Bonnaroo is reliably the most eclectic of all of America's mega-festivals, and the lineup for its 13th year is no exception. In that spirit, here is a genre-hopping guide that picks essential bands, film, 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. By Richard Gehr, Kory Grow, Jordan Sargent and Christopher R. Weingarten
Sets You'll Probably Catch: As the only headliner with no opposing sets, Elton John will have tens of thousands of Bonnaroovians' undivided attention. His recent set lists have leaned heavily on his 1973 classic Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, which he recently reissued with covers by Ed Sheeran and Fall Out Boy. Meanwhile, Lionel Richie's hipster-approved Hall and Oates phase could easily begin on Saturday. Though he's finding success with country, recent concerts have shown a mix of solo hits like "Hello," Commodores classics like "Easy" and even a version of "We Are the World." Adventurous classic-rock fans will also want to check out Bonnaroo's celebrated "Superjams," one of which is being led by the Allman Brothers Band's guitarist Derek Trucks and features Chaka Khan and Taj Mahal – the other will feature Doors guitarist Robby Krieger jamming with Skrillex.
You Might Also Like: Rock runs deep in the festival, from a 30th anniversary screening of This Is Spinal Tap to a showing of the recent Grateful Dead–related doc The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir. Music-industry iconoclast Jack White will likely dig back to classic blues and if Flaming Lips aren’t covering a Beatles album in full they'll at least bring experimental-pop freakery. Rockers who like their music more traditional can check out southern- and blues-rock groups like Drive-By Truckers and Tedeschi-Trucks Band; alt-country fans can opt for Lucero and the Henley-rankling Okkervil River; and folk fans can pick from the Avett Brothers, Amos Lee or maybe just attend the Bluegrass Situation Superjam. Like your rock harder? J. Roddy Walston and the Business project a floor-shaking Black Crowes vibe live, King Khan and the Shrines are a garage-rock riot.
Best-Kept Secret: Those in the know will check out Syd Arthur – a band whose name references psych-rock hero Syd Barrett – who hail from the same breeding ground that produced proggy, psychedelic bands like Soft Machine and Caravan in the late Sixties. The music of their recently released Sound Mirror is a convincing update.
Sets You’ll Probably Catch: You’ll have to be passed out to miss headliner Kanye West, whose lunar stage set will look even icier under the night stars. Chance the Rapper, the yelpy Chicago rascal who is Kanye’s sonic – if not spiritual – son, should also put on one of the most densely packed rap sets of the weekend along with his brass band the Social Experiment. Of course, Kanye’s sound has shifted from stewed soul to acidic dance beats, pushing him somewhere closer to the broken-toothed, tongue-wagging Danny Brown, who has been a festival highlight for multiple summers running. For anthems, there’s Wiz Khalifa – whose “We Dem Boyz” might be the hottest rap song of the summer – and Pusha T, doing a line of G.O.O.D. Music hits and Clipse classics.
You Might Also Like: Don't miss comedian Hannibal Buress, a rap fan who often works hip-hop observations into his sets – his latest album, Live From Chicago, features a riff on Riff Raff. Bonnaroo's R&B line-up is solid too: Frank Ocean figures to preview some of his much-anticipated new album in one of his only scheduled American dates of the year, and Janelle Monae, in a tux regardless of the heat, will show the droopy indie rockers hunched over acoustic guitars how to put on a show. There’s also Washed Out, whose stoner electronica predicted Drakewave bedroom crooners; Sam Smith, the 2006 Amy Winehouse of 2014, and Chromeo, who will be performing much of their surprisingly good new album White Women. Saturday night will see a screening of Ping Pong Summer, a hot new period piece about teenage suburban white hip-hop fanatic in the cassette-heavy 1985. But true scholars of hip-hop cinema will be waking up early to catch The Warriors at 5:30 a.m. Can you dig it?
Best-Kept Secret: You know of Skrillex’s Superjam, but even that will have a secret weapon: bassist Thundercat. Born Stephen Bruner, Thundercat is an accomplished session musician, having played alongside Erykah Badu and Miguel. But even more instructive for this exercise is the extensive time he’s spent with tripped-out producer Flying Lotus. Skrillex plus Damian Marley plus Warpaint plus Robby Krieger from the Doors might be a total mess, but the low end will be on lock.
