Since its inception in 2002, the Bonnaroo festival has evolved from a jam-band-heavy, new millennium neo-hippie hoedown to four days and nights of performances that are staggering in their diversity. Indeed, it’s now possible for every attendee to leave on Sunday with a completely different experience, their Bonnaroo shaped by their tastes and inclinations. In recognition of the fest’s breadth of style and sound, we present four completely different, completely unique festival experiences – all of them happening in the same field, over the same weekend. (For the entire schedule, visit Bonnaroo.com.)
Who you see depends on what you like. Here’s how to do Bonnaroo from start to finish – whether you’re a blogger, a classic rocker, a beatmaster or a traditionalist.
The Blogger started coming to Bonnaroo in 2006, when Radiohead performed. They’ve been keeping an eye on the fest over the last few years, and this year, they have more buzzy bands to see than there are hours in the day. This is the Blogger’s Bonnaroo.
Wavves, Thursday, 5:30 p.m., This Stage
With his bratty charm, brash onstage demeanor and big, brawling songs, Nathan Williams – chief persona behind Wavves – provides the perfect snapshot of a rock star in training. His latest album, King of the Beach, buries hooks galore beneath layers of scuzz and grime. Live, he steps up his game considerably, a full-force blast of volume and velocity certain to shake the sand from your eyes.
Best Coast, Thursday, 7:15 p.m., Other Tent
On record she may sound shy and retiring, but live Bethany Cosentino proves her band may just be the second coming of the Shangri-La’s. Her songs have a bright California lilt, and they are as charming as they are instantly memorable. But the true shocker here is the power of Cosentino’s voice: it may be hidden in the shadows on debut outing Crazy for You, but in person it’s rich and commanding, impressive in both range and force. That the band occasionally toss in a few unlikely covers – everyone from Blink-182 to Loretta Lynn – makes their set that much more unmissable.
The Drums, Thursday, 8:45 p.m., Other Tent
Indie rock is by no means short on New Wave revivalists, but the Drums are one of the best of the breed. Sunshine spills over every square inch of their songs, from the bounding “Let’s Go Surfing,” which is sewn up with silvery guitars, or the hazy Beach-Boys-by-way-of-OMD dreaminess of “Down By the Water.” It doesn’t hurt that vocalist Jonathan Pierce knows only two methods of delivery: desperate and aching. Backed by his group’s steady bounce, it’s the perfect combination of sour and sweet.
Sleigh Bells, Thursday 10:15 p.m., Other Tent
The one question asked most often at a Sleigh Bells show? “How can two people make that much noise.” Part pep rally and part apocalypse, Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss take a perverse pleasure in pushing everything well into the red. They perform before an imposing wall of Marshalls, Miller unleashing demonic howls and shrieks from his guitar, Krauss leaping and punching like a cheerleader in the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It’s a marvelous, unholy racket – dance music that gleefully beats you into submission.
Deerhunter, Thursday, 11:30 p.m., That Stage
One of indie rock’s more mysterious, compelling figures, Bradford Cox writes lovely, languid songs that surround his tender voice with a latticework of shimmering guitars. It’s hard to pinpoint his exact m.o.: one minute, he’s delivering a swirl of sound that wouldn’t be out of place on an early 90s shoegaze record, the next he’s whispering out a ballad over arpeggios that twinkle like suncatchers. His late-night set is sure to be beguiling, the perfect, gentle release after a long, hot day in the sun.
Sharon Van Etten, Friday, 12:15 p.m., Which Stage
With her rich, smoky voice and songs that speak equally of heartbreak and resilience, Sharon Van Etten is quickly – and justifiably – gaining a reputation as a songwriter of both depth and emotional gravity. Her latest album, Epic, is just that – sharply focused snapshots of love and loss delivered via Etten’s bare acoustic strum and her band’s taut, precise arrangements. Live, they crackle with determination, and Etten’s brittle, potent alto can even make phrases like “peace sign” sound vaguely threatening.
Matt and Kim, Friday, 3:15 p.m., This Tent
Matt & Kim’s reputation as a live act precedes them – and justifiably so. Simply put, they are a two-person dynamo, frantic, tightly wound and full of good cheer. Their performances are as physical as they are musical. Kim, who is generally beaming from ear-to-ear for the duration, spends half the set standing atop her drum kit, pointing her sticks heavenward, egging the crowd into increasingly raucous behavior. Matt’s no slouch, either: He pounds the keys, pogos in place and eventually launches himself into the audience. For the sheer adrenaline-per-second, no other band comes close.
