Happy birthday, Bonnaroo! You’re 15 years old this year; that’s like 40 in festival years. Getting up there.
At that age, there’s really only two ways to celebrate. You could go balls out, throw everything you’ve got into the limo, and paint the town red (or, judging by your new color scheme, purple and green). Or you could go the classy route, put together a classic playlist, invite all your closest friends, and have yourself a perfect get-together. Neither is better or worse, mind you, but those are your options. From the looks of the 2016 lineup, you seem to have gone with the latter choice and set yourself up with a solid top-to-bottom bill that brings together a little of everything we’ve loved about you for all these years. So what kind of gifts did you get your fans for this anniversary celebration?
It’s been awhile since anyone mistook Roo for a “jam band” festival, but if there was ever a perfect time to go back to your roots, this’d be it. Those two sets from Dead & Company set up a delicious cake topped with Pearl Jam icing and the sparkling candles of LCD Soundsystem’s highly anticipated reunion. There’s a lot of judgement to be passed on the ol’ 4-7 spots, too, and that’s where we see your glorious evolution as one of the country’s premiere destination festivals. Hip-hop (J. Cole), pop (Ellie Goulding), and indie rock (Tame Impala — late night, no less!) are all right there on the top bars. We can argue about Macklemore’s return (and we will), but seeing such diversity pressed right against the headliners is a reminder of how far you’ve come, old boy.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there. You’ve made sure to stack the party favors with a little of everything from country (Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton) to soul (Leon Bridges, Mavis Staples), R&B (Miguel, Blood Orange) to all sorts of rock (Ween (!), Third Eye Blind (?!)). I mean, you could’ve given us a bit more in the legacy or reunion departments, and your dance music feels a bit underwhelming (The Chainsmokers are your top billed EDM act? Really?). But you still pulled out a few surprises, even with the early leak of the lineup. We didn’t even know The Claypool Lennon Delirium was a thing until you told us!
Look, we could pick apart your guest list all day if we wanted to, but the fact remains you’re Bonnaroo! You’re one of the best there is. Your lineup may not be perfect, but it’s all kinds of great, and we’re just as thrilled as ever to come celebrate with you on the Farm. That said, there are a few things we’re most excited for, those we’re sad you neglected, and some we just have to shrug at. Let us explain exactly what we really think.
Photo by David Brendan Hall
Few acts have aged better than Pearl Jam. Is this booking surprising? No — especially given that the band themselves confirmed their headlining gig, along with other tour dates, before Bonnaroo’s lineup officially dropped. Is it exciting? Absolutely! Pearl Jam returns to the festival for the first time since 2008, and along with their own extensive and memorable catalogue, you can count on Eddie Vedder and the boys to work up something special for the big night. –Zack Ruskin
Dead & Company
Photo by Armando Brown
Bonnaroo built itself on the jam band culture, yet it’s been a while since we’ve seen that properly represented in the lineup. It’s been four years since a jam act has headlined (Phish in ’12) and eight since any form of the granddaddy of all jammers, Grateful Dead, has appeared (Phil Lesh & Friends in ’08). Well, in 2016, the fest is going back to its roots in a big way by giving Dead & Company two sets. There’s no more appropriate headliner for the 15th anniversary celebration, and Superfly deserves major kudos for making it happen. Now the speculation can begin: Will the sets be connsecutive (one headlining unopposed, one late night?) or spread out like Phish’s double-header in ’09 (Friday/Sunday)? Who will show up as guests? Will any of the Dead make it over to Superjam? Whatever happens, it’s sure to be a perfect Roo experience. –Ben Kaye
Photo by Philip Cosores
If you were to create the perfect Bonnaroo band in a lab, you’d probably end up with something close to multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker and his crew of long-haired Australians. Known for their trippy riffs and groovy electro-pop, Tame Impala are going to fit right in on the Farm. The band’s live show leans heavily on psychedelic visuals, so it makes sense for them to play after dark, when exhaustion, marijuana, and the warm Tennessee night should combine to transform their set into a cinematic fever dream. –Collin Brennan
Photo by Philip Cosores
By many metrics, J. Cole is one of hip-hop’s biggest stars, able to headline arenas and recipient of his own recent HBO special. But Cole hasn’t been able to turn his popularity and record sales into the ability to headline premiere music festivals like contemporaries Kendrick Lamar and Drake. With Bonnaroo, Cole will get his first chance to prove he’s next in line to be a superstar, despite lacking the singles of Drake or the critical acclaim of Lamar. The path starts at Bonnaroo. –Philip Cosores
Deaner and Gener’s dissolution of Ween back in 2012 was anything but smooth, so much so that Dean, a.ka. Mickey Melchiondo, was somewhat blindsided by his partner’s announcement that the band was done. But reunion shows booked in Bloomfield, Colorado, and New York have all the makings of a brown year for Ween fans. Those few shows alone didn’t necessarily suggest a full-blown reunion. But with a slot locked up at Bonnaroo, it looks like rock’s most incisively hilarious duo are all in for a big return. –Ryan Bray
Third Eye Blind
