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Bonnaroo 2015: The Ultimate Guide

Our annual picks for rockers, hip-hoppers, ravers, jammers and weirdos

Bonnaroo

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 31, 2014: Music fans watch Steve Aoki perform at the Made In America Festival on Sunday, August 31, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times

Bonnaroo is reliably the most eclectic of all of America's mega-festivals, and the lineup for its 14th year is no exception. In that spirit, here is a genre-hopping guide that picks essential bands, films, DJ sets and comedy for five very different kinds of fans prowling the event's Manchester grounds: classic rockers, hip-hop heads, EDM freaks, jam band devotees and arty folks. 

Billy Joel

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 31: Billy Joel performs at American Airlines Arena on January 31, 2015 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Larry Marano/Getty Images)

Larry Marano/Getty

Bonnaroo for the Classic Rock Fan

Sets You'll Probably Catch: Festival headliner Billy Joel will be owning Bonnaroo with the festival's only unopposed set on Sunday night — really no big deal for the Piano Man since he's been holding court monthly at Madison Square Garden. Although he hasn't put out a record since 2001, Joel weaves set lists from his mountain of hits with no shortage of surprises. In addition to modern standards like "Only the Good Die Young" and "Movin' Out," this year alone he's pulled out infrequently performed faves like "Shameless" and "And So It Goes," deep cuts like "Where's the Orchestra?" and surprising covers like "Highway to Hell" and "Your Song." There's really no predicting what he'll have in store for Roo. Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters will reinterpret Led Zeppelin classics and play their own cosmic folk and Tears for Fears will make a victory-lap performance celebrating the 30th anniversary of Songs From the Big Chair. The year's big surprise legacy act is Earth, Wind and Fire: Bassist Verdine White told Billboard they are "flip-flopping some ideas around" to make this set special. However, younger artists that owe a clear debt to classic rock are in no short supply either. A quick rundown includes Mumford and Sons, My Morning Jacket, Gary Clark Jr., Alabama Shakes, Hozier and Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals. Even this year's Superjam is geared towards fans of vintage pop: Billed as the Throwback SuperJam Dance Party, fun-loving and funk-loving artists like Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, DMC, Jack Antonoff, Karl Denson, Jamie Lidell and John Medeski will be playing the hits until 3 a.m.

You Might Also Like: The afternoon set from Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath will feature Latin-funk interpretations of Black Sabbath songs — they've already heard through the grapevine that Ozzy himself is a fan. For something a little heavier, thrash-metal icons Slayer are playing opposite Mumford and Sons. Jimmy Page–approved blues-rock crew Royal Blood will provide no-nonsense rock; Carolina Chocolate Drops singer Rhiannon Giddens will provide a deep education on folk and blues; verbose indie rocker Courtney Barnett will provide contemporary buzz; and country's latest lyrical phenomenon Kacey Musgraves will bring some rock attitude (at her last Bonnaroo appearance she bragged about sneaking into the fest to see Nine Inch Nails). Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, the upcoming FX comedy about a Nineties musician finding his way years later, is getting a screening before its July 16 premiere, featuring a discussion with star and creator Denis Leary. There's also a screening of Jaco, the documentary about Jaco Pastorius, one of the most acclaimed electric bassists of all time, which features a Q&A with director Paul Marchand and producer Trujillo. However, for anyone itching for rock at its most vintage, the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance Party will launch the 30th anniversary quote-along screening of Back to the Future — expect punch, slow-dancing and live Fifties hits by Nashville's American Hotel.

Best-Kept Secret: Rootsy singer-songwriter Christopher Denny cites the Grateful Dead, Jeff Buckley and Townes Van Zandt as influences and his music shares a similar lyrical verve and gentleness. His recent record, If the Roses Don't Kill Us, contains melancholic songs set against upbeat acoustic strumming and country-rock rhythms. Kory Grow

Kendrick Lamar

Kyle Gustafson/The Washington Post/Getty

Bonnaroo for the Hip-Hop Fan

Sets You'll Probably Catch: Two recent classics that celebrate African-American identity will get full, robust live renderings: Kendrick Lamar's brilliantly complex To Pimp a Butterfly and D'Angelo and the Vanguard's marvelously realized Black Messiah. Then there are Run the Jewels, who are just as ferociously energetic in real life as they are on 180-gram teal colored vinyl — don't bother rushing the stage or risk the same kind of beatdown that Killer Mike dished out at SXSW. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib will bring gangster brogue and dusty loops; and Flying Lotus's laptop gigs have been swerving between memorable beats from his catalog as well as the latest bass and trap mashers. Hopefully Kendrick will stop by during FlyLo's set to reprise his "Never Catch Me" verse. And, don't front, you know you want to sing along to with Childish Gambino to "3005."

