Back in 2006, Tom Petty was the best headliner in Bonnaroo history and this year's headliners have no chance of topping him. Here's why: By the time Saturday night rolls around at Bonnaroo, the people have endured three days of challenging conditions like heat, rain, mud, general filth, famine, and sleeplessness (not to mention the brutal, self-induced onslaught of mind-bending chemicals). The bodies that are still standing are beginning to become weary and there is still a full night and day to go.
What is needed at that point is a big unifying act who can bring the fest together, allowing the collective love and joy to overtake the fatigue and set the 24 hour grand finale into motion. Tom Petty was the ultimate, because everyone loves Tom Petty. Even people who don't even know they love Tom Petty love Tom Petty. Throughout the entirety of Tom Petty's set, 60,000 strong were singing joyously in unison. None of the headliners this year -- Eminem, Arcade Fire, Widespread Panic, the Black Keys, and Buffalo Springfield -- have the potential to pull the fest together like that. Especially Eminem.
The lineup as a whole looks pretty great, its just that they don't have good headliners in place. Heck, all the headliners are good as Bonnaroo acts, especially Buffalo Springfield and Arcade Fire. But, there will only be select percentages of the festival that actually get excited for them. Arcade Fire and Black Keys will fill the slot that Radiohead so nicely filled back in 2006, exciting fans of quality contemporary music. Mostly hipsters and hipster/hippie hybrids: Hippiesters.
Buffalo Springfield will not be a main act. They'll play ahead of one of the other headliners, and old hippies and young dudes with hippie uncles will dig the shit out of it. But then they'll retreat to their tents because Eminem will be up next, and they may not be in the mood to hear about his pill addiction and how much he hates stuff after being in the presence of Neil Young -- on a farm in Tennessee!
Widespread Panic is kind of a neutral headliner. They'll be fine for Sunday night when the tired folks may just want to kick it in the grass (if it's not too muddy) and drink beers. They will not close the fest out with a bang like Phish did in 2009 though, because they are just not as powerful of a live act as Phish--in the opinion of this writer, and the tens of thousands of people who have trekked many miles to festivals like Bonnaroo where the only band that plays is Phish. Anyway, Widespread Panic is not the problem. They just aren't the solution either.
The problem is that there is no unifier, and in Eminem, we have a non-unifier. As unaware of Arcade Fire as some people are, lots people straight-up despise Eminem--and he tops the bill! It's fine to have him there, but why give him a headlining slot that in the past has been occupied by majority crowd-pleasers like the Police, Stevie Wonder, Tom Petty, and the Dead? It seems that Bonnaroo is trying too hard to be eclectic without taking the well being and feeling of the festival into consideration. See you on Phish tour.
Conan O'Brien was feeling a bit more positive about it in this promotional video:
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This was our favorite screen-grab from the trippy roundup of the three days of acts:
Bonnaroo--featuring Eminem, Arcade Fire, Widespread Panic, The Black Keys, Buffalo Springfield, and more. June 9-12 in Manchester, Tenn. Tickets cost $224.50 to $674.75. Click here.