This will be my sixth Bonnaroo and, honestly, I’ve never been more excited about the lineup in Manchester than I am this year.
I know, I know, I was there for Radiohead and Kanye West and Metallica and Pearl Jam. Yes, it’s true, every Bonnaroo has been memorable, but like other elite, top-tier festivals, Bonnaroo can often suffer from an excess of riches. The lineups look great before the set times are released, when you realize that, unless you clone yourself, you’re going to miss as much great music as you’ll hear.
This year the promoters seem to have struck a perfect balance between genres (rock, rap and everything in between), seniority (grandmaster Paul McCartney alongside young prodigies like Kevin Parker) and timing.
Other sites and music mavens have published their lists of this year’s must-see artists at Bonnaroo, so I might as well as publish mine.
10. Allen Stone – I caught Allen at Coachella in April and had the surreptitious pleasure of dancing next to him during Janelle Monae’s late night set later that day. Stone may be white, but he channels all the best 60s and 70s r&b and soul performers. This kid is going to be big. See him now then see him again when he comes to your town.
9. Grizzly Bear – I’m prepared to be disappointed by the band’s show at Bonnaroo. It’s not because their music isn’t great — I had “Shields” on repeat for two weeks not long after it came out. They’re serious about reproducing their studio sound in the live setting and their light show is something to behold, stunning in its simplicity. I’m prepared to be disappointed because I saw them play to an audience of about 200 people sitting under the redwood trees at Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur. There’s no way they’ll ever top that show, unless they play there again.
8. Calexico – The Tucson collective is huge in Europe, deservedly so. I can’t quite fathom why they’re not more popular here in the States. To my knowledge, no other band better interprets and re-interprets the tropes and motifs of rock, country, tejano, and conjunto and combines them into a distinct, aural soundscape. Attending a Calexico show feels like listening to the soundtrack of some Sergio Leone film you’ve never seen, but positively know you would love.
7. Mumford & Sons – I was late to the Mumford party, even after seeing their breakout show at Bonnaroo in 2008 and their headlining the Railroad Revival Tour. I guess I had a hard time seeing a British band play Americana and bluegrass, since there are so many bands in Western North Carolina, Southern Virginia and Eastern Tennessee who can play circles around these poseurs. No matter. Mumford and crew know how to fire up a crowd and get people’s feet moving. It will be interesting to see how they handle Ted’s brain blood clot.
6. Bjork – I don’t care what you think about Bjork, or what you think you know about Bjork. She is a genius. She is a one-of-a-kind performer. If you’ve never seen her live, you may not know what to think about this show, but I can guarantee you will be thinking about it for weeks and months afterwards, asking yourself, what WAS that?
5. Father John Misty – If Gram Parsons had lived, I think he’d dig Father John Misty. You may recall that Father John, aka Joshua, aka Jake, was the drummer for Fleet Foxes. If you liked that band, you may or may not like Father John Misty. If you like country and psychedelic music and getting stoned while watching David Lynch movies, you’ll get Misty.
4. Tame Impala – Kevin Parker has set an embarrassingly high bar for the musicians he employs to perform the two albums he’s recorded under the moniker Tame Impala. If you don’t already own Innerspeaker and Lonerism, do yourself a favor and get them immediately. Please, pay for the music, don’t steal it. And see them on Sunday night. Their set at Coachella this year was one of the highlights. This will be the third time I’ve seen the Australian crew in three months. I’m not kidding. These guys will melt your face.
3. Wilco – What can I say about Jeff Tweedy and one of the greatest live rock ‘n roll bands on the planet that hasn’t already been said? That they started out as a No Depression alt-country band then weirdly became the nearest thing we have to an American Radiohead? That at times they can play so soft and sweet that you’re Grandma would dig them, then so loud and cacophonous that you’re cat would howl at the sound? That “Handshake Drugs” is the best song ever written about trying to hook up with your dealer? That Tweedy is a damn funny dude?
2. Rock ‘n Soul Dance Party Superjam featuring Jim James, John Oates, Zigaboo Modeliste, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and more – For those in the know, the Superjam is ALWAYS one of the best parts of Bonnaroo, and this year will be no different. Last year Questlove curated, treated us to to the re-emergence of D’Angelo and took us through a sprawling set covering Hendrix and Zeppelin. This year, Jim James of My Morning Jacket takes the reins and brings along half of Hall & Oates and some of New Orleans greatest funk and jazz musicians. Who knows what they’ll play? Who cares? It will be a hoot.
1. Paul McCartney. Come on. Anyone who suggests otherwise is either an idiot or thinks it’s cool to be contrarian. I mean, he’s a fucking Beatle. He’s never played Bonnaroo. He’s 70 years old and still plays epic 30-song sets. This show will be one for the ages. Do NOT miss it, because you’ll only regret it if you do.
Postscript: Okay, there are no real big surprises on my list, unless you’re too old to be hip to the genius of Tame Impala or too young to grok the brilliance of Calexico. If you’re looking for some off-the-radar bands, follow me on Twitter and Instagram.