Written by Andrew Howie
Breaking Down Bonnaroo – How This Year’s Line-up Stacks Up
It’s a new year, and with it comes new music! As always, around this time of year festivals start dropping their lineups and fans start getting excited, planning their travel, deciding which events to take in over the summer music season, etc. It’s a perennial joy for live music lovers all over the country, and these festivals set the stage for many people’s most cherished memories.
That being said, one of the largest festivals in the country, Bonnaroo, just released their initial lineup, and it’s a bit of a mixed bag, both in the artists on the bill so far and the online reaction. These big mega-fests are famed for having something for everyone and providing numerous other activities than music for those who need a break from the sonic onslaught. It’s obviously been successful for Bonnaroo, but some fans are yearning for the days of yore when there was a bit more of an oddball feel to the lineup. Admittedly, I don’t know that much about many of the artists on this particular lineup, but it seems to be pretty heavily focused on the pop and heavily produced electronic music this year.
As I mentioned above, Bonnaroo used to be famous for featuring bands like: Ween, the Disco Biscuits, Widespread Panic, My Morning Jacket, Tool, Nine Inch Nails, etc. The artists were outside the norm, and weren’t generally what people in the mainstream would be familiar with. Bonnaroo has put together some legendary lineups throughout their history, and while this year’s headliners (U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chance the Rapper, and whatever The Weeknd is) are well known for sure, they’re definitely radio-friendly acts. Which is fine! It’s just interesting how the festival has pivoted throughout their 16 years of existence. Could be that mainstream acts are cheaper or easier to book, could be that’s just what the people want, it could be anything, but to me personally it’s a bit of a bummer. I like a juicy festival lineup with diverse music as much as the next person, but I’m definitely on the psychedelic, jam-band, prog-rock, bluegrass, jazz, folk, funk side of things, whereas this year’s Bonnaroo seems to be heavy on the producers and super-polished pop music.
In addition to the aforementioned headliners, other major artists on the bill include: Lorde, Major Lazer, Glass Animals, Cage the Elephant, Travis Scott, and the XX. I’ve heard of those names, but I don’t know too much about them. Where the lineup really starts to get meaty, at least for me, is further down the bill. Portugal. the Man puts on a killer live show, so that’ll be fun for fans of psychedelic dream-pop. I’m not much into most of the other pop music or DJs, which make up a large chunk of Bonnaroo this year. However, there are quality acts in the blazingly talented Greensky Bluegrass, the pastel-drenched, 9-piece funkmaster powerhouse of Turkuaz, Vermont’s newest jam export Twiddle, and one of my absolute favorite bands, the transcendent, Thai-funk-meets-Tarantino-surf-rock trio Khruangbin (if you’re going to Bonnaroo, do NOT miss their set).
While it may be more radio-friendly and mainstream than before, that’s not necessarily a problem. Mainstream is mainstream for a reason; tons of people like it. If that works for you, awesome, I hope you have a great time at the fest! But for the more discerning festival veteran looking for something a little different, you might want to try elsewhere. The trend I’ve noticed is that the really big, giant festivals (Bonnaroo, Coachella and the like) all tend to have many of the same artists on their lineups each year. It seems odd to me, and I enjoy when a festival puts on a different show. Nothing wrong with returning faces, but if you’re one of the many music fans who spends the summer traveling to see new tunes, it can get a bit monotonous to see the same artists at multiple festivals.
So I suppose, after all the blathering, that this is my takeaway here: if you’re into mainstream music or don’t care too much about the lineup, you’ll probably have an awesome time at Bonnaroo this year. If you’re looking for something a bit more tailored to your interests, you may want to look elsewhere. Bonnaroo is a storied festival that will always hold a special place in the hearts of tens of thousands of people, and I’m sure this year will be a life-changing experience for some newcomer to the festival scene. Nothing wrong with that! But if you want something unique that you’ll never see again, maybe pass on ‘Roo this summer.