Music Fests

Twenty-Five Bonnaroo Highlights

Music Fests

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The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, an annual four day celebration held at Great Stage Park in Manchester, Tennessee, cited by Rolling Stone magazine as "the ultimate over-the-top summer festival" and by Uriah Heep as "Very 'Eavy…Very 'Umble," gives you so much to do that participants often wish they had more of themselves to spread around. Comedians, filmmakers and musicians of any and every genre combine to make the inconveniences of camping tolerable. This year's festival begins on Thursday, June 7 and ends on Sunday, June 10, for four days of heat, exhaustion and euphoria!

It's impossible to list all the highlights of the past 10 festivals. But here are 25 of the biggest names that have graced and entertained on the multiple Bonnaroo stages over the years. Rankings are by the year and by how I typed them in. Extremely scientific.

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[Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images]

25) Widespread Panic (2002, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2011): Jam bands are pretty damn essential to these festivals. It ain't summertime until someone's noodling around in the hot sun. WP have made regular visits to Bo-Roo, but are said to be on "hiatus" for 2012. Can they really stay away? What else have they got to do? Fishing?

24) Flaming Lips (2003, 2007, 2010): In 2010, the Lips performed the stereo-sampling Pink Floyd classic, The Dark Side of the Moon. The Lips' radical sound and stage experiments have won them a diverse audience that encompasses all types of free form weirdos and classic rock aficionados. As the Bible clearly states, "And the Freaks shall inherit the Earth."

23) Neil Young & Crazy Horse (2003): It ain't a party until everyone's favorite Canadian shows up. The Godfather of Grunge, the Good Shepherd of Folk, the Distinguished Senior of the Honeyslides, the Executive of Electricity, the Northern Light of Rock 'n' Roll, the…you get the idea. What else do you need? More notes?

22) James Brown (2003): The greatest showman of them all might have been past his physical prime -- and his music was physicality squared -- but his music also demanded soul and that conviction never left him. In a game of my grandpa can beat up your grandpa, if your grandpa was James Brown, you won every time.

21) Wilco (2004, 2007, 2009): Since Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers only made it to one Bonnaroo, it was up to their understudies in Wilco to bring the heartland organ-electric guitar-vocal drawl to the people. Wilco have shifted strategies over the years, but it's always been all Jeff Tweedy all the time. Ooh, it makes me wonder.

20) Bob Dylan (2004): Does anybody really know what song it is? Apparently not. At least not when the old Bobster gets going. But that's the charm, don't you see? What is more enjoyable than watching a living legend and spending most of your time figuring out if he's singing "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," "Joey" or "Blackjack Davey"? All folk music is the same anyway. Isn't it?

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[Photo: Jason Merritt/FilmMagic]

19) Radiohead (2006, 2012): These MOMA-affiliated stars learned early that high aspirations and serious looks validate pretensions. Call them full of bologna and get an earful from their faithful. Fair enough. They do something right if they inspire such strong feelings. Polarizing figures with artistic ambitions are always better for society than those who pull off their shirts to make a buck. Matthew David McConaughey, I'm talking to you!

18) The White Stripes (2007): We're going to have a hard time keeping them down on the farm with this one. This dynamic duo inspired lots of mixed feelings. Could he sing? Could she drum? Jeez, people, it's only rock 'n' roll, even if you don't always like it.

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[Photo: Amy Whitehouse/FilmMagic for Superfly Presents]

17) The Police (2007): Naming your band after law authority is a questionable move, but when your manager ran I.R.S. and Illegal Records, it makes the concept bit more palatable. Sting took time away from his nine-hour sexcapades to rejoin his old brothers-in-arms for the 2007 Reunion Tour, celebrating the band's 30th Anniversary and the re-issue of their catalog. Which from what I know was never un-issued.

16) Pearl Jam (2008): Contrary to popular notion, Pearl Jam do like to have fun. They just want to make sure they're having it in an ethical way. It helps explain why they recycle riffs! Free Range and Fair Trade Rock 'n' Roll for all!

