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Artists Not To Miss at Bonnaroo 2018

Bonnaroo 2017 - Friday
Bonnaroo 2017 (more by Dana Distortion)

Festival Season keeps rolling right along, and the next major one is Bonnaroo, which goes down this weekend in Manchester, TN from Thursday (6/7) through Sunday (6/10). Whether you’re going or streaming it live, there’s so much great stuff to see (so much so, that there are some tough conflicts). There are of course the anticipated big acts like Muse, The Killers, Eminem (who’s still got it), alt-J, Paramore, Future and more, but there’s also plenty of other slightly less obvious acts that are not to miss (especially if you’re a nerd like us). If you’re looking for some last-minute suggestions on who to see, we’ve put together a guide of artists not to miss at Bonnaroo 2018 that may help out.

Some of our picks sadly conflict with some of our other picks (like Japanese Breakfast vs Alex Lahey, Manchester Orchestra vs Denzel Curry, and Broken Social Scene vs Amadou & Mariam), and you can check out set times and conflicts HERE. You can still buy or win tickets.

Read on for our picks, in no particular order…

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BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE

Canadian indie rock faves Broken Social Scene returned last year with the great Hug of Thunder, which was their first album in seven years following a hiatus, and not just a worthy comeback but their most accessible LP yet. It’s got all the catchiest elements of classic BSS, and noticeably lighter on their experimental side (their experimental side is of course very appealing, but it’s also fun to hear them like this). Their post-hiatus live shows have been great too, and they’re sure to offer up a nice mix of the new songs and the classics at Bonnaroo.

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AMADOU & MARIAM

Malian husband-and-wife duo Amadou & Mariam have never let not being able to see slow them down, and have been making joyous music for over 20 years. On 2017’s La Confusion, the pair seamlessly incorporated ’80s synthpop and disco into their afrobeat style, making for one of their most enjoyable records to date. Their live shows are exuberant dance parties, perfect for Sunday mid-afteroon set like they play at Bonnaroo.

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ANDERSON .PAAK

Anderson .Paak took off in a major way after releasing not one but two great albums in 2016 (one under his own name and one with his NxWorries project, though he plays music from both projects at his solo shows), and it looks like he’s finally got a followup on the way. He recently released two new singles (including the above “Bubblin'”), and said he’s got “65,000 songs in the vault” and that Dr. Dre is involved with his new album. So that makes the idea of seeing him right now even more exciting than usual. His live shows are always great — Paak is a fantastic frontman and a fantastic drummer, and he bounces back and forth between those two roles live.

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MAVIS STAPLES

Any chance to see the legendary Mavis Staples is worth taking and Bonnaroo is no different. Not only did Mavis help define soul music and protest music as we know it in the 1960s, she still makes truly excellent music today, like last year’s If All I Was Was Black (written and produced with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy), where Mavis offered up everything she excelled at half a century ago in a way that felt refreshing and modern. That’s no easy feat.

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BON IVER

Bon Iver is always exciting, but Bonnaroo is especially exciting for him because he’s playing two sets and he promises they’ll be different. At this point, he’s got so much different material to pull from — his folky debut, his more polished and fleshed-out sophomore album, his weird and electronic third album, and more — plus he’s been playing some new music live this year. It feels impossible to fully guess what he’s got in store for Bonnaroo, and that’s reason enough to go find out.

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JADE BIRD

UK-based, Americana-inspired singer/songwriter Jade Bird may still be on the small side, but she’s rising rapidly. After recently opening for Colter Wall at NYC’s 500-capacity Bowery Ballroom, she announced another tour with plans to come back to headline that same venue, and it’s easy to see how she’s catching on so quickly. She’s already a confident performer who seems like she has much more experience than she actually does, and her songs (like this year’s “Lottery” single) are very catchy.

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JAPANESE BREAKFAST

Michelle Zauner cut her teeth in the DIY indie rock scene for years, as both the singer of the band Little Big League and with her dream pop-leaning solo project Japanese Breakfast. The latter eventually caught on in a very big way, and Japanese Breakfast is now one of indie’s true rising stars. Her songs have the perfect balance between weird and accessible, and her live shows are more fun and upbeat than you might expect from an artist who gets tagged as “dream pop.”

