Helping You Make The Tough Decisions At Bonnaroo 2011


Festival season continues this weekend with Bonnaroo‘s 10th anniversary in Manchester, Tennessee, so we’re here again to help guide the 80,000 wristband holders through the tough choices of the weekend’s lineup. (Don’t have a ticket? You’re in luck! Some of the big-tent performances will be webcast at VEVO.) As always, we recommend checking out at least one band you haven’t heard before; might we recommend country-rocker Hayes Carll, (who plays one set each today and tomorrow)?

Jam-band and bluegrass aficionados have a plethora of options all weekend—perhaps too many tough choices. For the more pop-minded among us, here are five big intersection points to break down for you:

Choices: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (3:15 p.m., What Stage) and Matt & Kim (3:15 p.m., This Tent)
Decision: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Both groups are embarking on summer tours in midsize venues with reasonable ticket prices, but Matt & Kim, though they showed at the OMAs that they can play bigger, do have a certain energy that’s amplified when it’s contained in a club full of kids that are ridiculously hyped up. You Oughta Know artists Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, on the other hand, don’t lose any of their power from midday open-air big-tent staging.

Choices: Ray LaMontagne (6:15 p.m., Which Stage) and Florence + The Machine (6:45 p.m., This Tent)
Decision: Ray LaMontagne. If you’re not at Bonnaroo this weekend, tune into VH1 at 11PM ET/PT for Ray LaMontagne’s episode of VH1 Storytellers, and if you are, see him play in the flesh. This is maybe the toughest choice of the lot; both put on great live shows. One option: both bands are touring the United States this summer, and the ticket prices are fairly equivalent, so it’s possible to see one at Bonnaroo and another in your town. Check to see if your local show is sold out, and whether it’s general admission or seated (if you have a preference). LaMontagne’s tour opener is You Oughta Know artist Brandi Carlile, so if they are playing locally later this summer, maybe Florence + The Machine is the one to see at Bonnaroo after all.

Choices: Big Boi (12:45 a.m., The Other Tent) and Lil Wayne (1:30 a.m., The Other Stage)
Decision: Both! Big Boi plays from 12:45-2:00am, and Lil Wayne plays from 1:30-3am, but while Big Boi is a generally punctual rapper who has another band following him on the same stage, Weezy is notorious for being late (although less so since he quit abusing codeine) and closes out his stage. With the right timing, an enterprising attendee can probably catch the majority of both sets (providing she can stay awake that late). So drink a lot of coffee and check out two very different, but equally talented, points on the southern-rap spectrum.

Choices: Wiz Khalifa (5:50 p.m., What Stage), Mumford & Sons (6:15 p.m., Which Stage), Loretta Lynn (6:45 p.m., That Tent), Bootsy Collins (7:00 p.m., The Other Tent)
Decision: Mumford & Sons. It’s often worth seeing “legacy artists” at festivals like this, since many don’t tour often, and command high ticket prices when they do. But there are plenty of other artists to sate your appetites for country-and-bluegrass and funk elsewhere at Bonnaroo. Wanda Jackson (playing Friday) is as much a living legend as Loretta Lynn, and Dm-Funk (Thursday night) is nearly as funky as Bootsy in his prime (and with Zapp and Roger influences, to boot). That leaves Wiz and Mumford: the latter was apparently a highlight of Coachella, and the former will likely be stoned out of his mind (which, good for him, but will it affect the performance?), so Mumford & Sons are the way to go.

Choices: Band of Joy (6:00 p.m., What Stage), Beirut (6:15 p.m., The Other Stage), Explosions in the Sky (6:45 p.m., This Tent), The Strokes (6:45 p.m., Which Stage), Superjam feat. Dan Auerbach and Dr. John (7:00 p.m., That Tent)
Decision: Robert Plant/Band of Joy. We’ve never been fans of Explosions in the Sky as a live band—we like their music, but it mainly makes us want to watch Friday Night Lights. (Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!) And Beirut may premiere some music from their forthcoming record, but their sound suffers from the lack of audio fidelity inherent in a festival set. Superjam might be the best bet for one requisite jam set, especially since they are more about having as much fun as possible onstage and less about noodling, but at this point in the weekend, more jamming is probably overkill. (Besides which, Dr. John is playing a New Orleans set earlier in the weekend with The Meters and Allen Toussaint that might be worth checking out.)

That leaves Robert Plant’s Band of Joy and the Strokes, and watching the 61-year-old former Led Zeppelin vocalist’s bluegrass band seems a much better way to wrap up Bonnaroo than listening to the New York quintet’s guitar rock. Besides that, we can’t imagine anything that would qualify as a surprise taking place during the Strokes’s set, but considering Alison Krauss is playing on Saturday, she might stick around for an extra day to perform a Raising Sand song or two with Plant.

Do you agree with our choices? Are there any other tough choices you see in the Bonnaroo schedule? Let us know in the comments!

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