Bonnaroo 2015: The Good, The Bad and The Weird

Festival season in on the horizon, and what better way to kick-off our Festival Insight series than the pride-and-joy of southern music festivals, Bonnaroo.

For the uninitiated, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival is a four-day festival in Manchester, Tennessee that brings an average of 80,000 music lovers together with some of the greatest performers of all time. Past headliners include Paul McCartney, Elton John, Radiohead, Jay-Z, Metallica, Kanye West, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Eminem, to name a few.

Besides it’s music, Bonnaroo is often known just as much for its positive vibes and sense of community. It’s like a modern-day Woodstock, with less destruction and death and more happiness.

Let’s take a look at the the good, bad and weird aspects of Bonnaroo 2015.

The Good:

Robert Plant

The 66-year-old rock legend is returning to “The Farm” and with his latest backing band, The Sensational Spaceshifters, in tow. Whether you love his recent solo output or just wanna get a buzz and vibe out to “Whole Lotta Love,” the Led Zeppelin frontman deserves a slot in your schedule based off his catalog alone. And if you still have no idea how cool Robert Plant is, just ask your mom. Even though she may “appreciate” him for very different reasons than I do.

Butloadz of Awesome Producers

I thought that one of the most impressive aspects of this year’s line-up was the remarkable list of producers playing sets. Flying Lotus and SBTRKT are both coming off incredible albums and are sure to make some of the best late-night sets of the year. The xx’s production mastermind Jamie xx is taking a break from recording the band’s next release to play a series of festival dates that includes a sure-to-be memorable ‘Roo stop. And, while we won’t have another animated appearance from Danny Brown, we will have one of his favorite producers, Rustie, on the bill to provide some late-afternoon moshing.


Last year’s food options for Bonnaroo included, but were not limited to: fried avocado tacos, deep fried cheesecake, Neapolitan-inspired sandwhiches, gourmet grilled cheeses and more. But, really, did they even matter? The Bonnaroovian-diet consists of approximately 85% pizza, and there’s a reason for that. Whether you indulge a slice of Spicy Pie or a simple piece of pepperoni or cheese, eating pizza for at least two-thirds of your meals and not feeling bad about it is something everyone can get excited about.

Tears For Fears

Last but certainly not least is the fact that Tears for Fears is making their Bonnaroo debut this year. I don’t care if you know who they are or not, it’s Tears for freakin’ Fears! I’ve never heard a TFF song I didn’t like. They are the masterminds behind some of the greatest songs written in the ’80s: “Shout,” “Head Over Heels,” “Mad World” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” just to name a few. Hell, even Bonnaroo crowd-favorite and overall great person Kanye West sampled one of their songs! Okay, bad example. But seriously, go listen to Tears for Fears. They’ve released some cool covers lately for the youngsters who are into Animal Collection and The Arcades of Fire.

The Bad:

Billy Joel

When it was confirmed that Billy Joel would be headlining this year, my reaction was a resounding “ugh.” I mean, I get that they couldn’t get Prince or the Rolling Stones, but Billy Joel? How do you go from Paul McCartney, to Elton John, to Billy Joel? I mean, sure, everyone probably has two or three Billy Joel songs that you know relatively well, maybe even “like,” but a full headlining set at the conclusion of Bonnaroo? I get that he had hits for days in the 80s, but how many of those hits can resonate with 80,000 young adults at a music festival in the middle of Tennessee. Excuse me if I’m just not that excited. If I’m lucky, he’ll find a way to stretch “We Didn’t Start the Fire” to about an hour and maybe throw in “Piano Man” and “Big Shot”  before I get an early start back home.

“Meh”mford & Sons

Let me be clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Mumford & Sons. They’re by no means a bad choice to headline. Their last album sold tons of copies and there are surely a tons of Bonnarovians that will welcome them back to “The Farm” after cancelling their last headlining gig. It’s just that, I don’t know. It’s Mumford & Sons. What else is there to say? They’re gonna do folk stuff and perform their inspiring folk hooks and dive into their deep catalog of two albums and triumphantly return from their astronomically long two-year hiatus and be perfectly okay. You know, unless they cancel again.

[Editor’s Note 06/04/15: This was written before Mumford & Sons announced their new album and their new, and admittedly rad non-folk sound. So needless to say, my remarks are now a bit outdated.]

