Coachella vs. Bonnaroo: A Conversation

lg_coachroo

By Justin Pansacola, Jake Tully

Justin Pansacola:

So, I think it’s fair to say that Coachella & Bonnaroo are the #1 & #2 names in the festival-industrial complex, yes? In past years, there’s been a lot of overlap between two, a lot of shared headliners, but this year seems like a real split. Coachella brings sheer mass and quantity but Bonnaroo seems more mainstream-inclined with big deal genre institutions. What stands out to you about Bonnaroo this year?

Jake Tully:

Bonnaroo, as was the case with the past few years, seems much more rock-oriented than Coachella. I was genuinely surprised to see the likes of Elton John, Jack White, Lionel Richie, Damon Albarn… the list goes on. At the same time, Bonnaroo has done an excellent job appealing to the hip-hop end of the conversation, the indie-scene, and electronic. Overall, Bonnaroo’s eclecticism has made it much more of a crowd-pleaser.

Justin Pansacola:

I agree that the crowd pleasing potential is bigger at Bonnaroo. They have real pillars of certain communities that are surefire draws. Outkast and Kanye are both titans of their scene, Vampire Weekend surely cancels out Arcade Fire, but Elton John, Lionel Richie, Lauryn Hill and Jack White are big deals that have no Coachella equivalent. It’s strange that groups like Vampire Weekend, Frank Ocean and Deafheaven seem like reliable bookings for Coachella but were surprisingly left out. Meanwhile, if Outkast is playing dozens of festivals, as has been reported, why isn’t Bonnaroo one of them? Are exclusive bookings a thing? Are exclusive bookings good for festival goers?

Jake Tully:

I absolutely think so. Prior to Bonnaroo’s lineup, I was fairly disappointed with the carbon-copy setup of nearly every festival announced thus far. I’m extremely glad up-and-comers like Chance The Rapper and Haim are getting their exposure at a good deal of venues, but otherwise I thought the booking aspect was lazy. When I think of festivals I think of a certain level of exclusivity should exist. Attending one festival over another means you get a different experience, different artists – such is the nature of festivals. If that weren’t the case, I feel like a very vital aspect of festival-going would go by the wayside.

Justin Pansacola:

There’s the idea that festivals should be largely the same because of the regional availability, sort of like Coachella East and Bonnaroo West. If you live in Charlotte, you would want to get a Coachella-like offering without having to buy a plane ticket. But these events are growing to such titanic sizes that they’re national draws, so I can see why they’d want to start sharply breaking away from each other.

Another thought: Bonnaroo 2014 looks a bit like Coachella 2013. Vampire Weekend, James Blake, Phoenix and Nick Cave were notables from Coachella ‘13 that make their reappearance this year in Nashville. My initial reaction is that’s a disappointing retread, but why wouldn’t you want to see those bands again? In a vacuum, that’s a strong line up.

Jake Tully:

I couldn’t agree more. My tastes notwithstanding, Vampire Weekend, Arctic Monkeys, Phoenix – they’ve relegated themselves for better or for worse as “festival bands”. This is for good reason too – any one of the bands listed above puts on a concise, solid 50-minute or so set. They’re perfect to pepper in while waiting for the big guns, and they’ve all amassed a good following.

One point I would like to bring up is the Superjam set of Bonnaroo. Generally speaking, the Superjam is comprised of a classic rock artist (i.e. Doctor John) joined by a contemporary rock artist (Dan Auerbach). This year, however, Skrillex is the Superjam artist, joined by the ambiguous listing of “friends”. I’m very curious to see how that plays out.

Justin Pansacola:

I had no idea. The mystery definitely adds an air of excitement to Coachella’s regular Skrillex performance. I imagine they would have to pull from someone already on the bill because any big names would want their own spotlight.

Quick! What “lower” tier bands catch your eye that excite your theoretical visit?

Jake Tully:

Typhoon, J. Roddy Walston & The Business, Carolina Chocolate Drops, ZZ Ward – all excellent artists I’ve been informed of via means of Spotify or per the recommendations of friends.

Justin Pansacola:

At Coachella, I would’ve liked to see Trombone Shorty, AlunaGeorge and Daughter play. Bonnaroo has a little bit more for me in the undercard — Cass McCombs, Okkervil River and First Aid Kit provide a lot of folksy muscle. Cloud Nothings ensure that I will get kicked in the head at least once, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down is one of the most enjoyable live performers I know and, holy crap, Cake! I love Cake! When I took up bass guitar I started with In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, but then went straight to 6 Cake songs.

One last thought before wrapping up. Bonnaroo’s website has a “create your own lineup” feature where you basically mark the acts you want to see, and it’s providing some interesting metrics. Elton John currently reigns supreme with 3500+, as expected, but top billed Lionel Richie is underperforming with 1600. For reference, Wiz Khalifa has 1900+, Cage The Elephant has 2300+ and Grouplove has 1800+. Is Richie’s audience not a festival-going type? Is this maybe a short-sighted attempt at booking a household name without considering the demographics?

Jake Tully:

Lionel Richie is an interesting case. He’s been booked in recent years at SXSW and other festivals quite a bit, but never seems to generate much draw, at least on paper (or site, if you will.) Just looking at the bill you might think that pairing Richie with Kanye West, and The Flaming Lips seems anachronistic. However, when Lionel Richie takes the stage at night in the presence of tens of thousands of people, I would find it very hard to believe he wouldn’t generate an enormous crowd. Whether his draw is by means of nostalgia, curiosity, or simply a name basis, it will work itself out. That’s really what festivals are excellent at doing – the huddled masses congregating together for great music and reveling in the fact that the experience is unfolding before their very eyes.

Justin Pansacola:

I get the (completely unfounded) sense that this is driven by Richie’s management more than festival bookers spitballing main attraction ideas. It seems like Richie has a desire to reassert himself, especially among younger audiences. Which is great! A guy with his career should absolutely be part of the festival world, and good on him for not resigning to monthly Indian Casino gigs or whatever. But it’s interesting to see, and it looks like it’s going to be an uphill battle. I remember thinking the same thing when Leonard Cohen was making a comeback at 2009’s Coachella, and its largely paid off for him.

Jake Tully:

Leonard Cohen absolutely put on an astounding show that year.

It’s interesting, I feel as though there have been very few classic artists announced thus far for the festival circuit. Although, we have yet to see the Outside Lands lineup, which generally has a good deal of older artists. I think as long as we continue to see the recognized classic artists paired with the newer artists that were informed by the Richies and Cohens, it won’t seem as incongruous as it does on the bill. Furthermore, and this goes without saying, said artists have perfected their sets – going in to someone’s show with a longer career you can bank on the fact it’s going to be a great show.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *