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Bonnaroo 2010's Essential Sets

From DMB to Jay-Z, a guide to four days of sun, mud and music

June 7, 2010 4:28 PM ET

Bonnaroo has evolved from a showcase for jam bands to become America's best and most diverse festival. Only at the 'Roo can you find Southern metal act Baroness and U.K. group the xx playing alongside neo-soul crooner Mayer Hawthorne and Dave Matthews Band. Plus, how many other fests are gutsy enough to keep the party going until the wee hours of 4 a.m.? If you're headed down to Manchester, Tennessee, this weekend for four days of sun, mud and music, here's the essential, hour-by-hour breakdown of what sets to catch. Stick with Rolling Stone for full reports from this year's fest, plus photos, interviews and more.

THURSDAY

4:00 p.m.—5:00 p.m.: Frontier Ruckus
They may hail from up north — Michigan, to be specific — but Frontier Ruckus sing the sound of the South: delicate, finger-picked banjos, aching, oaky violin and the haunting voice of frontman Matthew Milia, who conjures what might happen had Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum been raised in a log cabin. Their songs are full of rich, rural details: frozen lakes, swaying trees, highway lights glowing in the deep night. Add to the mix baleful brass and trembling percussion, and you've got the perfect recipe for Gothic Americana.

5:45 p.m—6:45 p.m.: Baroness
Georgia metal band Baroness pull of a rare feat: displaying endless technical prowess without ever being boring. Their second outing, The Blue Record, was one of last year's best, but as impressive as they are on record, live they are borderline miraculous — miles of interlocking, blitzkreig riffing, superhuman drumming, and songs that shift speeds more often than a dying Buick.

7 p.m.—8 p.m.: Local Natives
L.A. jangle-pop outfit Local Natives are already earning deserved accolades for their earnest, tautly constructed indie pop. Think Grizzly Bear, with a bit more panache — they've got the same stacked harmonies and airy production, but their songs also move, tugged along by silvery guitar lines and somersaulting percussion. They'll go down smooth and cool, summer pop music made for evening listening.

8:30 p.m.—9:30 p.m.: Neon Indian
Blissed-out synth band Neon Indian are no one's idea of an audience darling, so it was surprising when their name ended up on so many tongues after the release of last year's Psychic Chasms. Their kaleidoscope-like sound features weird, whirling synth patterns that suddenly explode into throbbing, insistent dance rhythms and spaced-out, heavy-lidded vocals. It's dance-psych, somehow taking the haze of mushroom-pop music and making it tremble.

10:30 p.m.—11:30 p.m.: Mayer Hawthorne
Mayer Hawthorne may be loosely categorized as neo-soul, but there's nothing new about his fantastically dusty, throwback R&B. The onetime hip-hop DJ and producer turned soul crooner mixes heavy doses of the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Temptations into his dusky ballads and straight-ahead stompers, bringing all the exuberance of the Motown Revue to his brisk live show. Nevermind the heat: expect Hawthorne to be dressed to the nines, and for his silky voice to sound splendid soaring up into the steamy Tennessee air.

11:30 p.m.—12:45 a.m.: The xx
This hushed U.K. R&B trio pull songs out of thin air — just a couple of spindly guitar lines, heartbeat percussion and the twin whispered vocals of Romy Croft and Oliver Sim. The results are spectacular: lithe, sexy, mysterious songs that percolate gently. Everyone from Maxwell to Michael Stipe have fallen all over themselves praising the group — Maxwell even says his upcoming remix EP is directly inspired by them — and the group's riveting live show ratchets up the suspense while keeping the mood minimal. Expect this to be the perfect way to drift off after a long opening day.

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