17 non-headliners you have to see at Bonnaroo
We know you’ve already dusted off your dancing shoes for DeadMau5, a fruitless effort since you’ll be getting plenty dusty on the Farm, and that you’re ready to sing along to Mumford & Sons. Obviously you’ll be at Billy Joel, since you’ll have staked your spot out for him after watching Florence command the stage. (Yep, our girl is off crutches!) And dude! You’re on the Farm, how can you not go to My Morning Jacket? Plus, you’d be crazy to skip D’Angelo and the Vanguard.
These are the easy decisions. But Bonnaroo books 150 musical performances each year, meaning there are probably a few less-than-familiar names on the list. You’ll need to go in with a plan. To help, here are EW‘s 17 non-headliners you can’t miss.
Glass Animals: The English indie rockers with sultry beats and a moody lights show are early in the weekend, taking over The Other Tent later tonight—get there and get ready to groove. (Especially when they hit “Gooey.”)
Courtney Barnett: Singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett out of Melbourne, Australia has quickly emerged as a master of rambling storytelling and powerful guitar playing. Her first full-length, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, is one of the best albums of the year—you won’t want to miss a chance to see her live. (Bonus: years from now, you can say, “I saw Courtney Barnett when she was still playing early sets at Bonnaroo.”)
Elle King: Rob Schneider’s daughter impressed us at SXSW with her fluid jumps between genres but the 26-year-old’s main selling point is the one thing that remains the same no matter what kind of song she’s singing: her big, soulful, rock n’ roll vocals.
Tanya Tagaq: It’s ‘Roo, so you’re doing it wrong if you don’t get into something a little, um, unconventional. Enter Tanya Taqaq, the Inuit throat-singer—don’t expect lyrics—out of Nunavut, Canada who beat out Drake and Arcade Fire when she won the 2014 Polaris Price for her fanastically political album, Animism. Head over, chant, growl, gasp, and moan along. (Like we said, it’s ‘roo!)
Royal Blood: The riff-heavy rockers are coming off a Governors Ball that saw them thrash and stomp in ways that left us asking just one question: Wait, what time is their Bonnaroo set?
Unknown Mortal Orchestra: The festival has one of its jammiest lineups in years and a standout of the middle-sized-font names is this frenetic American and New Zealand rock outfit fronted by Ruban Neilson. Their most recent release, Multi-Love (May 26), frought with synth-psychedelia practically begs for a crowd, standing in a field. Lucky for all, that’s just what they’re about to get.
The Dø: It’s Friday! Let’s listen to some French/Finnish indie electronic pop! This duo first topped charts in France in 2008 with their debut album, A Mouthful, and they broke the Top Ten again last year with their fourth album Shake Shook Shaken. Olivia Merilahti’s vocals are reminiscent of Björk’s (let that move you whichever way it does) and Dan Levy’s background feels as good as a light breeze on a balmy day. Settle in.
Catfish And The Bottlemen: The North Wales rockers found themselves on the receiving end of a One Direction compliment this spring and you know what they had to say about that? Basically, “f— off!” But their willingness to scorn mainstream popularity (or kiss ass-ery) is just part of their charm. They deliver a hard charging guitar set and an album full of working class anguish. Rock on! And get ready to scream “Kathleen!”
Songhoy Blues: “Churning, jangling, one-part traditional to their Malian musical heritage and one-part American garage rock” sounds like a pretty weird song descriptor, but welcome to Songhoy Blues. They’re a four-piece out of Bamako (because three of them had been driven out of their Northern Mali homes by millitant jihadists vehemently opposed to to non-religious music) who produce churning, jangling, one-part traditional to their Malian musical heritage and one-part American garage rock music.
Kevin Garrett: It’s not every day Katy Perry and Sam Smith tout an upcoming musician—unless, of course, your name is Kevin Garrett. The Brooklyn-based (by way of Pittsburgh) singer-songwriter sings fresh air, sultry nights, and moves between love songs and out-of-love songs so smoothly your only surprise at the end of his set will be that more people aren’t stumping for him.
Highly Suspect: Highly Suspect is selling the same dirty, bluesy brand of rock as the first iteration of the Kings of Leon. (Lead singer Johnny Stevens’ vocals are oddly similar to that of Caleb Followill, but with rips of more profound desperation.) The Brooklyn rockers made their first splash with the slow-burning “Lydia” this spring, but have since followed up with the frenetically danceable “Claudeland.” This surely feels like just the beginning of this trio’s rise.
X Ambassadors: Maybe you recognize their song “Renegades” from that Jeep commercial? It toes the line that Walk The Moon basically drew between pop and alt-rock radio fare and makes this Ithica, NY-based band poised for a major break out.
Tycho: There is no place for an ambient electronic show like the 700-acre Farm at midnight on a Saturday. The artist, whose real name is Scott Hansen, released Awake last year and it saw him expand into the furthest, most gorgeous, techno ether he’s striven for yet. Let the wave of synths, backed by some seriously insane lights—and probably some ravers—wash over you.
Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear: Sunday, you made it! Ease in with this bluesy son-and-mom folk duo, Madisen and Ruth Ward out of Kansas City. They released their debut, Skeleton Crew, last month after five years as the local coffee shop denizens. Understated production and a rare musical delight—not to mention Madisen’s hearty vocal—shaped the album and the chance to bear witness live isn’t one to be missed.
The Very Best: They broke out in 2010 with “Warm Heart of Africa,” a jubliant slab of electro Afro-pop featuring Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig on vocals. And ever since, the London-based duo, featuring producer Johan Hugo and Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya, have been turning out feel-good Afro-tinged pop that touches on everything from hip-hop to the traditional music of Mwamwaya’s home country. Their Sunday afternoon set is perfect fodder for winding down—or dancing barefoot on the grass—after a wild weekend on the Bonnaroo grounds.
Twenty One Pilots: The band you didn’t know that you already knew is taking over ‘Roo’s main stage this year and you’d be hard pressed to find a group more primed for the slot. (Bonus: if you care about Spoon, look at what a nice spot you’ve just found for yourself! They’re on next.) The duo, comprised of singer/multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun, have ascended to alt-music royalty since they broke in 2013—they just notched their third consecutive top 10 track on Billboards Alternative Charts—and with near-constant touring over their career you can bet this one will be a throw down.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: One of the best rap albums of 2014, Piñata, is an unapologetic chronicle of a gangster living a gangster’s life from Indiana rapper Giibs and hip hop musician Madlib. There’s very little pop-crossover fare and it will be interesting to see how the material translates to a festival setting. But Madlib’s production might be the saving grace—harsh edges become lush, and rock-infused loops will give the audience something to groove to.
Caribou: It almost seems irreverent to consider synth-mad man Dan Snaith (a.k.a Caribou) an under-the-radar set. He’s built a cultish following since his debut in 2001 and six subsequent albums, and now seems to be reaching critical mass with 2014’s release, Our Love. But the fact that Caribou’s still a non-headlining set works in its favor. Sunset in Tennesse on a Sunday afternoon, with a mix of vulnerable vocals and dance beats—well, that sounds just about right.
Betty Who: If you thought Robyn was singular in her command of a dance-pop track, we’d like to introduce you to Betty Who, the Australian popstress whose effervescent tunes mix throwback sonics and modern pop sensibilities. Who, born Jessica Anna Newham, will have you stretching for the brightest disco lights and begging for a dance floor just a few bars in. Here, let this get you ready.