By Brent Hill
June 2, 2015
The godfather of the modern music festival returns for its 14th year. That can’t be right…14 years? In any event, over 90,000 attendees will ascend on 700 acres of land smack dab in the middle of Tennessee for four days, immersing themselves in an experience that extends beyond just the music. Other festivals have tried to replicate the ‘Roo formula, but none come close.
There will be parades, comedy acts, costume contests, silent discos, food trucks, shopping, Christmas-themed dance parties (huh?) — the list goes on and on. But, ultimately, it is the music that brings the people. And it is the carefully crafted line-up that keeps them coming back, year after year. This year is no exception. From Billy Joel to Bassnectar, it’s a dizzying array of genres and generations, up-and-comers and icons.
Full disclosure: We here at CLTure have been fantasizing about a collaboration between Billy Joel, My Morning Jacket, and Deadmau5. Perhaps a sequel to We Didn’t Start the Fire — picking up at the cola wars and taking us through Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation — is in the works. Not sure if that will happen, but with the number of musicians rubbing elbows backstage and swapping sandwiches at Hamaggedon, anything is possible. We picked a few of our favorite acts to score your search for that quintessential Roo experience.
There is a moment in every Dawes set when the audience members go from strangers to neighbors. You look around and all you see are friends, just good people listening to good music. Some fans are singing along, while others are simply soaking in lead singer Taylor Goldsmith’s lyrics—clever turns of phrase with just enough ambiguity to keep you guessing and just enough clarity to reveal the truth. The classic-sounding California rock band have been festival favorites for years, and with the new album All Your Favorite Bands just released, and a nice long set planned, they will provide plenty of opportunities for you to make some new friends on The Farm this year.
Hip-hop was born out experimentation. But somewhere along the way it forgot its roots. Thankfully, there are a handful of rappers and producers out there still chasing after something undiscovered, where beats, lyrics, and samples seem to be pulled from other worlds. Worlds without things like MTV and Fetty Waps. Ishmael Butler (formerly of Digable Planets), along with Tendai Maraire, formed Shabazz Palaces in 2009 with very little fanfare, and continue to keep a low-profile, but it is difficult to keep something so groundbreaking quiet for long. Try as they might, this underground hip-hop group can’t hide from musicheads that are hungry for something completely off the grid.
Having toured relentlessly all over the country this winter and spring, Nashville-based Moon Taxi’s set at Bonnaroo has all the trappings of a homecoming for the alternative indie rock outfit. They wear a menagerie of influences on their sleeve that extend way beyond that indie rock label. Shifting seamlessly between soaring rock anthems and downhome ditties (often in the same song), Moon Taxi is a festival-goer’s dream. Catch them on their home turf before they head back out on the road this summer and fall, hitting just about every major music festival, including Lollapalooza, Bristol Rhythm and Roots, and Austin City Limits. But their performance at Bonnaroo should be a special one: lots of hometown support, heartfelt sing-alongs, and tank-topped bro-hugging (you’ll see what this means at the fest).
Sylan Esso is a pop duo that, on paper, shouldn’t work. But in reality, not only does it work, it astounds. Durham-based singer/songwriter Amelia Meath and electronic producer Nick Sanborn created this electro-folk pop band as a side-project, but the marriage of their sounds was so unique they garnered immediate critical acclaim and a rabid fan base. There is something irresistible about the way Sanborn’s bass-heavy blips and bleeps blend with Meath’s folksy vocals. Bonnaroo will be their first U.S. show after spending some time touring the British Isles.
If you’re looking for some charm on the Farm, then don’t miss Shakey Graves (Alejandro Rose-Garcia). Funny and playful in between his full-cocked folk rock songs, the Austin singer/songwriter’s live performances often feel like a modern-day vaudeville act with a kick-ass soundtrack. Rose-Garcia, along with his excellent band, brings a healthy dose of good-natured stomping to any stage he comes across. And his day job, as an actor, only serves to enhance his show, which can go from rollicking to romantic at the drop of his signature Stetson hat.
The song “Small Poppies,” off Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett’s new album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, is a perfect seven minute long jam and a perfect showcase for Barnett’s sound and style: loping slacker-rock with everyday-in-the-life lyrics and psychedelic guitar work. The song wanders and explodes at all the right times. It’s seven minutes in heaven with one of today’s most-buzzed about new acts. She has a busy summer planned in America, including stops at Pitchfork and Newport Folk Festival, before heading to Europe for a whirlwind of dates.
Strand of Oaks
Tim Showalter, the man behind Strand of Oaks, wants you to know him. He wants you know him for who he is and what he stands for; his deeply personal lyrics are a reflection of that desire. With songs that crash and soar in a live setting, his shows are an emotional experience for both the performer and the listener. The easy-going Showalter works hard to break down that fourth wall with his off-the-cuff stage banter. Life can beat you up, as evidenced by the dark nature of some of his songs, but Strand of Oaks’ brand of arena-ready rock makes you feel like you’re not alone in the fight.
Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas
The recent neo-soul movement has introduced us to a slew of wanna-be Brittany Howards (Alabama Shakes), but this outstanding Detroit seven-piece, led by gorgeous juggernaut Jessica Hernandez, push the genre’s lipstick-stained envelope to some new and dangerous places. You hear a barrage of influences, from swing music to swamp rock to sixties soul, on their debut album, Secret Evil, but it is the hint of post-modern punk that undergirds the bridge of past and present. And that is how you do neo-soul, ladies and gentlemen.
Just because you don’t speak her language, doesn’t give you an excuse to miss one of the world’s most incendiary female hip-hop artists. This French-Chilean MC has been stirring things up since the nineties, but not in the “I’m so fancy” sense. No, her song topics of choice are socio-political, not hyper-sexual, in nature. Which makes her that much more attractive and an awesome (and brave) addition to the Bonnaroo line-up. Brush up on your Spanish for the full experience (or not).
For those of you who like their country music a little on the existential side, try the literate musings of Kentucky-bred singer/songwriter Sturgill Simpson. He’s single-handedly kicking the brawn out of country and bringing back the brains. His latest release Metamodern Sounds in Country Music seeks to answer some of life’s biggest (and darkest) questions without ever taking you down a dirt road to meet a girl in tight jeans. Simpson constructs smart, confessional country music that reads like a classic novel.