Now that the long, long Bonnaroo lineup has been announced, time to decide whether it’s worth the trip to Manchester, Tennessee. All the jam band fans are gonna go hippie out, but unless you are planning to stalk Taylor Hicks (in which case, book your flight yesterday and then make sure you’re right by the stage for Superjam), $225 plus airfare is a lot to shell out, even for a four-day festival. So should you go? And if so, who’s worth leaving your tent for? We’re here to help! Here are your Popdust best bets:
DåM-FunK bring a keytar to every show, but they leave the irony at home (you hear that, Chromeo?). They’re not merely a throwback group, though; they draw plenty of inspiration from modern R&B and hip-hop on the way to creating sustained funk grooves that don’t overstay their welcome. Their recordings leave a listener wishing for the live show, but their live shows can sometimes be dominated by hip-hop heads just standing around. Bonnaroo might actually be the ideal place to see these dudes, since half of the audience will be zonked out on whatever, and totally ready to dance.
9. FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE
Florence and the Machine is touring parts of America in June, but not everywhere, and in some cities is opening for U2, so traveling (say, to Bonnaroo) might be necessary to catch Florence, and whomever she’s recruited to be The Machine on this tour, live. Plus, Ms. Welch has pipes: her Best New Artist nomination alone might get her into the Grammy telecast but certainly not into the Aretha Franklin tribute, in which she shone. She’ll be worth checking out in Tennessee.
8. MUMFORD AND SONGS
Odds are, you go to Bonnaroo and you’re gonna have to listen to at least one band with an earnest banjo player. So choose wisely, and check out Mumford & Sons, who are more interested in writing a good indie-pop song than in mediocrely attempting to uphold a bluegrass tradition (which the older players do better anyway) or worse, showing off their fast-picking skills. Maybe it’s because they’re British? Anyway, whatever the cause, their irreverence suits them. Great example: their trumpet player provides a welcome counterpoint to the strings.
7. CHIDDY BANG
This Philly rap duo famously sampled MGMT’s “Kids” for a beat, and the resulting “Opposite of Adults” handily outdoes the original. Last year they were on a British label but now they’re unsigned and mostly playing college shows, so who knows when the next chance to see them live will be? The clip above doesn’t have the best sound but it certainly shows how hyped Chitty Bang can get a crowd. And they’re definitely brash enough to handle the scale of Bonnaroo.
6. ARCADE FIRE
These Canadians bring nothing but joy to their art and to their performances. They’re 100% indie rock in sound AND ethos, but their pretensions aren’t snobby: their politics tends toward simple activism, and they certainly didn’t turn their noses up at a Grammy. Not to mention that the venues they play these days aren’t always significantly smaller than a Bonnaroo stage. And like everyone else on this list, they put on a great show.
Robyn’s fans LOVE her, and thanks to her unbelievable amount of charisma and stage presence, onlookers are quickly converted to fans. Not to mention that her songs, particularly from 2010′s Body Talk, are killer. The entire crowd is going to be dancing on their own together when Robyn takes the stage. Feel the love.
5. HAYES CARLL
For a bluegrassy festival in Tennessee, this year’s Bonnaroo is shockingly light on country musicians. Wanda Jackson will bring the old-style rock-a-billy, but for that particularly modern-country combination of pop, pathos and humor, look no further than Hayes Carll, who can carry a crowd by himself, as above, or with a band. He’s no Brad Paisley, but for country, he’s the best Bonnaroo’s lineup has to offer.
If you’re at Bonnaroo, it seems a foregone conclusion that you’ll watch Eminem. Why would you go to a big expensive festival and skip out on the biggest, most expensive artist? Well, maybe if that artist was a slouch, but Eminem’s live prowess has been well-documented. Plus he might bring along high-profile guests—and even if not, his crew is top-shelf: Yelawolf, whose Trunk Muzik 0-60 got a ton of (deserved) acclaim last year, and Slaughterhouse, a supergroup of talented MCs who, now that they have Shady Records money behind them, can afford the caliber of beat that will let them showcase their skills on the mic.
3. BIG BOI
Big Boi has been carrying the Outkast torch by his lonesome lately, without giving short shrift to his new solo record. His tightly-orchestrated live set moves smoothly back and forth between his solo material and his verses on Outkast songs, without the audience feeling the absence of Andre 3000 on the latter. The energy level at his shows starts super high and doesn’t flag. Big Boi and crew will definitely take the Bonnaroo crowd for a long Cadillac ride.
2. SCISSOR SISTERS
These sly popsters were bringing the Euro back when you could barely find a house beat on the R&B charts, and writing songs for Kylie Minogue on the side. Like all great live pop groups, they feed off a crowd and return that energy manifold. They are massive and fabulous in the best way, and they have a deep catalog of great songs. The only sure things about their set are that they will bring the roof down and that Jake Shears will take his shirt off.
1. LIL WAYNE
Speaking of artists who will definitely take their shirts off, Lil Wayne is the one absolute must-see of the festival. Even when he’s having an off night he’s great. Even when he was lost in the bottom of a syrup cup a few years ago, give him a mic and put him onstage and he could still captivate a crowd. Who knows if any of the Young Money crew, or any of his tour openers, will come along, but even if they don’t, Lil Wayne is frankly unmissable. See him at Bonnaroo or see him elsewhere but go see Lil Wayne.