You Might Also Like: Mick Jenkins might be the next great artist to break out of Chicago's thriving underground hip-hop scene, thanks to his densely metaphorical gem The Water(s). If you loved Drake's "Take Care," then check out British electronic producer Jamie xx, who just released an excellent debut album, In Colour, and a surprisingly strong duet with Young Thug, "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)." U.K. collective Jungle hearken to the glory years of Eighties dance-pop like a post-millennial version of Loose Ends, thanks to indie hits like "The Heat" and "Busy Earnin'." Meanwhile Seventies funk legends Earth, Wind and Fire hardly need an introduction (plus, their songs are the DNA of no shortage of rap classics). With their Sunday afternoon performance, enigmatic mystics Shabazz Palaces will help you cool down and expand your mind after a long night of debauched fun. And if you're a fan of Dej Loaf's oddly melodic hits like "Try Me" and "Me U & Hennessy," then here's your chance to see the rising Detroit star in person.

Best Kept Secret: Brooklyn crew Full Service Party will hold down the dance floor at the Christmas Club Barn for most of the weekend, though two of their events should be of interest to hip-hop heads: the NOLA Bounce Party on Saturday afternoon and the Classic Hip-Hop Party on Sunday. Meanwhile, Red Bull Music Academy will take over the Silent Disco tent on Saturday night with a slew of beatmakers like ATL producer Childish Major, who made the haunting track for Rocko's hit "UOENO." Mosi Reeves

STS9

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 21: Guitarist Hunter Brown and Keyboardist David Phipps of STS9 (Sound Tribe Sector Nine) perform at The Wiltern Theatre on November 21, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by C Flanigan/FilmMagic)

C Flanigan/Getty

Bonnaroo for the Jam Band Fan

Sets You'll Probably Catch: The rebooted STS9, a.k.a. Sound Tribe Sector 9, returns to Bonnaroo for the first time since Alana Rocklin replaced founding bassist David Murphy last year. Rocklin, a mighty player and the rare female instrumentalist in this bro-centric scene, will help the group tack back to its jammier, less-electronic origins during this 2 a.m. set. A few hours earlier, Medeski, Martin & Wood will transform That Tent into a veritable Mt. Rushmore of contemporary groove-jazz when guitarist John Scofield joins them onstage. My Morning Jacket will split the difference between the jam scene and the folk-pop of What Stage headliners Mumford and Sons when they perform music from their terrific new break-up album, Waterfall. And jams don't get much jammier than during the Bluegrass Situation SuperJam, hosted by Ed Helms, which will draw from Shakey Graves, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Sturgill Simpson, Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Punch Brothers, the Earls of Leicester and whatever other roots revivalists are biding their time until Billy Joel hits the stage.

You Might Also Like: Saxophonist Charles Lloyd, a jazz legend whose '65 quintet featured Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette, will join some slinky grooves for Atomic Bomb! Who Is William Onyeabor? — a tribute to the enigmatic Nigerian one-man band. For sheer electronic tripitude with a side of jazz, look no further than Los Angeles's Flying Lotus. Hard-touring Melbourne outfit King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard should excite fans of both luxurious acid-rock guitar soloing and intense sheets of high-volume fuzz. On their first American tour, Mali's Songhoy Blues play an electrified version of the stately desert boogie personified by the late Ali Farka Touré. The Sahel desert blues have also inspired Robert Plant, who'll likely toss a few Zeppelin covers into his smoky country-meets-Africa set.

Best-Kept Secret: Fans of Phish, the Disco Biscuits and Frank Zappa will find much to admire in unsubtly named Northeast improv rockers Dopapod. Richard Gehr

Deadmau5

HAMILTON, ON - MARCH 15: Deadmau5 performs at the 2015 JUNO Awards at FirstOntario Centre on March 15, 2015 in Hamilton, Canada. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)

George Pimentel/WireImage/Getty

Bonnaroo for the EDM Fan

Sets You'll Probably Catch: No self-respecting connoisseur of festival beats would miss Deadmau5's Friday-night set — and given the artist's penchant for ducking all expectations, this could easily slide into relative left-field turf. However, do try to split your time between the Mau5 and Flying Lotus: The latter, on the heels of a BBC residency, might be airing out more new tracks like the recent "Transmolecularization." Jamie xx should ride high on Saturday night on the chill, sadboy techno grooves of his recently released, critically acclaimed new album, while SBTRKT will directly follow on the same stage with deeper Londoner #feels. Sunday night, don't miss Scandinavian singer , a current favorite of Diplo and DJ Snake whose profile will only continue to rise after being featured on their Top 40 hit "Lean On." And of course there's festie veterans like the headbanging low-end aggronaut Bassnectar and the jammy, groove-centric STS9 — miles apart stylistically but both embracing Bonnaroo's ever-blurring lines between genres and communities. You can get some of your final thumps in with Caribou, a fine purveyor of thinking-person's grooves: He finishes up 15 minutes before Billy Joel brings Bonnaroo together at the main stage. 