15) Vampire Weekend (2008): Quickly popular and quickly criticized for becoming quickly popular, Vampire Weekend are a decent set of upstanding young men whose book-learning (Columbia University) offended the uneducated. Newsflash: you can't even get a starter gig in rock 'n' roll these days without at least an Associate's degree. B.A. in Liberal Arts preferred. Semiotics, a bonus. 401k options, severely limited. No health insurance. Fringe benefits strictly at the discretion of your audience.

14) Kanye West (2008): OK, whose hands did he take the mic out of this time? He may be controversial, but he does pay attention to indie-rock bands. Everyone needs to crossover to someone! Kanye likes the money, but he also likes the credibility.

13) Metallica (2008): $40,000 a month in group therapy helped re-focus the only metal band acceptable to non-metal dudes. Say what you will, but money still talks, swears and influences our every action.

12) Al Green (2009): Since it's plenty hard to fit a few hundred thousand people into his church on Sunday, the Reverend occasionally ventures out to meet his flock. Look for President Obama to cover The Belle Album in due time.

11) Beastie Boys (2009): MCA may have left the compound, but fans have their memories and lots of audio and videotape should our collective brains all fail at the same time. We no longer have to fight for our right to party, though I wouldn't be surprised if lawmakers attempt to curtail those rights. That's what they're paid to do.

10) Public Enemy (2009): Lots of young, less-known bands get their shot at Bo-Roo, but there's also a sentimental streak for acts most people missed the first time around. If the music industry doesn't do a better job of developing and promoting new talent, it's going to get even worse out there in future summers. By 2025, headliners will be whatever remains of the Eagles! And Dave Grohl!

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[Photo: C Flanigan/WireImage]

9) Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (2009): Why shouldn't the man of the people play for the youth vote? He's got the 40-and-over crowd sewn up. Since he will likely outlive his peer group, he needs to get new blood to join his congregation. I'm just not sure that singing old folk songs is the way to do it.

8) Snoop Dogg (2009): Snoop appears on the new Willie Nelson album, since the two share a fondness for Texas swing music.

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[Photo: Jeff Gentner/Getty Images]

7) Jay-Z (2010): Jay-Z already owns at least half the modern world, so where else is he going to expand his empire? The Middle East?

6) Stevie Wonder (2010): Bo-Roo does a good job balancing out the schedule and coaxing living legends into takin' it to the fields. Makes you wonder how many kids are out there discovering. "He sings this song?" "And that one, too?"

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[Photo: Douglas Mason/Getty Images]

5) Buffalo Springfield (2011): Getting Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay onto a stage to be the Buffalo Springfield is the sort of thing that makes old school, back-in-the-day music critics froth at the mouth while the younger members of the audience wonder why David Crosby looks so weird.

4) Arcade Fire (2011): Modern rockers from My Morning Jacket to Kings of Leon regularly take the Bo-Roo stage, but 2011 was the year of the Arcade Fire, who were still riding hard the success of The Suburbs. Secure in the knowledge that they have Canadian health coverage, AF take risks that American citizens can only dream about. What? Quit Starbucks and pursue my dreams? And lose the health coverage? No, thank you. I'm going to let free-market capitalism suck out whatever life remains in this battered ol' body of mine. You probably should do the same.

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[Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images]

3) Wanda Jackson (2011): It's a wonderful day when a musician, an underrated, often ignored icon, gets her chance to connect with an audience that might not otherwise have the instincts to check her out on their own. How many rockers make it to their 70s? And still rock? Medical studies, after all, conclude that the side effects of rocking include mania that may last for more than four hours, suspicious discharges, tremors, coma and death that may become permanent.

2) Eminem (2011): Eminem has amassed a catalog of hits that are well-known to hip-hop and non-hip-hop fans alike. By the time he gets to "Lose Yourself" during the encore, he's given the people what they want, an idea that even the Kinks could get behind!

1) Robert Plant and Band of Joy (2011): Led Zeppelin were merely a detour for the Golden God who finally got around to putting together a version of his "Band of Joy" all these years later. Hard rock may have bought him an island or two, but RP's always been a folkie at heart. Somebody get Bob an acoustic guitar!

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