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How to Do Bonnaroo

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How to Do Bonnaroo
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THE CLASSIC ROCKER

The Classic Rocker's taste skews vintage – music that was either made a few decades ago, or sounds like it was. They're no hopeless nostalgic, but there's something about such finely aged songwriting that speaks to them. Fortunately, Bonnaroo has what they're looking for – in ample supply.

Listen: The Essential Bonnaroo 2011 Playlist

Justin Townes Earle, Friday, 2 p.m., Other Tent
Never mind that he's, quite literally, got rock history in his DNA – the son of Steve Earle is a formidable songwriter and tale-teller in his own right. His songs work upward from a country-music base, rich and warm and built for the back porch – even if they're often set at the heart of the city (a song on Earle's latest, Harlem River Blues, tells of the travails of a subway worker). Above all, his songs bleed honesty, and his warm voice and rollicking arrangements are the kind of down-home music Bonnaroo was made for.

Wanda Jackson, Friday, 5:45 p.m., Other Tent
Rock royalty doesn't get any richer than Wanda Jackson. The first lady of Fifties rockabilly, Jackson was howlin' and screamin' when everyone else was opting for polite and demure. That she once dated Elvis is but a footnote in her career – she's such a force of nature, even at age 73, that anyone who comes within feet of her pales in comparison. As her latest, Jack White-produced effort The Party Ain't Over proves, she's lost none of her snarl. Her live shows split the difference between thundering, greasy rock & roll and her irreverent storytelling. It's as close to a rock history lesson as Bonnaroo has to offer.

My Morning Jacket, Friday, 8 p.m., What Stage
My Morning Jacket are both carrying on and reinventing the tradition of classic rock and roll. They may have once favored the ragged sound of the 1970s, but their last two efforts – Evil Urges and the just-released Circuital – see them casting a wider net, fusing unlikely influences like disco and R&B into their grand, grizzled choogle. They earned their keep as a live band for years, so it's a sure bet that their Friday night show will be a stunner – the work of seasoned pros turning album rock on its ear.

Lelia Broussard Vs. The Sheepdogs, Saturday, 2 p.m., This Tent
The Choose the Cover of Rolling Stone contest will come to a head at this epic battle of the bands between Los Angeles singer-songwriter Lelia Broussard and Canadian boogie rockers the Sheepdogs. As the finalists perform, audience members can vote for their favorite and push them closer to winning a contract with Atlantic Records and appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone in August.

Old Crow Medicine Show, Saturday, 2 p.m., Which Stage
If you need proof of Old Crow's affection for classic rock, look no further than "Alabama High Test" from their 2008 album Tennessee Pusher. The song is essentially an affectionate rewrite of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," swapping its tangle of electric guitars for banjo and fiddle. That's what they do: filter FM classics through a country lens, resulting in songs that barrel forward breathlessly, with plenty of room for their high, keening harmonies. It's square dance music with a rock & roll pulse – a can't-miss mid-afternoon party.

Deer Tick, Saturday, 3:15 p.m., That Tent
You can almost smell the whiskey in Deer Tick's masterfully wasted music – unshaven, tattooed outlaw rock that sounds ready to serve as the soundtrack for a hundred different bar brawls. The key to understanding the band's aesthetic is in the knowledge that they also perform covert gigs as a Nirvana cover band cheekily named Deervana. By fusing punk's anarchy with country and folk, Deer Tick have figured out a way to merge two genres that long seemed at loggerheads. It's as bracing as being clobbered with a beer bottle.

Alison Krauss & Union Station ft Jerry Douglas, Saturday, 4 p.m., Which Stage
Having wrapped up a successful run with Robert Plant (who'll be making an appearance of his own later in the day), Krauss returns to front her band Union Station, joined at Bonnaroo by renowned Dobro player Jerry Douglas. Krauss's music may skew tender, but doubt her chops at your peril: she's not only an evocative singer, but a stunning fiddler, and this set will offer ample opportunities for her to showcase both of those mighty talents.

Mumford & Sons, Saturday, 6:15 p.m., Which Stage
It's been quite a year for this band of Brits, moving from relative obscurity to backing Bob Dylan on a riotous version of "Maggie's Farm" at the Grammys. Bonnaroo will give the skeptical a chance to see what the fuss is about. Simply put: Mumford & Sons raise a racket with often minimal instrumentation, relying instead on gooseflesh-raising harmonies and tender, heartsick choruses. That they hail from London makes their allegiance to American music that much more remarkable – and their ability to effortlessly replicate it that much more stunning.

Loretta Lynn, Saturday, 6:45 p.m., Which Stage
Like Wanda Jackson, Loretta Lynn is a rock legend who found a fan – and producer – in Jack White. And like Jackson, her songs are full of fight. Whether she's singing of her country heritage or staring down a floozy who has designs on her man, Lynn has proven herself a fighter with a strong spirit and a keen ear for a hook. She cleared the way for everyone from Miranda Lambert to Those Darlins, and this early evening live set is bound to be full of the fire that is her trademark.

The Black Keys, Saturday, 8 p.m., What Stage
These days, its absurd to think there was ever a time the Black Keys were casually compared to the White Stripes. They may have started out favoring gutbucket blues that was equal parts axel and skillet grease, but they've expanded their palette so incredibly it seems there's little they can't do. Years on the road have made them an airtight live band, and this Saturday night performance is sure to be a typhoon of sound, one that places a high premium on volume and expert musicianship.

Buffalo Springfield, Saturday, 9:30 p.m., Which Stage
In a way, Buffalo Springfield practically invented Bonnaroo. The classic rock pioneers – reunited for just a handful of shows – contained as many disparate sounds in their songs as the festival has in its lineup. Though they're best known for their eerie Vietnam protest song "For What It's Worth" (as well as for launching the careers of Stephen Stills and Neil Young), their slim catalog is bursting with shoulda-been-classics, from the aching "Flying on the Ground is Wrong" to the jangling "A Child's Claim to Fame." If you've got even a passing interest in classic rock you should know better than to miss this.

Mavis Staples, Sunday, 1:15 p.m., What Stage
Anyone who has seen Mavis Staples recently can testify that her voice has lost none of its fire and soul since she sang "The Weight" alongside the Band during The Last Waltz some 35 years ago. If anything, it's gained even more texture and empathy – her recent, Jeff Tweedy-produced You Are Not Alone draws on not only the gospel music that is her family legacy, but also ample amounts of alt-country and classic rock, leaving plenty of room for Staples' voice to charge up the center. Her set is part church service, part history lesson – but most important, all heart.

Gregg Allman, Sunday, 4:30 p.m., That Tent
Gregg Allman's latest record finds the legendary guitarist taking a survey of the blues, plucking 12 American classics from the annals of history and giving all his signature spin. Turns out, Allman's searching voice is perfectly suited to these ragged classics. Allman knows this music inside and out, and his performance is sure to fully ignite, giving anyone who hears it a glimpse of rock's foundations, delivered by one of its finest talents.

Robert Plant and Band of Joy, Sunday, 6 p.m., What Stage
Robert Plant's third act as a champion of quiet, American roots music may have seemed improbable 30 years ago, but the way he's settled so fully into it lays to rest all doubts. His performances with the Band of Joy mix country standards with new takes on Led Zeppelin classics that draw out the gospel laid deep in their grooves. It doesn't hurt that he's backed by a team of high-caliber musicians – among them legendary country guitarist Buddy Miller and the siren-voiced Patty Griffin, whose searing tones provide stunning counterpoint to Plant's finely-aged holler.

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