Now in its 10th year, Bonnaroo continues to valiantly fend off challengers for the title of The Nation's Flagship Music and Arts Festival. Even with Coachella's recent announcement that they'll be doubling to two weekends in 2012, the 'Roo remains undaunted, selling out their 80,000 general-admission tickets in record time — "the first time we've sold out this far in advance in several years," Bonnaroo founder and honcho Ashley Capps tells the Scene.
For the very first time, Bonnaroo will implement wristbands with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips in each. Each chip can be registered to its owner, thus functioning as a digital ID to thwart counterfeiters.
So yes, it is the future. And as Bonnaroo X plunges us into this exciting and unfamiliar terrain, we all need guidelines to keep us from frying beneath the Manchester sun. To keep us from missing all the great, unsung, up-and-coming artists. To keep us from making bad decisions — decisions like participating in an impromptu and shamefully amateur drum circle in general camping, for one. Thus, we hand down to you 10 laws — The Ten Commandments of Bonnaroo, handed to us via divine intervention. Well, maybe it was divine intervention … or maybe all the pre-gaming we’ve been doing has messed with our gourds a little bit. Regardless, below — in addition to our interview with Mr. Bonnaroo himself, Ashley Capps — you’ll find the 10 laws that will keep you happy and healthy over these next four debaucherous days. Who are the finest rock, hip-hop, electro and local artists? What alleged funnypersons shall tickle our similarly funny bones? What about the whole “Arts” part of that “Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival” moniker? How do we all stay alive? Read on, fellow enth-Roo-siasts, and you’ll see. Follow us as we guide you through The Ten Commandments of Bonnaroo. And whether or not you plan to attend Bonnaroo, be sure to follow along with the daily coverage at our music blog (nashvillecream.com). —DPR
Guitars and drums have become increasingly foreign instruments in contemporary Top 40 radio. But, you know, that doesn't mean rock is dead. It's just more ... well, exclusive. Yet at Bonnaroo, the nation's most culturally significant and vital annual music event, rock 'n' roll — as the old folks call it — still dominates the lineup.
Crackerjack Canadian indie anthem-crafters The Arcade Fire (Friday, 11 p.m., at What Stage) taking home the Grammy for Album of the Year a few months back — beating out contenders like Lady Gaga, Lady Antebellum, Katy Perry and fellow Bonnaroo headliner Eminem — was the Crying Game twist to the year in music. Not because they're some Great White Northern drama kids who play songs about the suburbs on hurdy-gurdies, but because they're a rock band. They've never had a "hit," yet they'll headline Bonnaroo's What Stage at 11 p.m. on Friday night and play to a crowd of up to 80,000 — they're indie rock's answer to U2.
Neo-scuzz-blues punk-hop duo and Nashville transplants The Black Keys (Saturday, 8 p.m., at What Stage) also took home a Grammy or two (three, if you count Michael Carney's win for Best Recording Package) for 2010's Brothers — a record that has seen the band reach new creative heights far beyond the fuzzed-out potential their previous efforts suggested. And that explains how the band has made the slow and steady ascent to household-name status for music fans under 40. A festival-perfect band with their harum-scarum, pot-hazed aesthetic of pentatonic riffage and roof-raisin' grooves, the Keys made their Bonnaroo debut at That Tent in 2004, where they also appeared last year — and in 2007, too. This year they join the ranks of the marquee headliners with a prime 8 p.m. slot, Saturday evening on The What Stage.
Another contemporary rockin' wrecking crew who've made their way through Bonnaroo's various stages is My Morning Jacket (Friday, 8 p.m., at What Stage). The neo-psych Southern rock band's 2006 late-night marathon set is among the most legendary in the festival's 10-year history. And hopes are high that their What Stage debut — Friday evening at 8 p.m. — will reach Springsteen-like heights of monumentality.
