Just the thought of Bonnaroo makes me exhausted. I honestly don't know why I do this to myself. It's something akin to being a baseball scout going out to have a look at some new talent to see if you want to sign them to a contract. Instead of sports, I feel the need, as a music editor, to drive six hours to middle-of-nowhere Tennessee. While there, I give a listen to dozens of bands so that if they ever head toward Charlotte, I'll know if I should steer readers to check them out, or tell them to stay away.
This will be my sixth trip to Manchester. The "farm," as it's affectionately called. Nope, I don't go in an RV or book a hotel. I camp out in a tent, by myself, amidst a few hundred others in the press/guest camping area. I sweat, I drink lots of water and I see a lot of bands. A LOT of bands. This year, I'm looking to check out about 70. My feet hurt, and I haven't started walking from stage to stage yet.
It's how I cover 'Roo. It's not exactly pleasant and it's definitely exhausting, but something keeps bringing me back. Every year I leave and think, "I'm never going back there again..." and then the next year's lineup is announced and I think, "Where else can I see all of these bands in just a few days?"
A number of bands performing this year - Mumford & Sons, Portugal the Man, JD McPherson, Trombone Shorty, Foals, Paul McCartney, Cat Power, Matt & Kim, Baroness, Tom Petty - are ones that I've seen before, but there are dozens that I haven't. Those are the reason I'm heading back to Tennessee.
Here's a quick rundown of the top five (in no particular order) artists I haven't seen before who I'm looking forward to seeing at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival this year:
Bjork - The Icelandic songstress doesn't tour often, and I've never gotten a chance to see her eclectic stage presence in person. From her costumes to her cuteness, there's always been something intriguing about Bjork to me. Her music ranges from pop and dance to atmospheric and downright bizarre. So, what's she like live? I'm going to find out on Saturday.
Tame Impala - The more music I hear from this Australian psychedelic rock band, the more I like it. For me, it often sounds like the Beatles and Pink Floyd got involved in an orgy with the Flaming Lips and this is the warped, acid-soaked offspring. Something tells me it's the kind of band you see live and just let the music soak over you.
Trixie Whitley - I first caught notice of Trixie Whitley at Bonnaroo in 2011 when she was a part of Daniel Lanois' Black Dub band. She has since released a solo album and will get Friday's main stages started at noon. Her soulful vocals should be a great way to kick things off for the weekend.
Superjams - Ah, the superjams. You never know what you're gonna get, but it's sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime performance. For me, nothing will top the Ben Harper, ?uestlove and John Paul Jones barrage in 2007, though the Gogol Bordello, Les Claypool and Kirk Hammett tribute to Tom Waits in 2008 is a close second. This year, there are three superjams announced. I'm not sure I'll check out Ed Helms Bluegrass Situation Superjam but I definitely plan on stopping by Friday night's funk and hip-hop superjam featuring RZA, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Schoolboy Q and Earl Sweatshirt and Saturday night's Rock N Soul Dance Party featuring Jim James, John Oates the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and countless other musicians.
??? - Every year that I've gone to Bonnaroo, I walk away with that newly discovered treat. The band I'd never heard of, or the band I didn't expect to completely blow my mind. It's happened every year. I hear the one band that instantly wins me over. The artist that I can't wait to tell my friends about, or to write about when they come to Charlotte. In the past, this has included MuteMath and Rodrigo y Gabriela in 2007, Back Door Slam and Battles in 2008, Alberta Cross, Cage the Elephant and Janelle Monae in 2009, Baroness, Circa Survive and Brandi Carlile in 2010 and Beats Antique, Black Joe Lewis and The Head and the Heart in 2011.
Honorable Mentions - Deap Valley, Father John Misty, Alt-J, Of Monsters and Men, John McLaughlin, Wu-Tang Clan, Death Grips, Empire of the Sun, Kasey Musgraves and David Byrne and St. Vincent.
Charlotte's own Matrimony will be making its Bonnaroo debut, performing two sets over the weekend. I'm curious to see what the festival's fans think of the folk-rock outfit. Stay tuned for more on that...