RFID Performs a Bigger Role at Bonnaroo Festival

By Claire Swedberg

During the 12th annual Tennessee music festival, about 80,000 visitors used RFID wristbands to access various sections of the site, as well as post photos, updates and music playlists on Facebook, Twitter and Spotify.

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Attendees at this summer’s Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival employed radio frequency identification to not only gain admission to the event, but also share “likes” and pictures of themselves on Facebook, upload music playlists to commercial music-streaming service provider Spotify, and post tweets on Twitter.

The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival is an annual four-day event held in Manchester, Tenn., and produced by Superfly Productions and AC Entertainment. This year, approximately 80,000 visitors attended the festival, which began on June 13, to see such performers as Jack Johnson, Paul McCartney and Of Monsters and Men. Many attendees stayed at an onsite campground. The festival issued no paper tickets, instead depending on passive high-frequency (HF) RFID wristbands to provide access control at the campgrounds and music festival, as well as at a host of social-networking functions. Last year, Bonnaroo utilized ID&C‘s RFID-enabled wristbands, along with Intellitix‘s software and readers, to provide visitors with ticketless entry, as well as backstage passes and access to Facebook friends. But as the technology has evolved, it opted to add additional features for this year’s festival.

Upon buying tickets for the festival, individuals signed in online and made their purchase according to their plans, such as camping or accessing the backstage area. Wristbands containing the appropriate access were then mailed to each ticket buyer. Once the wristband arrived, the recipient logged onto the Bonnaroo site and entered a 16-digit user ID number, printed on the wristband, to link that number with his or her registration information. Part of the process included filling out a form indicating details such as Facebook, Twitter and Spotify accounts, if applicable. Users could then choose to simply employ the wristband for entrance and exit only, or opt to add the social-networking functions.

Each ID&C wristband comes with a built-in 13.56 MHz tag compliant with the ISO 15693 standard, says Steve Daly, ID&C’s head of RFID, as well as a locking enclosure to ensure that it remains on the individual’s wrist throughout the event. A watertight case protects the tag from moisture.

After arriving onsite, festival-goers could use the wristband to access the concert area and campgrounds, based on the type of ticket purchased. RFID reader portals, manufactured by Intellitix, were installed at entrance gates, while employees equipped with handheld readers managed smaller gates. At the main gates, visitors simply tapped their wristband near the reader, as indicated on signage and by Bonnaroo’s staff, and then continued walking. This, explains, Greg Parmley, Intellitix’s chief information officer, thereby limited the size of queues at the concert area or campground.

Inside the concert area were 22 Intellitix Live Click stations that served a variety of purposes. At some stations, visitors could snap pictures of themselves, tap their wristbands against a reader and post the photographs on their Facebook pages. At other stations, they could share a music playlist on Spotify with their social-network contacts, send a Tweet or indicate they “liked” a particular program. Some readers also provided access to special areas for which attendees had purchased tickets, such as backstage.

In 2012, festival-goers made 250,000 “Live Clicks” (or reads) at one of the Live Click stations, and posted 20,000 photos. It’s unclear whether this year’s visitors matched or exceeded that usage, as Bonnaroo’s organizers did not respond to a request for details regarding the 2013 event.

All data related to RFID reads, at both access-control and Live Click stations, was managed by Intellitix software residing on a local server that Intellitix installed for that purpose, as well as on a back-end server hosted by Intellitix. That software received each RFID tag’s unique ID number and linked that data to the individual’s social-network information or admission details. At the entrance gates, the software prompted the illumination of either a green light to indicate “access approved” or a red light signifying “access denied.” For social-networking data, it routed pictures, “likes” and Spotify playlists according to the information provided during that wristband’s registration.

The system included safeguards, Parmley says, in order to ensure that a wristband would only be used by its authorized ticket holder. For example, attendees looking to leave the festival site and later re-enter had to “tap out” at an exit. Thus, if someone were to pass a wristband to another individual (by throwing it over the fence, for example), the Intellitix software would deny re-entry access since the wristband had previously been tapped out. Bonnaroo staff members were located throughout the festival grounds, equipped with more than 100 handheld RFID readers (also manufactured by Intellitix) that could be used to solve problems, such as a visitor having a non-working tag. They could, for instance, order a new wristband by entering that individual’s name—or part of the non-working wristband’s 16-digit serial number—into a handheld reader, and then sending a Wi-Fi-based message to the ticketing staff.

“Intellitix has activated four million RFID wristbands over the last three years,” Parmley states, adding that sales have been increasing annually. “On the festival front, we’ve tripled the number of European festivals using our technology this year and launched a range of new products.” One example is Intellipay, which allows attendees to establish an account and then load money that could be used to pay for purchases, by using an RFID wristband or badge at an event. That feature is now available and is in use by some customers.