The post Bonnaroo 2023’s Lineup Is the Culmination of All Bonnaroos Past appeared first on Consequence.
Putting together a great music festival lineup in 2023 is a much different proposition than it was in the past. Years of market saturation — even with an epidemiological fallow year — have led to homogenous lineups and events competing to remain distinct in order to attract the ever-dwindling consumer dollar. Epitomizing this struggle has been one of the largest, most beloved music festivals in the US: Bonnaroo.
The Manchester, Tennessee gathering has been held at Great Stage Park — affectionately known as The Farm — since 2002. Thanks to two years of cancelations, 2023 will mark the 20th edition of the fest, a landmark moment for an event seen as the prototype for large-scale North American festival experiences. Once the gold standard, Roo has had its share of stumbles in the last decade, notably dipping in attendance in the mid-2010s as the result of weaker lineups signaling an identity crisis.
What began as a jam band festival had shifted over the years to a more generally rock-centric event. As hip-hop began dominating the charts and electronic music festivals took a controlling share of the market, Bonnaroo sought to blend in. The lineups became hodgepodges, attempts to please everyone that fully satisfied too few.
2018’s bland headliners and 2019’s confused undercard showed a festival trying to find itself again. After Live Nation bought a majority stake ahead of 2020, things ironically were looking up with arguably the strongest bill in years. That event was of course called off, and while ’21 was a strong middle-of-the-road approximation of that much-hyped bill, Hurricane Ida forced a last minute cancellation for the second year in a row.
Returning in 2022, Bonnaroo brought a mixed bag: Stevie Nicks became the first female to officially headline, while strong draws like Tool and J. Cole made for an applaudable top line. But with a bunch of good-not-great lower bookings that again seemed to be targeting anyone (Roddy Ricch? Machine Gun Kelly? Illenium? LANY?), it was a letdown considering what could have been the two years prior.
Which brings us to 2023. Announced on January 10th, this year’s lineup might have actually figured out how to be the elusive “something for everyone” by taking all Roo’s past attempts and cramming them into one. That makes it still something of a mishmash, bouncing between genres and generations in ways that, on their face, might come off unbalanced. It’s the particular names within this potpourri of bookings, however, that make Bonnaroo 2023 the culmination of all Bonnaroos past.
Foo Fighters fill in as both the “legacy” band and the rock headliner; having never played The Farm, it’s a long overdue booking, and given the recent loss of Taylor Hawkins, an emotional one. Kendrick Lamar takes the top rap spot, well deserved in its own right while also being a vintage Roo Riser, as he’s played the festival multiple times and finally owns the headline billing. ODESZA might not be the archetypal Roovian’s headliner, but they aline with the fest’s more recent embrace of electronic music — something doubly apparent with Zeds Dead and Liquid Stranger headlining Thursday night, a spot historically reserved for a Grande Ole Opry jam session before Gryffin took it over in ’22.
Kendrick Lamar (photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage), Foo Fighters (photo by David Brendan Hall), and ODESZA, photo by Wei Shi
Speaking of Thursday, the day usually meant to highlight burgeoning acts now has a strong mix of lower-tier stars and newcomers. 070 Shake, Big Freedia, Ezra Furman, and a surprisingly reunited Diarrhea Planet could fill in Tent sets at any point during the weekend, but putting them day one makes early arrival a must. Then there are acts like Dehd, Suki Waterhouse, CVC, and Cimafunk, the sort of classic buzzy artists that give fans a chance to say, “I saw them on Thursday at Roo before they were huge.”
If you really want to see Bonnaroo 2023’s successful eclecticism — and really any lineup’s strength — you look just under the headliners. Take Friday’s third line: Three 6 Mafia, Fleet Foxes, AFI, Sylvan Esso, Rina Sawayama, Charley Crockett; nostalgic rap, big-name indie folk, post-hardcore mainstays, synthpop show stoppers, rising pop star, Americana favorite. Not everyone there is going to be on everyone’s can’t-miss list, but even a hater can’t deny the popularity of each. Things that stretch across the spectrum of appeal like that are what Bonnaroo has been striving for for years, and this could be one of their best attempts yet.
At the same time, the bill feels more aware of the event’s history than many in recent memory. My Morning Jacket, Umphrey’s McGee, Portugal. The Man, STS9, Rebelution, and Marcus Mumford are names Roovians almost expect to be on lineups at this point. Sheryl Crow and Pixies give fans chances to witness icons; even Korn satisfies the want for a left-field, big name appearance. Noah Kahan, Rainbow Kitten Surprise, The Revivalists, Tyler Childers, Devon Gilfillian, GRiZ, Vulfpeck — all perfect Bonnaroo performers, many of whom are frequent guests of The Farm.
“Indie” lovers get favorites like Franz Ferdinand, Jenny Lewis, Alex G, Hippo Campus, girl in red, and Black Midi. Diverse sounds like Paramore’s pop punk alternative, Madison Cunningham’s folk rock, MUNA’s indie pop, Remi Wolf’s funk pop, and Jacob Collier’s jazz experimentation aren’t just logical Bonnaroo additions, but strong ones.
Yet there’s a balance with the new-look Roo as well. Lil Nas X, Baby Keem, J.I.D., Sampa the Great, Destroy Lonely, Ken Carson, and Yung Gravy give hip-hop fans a variety of styles to explore. Attendees who like to camp out at The Other tent will bounce to the electronic stylings of Subtronics, Louis the Child, Alesso, Bob Moses, Jauz, Peekaboo, and more.
The flip side to that, perhaps, is that DJs and electronic acts seem to have taken the place of hard rock at Roo: There’s really no one for Korn or AFI to play “off” of on this bill. The lack of a female headliner is also disappointing after the last three years — especially considering Miley Cyrus, an artist who could exemplify all the best of Bonnaroo in one being, has yet to be booked again after the canceled ’20 edition.
That’s part of the risk of trying to give something to everyone: It’s almost impossible to hit all the targets. Bonnaroo has tried and failed at it in so many ways over recent incarnations, leaving diehard Roovians leaning more into the experience than the lineup. To be fair, there’s nothing innately wrong with that, but Bonnaroo built its reputation as much on strong bookings as it did a unique festival environment.
It’s hard to say if Bonnaroo has completely resuscitated itself with the 2023 lineup — only ticket sales will tell. At first glance, though, it appears the festival has found an equilibrium between where it started and where it wants to be in the current landscape. It’s indie, and it’s mainstream; it’s rock, and it’s electronic. Perhaps Bonnaroo has finally figured out how to be a modern version of the festival it always was.
Editor’s Note: Visit Consequence’s new Live portal for the latest music festival news and tour announcements. Also, subscribe to our newsletter to get live music news delivered straight to your inbox, and listen to The What Podcast for a breakdown of this year’s Bonnaroo lineup and more festival-themed content.
Bonnaroo 2022 Photo Gallery