Listen: The Essential Bonnaroo 2011 Playlist - Rolling Stone
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Listen: The Essential Bonnaroo 2011 Playlist

Arcade Fire perform at Coachella, April 16, 2011.

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Trying to tackle a schedule as sprawling and all-encompassing as Bonnaroo’s can be a daunting task. Over the course of the last decade, the festival has expanded its lineup to reach every conceivable taste. Just thinking about it is enough to induce fatigue. Let this playlist, then, serve as your cheat sheet – an overview of the 25 must-see acts at Bonnaroo 2011. Whether you favor the classic Americana of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss or the bleeding-edge anthems of Sleigh Bells and Arcade Fire, Bonnaroo – and this playlist – have got you covered.

Click below to listen to the playlist in its entirety.

The Insider’s Guide to Bonnaroo: Where to Eat, How to Get There, What to Bring and More

1. Arcade Fire, Ready to Start
Few songs are as accurately described by their title as this one: with its slow, chugging guitars and Win Butler’s desperate, determined vocals, “Ready to Start” is the sound of an anxious band revving their engines.

2. The Black Keys, Everlasting Light
Sexy, slinky and sinewy, the Black Keys mine a T. Rex groove for this impossibly subtle come-on in which Dan Auerbach, in his best bedroom falsetto, begs, “Let me be your everlasting light.” How can anyone refuse?

3. My Morning Jacket, “Holding On to Black Metal”
Don’t let the title fool you: there’s nothing grim or growling about this number from Kentucky’s favorite sons. Instead, Jim James leads what sounds like the world’s biggest children’s choir across a fat bass groove and between bright blasts of horns. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a gaggle of 8th graders croon, “Black Metal!”

4. Robert Plant and Band of Joy, “Central Two-O-Nine”
Robert Plant’s deep dive into Americana has yielded huge dividends, and nowhere is that better evidenced than in this spare, back-porch banjo folk song in which Plant spies a lonesome freight train and starts woefully remembering the one who got away.

5. Florence and the Machine, Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)”
Florence Welch gets her Kate Bush on in this mystical number that twists and sparkles like a strange suncatcher. Sounding magnificently stricken, Welch tries to summon reserves of strength in order to get over a lost love.

6. Robyn, Hang With Me
Florence Welch gets her Kate Bush on in this mystical number that twists and sparkles like a strange suncatcher. Sounding magnificently stricken, Welch tries to summon reserves of strength in order to get over a lost love.

7. Mavis Staples, “You Are Not Alone”
Music legend Mavis Staples cut her teeth singing gospel with her family, so it’s no surprise that this Jeff Tweedy-penned song from her latest record can be taken spiritually as well as romantically. Staples’ voice is strong and soothing, repeating the song’s title over Tweedy’s gentle strum like they were magic words. 

8. The Decemberists, “Calamity Song”
The Decemberists cast aside the prog leanings of recent outings in favor of a song that instantly recalls the best of early R.E.M. It’s no wonder: the central guitar figure is provided by none other than Peter Buck, and the swirling arpeggios that arrive when the song hits the chorus are as warm and rousing as a summer breeze.

9. Wanda Jackson, You Know I’m No Good
Rockabilly’s original bad girl shows Amy Winehouse how bad is done. Her voice has lost none of its bile or bite, and hearing her tear into Winehouse’s anthem to misbehavior, as Jack White’s guitar twitches nervously in the background, is like watching a cat burglar load up their bag of supplies.

10. Eminem, “On Fire”
The production on this critic-baiting track from Eminem sounds like an excerpt from Mozart’s Requiem: a team of voices belting out a single shrill and foreboding note, creating the perfect mood of menace for Em to unleash his fury.  

11. Sleigh Bells, “Rill Rill”
A rare moment of tranquility on Sleigh Bells’ mostly in-the-red debut, “Rill Rill” steals a sample from Funkadelic and uses it as a backdrop for Alexis Krauss to coo the strangest double-dutch chant this side of Venus.

12. Matt and Kim, “Cameras”
The anthem of anyone who’s ever been stuck at a concert behind an overeager amateur photographer, “Cameras” finds New York duo Matt and Kim extolling the virtues of living in the moment as what sounds like an Atari marching band bashes and pops in the background.

13. Loretta Lynn, Portland, Oregon
It may have been released seven years ago, but this stark Jack White/Loretta Lynn collaboration has lost none of its potency. As White bashes out a batch of Southern Fried riffs, Lynn waxes nostalgic about her young life and extols the virtues of sloe gin fizz.