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ALEX LAHEY

Alex Lahey vs Japanese Breakfast is a really tough conflict, especially since both are up and coming indie rock acts and probably attract a very similar audience, but if you’re able to see half of each, it’ll be worth it (or if you just pick one, either choice is great). Compared to Japanese Breakfast’s atmospheric sound, Alex Lahey is more driving, traditional indie rock with a little bit of a punk edge in there too. She’s got hooks for days and a lyrical style that’s witty, humorous and passionate all at once, and it doesn’t take long to be singing along to every song she’s got.

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MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA

Manchester Orchestra have covered a lot of different musical ground over the course of their career thus far, and while we can’t predict for sure what they’ll do at Bonnaroo, we do know that they just focused on their heavy, grungy side at Boston Calling recently, and they seriously rocked. There isn’t much heavy music at Bonnaroo this year so if you’re looking for that, this is probably one of your best bets.

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DENZEL CURRY

Another tough conflict — though a bit easier than Japanese Breakfast vs Alex Lahey ’cause at least this time it’s a much different genre — is Florida rapper Denzel Curry vs Manchester Orchestra. Denzel is part weirdo tripped-out druggy rap, part aggressive hard-hitting, more traditional rap, and he blends those two sounds in a way that feels fresh, exciting, and not like much other stuff coming out right now. Last year he released the 13 EP, his first release for Loma Vista (which, actually, is the same label that Manchester Orchestra are on), and he’s been planning to put out his first full-length for the label this year. Most details are still TBA, but we can probably count on hearing some new stuff at Bonnaroo.

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TYLER CHILDERS

Somewhere between country and Southern rock lies Tyler Childers’ 2017 debut album Purgatory, which was co-produced by the great Sturgill Simpson (who plays Bonnaroo the same day as Tyler and who recently joined Tyler on stage in Nashville). Not only is the album worthy, his live show might be even better and it’s the perfect kind of show to see in the afternoon underneath the hot sun (he plays at 3:15 PM).

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MOSES SUMNEY

Moses Sumney has a sound that’s nearly impossible to pin down — it’s like an experimental, atmospheric mix of indie-folk and R&B but even that description doesn’t do it justice — but it’s not at all impossible to recognize how talented he is. The songwriting and unique production on his great 2017 debut album Aromanticism (Jagjaguwar) is appealing, but the best part is that voice. He’s got such a distinctly powerful set of pipes, and that comes through live even more than on album.

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NILE RODGERS & CHIC

A festival is always a good place to knock a legendary act off your bucket list, and one of the most legendary acts on Bonnaroo 2018 is Nile Rodgers & Chic, who have been in the midst of a major comeback for the past few years. Between Chic and the other artists that Nile Rodgers wrote/produced for in the ’70s and ’70s, he’s responsible for so many disco and pop classics (“Good Times,” “Le Freak,” “Everybody Dance,” Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” and “Upside Down,” Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”), and he and the current Chic lineup tend to play all or most of those songs at their shows today. His comeback began when he collaborated with Daft Punk for “Get Lucky,” and he tends to play that song at his Chic shows too.

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REGGIE WATTS

Reggie Watts is a polymath whose talent defies easy categorization, and we feel safe in saying he will be unlike anyone else you see at the festival. He blends absurdist comedy into his seriously impressive skills as a beatboxer, singer, keyboardist, and loop pedal manipulator for performances that you may not be able to put into words, apart from unforgettable.

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DUCKWRTH

While festivals are a good place to see legends and arena-level headliners, they’re also a good place for discovery. A smaller artist that’s deservedly been picking up some buzz lately who’s playing Bonnaroo is Duckwrth. He’s part rapper, part funk singer, and his production also pulls as much from ’70s funk/soul as it does from modern day hip hop. If you’re a fan of Anderson .Paak (who we highlighted above), and you’re looking for another act like that, Duckwrth may be your best bet.

EXPERIENCES (COMEDY, KARAOKE, YOGA & MORE)

In addition to all the music, Bonnaroo has wide assortment of “experiences” over at the grounds’ Plaza 9 which this year is being curated by Matt Schulz of Cage the Elephant. There is art, yoga, late night DJ sessions and more. Plaza 7 has a comedy stage (Sasheer Zamata, Sheng Wang, Joel Kim Booster, Melissa Villaseñor, and more), late night karaoke with T Pain, and Jake from Jeff The Brotherhood will be DJing while his brother Jamin will be bringing some of his life-size puppets to the grounds. There are also movies, a Bonnaroo branch of Brooklyn’s House of Yes and lots more.

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