The Decemberists, Friday, 5:30 p.m., What Stage
For a while it seemed as if the Decemberists had refocused their energies, abandoning erudite, guitar-driven pop in favor of something that could best be described as “indie prog.” Their latest outing, The King is Dead, proves that was just a dalliance. Gone are the epic, winding song structures and formidable track lengths – they’ve been replaced by bright, summery guitar arpeggios that recall early R.E.M. and lyrics that dole out the booksmarts sparingly. They’re the perfect band to watch as the sun sets over Tennessee.
Florence and the Machine, Friday, 6:45 p.m., This Tent
Last year’s big breakout is a live force to be reckoned with. Florence Welch’s voice soars and sails, equipping the songs from last year’s Lungs with even more power and heft. The quiet moments scale up perfectly – “Rabbit Heart” becomes dark and tribal, “A Kiss With a Fist” suitably bruising and of course, “The Dog Days Are Over” stretches out wide and triumphant – a big, glorious anthem that will sound majestic from a festival stage.
Arcade Fire, Friday, 11:00 p.m., What Stage
The reigning kings of indie rock, Arcade Fire have handily proven that it’s possible for small bands to supernova almost overnight with little more than the power of their convictions and the kind of stridency and self-confidence that powered early U2. And while more than a few people may have been flummoxed by their Grammy win, anyone who catches their show at Bonnaroo will find them impossible to forget. This is the exact setting their music is built for: their triumphant, thundering anthems will expand to fit Bonnaroo’s endless acres, closing out Friday with the requisite sound and fury.
Smith Westerns, Sunday, 12:30pm, This Tent
Judging by their latest effort, Dye it Blonde, the once-shambling lo-fi band have suddenly discovered a whole cache of David Bowie records. No other young band has glammed it up so effectively: brazen guitars, pouty vocals and chugging tempos make this Chicago three-piece unlikely ambassadors for the virtues of Seventies FM radio. You never knew “All the Young Dudes” could have so many thrilling, distinct iterations.
Iron and Wine, Sunday, 4:30, Which Stage
Gone is the hushed, tender Sam Beam of yesteryear, the guy who seemed to be singing directly into his enormous beard most of the time. In his place is Sam Beam, neo-psych songwriter. On his latest effort, Kiss Each Other Clean, Beam ably expands the Iron and Wine m.o. to make room for twinkling synths and layers of hazy guitar. It works because the songs are still grounded in Beam’s tender, loping melodies. He may not be writing lullabies anymore, but there’s still something about Beam’s music that soothes.
Beirut, Sunday, 6:15pm, Other Tent
Zach Condon is a musical omnivore. His initial efforts found him at home with the bleary horn charts and oompah percussion of Balkan brass, but later efforts saw him growing increasingly restless, incorporating synths and strings and sinewy melodies. There’s no telling which Condon will show up at Bonnaroo, but no matter which it is, a spectacle is guaranteed.
The Strokes, Sunday, 6:45, Which Stage
When the Strokes reconvened last year, it seemed curiously arbitrary. Their absence had been long and quiet – not a formal breakup so much as an unannounced dormancy – and the scene to which they belonged (specifically: the early ’00s New York rock contingent) had quietly expired. But over a series of remarkable comeback gigs, the group has ably proven their right not only to carry on, but to prosper. Julian Casablancas is still the kind of the disaffected, and the sound of his lazy croon sailing over top of the group’s icy stabs of guitar has lost none of its potency. To see them live is to remember why you ever loved them in the first place – and to be genuinely thrilled they’ve decided to return.
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.
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.
Simply put, the Beatmaster comes to Bonnaroo for rhythms and rhymes. This year they won’t leave unsatisfied. Bonnaroo 2011 boasts a full roster of artists dedicated to delivering either nimble rhymes or powerhouse rhythms – occasionally at the same time.