You Might Also Like: Some of dance music's greatest power comes from its mind-freeing, community-connecting properties. Try channeling those salubrious feelings every morning with multiple free classes at Yoga-Roo, led by celeb teachers at four different stages. And if that's not your physical activity flavor, you can try the Friday-morning Dancercise session, which marries retro aerobics moves with party vibes. For more rave-y fun, skip the main festival stages Thursday night in favor of the Grove Parade, starting at 9 p.m. at the Tower. That's where trippy, neon-bedecked art cars lead revelers in a Narnia-themed procession that ends with a dance party. A similar low-pretense option? The annual Robe Rage party at Jake and Snake's Christmas Club Barn, a DJ-driven throwdown on Saturday night/Sunday morning, culminating in what promises to be a proper Nineties-style rave — heads up: robe is mandatory for entry. Maybe you just like the gut-churning power of a proper loud, thumping festival set? Try finding the same body high in the festival's heavy-music offerings. Doom metal band Pallbearer offers the kinds of textures, bass rumblings and pure decibel power found in low-end-centric electronic music.

Best-Kept Secret: Saturday night (into Sunday morning), Red Bull Music Academy takes over Bonnaroo's Silent Disco. That's where you'll hear El Dusty, a Corpus Christi native who's blending trap and traditional electronic beats with cumbia and other Latino rhythms. It's the sound of the new America. Arielle Castillo

Tanya Tagaq

HAMILTON, ON - MARCH 15: Singer Tanya Tagaq presents an award at the 2015 JUNO Awards at the FirstOntario Centre on March 15, 2015 in Hamilton, Canada. (Photo by Sonia Recchia/Getty Images)

Sonia Recchia/Getty

Bonnaroo for the Arty Fan

Sets You'll Probably Catch: Canadian whirlwind Tanya Taqaq has been completely flooring audiences with her one-of-a-kind, high-intensity blend of Inuit throat singing and exploratory avant-rock. Hearing her throat contortions from a Roo-sized festival P.A. might be transcendent or terrifying or both. Immediately after her Friday performance, scurry from This Tent to That Tent for Between the Buried and Me, the mathtastic prog-metal space cadets whose upcoming seventh album Coma Ecliptic is a 68-minute cosmic opera that's part Stravinsky, part Queensrÿche. If you're not too exhausted or dizzy from Flying Lotus' Friday-night blend of Seventies fusion jazz, contemporary bass music and brain-scrambling visuals, don't miss New York's ambitious new music quartet So Percussion on Saturday morning. A very rare taste of modern classical in a big American summer festival setting, the four-drummer crew be playing the latest minimalist work from the National's Bryce Dessner, Music for Wood and Strings, a bell-like shimmer of funkily smacked "chord strings" that splits the difference between drone and disco. Further closing the loop between American minimalism and dance music, So Percussion will also play the first movement of Steve Reich's early Seventies masterwork Drumming. It should then be a quick walk over to the Cinema Tent for a screening of Birdman with its frenetic, tense, Golden Globe-nominated free-jazz score played live by drummer Antonio Sánchez

You Might Also Like: If you're into the low, metal-tinged drones of SunnO))), Boris or Kevin Drumm it's really about time you caught a Bassnectar show: The death metal expat has turned his love of decibels into what might be the most stomach-rumbling festival show on the planet. Shabazz Palaces joins hip-hop with avant-garde free-form and Afrocentric poetry; Pallbearer lives on the edge where heavy metal turns into hypnotic slush; and Rustie makes semi-danceable electronic music with twisted, nostalgic textures that sound like a rave in the uncanny valley. 

Best-Kept Secret: Bonnaroo's Head of Visual Design, Russ Bennett will be leading the first Roo Art Walk, kicking off at the Fountain, 4 p.m. on Thursday. Says Nashville Scene, Bennett "oversees the appearance of every stage, tent, vending booth, kiosk, lamppost, fountain and sculpture, not to mention the color schemes and lighting design for the actual shows." He'll be playing festival docent, providing commentary on some of all of the above. Christopher R. Weingarten

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