Set on a 700-acre plot in Tennessee known as The Farm, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival features over 125 musical performances, along with comedy, cinema, sustainability workshops and more, converting the grounds into a kingdom of music, art, and celebration for 4 days in June. Bonnaroo is a premiere concert destination, but it’s also a cultural touchstone. For southerners, it’s a rite of passage. In just its second year it was named one of Rolling Stones’ 50 Greatest Moments in Rock and Roll, and now stands alongside Coachella and Lollapalooza in the holy trinity of original US mega-festivals.
Now in its 14th year, Bonnaroo helped pave the way for the current Age Of The Festival, and over the years has evolved from its folky jam band roots. More hip hop. More DJs. More art cars? The inevitable talons of commercialism have also sunk into Bonnaroo, having recently been acquired by industry giant Live Nation and featuring plenty of corporate sponsorship. That said, Bonnaroo works hard to retain its quirky spirit, from the absurd stage names (What Stage, Which Stage, This Tent, That Tent, and The Other Tent) to the iconic glowing mushroom fountain serving as hub.
This year’s edition of Bonnaroo serves up all of the above, serving notice that Bonnaroo is big enough to be able to carry on all the aspects of its legacy at once. What does Bonnaroo 2015 have in store for its attendees? Let’s see…
Kendrick Lamar – good kid m.A.A.d city towered over the hip hop realm, casting a shadow even over big wigs like Yeezy and Hova, who each dropped albums in the same year. True to form, this year’s To Pimp A Butterfly is also an instant classic. Lamar’s Bonnaroo set is a chance to see one of the best in the game, at the top of his game.
Florence + the Machine – Every song in her repertoire is such a grandiose anthem that stadiums don’t seem big enough for her sound anymore. Open air and 80,000 strong at The Farm seems like the ideal setting for Florence to belt it like only she can.
Mumford and Sons – Two or three years ago, with U2 and Coldplay on the downswing, a fairly legit argument could have been made for Mumford and Sons as Biggest Band In The World—and that’s without ever making an actual pop rock album. Now they have one and it’s a good old fashioned chart topper. Love ‘em or hate ‘em (and a lot of people seem to hate ‘em), nailing it on big stages like Bonnaroo is the kind of thing that could send this band into the ether.
Traditional Bonnaroo Staples:
The recipe: take an assortment of talented but disparate performers, combine them on stage a single time, unannounced, unrehearsed, and see what happens. The history of Bonnaroo SuperJams is impressive, and with rumours circling of Chance The Rapper’s involvement (Skrillex headed it up last year), it just may be worth seeing what’s behind door number two. Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Barn So, it’s an actual barn lit up like a Christmas-themed New Orleans dive bar, complete with a Candy Cane Courtyard. Are you with me so far? Highlights on the Christmas Barn sched include Robe Rage, a party with a strict robes-only dress code. Hamaggedon – Firstly, it’s a 4,000 pound steel pig sculpture named Henri who breathes (and farts!) fire. Secondly, the pig’s belly prepares grilled cheese sandwiches and artisan bacon by the pound. I don’t need a thirdly.
Raury – Referring to genre-bending phenom Raury, Pitchfork writes that “if you had to bet on an artist-on-the-verge becoming a big star, there are worse bets”1: his talents are only matched by his ambition (the hook for his signature track: “I hear god’s whisper / calling my name / it’s in the wind / I am the saviour”). This could be one of those shows with an opportunity to gain a hipper-than-thou card and brag to your friends years later about how you saw an impressive burgeoning artist perform a killer set before he blew up.
Shakey Graves – Dubbing his music “hobo folk”, actor-turned-songwriter Shakey Graves’ songs ooze Americana like a grittier, more wistful Marcus Mumford. His live performances are nothing short of captivating. #mancrushmonday
Run the Jewels – It’s an injustice to consider them in this category because of how revered they are by those in the know in the hip hop community, but in this year’s lineup, Run The Jewels—featuring none other than Outkast adjunct Killer Mike—are generating very little buzz. This could be the best set nobody goes to.
In case you’re looking for a dose or two of personal development mixed into your festival experience, The Academy—located in Planet Roo, an area of the festival grounds dedicated to non-profits and environmentalism—offers classes in everything from yoga and meditation to art and theatre to gardening. I’m still holding out hope for a D’Angelo-led aerobics class to be added to the schedule.
BonnaROOTS Community Dinners
You sit outside at a gigantic table alongside other festival goers (but also festival founders, producers, and performers) to eat a huge, locally sourced traditional meal, family style. 100% of proceeds go to worthy charities. You had me at pulled pork.
Clean Vibes Trading post
What a concept. Recyclables can be traded as currency for things like camping supplies, band merch, and festival giveaways. I’m strongly in favour of any idea that diminishes the super- depressing campground scene on the move-out day of a major camping festival.
Gut-Wrenching Schedule Conflicts:
Belle & Sebastian, Childish Gambino, Gary Clark Jr., Jamie XX, My Morning Jacket, The War on Drugs– Choose three. Saturday night’s lineup is a clustercuss of awesomeness on all stages. Deadmau5, Earth Wind and Fire, Odesza, Run The Jewels – We have angered the scheduling D’Angelo, Flume – To bump, or to grind?
