Decisions Make the Heart Grow Fonder: Bonnaroo 2012 Preview

Starting this evening, mild-mannered businessmen and dirty, smelly hippies alike will begin the trek to Manchester, Tennessee for the 11th Annual Bonnaroo, which kicks off this Thursday. As always, we’re looking forward to waffle ice cream sandwiches, good friends and the hottest 80 degrees you can imagine. Headliners Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Phish, and a fantastic middle-tier make this year’s Roo perhaps the best lineup yet.

As we learned last year and at SXSW, a fantastic festival lineup creates issues for anyone shooting for the full experience. Below, we have marked what we think are the hardest decisions of the weekend. While most decisions are usually made in the last minute, we’re here to help inform you of the tough choices you’ve got coming.


The Motown Opener
DANNY BROWN – 7 pm @ This Tent vs. DALE EARNHARDT JR JR – 7:15 pm @ The Other Tent

The first matchup of the weekend, positions Detroit madman rapper Danny Brown during the same slot as Detroit indie rockers Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr. Despite the clear difference in style, this show presents issues for anyone looking to support the fledgling Motown, which never fails to deliver great music.With his junkyard flow and black humor, Danny Brown is one of those artists we dig and fear equally. His last record, 2011s XXX–Brown stepped out, exploring debauched subjects in an introspective manner. Since then, he’s had great features on tracks from Das Racist, Action Bronson, El-P and Mr. Muthafuckin Exquire: the 2012 hip hop dream team (minus Kendrick Lamar, who plays at 10 pm on the same stage.)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. have taken a bit more constructive and safe route than Danny Brown and his peers, and that’s not a slight. Infectious indie pop jams designed to sell iPods actually make much better listens than one would expect. In April, the redundant suffixes dropped the anthem “We Almost Lost Detroit”, tailor-made for drunken Comerica Park sing-a-longs. Just try to get it out of your head.


The Relevance of Obsolescence
TUNE-YARDS – 1:45 pm @ This Tent vs. THE INFAMOUS STRINGDUSTERS – 2 pm @ The Other Tent

Armed with small acoustic instruments, tUnE-yArDs (worst casing ever) and The Infamous Stringdusters have made strides to establish themselves as thought leaders in their respective genres. Their similarities end there. tUnE-yArDs constructs freak-folk mountains from a ukelele, live percussion and a loop pedal. Leo V. Lopez dug her debut, w h o k i l l. Unorthodox casing and spacing not required in text messages when trying to meet up.

The Infamous Stringdusters are a bluegrass band, through and through. Similar to their Bonnaroo newgrass counterparts, this five-piece relies on their talent and chemistry to create a complex yet traditional sound. Different from their Bonnaroo bluegrass counterparts, The Stringdusters are content to explore their Americana and old-timey roots. If you’re looking for some G.F. Martin fret-burners, be here.

FEIST – 6:15 pm @ Which Stage vs. LUDACRIS – 6:45 pm @ This Tent vs. ST. VINCENT – 7:45 @ That Tent

Technically, you could catch all (most) of Feist and St. Vincent, but the scheduling of Ludacris is nothing short of brilliance on behalf of the Bonnaroo booking staff. The best course may be to try to make two of the three, but it may be too disorienting to hear classic Ludacris bangers like “What’s Your Fantasy?” and “Stand Up” just after Feist’s presumably fantastic, yet reserved and colorful performance or before St. Vincent‘s presumably fantastic, and creatively unhinged performance. Then again, their differences are refreshing to the point that experiencing both within the same hour could be excellent. Proceed with caution.

The Case for Festivals
MAJOR LAZER – 12:30 am @ This Tent vs. BLACK STAR – 12:30 am @ That Tent vs. THE WORD – 12 am @ The Other Tent

This is the decision of the weekend. The first timeslot after Radiohead’s two-hour block is both the leading argument for and against music festivals. It’s a hard choice yes, but remember that you can not do wrong. Diplo’s Major Lazer will be a spectacle on par with last year’s Bassnectar show, just with less breakbeats and more daggering. This will certainly be a memorable show for those who will remember.