The Knux, Thursday, 7 p.m., This Tent
If you’ve never been lucky enough to witness a set by the Louisiana hip-hop duo The Knux, here’s what you’re in for: mile-a-minute rhyming coming fast-and-furious over beats that borrow as much from rock music as R&B. There’s an energy and intensity to their set that, at times, recalls vintage Public Enemy (their “F!IRE” is like a laid-back take on “Fight the Power.”) They’re just as energizing when being playful. “Bang! Bang!” is all spry bounce and playful rhymes, rubberband hip-hop bound to keep a crowd in motion.
J. Cole, Thursday, 8:30 p.m., This Tent
J. Cole has only been making music for four years, but he’s already racked up an impressive pedigree. His debut mixtape The Come Up, which pits Cole’s lean voice against thumping, soul-inspired production, attracted the attention of none other than Jay-Z, who signed the rapper to his Roc Nation label and invited him to contribute a verse to “A Star is Born” on Blueprint III. Since then, Cole’s star has been on the ascent, remixing Rihanna’s “S&M” and scoring appearances from Drake and Wale on his Friday Night Lights mixtape. This festival appearance may be your last chance to see Cole on a small stage – by this time next year, he’ll be commanding quite a crowd.
Atmosphere, Friday, 5 p.m., This Tent
One of the leading lights of indie rap, Atmosphere – a.k.a. rapper Slug and DJ Ant – offer a live show closer to rock than hip-hop. Backed by a lean but toothy band, Atmosphere is rightly revered as one of the more ruthless acts in underground rap. Their latest effort, The Family Sign, may find them developing a level of comfort with domesticity (it’s certainly more relaxed than earlier efforts) but make no mistake: these songs scale upward, and in the hot Tennessee sun, Atmosphere’s performance will seem that much more vital.
Big Boi, Friday 12:45 a.m., Other Tent
When OutKast released their double-album masterpiece Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, critical attention was so lopsided toward Andre 3000’s contributions that you’d be forgiven for not realizing the package came with a second disc. Time does funny things, though: eight years later, it’s Big Boi’s half that seems the more forward-thinking and tenacious of the two, and his jaw-dropping abilities were reaffirmed last year with his spectacular, if ridiculously named, solo record Sir Luscious Left Foot…the Son of Chico Dusty. Part Southern funk bounce, part club-thumping hip-hop, Big Boi’s mile-a-minute rapping and sly knack for a subtle hooks ensure this late Friday set will be a party from the first beat.
Lil Wayne, Friday, 1:30 a.m., Which Stage
It’s hard to imagine anyone thinking twice about catching this set, but in case you’re still inexplicably on the fence: Lil Wayne is charisma embodied, a froggy-throated, pocket-sized dynamo who punches and lunges and leaps his way through his performances. He’s also got a back catalog that defies categorization and enough hits to ensure this mainstage set will be a high-octane crowdpleaser.
Ratatat, Friday, 2:30 a.m., Other Tent
Electronic duo Ratatat sound like a dismantled Nintendo, stray squawks and bleeps and synth whooshes racing across the center of their jittery songs. Live, they play in front of a series of strange, 8-bit projections and draw out more fully the guitar lines that dance around the edges of their songs – mad scientist laboratory music built on the fly that’s specifically engineered to move bodies.
Dennis Coffey, Saturday, 1:35 p.m., What Stage
Legendary Motown guitarist Dennis Coffey returned this year with a record that spoke to his R&B bona fides, boasting guest appearances from young admirers like Mayer Hawthorne and Lisa Kekaula of the Bell Rays. And is it any wonder? Coffey provided the scorching guitar on R&B classics like “Ball of Confusion” and “It’s Your Thing,” and while he’s still unjustly undersung, he’s still the kind of musician and bandleader who seems born to be in front of an audience.
Black Uhuru, Saturday, 3:35 p.m., What Stage
For some loose and limber Saturday afternoon grooves, look no further than reggae legends Black Uhuru who, over the years, have counted everyone from Junior Reid to Keith Richards among their admirers. Their catalog is loaded with songs that place a high premium on both social consciousness and light, laconic melodies. Though only Derrick “Duckie” Simpson remains of the group’s original lineup, that doesn’t rob the songs of any of their warmth or beauty. In late afternoon in Tennessee, their gentle skank and smooth choruses will comfort like a cool breeze.
