Bonnaroo is turning 16 years old this year, and much like a young teenager these days they refuse to do what other people want and are heavily influenced by electronic music betraying the music that their parents may have raised them on. In Bonnaroo’s case they started out as a pure Jam Band festival, before venturing into Indie Rock then fully transforming itself into a multi genre fest, the only one able to fully rival Coachella. One thing that certainly separates Roo’s lineups is the ability to book the best legacy headliners as they were the first North American fest to get Paul McCartney, and over the years also booked Elton John, Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, The Police and Bob Dylan. This year is no different as the nabbed the first North American festival appearance of U2 as they celebrate the 30th anniversary of their landmark album Joshua Tree. This is the type of get other festivals can only salivate over knowing they don’t have the money, resources or cache that the Tennessee fest offers. While some people still disrespect the band after the iTunes stunt from a few years ago, they have a catalogue filled with massive hits and a reputation for putting on one of the best live shows ever.
Red Hot Chili Peppers come back to Roo after last headlining in 2012 with a new album in tow from last year. They played at a few festivals last year like Osheaga and Lollapalooza so they aren’t exactly a cutting edge booking. Their live act has been underwhelming for over a decade now, but if you have never seen them before they represent a great chance to hear some of the best 90’s rock songs live as the atmosphere is perfect for a sing along. If you have seen them before Roo is the perfect place to explore their all night activities like the Cinema Tent, Silent Disco or Christmas Barn (it’s exactly what it sounds like with DJ’s playing all the time).
Toronto’s own The Weeknd finally makes it to the top spot after flirting with massive success the last few years. Fans will get to see his spectacular live show as he flirts with genres ranging from RnB, Soul, Rock, Pop, Electronic and more. This is a sneaky good booking and one that other festivals will try to emulate next year. Roo is also a magical place where anything can happen, sure Coachella is famous for their surprise guests but Roo has it’s own tricks up their sleeves too. Daft Punk worked on almost half of The Weeknd’s new album and if there ever was a place to make an appearance it would be here. Don’t get your hopes up, but even a 1% chance is a hell of a lot more likely than them popping up anywhere else.
Lastly is Chance the Rapper, not a true headliner but he shares top line billing with the other three acts. The anointed Mayor of Bonnaroo has a fun history with the festival. After first appearing at the festival in 2014 and spending so much time running around when he wasn’t performing he decided to make the festival his home. In 2015 he came back to perform in the guest laden Superjam, in 2016 he was everywhere from joining acts like J. Cole, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Bryson Tiller and Miguel, he then popped into the Silent Disco where he played his then just released album Coloring Book in full to a small but boisterous crowd. After his massive year in 2016, he has been promoted to the top line so expect a bunch of hijinks to ensue this year.
One of the biggest criticisms of recent years is the over abundance of EDM, this year it has been taken to the next level as the top lines are littered with Electronic acts. The two big names are Diplo’s project Major Lazer and Australian producer Flume. These two acts represent the biggest crossover names that are more Pop than they are EDM (in name of course). The festival for some reason has also booked the worst of the bro-y EDM acts like gimmick in a hat Marshmello, booty lover Borgore and wannabe mosh pit starters Yellow Claw. There are two names that have perked the ears of Bonnaroo’s fans is Big Gigantic a live band that makes dance music that have been a staple at Roo for years and Claude VonStroke the San Fransisco House legend. Other names inexplicably getting high billings include Louis the Child, Getter and NGHTMRE.
The festival has also been aiming for younger demographics by nabbing big pop acts, this year the cream of the crop is Lorde who seems to be at every festival to ensure she remains “acceptable pop” to the Pitchfork crowd. Tove Lo comes back after appearing a few years ago as an up and coming act. Milky Chance, Gallant and newbie Dua Lipa all will play too.
Roo used to be the premiere booker for Indie acts, this year there is plenty to get excited about too including the almost headliners The xx and fan favourites like Cage the Elephant and Portugal. the Man. Hard rock is pretty much only present this year with Royal Blood and The Orwells. Up and comers like the girl group Joseph, Kevin Morby and Mondo Cozmo. UK Soul import Michael Kiwanuka looks to make a name for himself in America and Willie Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson brings his band Promise of the Real too.
Bonnaroo has always been accepting of Canadian bands, maybe because so many of us from up north are willing to make the trip but no matter what, it is always a pleasant surprise to see so many acts from our homeland make it big. Of course one of the headliners is The Weeknd, but after him Tory Lanez is all the way up on the 4th line followed very closely by Crystal Castles. Pop Queens Tegan & Sara will get people dancing, The Strumbellas hope to translate the success that their song Spirits gave them and Jazz/Hip-Hop favourites BADBADNOTGOOD will play and probably have a few guests. Deadmau5 protégé REZZ will play some techno and hidden way down at the bottom of the poster is July Talk, this year’s version of Arkells making their way down south after being so massive in their homeland.
The lineup isn’t all-bad, but considering the festivals history with booking names that appeal to everyone this year they are in a cross roads. Look no further than the poster for 2013, on the 15th line appears acts like Haim, Killer Mike, Ariel Pink, Action Bronson and Twenty One Pilots. Sure it is a bit of a revisionist history here but do acts like Rainbow Kitten Surprise, OOKAY, Heroburst and Goldfish share the same promise that any of the other mentioned acts had back then?