Ever since Bonnaroo released their mammoth lineup in February, plenty of us have been getting choosy with which artists to catch on the farm. Now that the weekend is finally upon us, though, the bandwagon fans are hopping on board, and plenty of newcomers to the fest’s general encouragement of music discovery may not know which sets are the sets. No, we’re not talking about obvious show-stoppers Kanye West or Elton John (although you’ll certainly spot the Paste staffers at the big sets, too). Nope, every year there are a few bands who half the crowd seems to have never heard of, and the other half seems to be going crazy over. Here are 20 names to know so that when people ask you about the soon-to-be classic sets, you won’t be clueless.
20. The Black Cadillacs
The Black Cadillacs are a hometown band from Knoxville, Tenn., a place where plenty of fest-goers (and organizers) call home and site of a burgeoning arts and entertainment scene. But their popularity with native Tennesseans isn’t the reason to study up on these rock-n-rollers: they impressed us last year at CMJ for their bluesy instrumentals and unrestraint vocals from frontman Will Horton. Their first appearance at their home state’s festival event of the summer is sure to be an occasion for the books.
19. King Khan & The Shrines
Last year, King Khan and the Shrines released their first album in five years, and for a band that gains momentum on-stage via shock and antics as much as their psych-punk sound. Their sound has a soulful vibe, heavy on horns and sun-soaked guitar, and their well-known penchant for making a commotion on-stage is sure to draw in the most casual onlookers to be a part of the party.
18. First Aid Kit
Confesson: I almost didn’t catch the fact that First Aid Kit was on the lineup. Not because I wasn’t anxious to see this Swedish folk-rock duo, whose latest album Stay Gold was just released this week, but because I never expected to find them hidden so far down in the bill. Every year at Bonnaroo there is a band (or two, or five) that plays a set in the middle of the day that’s packed with new fans: last year, it was Of Monsters and Men. This year, I reckon that band’ll be First Aid Kit. Their rich harmonies are informed by classic country and folk as well as Bonnaroo vets Fleet Foxes, and their sound is one sure to fill as large an audience as will have them, converting casual onlookers into raving fans.
17. Chance the Rapper
I’ve been to two festivals this season where Chance the Rapper had to cancel at the last minute—Counterpoint and Hangout—and maybe it’s the apparent rarity of catching the Chicago rapper live, the buzz surrounding his Sasquatch performance or even his freshly announced EP with Childish Gambino that has me so curious about what Chance brings to the stage. Probably, though, the excitement surrounding this performance has the most to do with his quick lyrics, clever references and the sure bet that thousands of other attendees will be as riled up and ready to show up for the performance as he is (that is, if he shows up). Either way, keep an ear out for Chance the Rapper, because it’s likely his will be a name you’ll hear all over the farm this weekend.
16. Diarrhea Planet
We’ll never get tired of telling you to check out Diarrhea Planet, and you’ll never run out of unseemly puns to make about doing so. The Nashville-based band is sure to have plenty of friends in the audience, and for a band that turns every audience into a roaring, dancing group of comrades by the time any set is over, this may be the rowdiest we ever see them. Even if you don’t know them for their well-honed skate-punk-infused guitar rock, it’s worth studying up on the band for the sheer advantage of knowing exactly what your fellow fest-goers are referring to when they say they’re dashing off to catch Diarrhea Planet. Probably.
15. Speedy Ortiz
“It’s not the ’90s that make people want to hold up Speedy Ortiz as hope to go ‘back’ to something,” noted Dan Weiss for Paste last year. “It’s their biting wit and specificity in a soupy indie-rock climate and oversharing pop landscape.” He’s right: their dark lyrics and almost shy quality make for a fascinating juxtaposition with their performances, which reach audiences in a way unlike any other.
We’ve been buzzing about spending Bonnaroo with these California rockers since the second we saw their name on the lineup, and just when we thought their vintage-vibed, sunsoaked sounds couldn’t have us more excited to catch them on the farm, they went and announced a new album this week. Their performance at Bonnaroo is sure to be a shock of warm feelings to a (likely) rainy-day crowd.
13. Sarah Jarosz
has been playing festivals since before she could drive a car. Now, at 23, the Americana multi-instrumentalist has mastered the art to playing to a big crowd and the technical skills on not just the mandolin but the banjo, guitar and vocals to make it a memorable performance.
12. The Weeks
These long-haired Mississippi natives are no strangers to good times and rowdy shows, and having shared bills with a multitude of the other bands on Bonnaroo’s lineup, this set in particular is sure to have a hometown party vibe.
“The elements of the band are simple,” said Paste’s Tyler Kane in early 2012. ”[Vocalist Matthew] Iwanusa has a knack for crafting hummable, reverb-soaked melodies, and the band sets the backdrop with wiry guitars, layered tom-tom beats and treble-heavy synths—think if Fleet Foxes developed an aversion to acoustic guitars and decided shoegaze was more up their alley.”