Be honest, how many people saw Third Eye Blind on the bill and went, “Wait, they’re still around?” Well, yes, they are, but perhaps not for long. Their recent album, Dopamine, has been touted as the band’s last physical release. But let’s be honest, you’re not excited to see them so you can hear their new stuff (though, let’s also be fair, 2009’s Ursa Major was far from a bad record); you want to relive some ’90s/early-’00s nostalgia. Get ready, because believe it or not, you’re going to be screaming along to “Semi-Charmed Life”, “Blinded”, and all the rest down on the Farm. –Ben Kaye
Lamb of God
Photo by David Brendan Hall
When Coachella booked Volbeat as their left field metal offering for 2016, you get the idea that they were looking for something similar to how Lamb of God looks on the Bonnaroo lineup. LoG are not the most instantly recognizable name in metal for non-metal heads, but the last three albums from the Virginia natives have debuted in the top three on the Billboard 200, giving you some idea for the audience that exists for the band. But even beyond that, Lamb of God is critically appreciated and respected for their longevity, revealing the keen eye to quality that has been one of Bonnaroo’s calling cards for as long as the festival has existed. –Philip Cosores
Judd Apatow and Friends
Comedy has long been a unique aspect of the Bonnaroo festival, and 2016 brings one the medium’s biggest names. Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Girls) has long mounted shows in Los Angeles featuring talented friends like Zach Galifianakis, Louis C.K., and Adam Sandler. It’s anyone’s guess who will show up to Manchester this summer, but odds are you’re not going to want to miss it. –Zack Ruskin
The lack of an Avicii or Deadmau5 atop the Bonnaroo lineup is a noticeable omission, but is it necessarily a bad one? Other major festival players, including Lollapalooza and Coachella, have doubled down on EDM in recent years, and Coachella has reaffirmed its commitment to the mega-popular subgenre with this year’s lineup. But by spreading things out a bit, Bonnaroo could be putting itself in a good position to be one of this year’s standout festivals, not that it wasn’t already. The long-running summer festival may be circling back closer to its guitar rock roots, which bodes well for fans hankering for some of the rock and roll tradition that’s started to go missing from the mainstream festival circuit as of late. –Ryan Bray
More Legacy Acts
Photo by Philip Cosores
Take one look at this year’s New Orlean’s Jazz and Heritage Festival, and you’ll start to wonder if maybe they went a little hard at the legacy act buffet. By booking Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Paul Simon, and Van Morrison, they’ve left only scraps for Bonnaroo. Aside from a John Mayer-led incarnation of The Grateful Dead, there are not many music acts from yesteryear, leaving fans hungry for nostalgia with little to chew on. –Zack Ruskin
Sufjan Stevens/Ryan Adams
Photo by Ben Kaye
We’re listing both of these artists together for one reason: Neither have ever played Bonnaroo before. It’s true that Sufjan Stevens and Ryan Adams have historically veered away from major festivals, but that’s just not the case anymore. Adams played both Governors Ball and Coachella last year, and Stevens is scheduled at Coachella and Sasquatch! this year. The thought of seeing either playing a dusk set at the Which stage is beautiful to imagine, but unfortunately, it’s going to have to stay in our heads for now. –Ben Kaye
Photo by Amanda Koellner
Pop officially has a home at Bonnaroo with acts like Ellie Goulding and Halsey taking top spots. (We can leave debate about Halsey’s placement on the bill for another day, but safe to say Superfly is betting on big things from the singer.) What we haven’t seen yet, however, is a true pop headliner. Rumors were buzzing about Justin Timberlake this year, and after the early leak of the lineup left some people feeling the top was a bit light, fingers were tightly crossed. Looks like Roo isn’t quite ready for a pop star to take top billing, but the time will come, and when it does, hopefully JT will be ready. I know I am. –Ben Kaye
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
It’s hard to get more vanilla than Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Frankly, it’s baffling that the rapper/producer tag team keeps getting billed as one of hip-hop’s premier acts even when — creatively speaking — they’re miles behind powerhouses like Kendrick and Kanye. But whatever. The world will always have room for radio-ready jams that play it safe and preach a positive message. Bonnaroo, with its lovey-dovey community and reputation for chill vibes, isn’t actually the worst place for Macklemore to ply his trade. We’ll just be hiding in a tent while he does it. — Collin Brennan
X Ambassadors’ “Renegades” has been inescapable on alt radio or in that Jeep commercial, but one place you are usually able to avoid this type of low-brow fare is at the best of the major music festivals. How X Ambassadors slipped through Bonnaroo’s usually impeccable quality filter is beyond me, but their appearance on the lineup is a sore thumb compared to both this year’s other talent, and the talent from festivals past. –Philip Cosores
While we already highlighted the electronic music that Bonnaroo didn’t book, it’s also noticeable how lackluster the EDM that did make the lineup is. Chief among these is the wildly overrated Flosstradamus, but it also includes festival mainstay Zeds Dead and overbooked (though, admittedly high-quality) DJs like RL Grime and Cashmere Cat. With Coachella landing Disclosure, Zedd, Calvin Harris, and Major Lazer, Flosstradamus as the festival’s biggest dance artist is definitively not interesting. –Philip Cosores
There was a point where on paper the idea of Outkast’s Big Boi teaming with synthpop duo Phantogram seemed like an exciting possibility, both on record and live. But once the record was revealed to be good but not great, and the collaboration began popping up on lineups for music festivals both big and small, the partnership quickly lost its luster. At this point, a solo set from Big Boi or Phantogram might hold more appeal. –Philip Cosores