Then again, there’s the return of Black Star-Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek’s political rap opus. Both artists have sustained healthy, yet largely inconsistent careers, with their 1998 collaboration record being the high points for each veteran emcee. With rumors of a second Black Star album, the duo (using more producers) are riding the throwback wave, which is nice for those of us who didn’t get to see them in the 90s.

Lastly, The Word is Superjam without the questionable, last-minute additions. Comprised of John Medeski, Robert Randolph and the North Mississippi Allstars, The Word is bound to have an abundance of good vibes.


Wake and Shake
PELICAN – 12:15 pm @ That Tent vs. DARONDO – 12:30 pm @ This Tent vs. CHARLES BRADLEY AND HIS EXTRAODRINAIRES – 1 pm @ What Stage

Early shows at Bonnaroo can be a pain, but Saturday is a day to get out early. But in which form will the rewards come? Chicago’s Pelican are post-metal gods, a status that is achieved just beyond the 10 year mark. While a 12:15 pm set may not be ideal for soul-crushing instrumentals, their set has serious potential to be the dark horse in the race for the best performance.

The other two are a bit brighter. First, Darondo is a funk and soul refugee from the 70s, who used to open for James Brown. And then there’s Charles Bradley, who used to be James Brown, now is his own Dap King. You really can’t go wrong this afternoon.

The Major Minorities
BAD BRAINS – 1:45 pm @ That Tent vs. DAS RACIST – 2 pm @ This Tent

Bad Brains and Das Racist are both racial minorities and sound pioneers in their respective genres. Coming out of the 1980s D.C. hardcore scene, the rastafarian punks of Bad Brains combined the tuff gong sound with the tough shit attitude. On the other hand, Das Racist are a rapidly rising Indian Brooklyn underground rap crew. Their out there references and core-rattling beats make their debut Relax the #1 nerd party record of 2011.

The Clash of the Virtuosos
BATTLES – 3:30 pm @ This Tent vs. PUNCH BROTHERS – 4 pm @ Which Stage

Battles’ unique brand of toys gone wrong post-rock will no doubt be suited well at Bonnaroo. Their last, Gloss Drop, is essentially a party album for those with an open mind, and is a departure for the band, with members formally in Don Caballero and Helmet.

Although Punch Brothers are comfortable playing venues like Carnegie Hall and the Auditorium Theatre, a Bonnaroo set will actually do these progressive-bluegrass nerds well. Who’s Feeling Young Now?, their latest, also marks a pop change for the band, and is one of the best records of the year. No longer creating symphonies, Chris Thile’s Punch Brothers have never sounded more comfortable experimenting within a pop structure and with all acoustic instruments. Also, with Radiohead headlining, it’s safe to assume they’ll bring out some covers for the occasion.


The Hot Girl Hour

CITY AND COLOUR – 3 pm @ The Other Tent vs. THE ANTLERS – 330 pm @ That Tent vs. THE WAR ON DRUGS – 3 pm @ This Tent

Sunday always seems to be the most relaxed day of the weekend, which is never a bad thing. Also as usual, the afternoon is jam-packed with great acts, with this year’s focus on sensitive guy rock. City and Colour, the indie-folk outfit for Dallas Green, formerly of Alexisonfire. His last record, Little Hell debuted at #28 on the Billboard 200 last summer, so expect this to be a crowded show.

The Antlers are having a big touring summer, with the Brooklyn sadsacks playing national and local festivals alike. Although their music would seem to work best on headphones and hiding under the covers, this indie rock three-piece have managed to build themselves into a formidable touring act. Be careful of tears, they will put streaks in the dust and clay surely caked on your face by now.

Lastly, The War on Drugs could have just enough reverb to float you to Kurt Vile, playing at 5 at That Tent.

Happy Bonnaroo! Enjoy the Spotify playlist below.


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