The Story of The Planet Roo Piano

Adapted with permission from a reddit post by Robert Altonen of the Bonnaroo Garden Croo (managed by Southeast TN RC&D)

How about a little behind the scenes of Bonnaroo? I’m with the Garden Croo, and this year we wanted to put a bit of a different flavor into the garden by having a theme to follow and build off of. We went back and forth on a few ideas, but ultimately we settled on it being a sort of memorial garden. We figured with the passing of so many artists recently, it would be nice to take a step back and have an area for them.

So, as a few of you noticed, we had a few specific flowers, decorations, and designs in there dedicated to folks who passed away recently (Eat a Peach suitcase, scarlet begonias, etc) but we wanted a centerpiece for the garden. One day, we were driving down the road and saw somebody getting rid of a piano along side of a few planters and it all clicked. Originally, the plan was to have an upright piano against the wall with vines completely spilling out of it with a sort of memorial area on the headboard.

We threw ideas left and right about what to plant, the decorum, etc. But when the time came for us to get the piano, we had one donor back out and a few back up plans on Craigslist had been claimed or sold, so ultimately we were a bit dead in the water. So, one day our friends and fellow Graden Croo volunteers Justin and Anne Marie was at a thrift store and found a beautiful, aged baby grand piano that someone had done a simple splatter paint finish on it. Unfortunately, it had been sold moments before (he didn’t know). While waiting for us to come by to check it out, Justin wanted to see how it sounded (originally it was supposed to be just for decoration) and the man who had bought it ended up giving it to him after hearing him play and telling what we intended to do.

The thing about Baby Grand Pianos that I don’t think we grasped was how absolutely ridiculously heavy it is. Although we couldn’t pinpoint a date, we figure it to be built in the 1930s/40s. Full brass plate and every bit as heavy as you’d think. It took probably four of us to move this thing slowly on to the bed of a truck to get cleaned and painted. We thought back and forth of how it should look, Amanda ultimately started taking the first big step and started with the Roo logo and the keys, from there it was a natural progression.




We put lyrics from artists that passed away that were Bonnaroo alumni front and center. Tom Petty, Charles Bradley, Adam Yauch, Gregg Allman, etc. And then other lyrics around the side.

Like I said, the primary goal was decoration, we didn’t think we would have something that played, let alone relatively in tune and sound so good. We figured, at Best a few people would play a few common songs, at worst we could mute the strings.

What ended up happening was beyond our imagination.

People played amazing jazz pieces, classical, beautiful renditions of things like the Interstellar soundtrack and Colors of the Wind. There were sing alongs and people teaching others songs. I can’t tell you how proud I am of my team for making such so many beautiful moments possible.

– Adapted with permission from a reddit post by Robert Altonen of our Garden Croo

The Garden Croo this year was managed by Southeast TN RC&D and included Simone Madsen & Robert Altonen as well as Justin Davis, Ann Marie Lewis, Amanda Henry, Lavoy Wimbley, Cody Sanders, Gracie Baker, Wes Bowling, Cameron Wallace, Amanda Hitchcock, Darla Jo Hickman, Aaron Howard and Nathanial Lewis.

See a few more progress pics of the piano here.


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