Elton John, Kanye West, Jack White, Lionel Richie, Vampire Weekend, The Avett Brothers and Phoenix are among the acts confirmed to appear at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival this spring. As previously reported, the 13th annual music, art and comedy gathering will return to Manchester, Tenn. from June 12-15. The final Bonnaroo 2014 lineup will boast over 130 bands and comedians throughout 13 stages. Other marquee acts slated to perform at the always eclectic event include: Skrillex, Arctic Monkeys, Frank Ocean, The Flaming Lips, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Kaskade, Damon Albarn, Neutral Milk Hotel, Wiz Khalifa, Disclosure, Cut Copy, The Head and the Heart, Zedd, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Chromeo, Broken Bells, James Blake and Bobby Womack.
As in years past, Bonnaroo will also boast a range of genre-bending superjams as well as honor its roots in live, improvisational music thanks to marquee appearances by Tedeschi Trucks Band, Umphrey’s McGee, Yonder Mountain String Band and The John Butler Trio, among others. The festival’s lineup was officially rolled out this evening via the The Bonnaroo Lineup Announcement Megathon (BLAM!) video featuring Taran Killam, Hannibal Buress and a SuperJam boasting The Flaming Lips & Ben Folds.
Elton John, the latest in a line of cross-generational icons such as Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, The Police, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty to make the trek to Manchester, has been on festival promoters’ bucket list for several years. His appearance on the festival’s What Stage will not only be his first Bonnaroo appearance but also his first appearance at any modern United States music festival.
“Elton is another legend that’s making us to pinch ourselves that we’re allowed to do this,” says Rick Farman, a co-founder of New York-based Superfly, who promotes the festival with Knoxville, Tenn.’s AC Entertainment. “I think also it is particularly cool that it is the first time he’s played a festival in North America.”
While John is a new addition to the Bonnaroo family, this year’s other top-shelf bands all have much deeper roots in the festival. Nashville transplant Jack White, who lives less than an hour from the festival site, has performed at Bonnaroo with The White Stripes in 2007, The Raconteurs in 2008 and The Dead Weather in 2010 and attended the festival on several other occasions. In 2012, he brought event headliners Radiohead to his Third Man Records to record some tracks before their Bonnaroo appearance. However, this marks both White’s first Bonnaroo appearance under his own name and his first time as one of the festival’s headliners.
“He’s one of the special relationships we’ve had like Kings of Leon, Mumford & Sons and My Morning Jacket,” Farman says. “Jack White started off at a little bigger level when he first played the festival, but I think he has embraced it in a similar fashion—you associate him with being a Bonnaroo artist. Jack has played so many different times and in so many different configurations, it’s pretty special. His performance with The White Stripes was definitely in my top five Bonnaroo sets ever.”
Vampire Weekend, The Avett Brothers and Phoenix are also emblematic of a wave of current buzz bands that have risen through the festival’s various tents and stages. The Avett Brothers performed in a tiny café space in 2006 and naturally progressed to The Other Tent in 2008 and the Which Stage in 2010 and, finally, the What Stage in 2012. Phoenix was one of the rare non-jam or Americana acts to play the festival two years in a row when they performed in 2009 and 2010; their latter show on the Which Stage was one of the most crowded in the stage’s history. While Vampire Weekend has only appeared at the festival on one prior occasion—a 2008 Thursday night showcase spot—they represent a generation of musicians who attended Bonnaroo as fans and swung back as performers. Drummer Chris Tomson drove down to the inaugural Bonnaroo in 2002 and marked his return by wearing a Phish T-shirt onstage during Vampire Weekend’s performance.
“It is a sign of our age that there are guys that came as fans and now are in some of the biggest bands at the festival,” Farman says with a laugh. “That’s about as cool as it gets.”
Though Lionel Richie has never appeared on an official Bonnaroo roster, the legendary hit maker—and favorite of the Superfly staff—has actually performed onstage at Bonnaroo. In 2012, while in Nashville for a country music event, Richie made an unannounced cameo at the festival during his friend and mentor Kenny Rogers’ set.
“We’ve been trying to get him for years,” Farman says. “I saw him at JazzFest [in 2010] and it was amazing. He has so many killer songs. He’s great live. It will be so much fun.”
The festival’s most unexpected booking is unquestionably Kayne West, who despite being one of the most successful rap musicians on the live music circuit, has a somewhat infamous history with Bonnaroo. In 2008, a mixture of production issues, 11th hour schedule changes and requests from West’s camp delayed his late night set into the wee hours of the morning while thousands of fans waited in front of an empty What Stage. By the time he took the stage, the sun had already started to rise, ruining the impact of his glow-in-the dark show. Neither West nor the festival’s promoters were happy with the outcome of the situation, leading to something of a back-and-forth over social media and on stage.
“First and foremost, we think Kanye is one of the most prolific and groundbreaking artists of this generation,” Farman admits. “He’s hugely influential. His albums are as great and as acclaimed as they get. He’s also a great live performer. He takes a lot of chances and he’s adventurous with the live space. All those things are what Bonnaroo performers are about. That’s why we booked him [in 2008].
