eMusic’s Guide to Bonnaroo 2012
Bonnaroo has come a long way since its jam-band origins 10 years ago. Now, it’s the home for musical eclecticism, with everything from roots rock to fizzy electronic music to soul-shaking R&B occupying its seven stages. Navigating it all can be overwhelming, so use this guide as a jumping-off point — here’s who we think you should see at Bonnaroo.
Who They Are: Aside from having an infinitely rewarding track record and a downright staggering back catalog — more than 10 albums and counting! — hip-hop's unofficial house band has backed everyone from Jay-Z to whoever's headlining Jimmy Fallon tonight. Why They Matter: Let's just say there's a reason their "Legendary Roots Crew" tagline stuck.
The Beach Boys
Who They Are: The original boys of summer, the Beach Boys built a peerless catalog on the strength of Brian Wilson's songwriting and the burnished vocal harmonies of Brian, his brothers and cousin Mike. Death has claimed brothers Carl and Dennis, but their high points are as bewitching today as when they were first recorded.more »
Why They Matter: Because this is the first time something like the original lineup has shared the stage... in decades, and because reports from early shows have been alarmingly positive. Wilson and Love have honed their touring chops separately over the last few years — their long-in-the-making reunion is the perfect way to close out a warm night down south.
Who She Is: Canadian singer-songwriter who's as well versed in tough-as-nails kiss-offs as she is in break-up ballads. Her fourth LP Voyageur — co-produced by her beau Justin Vernon of Bon Iver — adds some sheen to her alt-country roots.more »
Why She Matters: On stage, Edwards is honest, charming and hilarious (at a recent New York show she left the stage mid-song for the world's shortest pee break). And, who knows, maybe there'll... even be an appearance from Vernon, who's also playing the fest.
Who He Is: Cheerfully outraged, eternally psyched-to-be-here (wherever here is, be it a Hollywood red carpet or the Walking With Dinosaurs exhibit) comedian, known both for his role as Tom Haverford on Parks & Recreation and his constant festival appearances.more »
Why He Matters: "I did this festival called Bonnaroo...they have this weird thing there called 'the Sonic Forest!'" No matter what Aziz is doing — and he's pretty easy to chart, via his... constant Twitter presence or his numerous wide-eyed photo-bombs with bemused-looking stars — he's sure to comment on it, hilariously. He's one of the few comedians whose all-caps energy translates easily to a festival stage.
Rodrigo y Gabriela with C.U.B.A.
Who They Are: Mexican guitar-slingers who built a reputation for fiery, brain-collapsing fretwork. They may carry acoustic guitars, but they have heavy metal in their hearts. Their songs are comprised of dizzying, flight-of-the-bumblebee guitar patterns that seem to defy all natural laws.more »
Why They Matter: Because they'll be playing Bonnaroo with C.U.B.A., who will flesh out the group's bright songs with blasts of brass and never-ending percussion — the perfect complement to Rod... and Gab's playing style.
The War on Drugs
Who They Are: Philly-based, shambling psych-folk rockers, buddies and former bandmates to Kurt Vile. Why They Matter: Nothing sounds better in the baking sun than their lazy, luxurious Tom Petty-watercolor jams. Nod your head very, very slowly.
Who They Are: Young four-piece from Athens, Alabama, with blues-rock chops that go well beyond their years. Twenty-three-year-old frontwoman Brittany Howard is a powerhouse with a raw, soulful howl often compared to Janis Joplin and Otis Redding.more »
Why They Matter: Their debut album Boys & Girls lives up to months of hype, but the hype all started with the band's hell-raising live shows. Not to mention, songs like "Heartbreaker," "Hang Loose" and "I... Ain't the Same" are perfect for a sweaty summer day.
Who He is: He's the Genius. The elusive, cryptic member of the Wu-Tang Clan who has managed to keep his aura of mystery wholly intact; no small feat, after years of weathering feuds and constant revival-tour exposure. Why He Matters: He will perform most, or all, of Liquid Swords: It will turn out you know far fewer of the album's dense lyrics than you remember.
Who He Is: Though he was notorious in the '70s for his horror-movie stage show (complete with fake beheading!), the Cooper of today proves you can be a soft-spoken family man — and a Christian, to boot — and not toss aside your fondness for schlock. It may be hard to remember, but the records Coop made in his prime are hard-edged glam rock masterpieces.more »
Why He Matters: Because on a stage the... size of Bonnaroo's, you can bet Alice will spare no expense. Cooper thinks big, and it's a safe bet the special effects he pulls out for this Bonnaroo performance will make the Flaming Lips look like low-budget. Besides, who doesn't love a good summer scare?
