Now in its 12th year, the massive music festival kicks off June 13 in Manchester, Tenn., and features headliners Paul McCartney, Mumford & Sons and Tom Petty.
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Billy Idol, comedian Bob Saget and Bonnaroo-founder Rick Farman of Superfly participated in a telephone press conference Wednesday to preview upcoming performances at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, which starts June 13 in Manchester, Tenn.

Since neither Saget nor Idol had been to Bonnaroo before, their knowledge of the massive music gathering was fairly limited. Saget said he is looking forward to seeing Paul McCartney and has been talking about possibly introducing Tom Petty, who will be closing the festival. Idol, who goes onstage "pretty straight these days," said he's hoping to get the "biggest contact high of all time." And despite teasing a new album he will be recording this fall, Idol said he wouldn't "belabor it" and would stick mostly to the more well-known hits from his solo career and first-wave punk band, Generation X, in which he got his start.

With the annual festival in its 12th year, Farman was able to provide some insight into its evolution and growth since 2002. He said he feels like Bonnaroo is just hitting its teenage years, with many more to come, having found inspiration in European festivals that have gone on for several decades.

"In many ways getting to point where we’re kind of tightening the screws," Farman said of operations. Even though every year will bring a new set of circumstances, in terms of programming, scheduling, production and staff, the festival has largely hit its stride. And now he and the rest of the Superfly team are starting to focus on developing the popular on-site camping to better establish and encourage the sense of separate communities. They also are featuring day passes paired with shuttle tickets to attract more Nashville music fans.

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When asked of the growing role that corporate sponsors have played in the festival, Farman said, "We, from day one at Bonnaroo, had a philosophy that if we were going to have a corporate partner involved that they needed to bring value to the table for the audience, not just for us as the producers. There needed to be a reason that they were out there, and fans needed to feel that reason. That they were making something happen that couldn't happen otherwise."

As an example he pointed to is this year's partnership with UStream, which will help expand its audience and bring performances to people unable to attend. On site, he said the festival experience is enhanced by companies such as Garnier cosmetics and haircare brand thanks to an on-site salon where patrons can get their hair cut and washed, as well as a singing-in-the-shower karaoke setup in the waiting room.

On the festival's beloved, air-conditioned comedy tent, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary, Farman said he was inspired to add comedy to the lineup in 2003 after seeing a performance art tent with dance, theater and comedy at the Lowlands festival in Holland: "It was something that just kind of resonated with me pretty quickly. Our audience are really the kind who are watching Comedy Central and IFC and really turned into the comedy world, and what a sort of fun way to diversify the arts program that we were doing."

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Now, Farman estimates about 30,000 people go through the comedy tent each weekend, making it one of the biggest comedy events in the country.

Indeed, among comics, the festival also has become a must-do performance. Saget said his friend Lewis Black had been telling him for years he needed to do a show there. "I'd say, 'I just can't,' Saget recalled. "And he'd say, 'You don't even know. It's so much fun.' And so this just feels perfect. I'm really excited about it."

In other Idol news, the singer is finishing his memoir and discussed the writing process a bit. "I'm pretty conscious of the way I go through it," said Idol of his book, which is in the editing phases. "It's sort of my recollections -- which is almost a massive joke because I can't remember anything."

Of the bits he does remember, the "Rebel Yell" singer said, it's a mix of his career, love of music, personal affairs, "and maybe some thoughts on what I've done right or wrong in my life."

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