14. Mumford & Sons, “Little Lion Man”
Few artists – let alone few new artists – are capable of managing the kind of anguish and regret Marcus Mumford summons when, in the chorus of “Little Lion Man,” he moans, “It was your heart on the line/ I really fucked it up this time – didn’t I, my dear?” As great a breakup ballad as ever was written, “Little Lion Man” swings from self-loathing to regret and back again, each word dark and haunted by the knowledge that some things, once broken, cannot be fixed.

15. Dr. John, Right Place, Wrong Time
Anyone looking for a three-and-a-half minute history lesson on the music of New Orleans need look no further than this Dr. John classic. All of the genre’s essential elements are here: that burbling organ, cock-of-the-walk bassline and best of all, Dr. John’s growled vocals, which sound like nothing so much as Captain Beefheart singing along to a Temptations record.

16. The Strokes, “Taken For a Fool”
It’s worth it for the Strokes to reconvene every years, just so they can write songs like this. A departure from their usual blueprint of sharp guitars and laconic croon, “Fool” is instead lit up by synthesizers, cruising into its chorus like a sleek, silvery car on a futuristic superhighway. 

17. Lil Wayne, “Bill Gates”
No one asserts themselves quite as well as Lil Wayne. Maybe it’s the voice: that lean, sinister croak – especially pitted against a wall of ominous synthesizers as it is here – sounds terrifically ghoulish, a horror movie zombie coming to exact revenge. “I eat these fuckin’ bullets/ don’t forget to tip the waiter,” Wayne seethes at one point. Of course he does: everyone knows you cannot kill the undead.

18. Big Boi, Shutterbug
A bright, buzzy slice of electro-funk, Big Boi’s “Shutterbug” gets its charge from a stack of Lite Brite synths and Antwan Andre Patton’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it delivery. But as potent as those key ingredients are, even better are the little moments: the strange hiss of steam that shows up every other measure, the tiny, twitchy little guitar that darts across the front of the song. This is future funk, slippery and irresistible.

19. Wiz Khalifa, “Wake Up”
The best thing about “Wake Up” is how it manages to make triumph sound despondent: the wobbling theremin feels downright lonesome and the chorus, while feinting optimistic, actually wonders if all this good fortune is just a dream. It’s the sound of an overnight success taking nothing for granted.

20. School of Seven Bells, “Heart is Strange”
The Cocteau Twins go to the nightclub in this dreamy floor-filler from School of Seven Bells. What’s alluring here is the contrast: sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza have dreamy, detached voices, and floating over a bed of thumping electronics, they sound like a pair of ghosts trying to find their way out of the machine.  

21. Buffalo Springfield, “Nowadays Clancy”
Everybody knows Buffalo Springfield’s 1966 protest song “For What It’s Worth” (the one that goes “Stop – hey! – what’s that sound?”) but fewer know this peculiar, Neil Young-penned reel. A mournful folk ballad of disillusionment, it pointedly speaks of faded dreams, confronting head-on the notion that all things must pass.

22. Best Coast, “Crazy for You”
“I can’t do anything without you,” Bethany Cosentino sings at the start of this bright, bounding, summery song, before following it up with, “I can’t do anything with you.” And there begins a string of polarities, a can’t live with you/can’t live without you valentine delivered over guitars that crest and break like the surf. Did the Shangri-La’s have it this bad?  

23. Allison Krauss and Union Station, “The Boy Who…”
The most unusual cautionary tale if ever there was one, Krauss and her band Union Station play countryside Mother Goose, imagining the fate of an obstinate young boy with, shall we say, atypical farming habits. The banjos twirl and the fiddles dance and the boy moves from stubborn to defiant. That the song ends on a warning suits its dark, minor-key melody.

24. Old Crow Medicine Show, Wagon Wheel
The story behind this song is fascinating: Bob Dylan wrote the chorus during the sessions for Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, but never actually got around to finishing it – all he had was the refrain. Flash forward 31 years, and Old Crow Medicine Show dare do what few other bands would even consider: finish a song for Bob Dylan. Even more surprising: it worked. Charming, bright and rollicking, it’s as down-home and country as love songs come. It’s hard to imagine Dylan being anything other than proud.  

25. Iron and Wine, Me & Lazarus
Call it Sam Beam in the Seventies: over a rubbery bass groove and occasional squelches of synth, the Iron and Wine frontman croons lovingly as a father to the newborn he’s trying to get to sleep about strange characters and “emancipated pumpkins” before a squawking saxophone enters from stage right, and the tableau goes from soothing to strange.

In This Article: Bonnaroo, Bonnaroo 2011


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