Who He Is: A British soul singer who brings to mind the American greats, Kiwanuka tends toward the bluesier side of R&B — in his biggest hit, "Home Again," he lays his big, mournful voice down in a bed of acoustic guitar.more »
Why He Matters: Because for all the artists who are proffering "New Old R&B," Kiwanuka is one of the few who doesn't seem only interested in partying. There's a deep sense... of longing coursing through his music that's more Bill Withers than Sam Cooke, making it the perfect rainy day soul music — even in the blazing Tennessee sun.
Ben Folds Five
Who They Are: A goofy piano-rock trio (nope, there are not five members) from Chapel Hill. They're best known for the 1998 hit single "Brick," a girlfriend-had-an-abortion tale much more somber than most of their music. Since the band's breakup in 2000, pianist/songwriter Ben Folds has maintained a lucrative solo career.more »
Why They Matter: The trio reunited last year to start a new record, and this is one of their first reunion shows.... They're sure to play fan favorites like "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces," "Philosophy" and "Army." (Sure, Folds does these on his own, but they'll be better with the original "five.")
Who He Is: As the leading practitioner of New Orleans "sissy bounce," Big Freedia has become known for both big beats and big butts. The out-and-proud MC routinely fills the stage with a crew of rump-bouncing backing dancers who gyrate in time to his hilarious, holler-along hip-hop songs.more »
Why He Matters: Because he's making big waves in a genre that doesn't always cotton to gay performers, and because he is a one-man party... machine. His shows generally escalate to near-riot proportions, the line between singer and audience gradually toppling until half the audience ends up on stage with Freedia, proudly bouncing their own derrieres.
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Who They Are: No-compromise New York group that delivers the sound of classic soul, fronted by one of the most fiery and engaging vocalist working today. Jones's voice commands on record, and live, she is a whirling dervish of sound and energy.more »
Why They Matter: Because they transcend empty nostalgia to create something new and rousing. Classic sounds are only a template — Jones's passionate voice and the Dap-Kings' taut bursts of brass... is the sound of R&B being birthed anew, over and over and over.
Who They Are: Brooklyn band with two moody, textured and often-depressing records under their belts (their debut Hospice was a heavy, emotional account of a tumultuous relationship told through the narrative of a hospice worker and patient). They've toured with The National and are currently on the road with The Shins.more »
Why They Matter: Next month the trio's releasing an EP called Undersea, their first collection for Anti-, barely a year after their... sophomore LP Burst Apart; hopefully they'll give a sneak peek at what's to come.
Who He Is: James Brown impersonator turned marquee-star soul fire-breather. Why He Matters: Because who knows what he'll cover. Because he's an old-school showman of the sort that don't exist anymore. And because seeing Charles Bradley live has never been anything than good for anyone's spirit.
Who He Is: A snaggletoothed, script-flipping leader of underground hip-hop's new school, beamed from another planet entirely (i.e. the Midwest). "Strange" doesn't even begin to describe it.more »
Why He Matters: Because even The Source's closed-minded crew is down with the Detroit MC despite his diametrically opposed fashion sense and flow. Or as Reggie Osse (a former attorney and record exec who also goes by the name Combat Jack) wrote in his four-mic review... of Brown's XXX mixtape, "I confess to not have been too open to the dude, what with his missing teeth, bizarre hairdo, the tight jean high water pants wearingâ€¦Brooklyn cats like me don't really be accepting of shit like this in Hip Hop." And yet, Osse ends up admitting, "Danny is an incredible rapper and is extremely comfortable with sharing his passion for wordplay. XXX is a hard pill to swallow, there's some tracks that come off experimental, hipster like, some dub and bass even, but what would one expect from the Fool's Gold label?" Exactly.
Who They Are: As heard on their astral plane-skimming live album Special Moves, Mogwai are Scotland's undisputed kings of post-rock peaks and valleys. Why They Matter: Like Explosions in the Sky and Mono, these largely instrumental mood manipulators are masters of tapping a captivated crowd's tear ducts one second and scorching the earth with ravenous riffs the next.