!!!, Saturday 7 p.m., This Tent
Massive outdoor festivals are the kind of thing !!! was invented to play. Their shows are nonstop motion machines, driven by throbbing bass and vocalist Nic Offer’s terrific, hiccupping delivery. Imagine Talking Heads played at twice the normal speed and you’re getting close. By this point, the group are festival pros, and their ability to command a crowd is uncontested. They’re the perfect way to rev up for a long Saturday night.
Eminem, Saturday, 11 p.m., What Stage
It was looking bleak for Eminem for a second. The back-to-back duds that were Encore and Relapse were quickly eclipsed by his personal problems, and it soon seemed like hip-hop’s resident firebrand was in desperate danger of losing the plot. So it was that much more heartening to see him spring back with a vengeance, unleashing the cathartic, chart-topping Recovery, kicking drugs once and for all and delivering the kind of white-hot, thrilling live shows normally expected of artists who have been around twice as long. His double bill at Yankee Stadium with Jay-Z proved Em has what it takes to be a marquee headliner. Expect this mainstage show to be one people talk about for days after.
Omar Souleyman, Saturday, 12:30 a.m., Other Tent
Omar Souleyman is a star in his home country of Syria, and over the course of the past year his profile in the States has been growing slowly. Though he’s typically referred to as the “Inventor of Syrian Techno,” Souleyman’s music is richer and weirder than that. He blends elements of traditional Middle Eastern music with hurtling dance rhythms and tops them with his meandering, chant-like delivery. What results is one of the most unique and invigorating dance parties around – a one-of-a-kind experience that is not to be missed.
Girl Talk, Saturday, 2:30 a.m., This Tent
The music Gregg Gillis makes as Girl Talk is perfectly suited to an age when genre snobbery has all but melted away. Expect to hear Biggie verses dropped over Arctic Monkeys instrumentals and Neutral Milk Hotel giving way to TLC. Also expect to dance your way into exhaustion – the ideal ending to your Saturday.
Robyn, Sunday, 4:30 p.m., Other Tent
Swedish singer Robyn may be diminutive and pixielike, but don’t be fooled – there’s snarl in those songs. After a one-off late Nineties dance hit “Show Me Love,” Robyn retooled, writing songs that put the focus on her tough, indomitable personality. Last year’s Body Talk set her off-kilter alto against shimmering electropop production, producing anthems of both vulnerability (“Dancing on My Own”) and strength (“Indestructible”). She ramps all of these up to gale force live, a non-stop blonde blur whose charisma and spark earn her new fans with each live show.
You can keep your fancy blog bands, MCs and neo-classic-post-country hoopla. The Bonnaroo Traditionalist wants one thing and one thing only: jamming. Fortunately, the festival hasn’t forgotten from whence it came. This year provides the most robust lineup of musical improvisers in some time, certain to come as a great relief to anyone concerned their festival was beginning to get a little too trendy.
Hayes Carll, Thursday, 4:15 p.m., Other Tent
Hayes Carll hardly falls inside the strict definition of a Bonnaroo traditionalist, but there’s something about his warm, rich songs that evoke the history of Bonnaroo. Carll has a warm, creaking voice, and the way he lays it over hard-luck songs of boozing and bad romancing is both sly and charming. Live, he opens up, allowing plenty of room for instrumental filigrees and expanding instrumental passages. Call it roots music done right.
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Original Lineup, Friday, 2 p.m., Which Stage
A stunning, fleet-fingered banjo player, Bela Fleck and his band built a career on unequalled musicianship, crafting songs that tip their hat towards funk, jazz and bluegrass equally, but that always leave plenty of room for dizzying, dazzling solos. The original lineup of the Flecktones promises to bring to Bonnaroo the kind of bright, breezy, impossibly taut playing they’ve become known for – the perfect respite during a blazing Tennessee afternoon.
Warren Haynes Band, Friday, 4 p.m., Which Stage
A veteran of not one but two roots-rock institutions – the Allman Brothers and Gov’t Mule – Haynes brings to Bonnaroo a wealth of experience and a formidable amount of musical know-how. As you’d expect, his performances with his band put the spotlight on his nimble, evocative guitar playing, leaving plenty of room in his blues and soul-inspired songs for him to deliver a searing, searching solo – or three.
