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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. 

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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