seven-hundred-acre chunk of land in the middle of Manchester, Tennessee
is the place to be in the scorching hot, middle-of-June sun (so much so
that tickets for Bonnaroo, the festival that will be planted on that
land from Thursday, June 16, to Sunday, June 18, have completely sold
out). The complaint this year has been that Bonnaroo has lost its
roots, but its roots were grounded in diversity — this is where our
generation of hippies, hipsters, and the high-maintenance join together
for one strange trip of music, culture and camping. If you don’t think
the schedule this year doesn’t build upon those foundations, find
another festival where you can see Radiohead, Phil Lesh and Tom Petty
headlining the three separate nights.
we get to the specifics, a little bit about my game plan. I’ll likely
kick the festival off on Thursday with some Wood Brothers, Marah and a comedy set from Patton Oswalt. Friday is all music: Seu Jorge, Devendra Banhart, Common, Cat Power with her Memphis Rhythm Band, and My Morning Jacket.
Saturday is going to be full of New Orleans spirit for me. I plan to watch some Neville Brothers, Elvis Costello
with Allen Touissant, and Dr. John, and you can find me at the
Superjam, which runs from midnight to 3 a.m., for a little bit to see
who shows up. And of course I wouldn’t miss Beck and Radiohead earlier in the evening.
for Sunday, chances are my legs will be completely disagreeing with me,
so I’m considering it a cool-down. I will make it a point to see Mike Doughty, Stephen Malkmus, Steve Earle and Sonic Youth, and I will probably head on over and relax on the grass to some Grateful Dead tunes from Mr. Lesh.
You can’t see it all, and I’ll likely opt to skip bands such as Son Volt, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Bright Eyes, the Avett Brothers, the Streets and Atmosphere.
I am planning, at some point during the weekend, to stop by the Sonic
Stage, where they do special thirty-minute performances on a tiny stage
and artist interviews. It’s usually a good way to get rid of some
scheduling conflicts (for me, it’s Damian Marley and Gomez).
it or not, this year’s Bonnaroo lineup is probably my favorite yet. I
can’t wait to make the trek down Route 65 for one of my new favorite
The Must Sees
· Radiohead, What Stage, 8:30-11 p.m., Saturday:
This would have to be the most talked-about and controversial act of
Bonnaroo this year. Radiohead’s inclusion on the bill has attracted new
fans to the festival and turned away old ones, but you have to be out
of your mind to miss this. Some people think the perfect time to take a
nap is when the headliners are performing. But if I catch you snoozing
during this, I’ll drag you out of your tent.
· Beck, What Stage, 5:30-7 p.m., Saturday:
Beck performs right before Radiohead, so most people will just stay put
for five hours. I only hope he pulls from his entire diverse
discography, from Midnight Vultures to Guero.
· Oysterhead, What Stage, 5:30-7 p.m., Friday:
Whether you’re a jam-band fan or not, you should find something you
like during this set. Trey Anastasio still has a smooth tone, and when
he joins Stuart Coapland (formerly of the Police) and the legendary Les
Claypool (formerly of Primus), it should be a fantastic musical
· Common/Lyrics Born/Blackalicious (This Tent) vs. My Morning Jacket (That Tent), Midnight-3:30 a.m., Saturday: With
all the acts playing, there will always be some huge scheduling
conflicts, and this is the biggest one of the weekend. The members of
My Morning Jacket always bring it loud and hard, and they’re bound to
pull something out of their hat. Since the addition of Carl Broemel and
Bo Koster, they haven’t played much off their first two releases, Tennessee Fire and At Dawn, so we can only hope that the rehearsing has been hot and heavy with new tracks and old.
But the late-night hip-hop set, which started last year with De La Soul,
is something that can’t be passed up. The lineup is incredible, and the
acts are bound to bring the intensity. I remember looking back on the
crowd during the De La show and seeing about 30,000 hands in the air. I
don’t doubt that the hip-hop late-nighter will bring that same energy
· Sonic Youth, That Tent, 6-7:30 p.m., Sunday:
Sonic Youth made its Bonnaroo debut in 2003. If you like it when band’s
make your ears tingle, then you’ll be talking about Sonic Youth’s
performance for weeks. With the recent release of Rather Ripped, you can bet you’ll hear some fresh tracks. The only downside is you have to hear them without Jim O’ Rourke.
· Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, That Tent, 4-5:30, Sunday:
I’ve never caught Malkmus or any of his projects live, so I need to
this weekend. For any kid who began to love music because of Pavement’s
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain or Wowee Zowee, it’ll be a sin to miss Malkmus’s infectious tunes in an outdoor setting.