Sets You'll Probably Catch: With the relative scarcity of improvised rock this year, it's easy to forget that Bonnaroo started out as something of a glorified jam jamboree. Fortunately, the spirit of the Seventies, in all its cosmic country-rock glory, still flourishes in Los Angeles performer-producer Jonathan Wilson, who looms large on Thursday afternoon. Umphrey's McGee, who played the first Bonnaroo back in 2002, return with a mid-afternoon set of experimental double-guitar shredding and dance beats. Former Allman Brothers Band guitarist Derek Trucks, helms one of Bonnaroo's two kitchen-sink Superjams with guests Chaka Khan, Taj Mahal, David Hidalgo, and others. Skrillex supervises an even headier version with livetronica gamers Big Gigantic and the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart among his guests. The Dead's bluegrass roots extend into Yonder Mountain String Band's lightning-fast riffs, and their extended blues riffs into the John Butler Trio. If the jam scene really does have a future, it might be in the tightly wound, Beefheart-tinged twang of Austin's White Denim.
You Might Also Like: Everything? As a member of Bonnaroo's most open-minded contingent, you'll want to check out radical Nigeria scion Seun Kuti, who now leads father Fela's big Egypt 80 orchestra, then attend his Friday Cinema Tent Q&A for an Afrobeat history lesson. Roots-minded jazzbos will love pianist Jon Batiste & Stay Human's smart neo-traditionalist take on New Orleans' Preservation Hall sound. At least one member of Umphrey's McGee, bassist Ryan Stasik, is an outspoken Mastodon fan; and you can find out why Friday night. Expect Quickie Mart to cram a Disco Biscuits gig's worth of beats into his Silent Disco DJ on Thursday. And anyone still in need of a good head-fucking should set their alarm for the early-Sunday morning (1:55 a.m.) screening of the late Harold Ramis's Groundhog Day.
Best-Kept Secret: With their masked female singers, afrodelic drummers, and extended guitar solos, the sublime Swedish trance-rock group Goat will envelop you in its vortex.
Sets You'll Probably Catch: Two titans of dubstep and progressive house, Skrillex and Kaskade, respectively, will serve as Bonnaroo's alternate headliners for the folks that plan to stay up until 3:30 in the morning. Also, if there's anyone who's going to prove to be too big for the Other Tent, it's 2-step-tinged British EDM-pop sensations Disclosure. They haven't made the biggest impact in the States yet, but their buzz and popularity has only seems to grow organically. "Latch" was released in the States to much acclaim more than a year ago, but its only now starting to scrape the Top 20. And maybe after catching some "Dancing on the Ceiling" with Lionel Richie (who went through his EDM stage back in 2000!) you can sneak off to see Zedd's euphoric house.
You Might Also Like: Break Science will deliver hip-hop-inflected moodiness, James Blake will provide post-dubstep art-pop and A Tribe Called Red will mix "traditional Pow Wow music with contemporary club sounds." However, the most intimate throwdowns will be in Snake and Jake's Christmas Club Barn. The three-man DJ team behind Brooklyn's wet 'n' wild Tiki Disco party will be popping by on Thursday and Friday. And Full Service Party takes over for all of Saturday, featuring some power hours that might be very special, including a NOLA bounce party at 5 p.m. and a "'90s rave" at – when else? – at 4 a.m.
Best-Kept Secret: Robe Rage, featuring a "Special Guest DJ Set," is such a well-kept secret that we don't even have a clue who it is. But, insists the Bonnaroo website: "only people dressed in robes will be allowed to enter, first come first serve."
Sets You'll Probably Catch: However you approach Moroccan icons the Master Musicians of Jajouka – amicrotonaltrance-out for ambient fans, a dizzying dance for free-jazz fans, a drumming frenzy for rock fans —they've inspired everyone from William S. Burroughs to Ornette Coleman to the Rolling Stones to drummer Billy Martin (who will be joining them at Roo). However, no band in any genre has the unique rhythmic approach of extreme metal mutants Meshuggah, whose swinging-yet-befuddling time-signature torture still marvels after 25 years. The dabke of Omar Souleyman, Syria's biggest musical star in America since, well, ever, will turn folk music into searing, frenetic, electronic ecstasy. And on Friday afternoon, avant-guitar mainstay Mark Ribot will provide his unique score to Charlie Chaplin's The Kid in the Cinema Tent – a soundtrack that can often feels more precisely edited than the 1921 film itself.
You Might Also Like: A 2:30 a.m. performance from Darkside – the duo of minimalist sound sculptor Nicolas Jaar and guitarist Dave Harrington – might be the closest you can come to an ambient bliss session, as they peddle prog textures and barely-there beats. Jazzcentric turntablist DJ Logic will be taking two turns in the Silent Disco, and promises Rolling Stone he'll bring "an eclectic set of music to make it a great experience and off-the-hook dance party." And dry comedian Rory Scovel treats many performances like performance art – bringing a tux and pianist to Conan, doing a Canadian TV stand-up set in a German accent, or playing a version of Coldplay's "Clocks" at Bumbershoot.
Best Kept Secret: The Ukraine's Dahkabraka turn the dissonant, ethereal drones of Eastern European folk music into a Björkian drum-punk spectacle.