Missing Acts

One of the biggest gripes about this year’s line-up wasn’t who was playing, it was who WASN’T playing. I’m not talking about artists like Daft Punk, Beyonce or the aforementioned Prince and Rolling Stones; I’m talking about the long list of perfectly feasible artists that could have been booked. Artists such as Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, Lana Del Rey, Alt-J, Ryan Adams, Death From Above 1979, Panda Bear, Father John Misty and countless more seemed like shoe-ins prior to BLAM, but were nowhere to be found on the bill. The biggest issue last year was the lack of OutKast, but this year the list of “missing” acts seems much longer and deeper than before.

The Weird:

Earth, Wind & Fire

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to jam  out to “September” and “Shining Star,” but why are they here? This booking is approaching Lionel Richie levels of WTF. While I’m sure it’s gonna be an incredibly fun set, much like Richie’s was last year, it just feels weird to have Slayer and Earth, Wind & Fire on the same premise at any given time, ever.

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

I have no idea what this band sounds like, but wow; what a name!


This giant metal monstrosity was one of the most recognizable landmarks used to meet-up with your ‘Roo crew last year. But the question is, what does it do? Is it just for looks? Does it make barbeque? Is it just to scare people on hallucinogenics? I don’t know, but whatever it is, it’ll hopefully be back when we all make our yearly exodus back to “The Farm.”

To see our full archive of Bonnaroo coverage, click here.

Follow John Connor Coulston on Twitter at @JCCoulston.

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To contact Lifestyles editor John Connor Coulston, email

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  1. Avatar
    Terry Moran
    February 20, 2015

    Your reaction to Billy Joel being the headliner is ill-informed.
    Obviously, you’ve never even seen him live.
    You’ll be eating your “ugh” comment early in his set at Bonnaroo.
    How did someone as ignorant as you fake your way into becoming a ‘lifestyle editor’?

  2. Avatar
    February 20, 2015

    I first saw Billy Joel at MTSU. I only knew a couple of songs (or so I thought). I left an instant fan. It is so lazy to diss Billy Joel. His energy and that of his band is infectious. You will know so many songs, and you will be shocked at how great they sound. Look at the reviews from the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief. He stole the show from Bruce, Paul, The Who, Kanye, The Rolling Stones, Chris Martin, etc. I was there, and it was true. There are only a handful of artists who could perform an open-ended residency on their own terms at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. He has now sold out two years solid, with no end in sight.

    Read this piece: Check out him jamming with the Preservation Hall Jazz band at Jazz Fest: I can’t wait to see Billy win over all the Bonnaroo naysayers, because that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

  3. Avatar
    March 27, 2015

    I defiantly agree that Robert Plant, and spicy pie pizza is a plus in going to Roo this year, but I do have to say there are many let downs for this year’s lineup. First, Bonnaroo’s line up this year doesn’t compare to any of the other line ups like Coachella, Jazz Fest, or Lollapalooza. In my opinion it’s the worst line up in Bonnaroo’s history. Like you said, many artists going to other festivals were left out of Bonnaroo this year. The two artist that I was really wanting to see be there are Death Cab For Cutie, and Lana Del Rey. Modest Mouse would have been a good artist to see at Roo too. The line up defiantly doesn’t add up to last years by any means. Jack White, Elton John, Phoenix, Lionel Riche, Cake, and even Kanye West. That’s one of the reason why I opted out of getting a ticket to “the farm” this year. I also feel like they geared the line up towards an older crowd, my mom is very excited for Roo this year. Like you said it’s weird that Earth Wind and Fire is going to be there I honestly have no interest in seeing them unlike my mom. I mean it would be cool to say I saw them but still not worth the money. Another thing I agree with is your Mumford and Sons comment. It’s not like they’re a bad band by any means, but all their songs run together, which makes for a pretty boring headliner in my opinion. All together, I just really as if Bonnaroo lowered the bar with their lineup this year. Many people go for the good time, and do not care about the lineup. I on the other hand go to listen to the music, which is very lacking this year, but hopefully will change next year.

  4. Avatar
    Mr. Box Man
    June 16, 2015

    As always, the toilets should be cleaned a little more often. The bass notes from a nearby rap concert interfered with those of us trying to listen to Billy Joel. I agree, the lineup was disappointing, but I’ll be back next year. Why couldn’t they get the Stones or Aerosmith? Sixty miles from Nashville, I would think Roo organizers could get some bigger name country music stars. It has been announced that the Country Music FanFest that historically occurs simultaneously with Bonnaroo will be held at a different time next year so as not to conflict with Roo. But the crew I was with definitely enjoyed the festival. 🙂

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