MTSU professor keeps students Truckin’ with Bonnaroo production

For MTSU electronic media communications professor Robert Gordon, his role in coaching students working here is all about capturing the essence of “the Roo.”

“The major difference with producing Bonnaroo performances for TV from that of an individual artist TV concert is that the festival is the star,” said Gordon, an assistant professor in the Department of Electronic Media Communication who has almost 40 years of experience in broadcast, cable and network programming.

“Bonnaroo is an experience. Stage to stage, hour to hour, day to day, year to year, the performers change. Bonnaroo is the focus.”

Gordon is key member among a group of Middle Tennessee State University faculty and staff supporting about 40 College of Media and Entertainment students working at the 2016 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival under the third year of a unique partnership between the university and festival organizers Superfly Presents and AC Entertainment.

At the heart of MTSU’s presence here is its 40-foot, $1.7 million Mobile Production Lab, known as “The Truck,” which is working the Who Stage at the event for the second straight year.

This year, MTSU will produce 20 different acts over four days for television, said Gordon, who’s overseeing electronic media communication students capturing footage of the 15th anniversary edition of one of the world’s biggest music festivals, with 80,000 music lovers expected to descend on the 700-acre site.

Stocked with world-class video and audio production equipment, The Truck serves as Gordon’s behind-the-scenes operational headquarters where he orchestrates the show as a “player-coach.” His role is “to provide a fun, safe atmosphere and a creative structure in which people can do their best work and benefit from the experience.”

A student production manager coordinates transportation in and out of the festival, and for each act, students rotate between all the camera and truck positions.

“The students will have to present totally different artists, live, with no rehearsal, in one take and show the essence of each act, as well as the atmosphere which is Bonnaroo,” Gordon said. “I will be directing the first part of each performance, with a student assisting me. Midway through each act, I will give the reins to the student and be their assistant.”

Students with expertise in audio, video, photography and journalism are again working at the four-day event to produce a variety of multimedia content.

“Our students are learning about working in live events and entertainment — and this week, Bonnaroo is their classroom,” saidBilly Pittard, chair of the Department of Electronic Media Communication. “Live events present great career opportunities for our students.”

Sean Byrne, a sophomore video production major from Memphis, Tennessee, was among students handling camera duties Friday

“We just ran handheld for a band called Henry Wagons, an up and coming band from Australia, and it was really cool to get in really close and shoot over the shoulder and get all kinds of shots and be creative with it,” Byrne said.

“I volunteered to do this because it’s a great experience. Bonnaroo is so unique and the fact that MTSU is partnering with such a great music festival is a really great experience for all the kids involved.”

Gordon noted that while last year’s crop of students included “several dozen audio and video student volunteers,” this year’s group also includes an audio production class as well as video and photography students that he recruited to join in on the action.

“This year we are bringing three photography majors, guided by assistant professor Johnathan Trundle. They will be producing photo essays on various aspects of the festival experience as well as behind-the-scenes essays on the television production,” Gordon said.

The audio class has several recording industry graduate students who attended last summer’s Bonnaroo production and will be mentoring the undergraduate recording industry students, supervised by audio professor Michael Fleming.

Fleming is using MTSU’s previous Bonnaroo experience to teach a graduate and undergraduate audio production course this summer focused on live location music recording and subsequent post-production of performances on the Who Stage captured by The Truck.

According to Pittard, MTSU provides its students with opportunities to cover a variety of live events ranging including entertainment, sports, government and politics, and commercial events. Highly skilled students are assigned to work at EMC Productions, which is MTSU’s student-staffed varsity team for live TV production of events such as MTSU football and basketball games plus a variety of other events.

Meanwhile, CME alumni and occasionally a few current students work events such major concert tours; Super Bowl halftime shows; the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and CMA broadcasts; the Olympics; major sports broadcasts; and more.

MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment, which is the fifth largest communication program in the nation, offers degree concentrations in 14 major areas — ranging from the recording industry to journalism to filmmaking and animation— and is accredited by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

For more information about the college, its departments and majors, visit www.mtsu.edu/media.