The Del McCoury Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Friday, 7:30 p.m., Other Tent
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band are a New Orleans institution, the proud upholders of an American musical tradition. Though their lineup changes regularly, their commitment to classic jazz and swing remains unchanged, and they’re still one of the best and most rousing live acts in the business. Paired with bluegrass legend McCoury, this set is certain to explore the odd areas of overlap between their respective styles, making for a rich and rollicking early evening set.
Primus, Friday, 9 p.m., Which Tent
They’ve been a band for nearly 30 years, but Primus still seems beamed in from another dimension, the half-second bass-playing of founder Les Claypool offset by tiny apostrophes of guitar and bone-dry, off-kilter percussion. They dissolved briefly in the early part of the 2000s, but they’ve been back and forth fitfully since then, as defiantly strange and impossible to categorize as ever. They have a cockeyed approach to the jam band aesthetic – their songs are compact instead of epic – but their expert musicianship and formidable chops position them comfortably in the fest’s rich tradition.
The Black Angels, Friday, 12:30 a.m., That Tent
Those who prefer their jamming heavy-lidded and distortion-laden need look no further than the Black Angels. Their shows feel nearly apocalyptic in volume and gravity – big thunderclouds of sound, rumbling dark, deep and ominous. Their sets have expanded over time, allowing plenty of room for guitarist Christian Bland to pluck out a series of strung-out solos, threading them up the center of the group’s sturm-und-drang like a lightning bug darting through a monsoon. As their name implies, the group is in command of a kind of dark power, and their turbulent live sets are quickly becoming the stuff of legend.
Man Man, Saturday, 5:15 p.m., This Tent
Philadelphia’s Man Man takes a Dadaist approach to jamming. The band calls on a host of different instruments – among them sousaphone, euphonium and clarinet – and puts them in the service of songs that are proudly offbeat. Frontman Honus Honus has a Captain Beefheart growl, and his rugged bark is well-suited to the group’s strange arrangements and odd melodic left-turns. “The world is a shit show,” Honus sings in “Piranhas Club” on the group’s latest effort, Life Fantastic. Their songs seem designed to echo that spectacular chaos.
J Roddy Walston and the Business, Saturday, 9:30 p.m., Café Where
J Roddy Walston and the Business seem to be trying to find the place where bar rock meets glam. Their self-titled debut pits stacks of harmony against clanging piano and big, barreling guitars. It’s all fantastically sloppy, the better part of Seventies rock and condense it into a batch of blistering, blustery tunes that only flourish in the live setting, where Walston’s wild-man persona can be glimpsed in its natural habitat.
String Cheese Incident, Saturday, 12:45 a.m., Which Stage
Let’s get the important thing out of the way first: This set runs until 3 a.m. Three in the morning! Can you imagine how much these storied Coloradans are going to accomplish in that period of time? How many solos and melodic left-turns? There’s something deeply heartening about Bonnaroo affording so much time to a band so closely associated with their history. For those looking for long, languorous jams that pull from R&B, jazz and psych rock in equal measure, this sprawling Saturday jam is certain to satisfy your appetite.
Galactic, Sunday, 3:30 p.m., What Stage
It’s no surprise New Orleans funk band Galactic have made fast friends of a series of MCs – their music is deeply indebted to the same soul and R&B that inspired some of hip-hop’s timeless classics. And as their new live effort proves, Galactic are capable of bringing that same vigor and verve to the stage. They’ve become known for scorching live shows that are heavy on improvisation – a finely aged funk flexible enough to allow for sudden inspiration.
Superjam ft. Dan Auerbach and Dr. John, Sunday, 7 p.m., That Tent
Arguably both the most mysterious and the most promising slot on the Bonnaroo schedule, there’s no telling who will turn out for this Sunday evening jam session. But does it even matter? As the billing implies, you’re already guaranteed Dan Auerbach and Dr. John, and the chance to see two generations of musicians fuse their singular talents onstage is, in itself, enough to warrant your attendance. That the set might also boast appearances by other festival notables is the best kind of bonus.
Widespread Panic, Sunday, 8:30 p.m., What Stage
What would Bonnaroo be without Widespread Panic? The enduring Southern rockers return to the festival for a closeout Sunday evening set long on the kind of grits-n-cornbread blues-rock the band has built their career on. It’s hard to deny the group’s knack for a groove, and anyone looking to close Bonnaroo with a batch of scorching, down-home twang-rock need look no further.