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Bonnaroo co-founder Ashley Capps stands in front of The Ville, a new stage focusing on all things Nashville in Plaza 7 in the general camping area at Bonnaroo. The festival opens today in Manchester, Tenn.

For the first 16 years of the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, which begins Thursday in Manchester, Tennessee, the only reason to stick around in the general admission camping areas was because the walk to Centeroo, where the vending and main stages are, was long and not appealing.

Organizers of the festival decided to do something about that and place an emphasis on turning the nearly 500-acre campground into a place for community, special events like yoga, cooking classes and even surprise concerts by some of the artists playing the festival.

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Workers put the finishing touches on the main What Stage at Bonnaroo on Wednesday.

"Bonnaroo has always been about community coming together, and we have been talking for years really about how do we enhance that experience for people camping in [general admission]," said Ashley Capps, founder of AC Entertainment, the Knoxville-based music and arts presenter that co-founded Bonnaroo with Superfly in 2002.

Capps, along with Superfly's Rick Farman and Jeff Cuellar, vice president of strategic partnerships with AC Entertainment, led members of the media on a tour of the festival site on Wednesday before the gates opening to the general public. Such tours in the past have focused on enhancement to the VIP areas, the addition of flushable toilets and running water for showers, and drink stations.

This year, it was all about the enhancement in general admission.

"This was the logical next step," Capps said of the changes.

The tour stopped by The Ville, where all things Nashville, from food to comedy to music, will be on display over the weekend. Capps said the festival has always felt a kinship to Nashville given that it is just an hour away, so it made sense to partner with the city on the permanent stage in Plaza 7.

The campgrounds, which are expected to be home to nearly 70,000 people for the next four days, are divided up into plazas and were formerly called pods. Each will have something different for campers to do. Plaza 9 is home to the Love Shack by Tim Love. The chef will be serving food and teaching cooking classes at different times of day and night.

Across the way is a new barn that will be home to Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant, who will be curating shows all weekend.

"This is something that will likely change every year," Cuellar said. "We wanted to give artists a chance to do whatever they wanted to and to be part of the community."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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