Yes, this year Bonnaroo will rock. And it'll rock mostly with bands who carved out their niche in the genre over the same 10 years that the festival has carved out its niche in Manchester. The Strokes (Sunday, 6:45 p.m., at Which Stage) — the defining rock band of the early Aughts — released their debut LP Is This It? (now a bona fide classic) within a year of Bonnaroo's inaugural run. And at the time, the idea of the two being mentioned in the same sentence was laughable. The Strokes were a thoroughly un-jammy, heroin-chic quintet of 100-pound Velvet Underground and Television fetishists, while Bonnaroo was ... well, Bonnaroo. In the summers since, the festival has gone on to host nearly the full spectrum of rock acts — from Phish to Metallica — making it a perfect venue for New York's favorite post-Y2K sons, whose recent comeback record Angles proved that they're still The Strokes. How's that for full circle? —AG
First and foremost, if you say you like music and you don't see Dennis Coffey play Saturday at 1:30 p.m. on the What Stage, you don't actually like music. Coffey is hands-down one of the most influential guitarists of all time — even if you've never heard of him, you've heard his guitar on a hundred different hits from Motown Records, and you've heard him sampled by a billion different hip-hop artists. The dude defined the psychedelic-soul sound that became the foundation for hip-hop, but he's also got a new self-titled album out via Strut Records that rules something fierce. Don't be a chump — don't miss Dennis Coffey. And for that matter, don't miss Bootsy Collins and the Funk University or Dr. John with the Original Meters and Allen Toussaint. As the old saying goes, respect the architects. More on the legacy acts a bit later on.
OK, now that we're done berating you, it's time to fill up the rest of your schedule with ye ol' boom bap. This year's lineup isn't as heavy on must-see up-and-comers from the hip-hop community as in years prior, but it's really, really heavy on must-see established acts — a fair trade-off, frankly. Say what you will about Eminem — and we know you've got an opinion — but the dude has a billion hits and his headlining slot (Saturday, 11 p.m., at What Stage) is going to be an epic party. Mark our words, naysayers: This is going to be awesome.
Also awesome? Catching Big Boi (Friday, 12:45 a.m., at The Other Tent) at his first Middle Tennessee appearance since the epic "Fail in Floyd Stadium" in Murfreesboro a few years back. That time it was just Big Boi, us and a hundred or so other people in a fucking football stadium in the rain — this time is sure to be a hell of a lot more fun. Lil Wayne's set (Friday, 1:30 a.m., at Which Stage) will surely have one of the most intensely intoxicated audiences of the festival. You better have your rolling papers ready for Wiz Khalifa (Saturday, 5:50 p.m., at What Stage), and you can be sure that Dam-Funk and Master Blazter's set (Thursday, 1 a.m., at This Tent) is going to be, uh, damn funky. Hell, this whole weekend is going to be damn funky. —SLM
You have made the pilgrimage to your music festival, and are rightfully reveling in the myriad sights and sounds (and smells) Bonnaroo has to offer. But, fair wanderer, do you not tire of the crowds, the self-seriousness of those "artiste" types and the goddamn heat? Fear not, for Bonnaroo offers air-conditioned respite from your woes: The Comedy Theatre, Bonnaroo's must-do spot for, uh, "indoor kids," is ready to accept your weary bones.
If you're, like, pissed at stuff, then Lewis Black (with opener Eugene Mirman) is a must (Thursday at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., Friday at 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.). The man has turned YELLING about STUPID SHIT into a surprisingly thoughtful routine: He's the comedian your terrible uncle wishes he could be.
Henry Rollins of Black Flag (and random media) fame is also taking to the theater (Thursday at 10 p.m.), likely pontificating about social justice, hopefully in a comedic manner. If you see him, ask him about The Chase. Also in the "not actually a stand-up comedian" category is fey auteur of trash culture John Waters (Sunday at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.). If you only know Waters from his Lonely Island cameo, you are in for a bizarrely delightful treat.
It wouldn't be a music festival without due deference to weed, which is where "Comedy Blaze" comes in. Curated by Cheech Marin, the (insert drug reference) set also features Ralphie May, whose (different drug reference) talents are probably not your speed if speed's your thing. Drug references! (Thursday at midnight and Friday at 12:30 p.m.)
Adorable multi-hyphenate Donald Glover will actually be manning two stages this year: In addition to his comedy performance with noted Brit wit Bill Bailey at The Comedy Theater (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.), he'll also appear at This Tent Thursday night at 11:30 as Childish Gambino, his hip-hop act. What a man! It's certainly a lot to take in, but if you can't make the trek to Manchester, Comedy Central will stream a three-hour highlights show hosted by Jon Benjamin on June 12. The comedy gods, they smile on us all. —AS
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