[Originally published on Virgin.com, July 2013]
Among America’s music festivals, Bonnaroo continually flexes the most muscle. With a monster four-day lineup including everyone from Paul McCartney to Pretty Lights, culling a list of ten must-see acts was ridiculously difficult, but please enjoy our selections below.
10) Action Bronson
Portly, ginger-bearded rapper Action Bronson – no relation to Sir Richard – will be midway through his festival rounds by the time he reaches Bonnaroo. His rhymes are sure to deliver an irreverent New York City edge to the sweet southern crowd, jolting awake all passersby from their lunchtime beer daze. We hear Bronson doled out some green to the Coachella crowd on 4/20, but don’t expect any special treats at Bonnaroo (other than the performance itself, of course).
9) Superjam with RZA, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Schoolboy Q, Earl Sweatshirt, Solange, Chad Hugo & Special Guests
The potential for mind-blowing synergies abounds when hundreds of talented musicians converge in the middle of nowhere (no offense, Manchester, Tennessee). Last year’s Superjam with Questlove brought us D’Angelo‘s first public performance in over a decade, and this year’s collaborative rap-and-soul unit, impressive enough alone, will no doubt delight the audience with its own surprises.
8) Animal Collective
If we weren’t excited enough to simply catch this Maryland team of mammalian-monikered psych wizards, their late-night slot promises an experience beyond the norm. Animal Collective will take the stage from 2:00am to 4:00am, when our bodies will be tired but our minds fresh for a swim through their seascape of synths and layered echoes. That right there, that’s good scheduling.
7) Wu-Tang Clan
Iconic rap supergroup Wu-Tang Clan will no doubt put on one of the more rambunctious sets of Bonnaroo. Even festival-goers less familiar with the Clan’s over 20-year history at least know some of its members, including GZA, RZA, Ghostface Killah and Method Man. We can’t envision any other band properly able follow their set, although perhaps Paul McCartney can do the job.
6) The Mowgli’s
This eight-piece Los Angeleno garage-pop group may not be anywhere near the top of Bonnaroo’s monstrous lineup, but expect them to climb up there eventually. Their catchy, feel-good ditty ‘San Francisco’ has been winning hearts left and right since the release of debut EP ‘Love’s Not Dead’ last fall. We’re predicting sing-alongs, silly stage antics, and a lot of “Wow, these guys rock!”
5) The National
Headlining major festivals is nothing new for melancholy Ohioans The National, who return to Bonnaroo following a celebrated set in 2010. New album ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ delivers another wallop of pensive emotion through lead singer Matt Berninger’s unique baritone, and we expect to see these songs wash over the crowd like aloe on a sunburn.
4) Death Grips
It’s mid-afternoon, and you’re feeling a little lethargic. Maybe you’ve just eaten a giant burrito, or maybe you just saw The National. Into your ears floods a heavy barrage of noise from Death Grips, and all of a sudden your nerves start tingling again. Described as a combination of rap, punk and straight-up electronic adrenaline – equipped only with drums, keys and singer MC Ride’s deep yell – the northern California threesome will undoubtedly deliver one of Bonnaroo’s weightier performances this year.
Alt-rock fans have been celebrating this British group since their mainstream emergence several years ago, and new album ‘Holy Fire’ provides many reasons to rejoice, including the infectious electric guitar hooks of ‘My Number’ and ‘Inhaler’. The only decision you face, dear fan, is whether to catch Foals or equally revered genre-mate Grizzly Bear, who play the same time-slot.
For a touch of Cirque du Soleil in the middle of Tennessee, we recommend a visit to Bjork’s set on Saturday night. The experimental Icelandic songsmith used unconventional technologies to create her music on latest album ‘Biophilia’; indeed, Bjork’s specialty seems to be innovation through both sight and sound. Even for fans unfamiliar with her expansive catalog, the rare audio-visual experience alone will be worth the trek to her stage.
Arguably the year’s band-to-know, British foursome Alt-J promise to impress. Their Mercury Award-winning debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’ features song after song of unpredictable, fresh rock musicianship, showcased through favorites ‘Breezeblocks’ and ‘Tessellate’. Don’t be surprised when the entire crowd sings along to ‘Fitzpleasure’, and it will be at this moment when you realize a Bonnaroo wristband was one of your smartest investments this year.