Unlocking the Truth – They’re a promising new Heavy Metal band who can riff with the best of ‘em and just signed a million dollar record deal with a major label. They’re also 12 year-olds who don’t have armpit hair yet.
Ed Helms and the Bluegrass Situation – Ed Helms—yes, that Ed Helms—leads an all-star mishmash of bluegrass musicians (including Bela Fleck) in an old school jamboree. This might be the biggest celebrity banjo team-up since Steve Martin and Kermit the Frog.
Super Troopers Table Reading – As part of their crowdfunding effort for a sequel, the entire cast of Super Troopers will appear in character to do a live script read-through. If your bucket list includes having Farva autograph your boobs, this is it.
Corey Feldman & The Angels – Making their début appearance at Bonnaroo, Mr. Feldman describes his outfit as the “world’s first all-blonde lingerie model female band”2, and his rap interludes are not for the faint of ear. Their set will follow a screening of The Goonies, making the forecast for this day bizarre with a slight chance of the truffle shuffle.
Atomic Bomb! Who is William Onyeabor? – To sort-of answer the sort-of question in the title, William Onyeabor is, ostensibly, a mythical 70 year-old Nigerian psychedelic funk pioneer who has never given an interview and never performed his music live. This set at Bonnaroo will consist of his music as performed by members of Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem, The Beastie Boys, and more. The strangeness of this set is equal to its mysteriousness, as there have been whispers of appearances by none other than Kele Okereke, David Byrne, and Damon Albarn.
Brown Sabbath – It’s a Latin brass band exclusively playing covers of Black Sabbath’s back Earth Wind and Fire – Ba de ya!
Tycho – Chill. Just so chill. This set will turn the dance tent into a sanctuary of chill.
Odesza -Old friends of Betty and Kora, Odesza do nothing but blast slick, infectious indie electronica. As Bonnaroo tradition holds, the artist closing out a stage at the end of the night is free to continue as long as he or she pleases, meaning Odesza’s 1am set will go as long as your bad self wants it to. Dreamy.
For Edmonton’s favourite indie son (sorry, Mark Messier) the perfection of his jangly pop guitar stylings alongside his quirky personal idiosyncrasies make him a must-watch performer. At a gig last year his crowd-surfing antics got him kicked out of his own show, and that probably doesn’t even crack the top 5 wildest things to happen at a Mac DeMarco show.
Bahamas – This afternoon set will be perfect for taking a break from the madness to sit on the grass and stare at the clouds. Let Alfie’s pensive melodies and sparse arrangements soothe that
Caribou – Dan Snaith makes it impossible to not cut a rug. Don’t try to fight it.
Can’t Miss Performances
My Morning Jacket – these guys are a massive band in the South, and their fabled 4-hour Bonnaroo set in 2010 is the most highly regarded in the history of the festival—it’s “still spoken about by some in the sort of hushed tones normally reserved for boomers dusting off their inexhaustible Woodstock anecdotes”3.
Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters – Yes, he’ll play some Zeppelin songs. Isn’t that all you need to know? Heightening the anticipation is my own personal speculation about a surprise on-stage collab with nearby Nashville resident Jack White, who has paired with Plant on a festival stage as recently as two months ago.
Billy Joel – This guy is an icon with a catalogue spanning decades. Sure, he looks old now and starts his sets by introducing himself as “Billy’s father” as a joke, but when you have The Touch like he does, it never goes away. Bold prediction: he plays “And So It Goes” and the Jumbotron focusses in on someone in the front with a single tear running down her cheek. What you may already know is that he’s James Corden’s new sidekick, but if you’re unfamiliar with any of Watts’ batshit insane music/speech performances, prepare to be bugged the hell
April Richardson – I’m including Richardson on the assumption (hope!) that her standup routine at the festival will take the same format as her podcast: real time, off-the-cuff critical deconstructions of Saved By The Bell episodes in surprising depth.
Michelle Wolf – A fledgling writer for Late Night, her appearances are hit-or-miss. But when she’s on—AKA bitingly self-deprecating–she’s hilarious.
Being Evel – It’s an advanced showing of a documentary produced by Johnny Knoxville and directed by Oscar winner Daniel Junge that details the life and times of the original daredevil, Evel Knievel. The level of badassery involved here is sure to erase any creepy vibes lingering in the Bonnaroo Cinema following the Corey Feldman Q&A.
Birdman – with live drum score by Antonio Sanchez – Now, at first glance this seems really highbrow. Birdman was 2014’s critical darling. A significant chunk of the praise heaped upon it was in regard to its brilliant percussion-centred score and the Oscar snub disqualification caused an uproar. The other side of this coin, though, is that this will essentially be a two-hour jazz drum solo arranged to a movie featuring Zach Galifianakis in front of a theatre of twenty- somethings who are tripping balls. Bonnaroo on, you guys.
Back to the Future 30th Anniversary Quote-Along Screening & Enchantment Under The Sea
As awesome as the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance is, I feel like it’s a missed opportunity to not go with a Back to the Future Part II costume ball.
Words by: Brett Fillmore