Performing at a Bonnaroo Open Mic

Updated: Feb 12

In 2018, I had the privilege of taking my rapping talents to the small stage of Plaza 7 at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival's open mic. It may not have been the big stage that I hope to land in the future, but it was well worth it for the crowd size and views the video got when I uploaded it later.

The only problem? It was incredibly hectic and poorly planned out.

When the Bonnaroo Facebook page posted the four options for playing at Plaza 7 (a morning set on Thursday or Saturday or a happy hour set on the same day), I jumped at the opportunity to send them an email of my name and song samples. Then, I heard nothing. From the moment I inquired mid-February until the last day of May, just a week before the festival, all I had received was an automated email acknowledging that I reached out. I didn't know if I was going to be performing, I didn't know if I should prepare—at that point, I assumed they weren't interested and I left the possibility behind me.

Performing at a Bonnaroo open mic can gain you a lot of publicity as an artist.
Prior to 2019, the Bonnaroo arch was a symbol for many that they've made it home.

Finally, six days before the beginning of the festival, I received an email. It read:

"Hiya there Bonnaroovian, We are excited to welcome you to the stage at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 9 at The Ville! Please make sure to arrive 30 minutes early to check-in and reserve your spot. You'll need to provide either a photo ID or this email on your phone when you arrive, so prepare thyself."

They didn't tell me the length of the set, they didn't tell me what format to bring my beats, nothing. Just a time and when to be there. After inquiring with those questions a couple times to no avail, I decided, "Oh well, I guess I'll make the most of it!"

Saturday morning came and I was clutching a flash drive in one hand and a CD in the other, hoping they would have some way to play either one of them. When I arrived at 9:30 a.m. to check in, I was informed of a scheduling nightmare: everybody was told 10 a.m. The open mic was wildly overbooked and the room was full of aspiring artists with guitars in hand. We were then told we would have to sign up again, and hope our name was pulled out of the hat to perform that day. The next hour was stressful, and became even more stressful when the announcer told us that the time slot was only 2 hours, and the amount of people who signed up could fill at least 7. I didn't think I was going to stand a chance.

Oh, and another thing. They were not at all equipped to support either format I used to bring my music. Luckily, they had an auxiliary cord and I was able to find my beat on my phone. It was the wrong version of it, but when you're camping, you have to make do.

An hour passed and the open mic was nearing its end when I finally heard it: Brooke Spirits. It was my turn to perform a single song to impress the packed room. I chose a song called "Unstoppable," and luckily, the crowd loved it. People brought out their phones and were recording me during the song. The stress and anxiety was well worth the wait in that moment. I networked with a few different rappers after the show, and we exchanged business cards and compliments before heading on our way. The open mic was over, but the benefits of performing at it never ceased.

Throughout the year, every time I performed anywhere, the emcee made a point to announce that I had performed at Bonnaroo. I always corrected them to say it was just an open mic, but they always responded with, "Doesn't matter, it's more than these people have done." I carried the clout of "performing at Bonnaroo" with me at every stage I stepped foot on in 2018. When I uploaded a video of my performance, the hashtag "Bonnaroo" was enough to generate a couple thousand views in a week before slowly dwindling down people's Facebook feeds.

During this experience, I stepped away with an important piece of knowledge: business cards are more important than you think... yes, even for rappers. You can't simply trust that someone will remember your name, and I've actually generated sales due to having a business card on hand in the right moment. If you're looking for business cards, you can get free shipping using my link to Vista Print business cards.

Other rappers that are hoping to jump on Bonnaroo's open mic bill this year shouldn't worry. It will all work out in the end—and for the better—as long as you come prepared.

Here is the song I performed at Bonnaroo:

*This post may contain affiliate links, meaning that I will get a small commission if you purchase from my link with no extra cost to you :)*


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