Hayes: How lineups epitomize the cultures of Bonnaroo and Coachella


Bob Hayes, Opinion Editor

As the snow continues to fall on our frigid Evanston campus, we can hardly fathom the idea of spending a weekend in the sun listening to our favorite musical acts, yet the past week’s lineup announcements for Bonnaroo and Coachella — two of America’s most culturally significant annual music festivals — have already delivered the early excitement and obligatory dissent months before gates open.

Although it seems that every year, festivals across the nation offer relatively homogeneous lineups, music fans can always count on the two giants to host acts that few other festivals have the resources or allure to draw. Regarding both headliners and depth, this year’s Bonnaroo and Coachella lineups epitomize the long-standing cultures of the two festival experiences, for better or worse.

Taking place over two April weekends in Indio, California, Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival marks the perennial beginning of America’s festival season. A Google Maps search makes the location appear in the proverbial middle of nowhere, but the festival’s proximity to Los Angeles and San Diego draws thousands of nearby metropolitans.

Subsequently, the gaudy, self-absorbed yet unquestionably hip culture of the region takes over Coachella. In recent years, the festival has taken on an unprecedented social media presence, with pictures of Indio sunsets enveloping young adults’ network feeds. While the festival goes on, coverage seems to center more around fashion than the music itself.

Obviously, a festival’s choice to advertise its attractive skies and attractive people is reasonable marketing, but I have always felt that Coachella and its attendees have a shameful tendency to shout “LOOK AT US. WE’RE COOL” from the rooftops. As cool as the festival experience is, Coachella has a bad case of what I like to call “Urban Outfitters syndrome”: If you have to keep telling everyone you’re a hipster, you’re trying too hard.

Meanwhile, the annual mid-June festival in actual middle-of-nowhere Manchester, Tennessee, is the guy who doesn’t need to tell you he’s cool — he has his friends to do that. As many major festivals expand to two weekends to augment already exorbitant profits, Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival has stayed true to its form and maintained its exceptionally isolated experience. All my friends who have attended the festival count the magical weekend as one of the best of their young lives. Coachella has fashion blogs and mega photo albums. Bonnaroo has an irreplaceable experience.

It undoubtedly sounds like I despise Coachella compared to Bonnaroo, but, more generally, I feel the two festivals offer extremely distinct cultures that cater to different audiences, as we see in the lineups.

The headliners immediately jump out for both festivals’ lineups, as they offer the biggest names of any festival in the world. Bonnaroo leads with Billy Joel — its annual classic megastar, following Elton John, Paul McCartney and Tom Petty over the last couple years — along with wait-wasn’t-he-just-here (yes, he was just two years ago) Kendrick Lamar as a headliner. Right away, Bonnaroo fans noticed a significant lack of depth in the lineup, while many of the big names are unfortunately not fresh names on the festival scene.

Coachella responds with an appealing old-timer in AC/DC as well as Jack White, who played Bonnaroo in 2014. Most notably, the festival’s Sunday headliner is … Drake, one of the last hip-hop acts I had ever thought I would see headlining a major festival. The rapper’s presence in the lineup dominated social media complaints, but to me, Coachella and Drake exist within a similar vein of musical consciousness: Their showy, celebrity-obsessed persona and occasional missteps are frustrating, but they ultimately represent great products at the forefront of music.

All things considered, for the first time in a few years, the Coachella lineup beats out its counterpart in my mind. Particularly in my favorite genres, Bonnaroo plays it safe with recycled acts while Coachella pushes the envelope with an unbelievably deep offering in virtually every genre. Most noticeably, Bonnaroo — whose fans often criticize the festival’s EDM acts — plays it safe with deadmau5, Bassnectar and Flume, while Coachella offers an extremely impressive slate of DJs, featuring too many exciting names to list.

More than any other festival, the folk- and indie-dominant Bonnaroo knows what it is and doesn’t care to change that. Call it stubbornness or being true to itself. The Tennessee festival knows its draw is in the experience of being there and subsequently offers some solid acts while ultimately not upsetting the regulars.

Coachella brings the hot, high-energy acts to draw the young southern California crowd. Although the hip, celebrity-centric Coachella lineup tops Bonnaroo’s decent but uninspiring offering for me this year, it is difficult to complain about any lineup featuring the talented acts that Bonnaroo offers, and any regular will tell you that the experience on “The Farm” means more than the performers on stage.

In the end, as you make plans to see your favorite musicians at festivals this summer, it is impossible to go wrong with either of these two cultural giants.

Bob Hayes is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].