His return to Bonnaroo will offer a chance for redemption.
“Everyone has moved on—it’s in the past,” he continues. “We’re happy he wants to come back to Bonnaroo and is embracing this. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to look forward, and we think it’s a great opportunity for the Bonnaroo community to show what it’s made of. It goes back to what Bonnaroo stands for: It’s about having good time, radiating positivity and that whole message. We couldn’t be more excited about what we think has the potential to be another historic Bonnaroo moment.” West will anchor an impressive hip-hop lineup that also includes Frank Ocean, Wiz Khalifa, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Ice Cube, Janelle Monae, Die Antwoord, Chance the Rapper, A$AP Ferg, Pusha T, A Tribe Called Red and Danny Brown.
Farman is also quick to point out the festival’s hallmark SuperJams and special collaborations. In past years, Bonnaroo has offered a myriad of jamband, funk, jazz, hip-hop and soul jam sessions. This year at least one of the festival’s official SuperJams will focus on electronic music, with EDM king Skrillex as the event’s host. “We continue to get excited about where the SuperJam concept is going,” Farman admits.
“We’re really excited about venturing into a different genre, with Skrillex leading the charge. I think the SuperJam is something that’s really unique to what we do. It is a big part of Superfly’s roots and very connected to how Bonnaroo got started. To see that brand and concept continue to evolve and break new territory is something we are really excited about.”
In addition to another themed SuperJam that has yet to be announced, Bonnaroo will welcome back The Hangover star and banjo enthusiast Ed Helms for his second consecutive Bluegrass Situation jam. Likewise, Billy Martin, Marc Ribot, DJ Logic and Shazad Ismaily will join Bachir Attar to reprise a recent album of Moroccan Sufi trance master music. The performance will be dubbed The Master Musicians of Jajouka.
“That was one of [AC Entertainment founder] Ashley Capps’ bookings,” Farman says. “I’m excited to see the whole project. Personally, I’m really excited to see Marc Ribot. He’s such an amazing performer who’s under recognized. To have him doing that project there is pretty rad.”
During the past few years, Bonnaroo’s initial lineups have shied away from the jambands who once served as the festival’s bedrock. But this year’s BLAM announcement included a number of core jam and improvisational acts including the before-mentioned Tedeschi Trucks Band, Umphrey’s McGee, Yonder Mountain String Band and The John Butler Trio as well as Greensky Bluegrass, Break Science, The Wood Brothers and Big Sam’s Funky Nation, among others. Umphrey’s McGee has performed at Bonnaroo more than almost any other band, appearing at the fest seven times between 2002 and 2012 (and often performing multiple times during the weekend). John Butler Trio is also a veteran of the first Bonnaroo. Though the band’s namesakes have performed at Bonnaroo with other projects, this year will mark Tedeschi Trucks Band’s first time at Bonnaroo.
“Tedeschi Trucks Band are coming into another level right now,” Farman says excitedly. “They’ve never been at the festival but Derek and Susan are people who are core to Bonnaroo. I think it’s pretty cool they’ll be there finally.”
As the indie and jam communities have inched closer together, a new generation of roots and psych bands with ties to those once-divergent scenes have emerged. This year, Bonnaroo has confirmed a number of these festival-ready bands, including The Head the The Heart, Ben Howard, Shovels and Rope, ZZ Ward, Blackberry Smoke, Real Estate, Ty Segall, Darkside, Sarah Jarosz, White Denim, Jonathan Wilson, The Lone Bellow, Caveman, Cass McCombs, Vance Joy, J. Roddy Walston, Lake Street Dive, St. Paul and The Broken Bones and The Wild Feathers. Farman also encourages fans to check out Robert DeYoung, who blends EDM with traditional singer-songwriter music, as well as Middle Eastern musician Omar Souleyman and post-punk music legend Nick Cave.
“Thirteen years ago, if you were to tell us we would have all these great people and legends playing there, we wouldn’t have believed you,” Farman says.
Here’s a look at Bonnaroo’s lineup
The Avett Brothers
The Flaming Lips
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Neutral Milk Hotel
SuperJam with Skrillex & Friends
The Bluegrass Situation Superjam hosted by Ed Helms
The Head and the Heart
Ms. Lauryn Hill
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Fitz and The Tantrums
Cage The Elephant
Andrew Bird & the Hands of Glory
Chance The Rapper
Yonder Mountain String Band
John Butler Trio
City and Colour
The Glitch Mob
The Naked and Famous
Shovels & Rope
Carolina Chocolate Drops
The Wood Brothers
The Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar, with special guests Billy Martin, Marc Ribot, DJ Logic
and Shazad Ismaily
First Aid Kit
A Tribe Called Red
The Bouncing Souls
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
King Khan & The Shrines
The Black Lillies
The Lone Bellow
Big Sam’s Funky Nation
La Santa Cecilia
J. Roddy Walston & The Business
Lake Street Dive
St. Paul & The Broken Bones
The Wild Feathers