Bonnaroo Music Festival: The Incomplete Guide

What to see this weekend in Manchester, Tennessee—or what to stream from your computer as you listen from afar



Taylor Crothers/

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'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.



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.

Other Stages : Paper Tongues (4-5 p.m., Troo Music Lounge), a seven-piece outfit from Charlotte, is oddly compelling for its decision to mine one of the least-loved moments in recent musical history, the rock-rap surge of the late nineties. When you have sneering men gyrating in tight black pants to a hard-rock riff, there's an unavoidable element of comedy involved, but the band is wholly committed, the rhythm section keeps time like a crystal oscillator, and when frontman Aswan North turns his voice to melodic ends, it's like Robert Plant has dropped by the pub to sing a number with the boys ... Four hours of Beatles Rock Band Experience (Lunar Stage, 4-8 p.m.)? Why not?


They Might Be Giants (The Other Tent, 4:30 - 5:45 p.m.) - John Flansburgh and John Linnell are the workhorses behind They Might Be Giants, the forward-thinking indie-rock band that for almost 30 years has been peddling songs about thermostats, palindromes, spinal cords, and antipodal soulmates. What sets the Johns apart from other brainy rock outfits is the way they dress up complicated ideas in memorable lyrical conceits—the palindrome song, for example, is also a meditation on the cyclical nature of family dynamics—as well as a gift for cascading melodies you already know how to hum. Flansburgh's hammy stage persona—like a carnival barker who happens to wear a guitar—doesn't hurt either. Expect an audience that knows every single word to every single song.



Vancouver's Japandroids (or JPNDRDS) (This Tent, 12:30 PM - 1:30 PM) is Brian King, David Prowse, a guitar, and drums. Inspired by the '60s garage-rock sound of the Sonics, the two met in university in 2006 and had planned to add a third member to the crew, but soon discovered that their chemistry as a duo was undeniable. Their "post-teenage angst" channels itself through their loud, fuzzy, inventive brand of no-holds-barred thrash-pop and in their sweeping melodies—filled with just enough yearning and urgency to make you feel something, and not just write them off as another whiny post-punk outfit. "I don't wanna worry about dying/ I just wanna worry about those sunshine girls," they lament on the standout "Young Hearts Spark Fire." Looks like the two friends are doing just that, since they've been touring for well over a year now, with no signs of slowing down.

If you're going out to Tennessee, you'd be remiss to leave without a dose of good ol' fashioned country music in you. Zac Brown Band (What Stage 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM) opened Bonnaroo last year and now the Atlanta, Georgia collective has a prime spot closing out the festival. With a Grammy win this year for Best New Artist and handful of number one singles under their belts, the Zac Brown Band is emerging into the mainstream music scene with their fresh brand of country rock. Imagine a group of cowboys on a beach vacation, singing around a bonfire, and you can get a pretty good sense of the type of carefree fun Zac and the boys will bring to the stage on Sunday. In addition to the fan-favorites that have gained the group such a strong following, the band will debut songs from their upcoming album, to be released this fall.

Other stages: For those looking to wring every ounce of entertainment out of the weekend at the barn, Sunday's side stages offer plenty of ways to cool off and calm down before the drive home. Comedy rules the day, with the hilarious Parks & Recreation star Aziz Ansari putting on not one, not two, but three stand-up shows at The Comedy Theatre. Sports fans need not worry about missing out on the weekend's big games, as the World Cup's Germany vs. Australia match-up and NBA Finals will both be screened on the Lunar Stage.

For those looking to go out with some actual music, the slick sounds of Mike Posner should be the perfect end to this year's festival. The 21-year-old from Michigan is a senior at Duke University, and has been slowly drumming up buzz over the last two years through mixtapes that showcase his skills as an inventive producer and lyricist. Expect his debut studio album to make waves after its release late this summer, with his first single "Cooler Than Me" quickly working its way up the Billboard Hot 100.