The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival can be described in many ways, but gamer's paradise is not the first phrase that comes to mind. Monstrosity of music, perhaps, or neo-hippie nirvana -- these are much more apt descriptions. However, one tiny corner of the farm was in fact an electronic Eden, gamer style, at this year's festival.
We were curious about the console's presence at the festival, and the Microsoft rep on hand wasn't shy about answering questions. "Why not Bonnaroo? There are tons of people, it's good exposure for the system, and it's a great chance to demonstrate the 360." From what we saw of the crowds in the tent, she was right about the exposure. The Arcade was never empty, and several of the consoles had small crowds clustered around the screens.
The Xbox 360 Discothéque Arcade, like so many of the enclosed structures at Bonnaroo, didn't look like much from the outside. Dust-streaked white walls shielded gamers from the boiling Tennessee sun, and the doorway was perfectly positioned to catch the occasional (and very welcome) breeze. Inside, thick shag rugs and battered sofas turned the Arcade into the perfect chill-out area. While the tent wasn't air-conditioned, the simple presence of shade made the Arcade a big draw for gamers and nongamers alike.
It wouldn't really be an arcade without games, now would it? The Discothéque Arcade did not disappoint 360 fans on that front. Several kiosks offered up quality time with some of the best the 'box has to offer: Gears of War, Madden 2007, Forza 2, Crackdown and Guitar Hero II. Also MLB 2K7, but we were talking about the best here. So that's the arcade half -- what about the disco part of the equation? The tent featured an expansive dancefloor (thankfully, placed some distance away from most of the kiosks), and every night from 4pm to 8pm, players lined up to get their Guitar Hero on in front of dozens of gamers and fans. Like clockwork, the tent began to fill up each night as soon as the clock ticked over to 4:00, and those not playing took advantage of the psychedelic dancefloor. Hey, it was Bonnaroo, after all; nothing there was worth a damn unless it lit up or flashed in some rhythmic way. Even the mounted security personnel often had glowsticks.
Apparently, DJs took over after the Guitar Hero II slot ended, but considering that many of the best shows of the festival were in the evening, we didn't get a chance to get over there and check it out. But with the likes of DJ Shadow, John Digweed, and Sasha putting on full-length shows at Bonnaroo, we have to wonder just how much attention the smaller Discothéque Arcade got -- particularly considering its proximity to This Tent, That Tent, and The Other Tent, all of which featured some great shows in the evening hours and on into the morning.
In the daytime, however, the Arcade was often packed, as festival-goers searched for a respite from the heat and sun. Microsoft offered free rain ponchos in the Arcade that went largely untouched, as the drought-ravaged state was in desperate need of rain that appeared for only a brief moment on Friday afternoon. It was a nice gesture on Microsoft's part, however. Fans also had a chance to get their pictures taken inside the tent, in front of a logoed backdrop; the finished photos were available as free downloads from the official site. Like the ponchos, that was also a nice touch, since one of the problems at any event like this tends to be capturing decent pictures of oneself and friends to mark the occasion.
Every time we stopped by, the Arcade seemed popular, and the crowd was a fair mix when it came to gender and age -- this was no haven for mainstream society's idea of the "typical" gamer. Everyone is interested in finding a chill-out space at Bonnaroo in the afternoon, and the hike back to a tent or RV can be arduous. When the stage was empty, mini-crowds formed around the kiosks, particularly around Gears of War and Guitar Hero II, and it certainly seemed like the reps were right: the 360 was getting plenty of exposure.
Staff reported no incidents at the Arcade, either, which is good news; at a festival like Bonnaroo, with 80,000 people in attendance, there are always a few problems, and this year, one death was reported. Certainly every time we were there, the crowd was relaxed and enthusiastic; we even noticed a few people sleeping on the sofas from time to time. Comfort was never an issue inside the 360 tent. For this blogger, at least, the Arcade felt a little bit like home ... just with a few more consoles, sombreros, and half-naked people around.