Bonnaroo 2012 Preview – Tickets Still Available!

A Van Halen tribute band? In a coveted Saturday late-night spot at Bonnaroo 2012?

With Skrillex playing late night on the Which Stage, perhaps the organizers (or his management) didn’t want to put another electronic act opposite him. If so, then Bonnaroo succeeded at giving the rest of the crowd a group of shows as far removed from the style of Skrillex as possible. However, it is likely that those people will still be able to see the lights of Skrillex’s mammoth production from anywhere on the grounds – even clear across Centeroo, at That Tent, where the Van Halen tribute will, presumably, actually be happening.

Despite some opposition to the relatively tame late night schedule and an (arguably) conservative undercard, this year’s lineup actually epitomizes Bonnaroo and compliments the way this gigantic event will happen over four dramatic days in June. There always seems to be a method to the festival’s madness when it comes to scheduling, and this year is no different – no matter how brutal the Bon Iver/The Shins/Young the Giant/fun./Civil Wars conflict looks on paper. Here’s what the planners have provided, and just a few ways you can benefit.

Option 1: Stay a While – While wandering is a must with so much amazing music, there are still plenty of reasons to have a one-stage day. After a Friday morning pick-up with Steven Bernstein playing Sly and the Family Stone tracks, there’s a fine mini-festival with a bluegrass/folk/Americana vibe at The Other Tent: The Infamous Stringdusters, Sam Bush, Trampled By Turtles, and Dawes. If you can’t walk another step on Sunday, the main field (What Stage) is the place to be. There will be plenty of room, since lots of people start to head home on Sunday morning, and the Phish fans splayed about waiting for the festival’s grand finale will be nice and mellow. Plus, the progression of music is one of the best of the weekend: Gary Clark Jr. will play during lunch, the legendary Beach Boys are sure to compliment a (hopefully) sunny afternoon, Bon Iver should be one of the highlights of the weekend, and there’s no safer bet than Phish to bring the whole rumpus to a rousing climax. Oh yes, there will be fireworks. Other good times to camp out: Thursday at The Other Tent for hipster madness (The Cave Singers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., White Denim, Phantogram) and Saturday at That Tent for a possible black clothing convention (Pelican, Bad Brains, Flogging Molly, Puscifer, Danzig Legacy).

Option 2: Keep It Moving – Moving around all day is alternately rewarding and limiting. You can see more bands in one weekend than once seemed possible. But you WILL get tired, and rarely will you get the full experience of an individual band. Instead of enjoying a great set, your brain might run amok, triggering fervent glances at your schedule and preventing focus on the music you’re hearing. You can find a happy medium – just bring along snacks and fluids so you won’t have to miss a minute. How’s this for a Friday: shake the cobwebs out with Ben Howard (1:45 PM, That Tent), feel the wrath of Sharon Jones scorned (3 PM, What Stage), hang out at the Sonic Stage and catch quickies with Soul Rebels (4 PM) and Punch Brothers (4:45) before heading back to What for The Avett Brothers (5 PM). Then the hiking really starts. Feist (who should offer her more upbeat material, having recently lamented that quieter material often doesn’t  translate in festival settings), Ludacris, and St. Vincent all perform in a 3-hour span, and you’ll traverse the whole of Centeroo if you want to see it all and get back in time for Foster the People (8:45, Which Stage). After Radiohead’s inevitably epic headlining set (10 PM), make haste all the way across the grounds again to catch a rare performance from The Word (Midnight, Other Tent) and finish your journey with whatever is going to happen when Umphrey’s McGee takes the This Tent stage from 2 AM until. Get through Saturday, and if you’ve got the energy left to solve Sunday’s puzzle of pre-Phish shows – Young The Giant, fun., The Shins, Bon Iver, The Civil Wars, Ben Folds Five, Kenny Rogers, The Beach Boys, City and Colour, The War on Drugs, and The Antlers, among others, all within a span of 5 hours – then you will have truly attained Roo enlightenment.

Option 3: Be a Pit Master – The euro-style pits at the front of the festival’s two largest stages, which are cleared after each act, can be a great way to see big names up close. Waiting in line isn’t as much of a drag as you’d think – there is other music, beer, friends, etc – and the payoff is large. While you’ll have to do some planning to get in the pit for biggies like Radiohead, Phish, and Skrillex, the pits are often wide open during shows where demand is lower. Check out the pit info in the festival guide, and try strolling up to the stage on the extreme right or left side during acts like The Roots (7:30 PM Saturday, What Stage), Punch Brothers (4 PM Saturday, Which Stage), or Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings (3 PM Friday, What Stage). The people in control of the pits employ a “one out, one in” policy, so traffic tends to flow as shows progress.

Option 4: Make Your Own Damn Festival – Moaning about Skrillex or Red Hot Chili Peppers is pointless; you don’t have to hear them. Perhaps no other festival gives attendees so many opportunities to choose their own path. You can go all weekend without hearing anything that might offend your delicate sensibilities. If you’re an unrelenting Phishhead, try this baker’s dozen: Orgone, Moon Taxi, SOJA, Big Gigantic, The Word, Umphrey’s McGee, The Roots, Superjam, ALO, Dispatch, Sharon Jones, The Beach Boys, and Phish. If you’re feeling old and in the way among all the college kids, shuffle around to The Beach Boys, Kenny Rogers, Sharon Jones, Colin Hay, Sam Bush, and Alice Cooper. But beware – during a recent Bonnaroo press conference, Cooper sounded as focused as ever and said he’ll tell his band to “kill the audience” just like he always does. Bluegrass and acoustic music fans will be stretched thin attending dozens of different shows, and electronic music maniacs will need all the energy they can muster to keep up a schedule of Silent Disco interludes and DJ sets between shows from SBTRKT, Flying Lotus, MiMosa, Big Gigantic, Little Dragon, Major Lazer, and Battles.

Of course, the possibilities are infinite during this entertainment smorgasbord. One could crawl the café stages, taking in intimate shows from emerging acts like Rubblebucket, The Deep Dark Woods, and Jukebox the Ghost; strike out on a quest into the unknown, seeing only acts unfamiliar (face it, you and few hundred friends could have a communal discovery at the Pedrito Martinez late night); or hear whatever happens to cross your ears as you chow down at food trucks, wait for comedy shows, and hustle for autographs at the CD tent. Unless attached at the hip, no two people will have the same experience at Bonnaroo. Jack Antonoff, whose band fun. will have the last word at That Tent on Sunday, knows all too well the unique power Bonnaroo has to foster magic. At the aforementioned press conference, he called his shot and summed up the event, saying “All I can think is that it’s going to be our best show of the year and probably one of our best shows of all time, and probably something we’re going to talk about forever.”

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