Much like Lionel Richie in 2014 and ZZ Top in 2013, EWF is the odd group out in a festival that aims for the biggest up-and-coming acts in its undercard. On the outside looking in, one would think that only a minuscule fraction of the 80,000 Bonnaroovians would turn out to see a non-headlining legacy act. However, almost 16,000 festival-goers have added the group to their schedules through the festival’s website and almost 12,000 have added the group to their agendas on the Bonnaroo mobile app. Both of those numbers are only a couple thousand lower than Friday night headliner Deadmau5, who takes the stage 30 minutes into EWF’s set.
“The last four years have been really explosive for us. I think a lot of the new generation caught onto our music, ” bassist and fouding member Verdine White said in a recent phone conference. “Now as many young people come as their parents, so it’s really a very interesting phenomenon to see.”
These numbers aren’t as surprising when you think about the 100 million albums the group has sold throughout their career and the numerous film and television placements of songs like “Shining Star,” “Let’s Groove” and “September” in recent years. White and fans alike also credit the enthusiastic response from younger audiences to parents passing down their love of the group.
“Earth, Wind and Fire has been one of my favorite bands since I was a young child,” says MTSU student and first-year Bonnaroovian Brandon Lewis, 22. “My father grew up listening to (their albums) Head to the Sky and Last Days and Times, so the band was ingrained within me.”
“I’m sure all of us, from (Paul) McCartney to Lionel, have all been surprised that they know all these songs. A lot of these young people know all these tunes, man,” White said. “We’re anxious to get out there and show them those songs and for them to see us and see actually what their parents have been telling them about…it’s kind of like a generational merging.”
Generational merging may not only be happening in the group’s audience, as White says he hopes he’ll find time to check out some on the younger acts playing the festival, including English rock band and Saturday night headliners Mumford & Sons.
“Mumford & Sons are performing out there, and I love them,” White said. “I love the songs, man. I love the songs. I love that they’re authentic.”
Earth, Wind and Fire will be playing at Bonnaroo’s Which Stage on Friday night at 11:30 p.m.
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