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Bonnaroo 2018 : Has This Venerable Fest Lost Its Way?

2In the wake of Bonnaroo announcing its official lineup, Corey Teich bemoans the band selection, which appears to be struggling to book high level acts of significant cultural relevance.


Guest post by Corey Teich, first posted on Medium


You get the feeling that after several acts turned them down, Bonnaroo said well I guess The Killers and Muse can headline. And so we have it. Another year, another vacuous who’s who of acts you’ve tangentially heard of. It’s hard to think of two less culturally relevant acts than The Killers or Muse. Maybe if this were 2006, when Sam’s Town and Black Holes and Revelations had both come out. But even then, twelve years ago, neither bands were at the forefront of cultural relevancy, even if they were selling.

Which leaves us with Eminem. It’s hard for me to speak poorly of Marshall — He anchored me in my youth, his was the first CD I’d ever hid from my mom. But again — If this were 2006, and we were two years past Encore, three years away from ever knowing if Eminem would perform again, then this would feel then like something only Bonnaroo could pull off. But it’s not. It’s 2018, and Eminem’s already headlined the festival once this decade. His 2011 performance was fine; But if you were frustrated that he hadn’t played enough off The Slim Shady LP then I have news for you. Eminem’s got a new album, and it’s bad.

Looking for hope, I squinted my eyes to review the sub-headliners. If Bonnaroo really wanted to compel teens to borrow their parent’s car for an extended weekend, then they should have considered Future as headlining quality. Say what you want about his music, few artists are near his cultural omnipresence. (As a side note — No music festival in 2018 is ever going to be successful if it doesn’t over-book hip hop artists)

The remainder of Bonnaroo’s second and third lines are spotty. Two unique sets by Bon Iver sounds incredible, but I don’t see myself driving a total of 36 hours for it. Paramore — I don’t understand what Bonnaroo’s obsession with mildly successful mid-2000s acts is. Alt-J — Can we all please agree that [they're] neither relevant nor good? Sheryl Crow & Bassnectar — I wonder what the crossover in fanbase looks like.

And while it’s comforting to see that Bonnaroo doubled down a bit on their country roots, billing high Sturghil Simpson & Old Crow Medicine Show, I wonder what would happen if the festival actually returned to its roots — Snagged Phish for two nights and Dead & Co. for the remainder. These groups are actively performing, and bring with them two of music’s most dedicated fan bases. Realistically though, Bonnaro has already lost to Lockn. Because when the festival gave up on itself, Peter Shapiro was quick to fill in.

I don’t want to sound completely jaded — There are some bright spots if you zoom in and squint. Broken Social Scene, Japanese Breakfast, Daniel Cesar. They’re taste makers in their respective scenes, but unfortunately are so scattered throughout that you’d be going half-days before seeing the next act you like. If you’re patient, you’ll find Low Cut Connie on the poster’s last line. Simply for having been on Obama’s 2015 playlist, they deserve a better slot.

Part of me is bitter, there’s no doubt about that. Bitter that I can never have the highlight of my year back. That I’ll never again coat myself in thick, dusty globs of sunscreen to protect from the Tennessee sun. That moving forward, I’ll never experience how Bonnaroo feels — Both before and after you shower it all off. But objectively speaking, this year’s booking is insipid. Coachella folded completely into pop, but at least they did it with taste. Bonnaroo feels like the younger brother gasping to keep up with his siblings as they race down the block. I’d bet they made an offer to Justin Timberlake — It’s too close to his home for them to not make an offer. His booking would have been unique, Bonnaroo’s relevant foray into pop. But for whatever reason he’s not playing — Neither is Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Tame Impala or even Arcade Fire. No, instead we get the band from the Crazy, Stupid, Love trailer and the band that’s neither The Strokes nor Interpol.