Bonnaroo Music Festival: The Incomplete Guide

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Bonnaroo! The very name conjures up... we're not actually sure. Its roots seem to lie in Dr. John's 1974 album Desitively Bonnaroo, apparently an attempt by the good doctor to cram as many made-up words into a record title as the law would allow at the time. We can say this for sure about Bonnaroo, though: it takes place in Tennessee, it brings together musicians, comedians, and artists from all over the world, and it's happening right now. What follows shouldn't be thought of as a definitive guide to Bonnaroo; think of it more as what your friend drunkenly shouts in your ear at a party when you ask for music recommendations. Except more articulate—or possibly less, depending on who your friends are.

If you can't make it to Manchester this weekend, you can listen to a live stream of the festival on YouTube and NPR.

FRIDAY

Friday's almost over, so your plans are doubtless already made. We can only offer an endorsement of Shaun of the Dead (Cinema Tent, 11 p.m.-12:40 a.m.), the 2004 movie with a Swiss-watch plot and some of the best characterization in any film that involves rotting zombies shambling through London, and of LCD Soundsystem (This Tent, 2:30-4 a.m.), whose bouncy dance rave-ups have come to deal more and more nakedly with longing and disappointment in recent years; the worst days of your life have never sounded so catchy. From there, wander over to the Lunar Stage for Lee Burridge (4-6 a.m.), where you can pass out in a corner to the best abstract percussion loops on the Eastern seaboard.

SATURDAY

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bonnaroo.com

The Avett Brothers (Which Stage, 4:45 - 6:15 p.m.)—Seth and Scott Avett are siblings from North Carolina with a skilled ear for '60s-era roots-rock and a demonstrated ability to grow beards that would make Sanford Fleming jealous. They're equally convincing as jittery power-popsters (as on the anxious, lovestruck "Kick Drum Heart") and weary troubadours--the title track from their latest album, 2009's I and Love and You, is a lovely, exhausted piano march that toys with romance, war, and travel before setting them all aside. Festivals like Bonnaroo like to talk up their atmosphere of warm, inclusive community; the crowd at an Avett Brothers show is one place you might actually experience it.

Ozomatli (The Other Tent, 7 - 8:30 p.m.)—The bustling Los Angeles band Ozomatli is an odd proposition, neither one thing nor the other. If they played songs that skewed a bit more toward Latin hip-hop, they'd be a dynamic, exciting act at the front of that genre. If they tried to trend more in the direction of mainstream American pop, they'd be booked 300 nights a year; it's hard to imagine a situation where they wouldn't be in demand. As it is, they do pretty well; beloved in their native city, the band was named official Cultural Ambassadors by the U.S. State Department in 2007, despite having been vocal critics of the Bush administration for years. But are they authentic Latin pop, the gatekeepers ask, or have they been watered into palatability for the masses? When the songs are as good as "Can't Stop," it's not really relevant. Bring dancing shoes.

Dan Deacon (This Tent, 12:30 AM- 1:45 AM) can be a polarizing figure. On the one hand, he's a magnet for hipster kids looking to idolize any dude with a beard on turntables, but on the other, the Baltimore artist puts on one of the best live shows of any DJ currently touring. Getting his start in the kind of glitch and pop that dominated his electro-revelation Spiderman of the Rings, Deacon moved into more ambitious territory with last year's Bromst. The sounds are now dialed up and spaced out—there's room to breathe, a wildly eclectic sonic buildup to a crescendo of choral voices, and an exploration of live instruments and percussion that lend a more mature, robust sound. The longstanding promise of the artist has been his dedication to creating a community through music, and nowhere is this more visible than in a Deacon live show, now complete with an entire ensemble of musicians joining the sweaty party. With his DJ table smack on the ground level of the audience, Deacon steers away from the DJ worship that oft occurs when beatmakers play festivals; instead, he invites fans inside his twisted world as equals.

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