· Dr. John, Which Stage, Midnight-4 a.m., Sunday:
For the first time in thirty years, Dr. John will put on his Night
Tripper gimmick — a blend of psychedelic rock with some New Orleans
R&B. Supposedly the stage show is a “voodoo experience.” One of my
mottos for this year is to see everything I may never have a chance to
see again. If anything holds true to that, it’s seeing Dr. John’s
· Dungen, That Tent, 12 p.m., Saturday:
One of the most talked-about artists of the last few years, the Swedish
group Dungen explores the land of Krautrock and British folk for our
generation. The group’s 2004 release, Ta Det Lugnt, is
one of the better releases of the decade. This should be one of the
performances that brings together the diverse audience.
· Andrew Bird, That Tent, 1-2 p.m., Friday: If I were to miss Prefix’s favorite songwriter of last year, I would be cheating myself. I’ve seen Andrew Bird play The Mysterious Production of Eggs twice now, so I just hope that maybe he pulls from his entire discography this time around.
· Bettye Lavette, The Other Tent, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Friday:
The Friday opener always seems to set the mood for remaining three
days. Last year it was Old Crow Medicine Show, and this year the
responsibility will be handed over to the soul sister Betty Lavette.
One of the most important soul artists over the past forty years,
Lavette may be aging, but she’s still packing the heat.
· Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Preservation Hall Café Stage, 9-? on Thursday, 2-7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday:
This year, organizers have given the Preservation Hall Jazz Band its
own tent. Of all the New Orleans salutes of the weekend, this is going
to be the one to go unnoticed. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band will
play more than twenty hours throughout the weekend, so if you get bored
of the general swing of things, go see a longstanding American musical
tradition. Many of the original members — Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll
Morton, Buddy Bolden — helped shape contemporary music. Only a few of
the original members remain, but this will highlight the younger
generation of jazz musicians playing in the tradition of their elders.
· Bobby Bare Jr., Troo Music Lounge, 8:159:15 p.m., Friday:
Bobby Bare Jr. will play the café stage right before Tom Petty with a
couple cats from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where I go to school. His
alt-country croon and songwriting skills have become some of my
favorite over the past couple years. (Note: some of the guys from My
Morning Jacket played on his upcoming release. Special guest
appearances are one thing that Bonnaroo is known for.)
· Patton Oswalt, Yet Another Comedy Tent, Thursday and Friday at 10 and 11:45 p.m. each night:
Ah, the comedy tent. It always goes unnoticed, but it’s hoppin’ all
weekend with some of the best up-and-coming and established comedians.
Kick off your weekend on Thursday night with Oswalt. It’ll be much more
memorable than most of the other stuff going on that night.
· Amadou and Marium, That Other Tent, 3:305 p.m., Saturday:
This Malian duo has been on my list to see for quite some time.
Combining elements of afro-pop and back-porch-stomping rhythms with a
touch of reggae, these two blind musicians have garnered much success
across the ocean. Bonnaroo may give them the kick-start they need to be
successful in the States.
· Steve Earle, That Other Tent, 5:307 p.m., Sunday:
I know Sonic Youth is playing at the same time, and it seems a lot of
the younger generation seems to ignore acts such as these at Bonnaroo
(last year it was John Prine). But with all the activism that takes
place at Bonnaroo, you’d think a politically charged songwriter such as
Steve Earle wouldn’t go unnoticed. Frankly, without Earle, this whole
alt-country movement wouldn’t be nearly as big as it is.
· The Refugee All-Stars Sierra Leone, Which Stage, 23:15 p.m., Sunday:
This could be one of the surprise performances of the weekend, this
year’s possible reggae, Afro-pop sensation in the vein of Femi Kuti’s
2004 performance on the Which Stage. If anything, this should be an
inspiration, considering all the folks in this group were exiled from
their homes after a Civil War in West Africa.
Tips from a Bonnaroo veteran
Here are some things that I’ve learned over the years that may help first-timers improve their Bonnaroo experience:
· See the acts you may never see again:
My Morning Jacket is one of the best acts on the planet, and one of my
favorites, but I know that seeing Common/Lyrics Born/and Blackalicious
on the same stage is a rare opportunity. It’s the rare opportunities
that are the most talked-about.
· Venture out:
This should be obvious, but with the recent bickering over the lineup,
I want to remind you to go into Bonnaroo with an open mind. If you are
a jam-band fan, don’t stay in your tent for Radiohead. If you are an
indie-rock kid, check out Oysterhead. Bonnaroo is all about expanding
your musical horizon. If you’re too ignorant to realize that, then why
Music is going on all the time, but venture out to Bonnaroo’s other
options, such as the Sonic Forest, the giant fountain, and the
shakedown street. I finally decided to tear myself away from the sounds
last year, and it enhanced my weekend. Before you head to far away from
your temporary home, be sure to meet your camping neighbors. I’ve left
Bonnaroo and other festivals with many new friends.