A listenable guide to some of the yearly festival's most notable acts
The annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival kicked off Thursday, ushering in a long weekend of concerts and camping in a middle-of-nowhere 700-acre farm in the Manchester, Tenn.
The label “coolest” is, of course, entirely subjective, but for those attending the festival, let this guide aid your last-minute scheduling and decision-making about conflicting set times.
For those who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) brave the dirt and the outdoors this year, just kick back with TIME’s Spotify playlist featuring both the festival’s biggest bands and the acts that may not be on your radar yet.
Kanye West: After a lavish, country-hopping wedding weekend with Kim Kardashian last month, you’d think Kanye West would still be in the middle of an equally lavish country-hopping honeymoon — but, no, he’s back to work, bringing the hit-packed set of his Yeezus tour to the Bonnaroo crowds on Friday night. Don’t be surprised if his recent marital bliss makes usual show-closer “Bound 2” seem even more celebratory this time.
Chvrches: Lauren Mayberry has degrees in law and journalism, but as the frontwoman for Scottish synthpop trio Chvrches, she’s found the job that most suits her: rock star. Reviews of their live show — hitting Bonnaroo Friday night — match the buzz surrounding their debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, and Mayberry’s delicate voice sails over their full arsenal of keyboards.
Elton John: The glittery stage show of the piano-playing icon is in some ways an unlikely choice for Bonnaroo given its dirty hippie-heaven reputation, but with a career spanning five decades and a just-completed Vegas residency under his belt, it’s obvious the guy knows how to put on a show. Good thing there are no conflicts during his set on Sunday: John has lately been revisiting his 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
First Aid Kit: Ah, youth — Sweden’s Johanna and Klara Söderberg are only 23 and 21 years old, respectively, but the sisters, who play the festival on Saturday afternoon, have already released three albums of clever folk-pop to critical acclaim. Their latest, Stay Gold, found the longtime Bright Eyes fans heading to Omaha to once again work with Bright Eyes member and producer Mike Mogis.
Neutral Milk Hotel: The brainchild of Jeff Magnum reunited last year after going on hiatus around the turn of the millennium, but don’t let the reunion’s extension into 2014 make you complacent about catching the Friday set from the band behind In the Aeroplane Over the Sea — the band warns on its website that the remaining dates in the calendar year will be their last for the foreseeable future.
Disclosure: A sibling duo hailing from just outside of London, brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence have been making beats since the days of MySpace. Their career really hit its stride, though, with the release of their debut album, Settle, propelled by “Latch,” an icy collaboration with rising star Sam Smith, and the hypnotic, AlunaGeorge-assisted “White Noise.” They’ll be on hand to keep the party going as Friday turns into Saturday.
Frank Ocean: Bonnaroo may be a just a pitstop for some acts in the middle of massive tours, but Ocean’s calendar for 2014 is fairly light in comparison to some of his Bonnaroo peers. That’s probably because he’s working on new music, which he may preview during his Saturday set — and which may give him the edge over his time slot’s competition: the Flaming Lips, a Skrillex-led SuperJam and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.
Chance the Rapper: On the strength of just two mixtapes, Chicago’s 21-year-old Chancelor Bennett has made a name for himself combining a cartoonish flow, Chicago’s musical heritage and poignant lyrics about gun violence in his hometown — the nickname “Chiraq” pops up here. If you can stay awake for his 2:30 a.m. set on Friday night (a.k.a. Saturday morning), don’t expect him to reprise his cover of the Arthur theme song.
Jack White: If a 2014 music festival finished and Jack White didn’t play, did it really happen? The man is almost everywhere on the summer circuit this year, but he’s far from skippable, especially in the wake of his sophomore solo effort, Lazaretto, which at once feels like a throwback to his White Stripes days and a forward-thinking smorgasbord of American blues-rock.
Ms. Lauryn Hill: The Fugees alumna’s return to regular performances after spending much of the 2000s keeping a low-profile was surrounded by plenty of drama — and that was before she served time for tax evasion last year. Yes, Saturday festival-goers may have to endure delays, erratic setlist additions and new material that misses the high bar she set for herself in the 1990s, but most critics seem to agree: at the end of the day, she’s still Lauryn Hill, and she’s still got it.
Warpaint: Summer tour dates could almost be a victory lap for the women of Warpaint, whose latest eponymous album earned plenty of praise — and whose core members celebrated a full decade together this past Valentine’s Day. Their dark, lush tunes might not seem like the most immediate pick for the festival’s final day, but it’s on stage — where many songs had their origins in soundcheck writing sessions — that the new material is most at home.
Die Antwoord: Okay, so South Africa’s most bizarre hip-hop exports extol being uncool with their Zef philosophy, but that’s what makes them so interesting to watch on stage — even after some fans caught on to the joke and moved on. Ninja and Yo-Landi act like they couldn’t care less, but anyone who’s caught their performances in support of the totally bonkers $O$ and Ten$ion knows the two are dedicated to delivering a tightly choreographed dose of booming, sweaty weirdness. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, just go with it.
Banks: Jillian Banks, who helped kick off the festival on Thursday night, hasn’t even released her debut album yet — Goddess arrives in September. But ever since her slick electro-tinged R&B made it to SoundCloud and snagged her an opening spot for Drake pal The Weeknd, she’s been one to watch at festivals like Coachella. Her Aaliyah cover has been a crowd-pleaser, but her London EP stands on its own.
Pusha T: The Virginia rapper, who also played Thursday, got his start as one half of the duo Clipse with the help of Pharrell, but these days Pusha T rolls with the GOOD Music posse of Kanye West, who handled much of the production on his acclaimed 2013 solo debut, My Name Is My Name. He and Pharrell still team up from time to time — catch them on Future’s “Move That Dope,” one of the best songs of the year (so far).
Missing from Spotify: Chance the Rapper’s mixtape, Acid Rap.