Many people may associate the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival with jam bands and label it as being some kind of modern-day Woodstock, but those assumptions couldn't be further from the truth. Sure, there are plenty of jams going on and the free and fun atmosphere may feel a bit like the '60s, but what started out with a lineup heavy on improvisation has now turned to an eclectic mix of just about everything.
This year, the headliners are Kings of Leon on Friday, Stevie Wonder and Jay-Z on Saturday and Dave Matthews Band on Sunday. The four-day festival on the farmlands in Manchester, Tenn. -- about a six-hour drive from Charlotte -- offers a bit of just about every kind of music. You can get a great taste of just about anything -- and many of the bands will be here in Charlotte either before or after the festival.
While many festivals will have artists play abbreviated sets, Bonnaroo features two main stages, four mid-sized tents and a number of smaller stages to keep the music going all day and all night. They've even added a Lunar Stage this year for DJs to perform until dawn. Note: I wouldn't plan on getting much sleep.
Locals only: If you're looking for local music, you can still find it at Bonnaroo. On Thursday night, South Carolina's Needtobreathe will be performing in The Other Tent (the stage names read like an Abbott and Costello routine). Concord's Ramseur Records artist Samantha Crain will be performing at Cafe Where on Friday. Of course, I couldn't leave out that The Avett Brothers will be performing on one of the main stages on Saturday at 4:45 p.m. for an hour-and-a-half set. Two years ago, The Avetts were performing in an overflowing tent as countless members of the audience sang along to every song they played. Levon Helm followed the Avetts that day -- and had half the crowd. Yep, the boys have come a long way ...
KINGS OF TENNESSEE: The Kings of Leon are no strangers to Bonnaroo -- they've performed in tents on the main stage and are now headlining Friday night. Drummer Nathan Followill, during a press conference for the festival, said the band will likely showcase some material off its upcoming album during the show.
"It'll be tough to not play the whole thing at Bonnaroo," he said. "We're going to try to be very selective of what we play, but there will definitely be some new tunes for sure."
As for the people who attend the festival, Followill feels it's a good representation of the band's fans. "The good thing about Bonnaroo is each year they try to make it a little bit accessible by music fans," he said. "It's a festival for music lovers and no matter what kind of music you're into, there's going to be a tent or a stage somewhere that's playing what you're wanting to hear."
Just for laughs: Another feature of Bonnaroo is the comedy tent and, this year, the attendance of Conan O'Brien who will act as host of the main stage for one night. Among the comedians are Margaret Cho, Aziz Ansari and Jeff Ross, who is planning to "roast Bonnaroo." "I feel like rather than have a dais like a traditional roast where a bunch of comedians make fun of one person, I thought what I would try to do is spread the love if you will," Ross said during the conference call. "Where it's just me on a rolling psychedelic podium, Bonnaroasting everything that comes at me, whether that be the person who books the main stage, the person in charge of the concessions, you know, all these people have promised to show up. So, I feel like I'll speed-roast Bonnaroo for an hour, just the fans, the musicians, the people who organize the place ... whoever I can get my paws into.
"If I see Dave Matthews in the audience, he's fair game. If I see -- for the most part it's volunteers -- I'll say, 'Who wants to come up here?' So, anybody who reads this who's going to be there, I suggest you get your stupidest outfit on and show up at my show."
The Closer: As for closing the festival, Dave Matthews knows he'll be looking at a worn-out crowd that has spent four days listening to a lot of different music and not getting a lot of sleep. "You have to deal with the fact that there'll be a couple of people that are like 'no, I'm not going to stay for that crap' but then I would say that our responsibility would be to have some kind of maniacal energy if it's possible," he said during the conference call. "I don't know if it's possible, but something ... I don't think we should linger on the more pondering tunes, the musically pondering tunes too much -- but maybe a little bit of that because it's Sunday and no one will want to have a hammer beating them over the head. But then also people might want something that's going to raise them up a little bit, so I don't know."
While Matthews says he plans to get there on Sunday before his show, he was unsure if his bandmates would get there early to perform with other people. He said he expects that saxophonist Jeff Coffin will play with as many people as he can, but didn't know of any specific plans.
Matthews added that he looks forward to just seeing what's happening at the festival and what people are still around. "There'll be some amusement at looking at certain people that are tired and worn out and maybe on their third day of some sort of chemical enhancement and so that's always amusing," he said. "That'll be nice."
Also Performing: Tenacious D, The Flaming Lips, She & Him, The Gossip, John Butler Trio, The Black Keys, Weezer, The Dead Weather, Deadmau5, The XX, Diane Birch and a whole lot more.
The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival will take place in Manchester, Tenn., on June 10-13. For more information, go to Bonnaroo.com.