Does Bonnaroo Lineup Stray Too Far From Roots With Eminem, Lil Wayne?

Festival splits the difference between new acts and old, in a nod to its future and past.

On Tuesday (February 15), organizers announced the lineup for the 2011 Bonnaroo festival , a bill featuring plenty of nods to the fest’s past (mainstays Widespread Panic, My Morning Jacket and the String Cheese Incident, to name a few), but also — most notably — two of the biggest hip-hop acts on the planet, Eminem and Lil Wayne.

Browse photos of the 2011 Bonnaroo performers.

And, sure, mainstream hip-hop headliners aren’t exactly new for the ‘Roo — Kanye West topped the bill in 2008, and Jay-Z did it last year — but the tandem of Em and Wayne marks a definite departure for the 10-year-old fest, one that members of its die-hard fanbase may have a hard time digesting, if only for the fact that it’s such a departure from the days of old.

When West took the stage at 4:30 a.m. in ’08 (a scheduling snafu he blamed, in part, on Pearl Jam running late with their set), those die-hards howled that Bonnaroo had moved too far from its roots. That deafening din was only amplified by the fact that the festival also featured Metallica as a headliner . And while we don’t expect the same kind of outrage this year, we have to wonder if, by tapping the likes of Eminem and Wayne, Bonnaroo had forever alienated the fans who made the festival what it is today.

The answer, it seems, is no.

“I first went in 2004, and even then the ‘traditional’ fans were already saying it’s too commercial, it’s BS, and that was when the jam-band scene was huge,” Caine O’Rear, editor of American Songwriter magazine, said. “I think you’ll have some purists who will complain, but overall, people will be psyched about the lineup. … Jay-Z was one the most well-received acts last year, which I think was a surprise to most people. [Widespread] Panic is a flagship Bonnaroo band, plus String Cheese Incident, My Morning Jacket … it appeals to this core demo. [Organizers] definitely consider the festival’s roots.”

“I think, as a fan, I’m excited by this year’s lineup,” Josh Baron, editor of Relix magazine, added. “Once again, they’ve delivered a pretty unique lineup of programming. You’re not going to find these same acts together at any other festival in this country, if not the world, and that’s something [Bonnaroo organizers] always strive to do. And in this 10th year, they’re hyper-conscious of honoring their roots with a band like Widespread Panic, but also pushing the envelope with acts like Eminem and Wayne. … I don’t think this lineup is going to lose any more fans than they have past years; this isn’t the year that Bonnaroo jumped the shark. People who had that problem probably left the festival years ago.”

And perhaps that’s always going to be the catch-22 as far as Bonnaroo is concerned: It is such a beloved institution — one that started in 2002 as a way of showcasing so-called jam bands and the flourishing community that surrounded them — that die-hards are always going to complain about the lineup. It’s sort of an annual tradition. And as organizers push the festival into its second decade, they’re always going to have to weigh the will of their original fans with the ever-evolving tastes of new audiences.

“There’s no question [organizers] consider the festival’s history when they put together the lineups. You’re always going to see those core types of bands — Phish, Dave Matthews, Panic, the Dead. … They unequivocally know those are the fans that made the festival. They travel considerable distances to make the Bonnaroo experience what it is,” Baron said. “But part of what makes a festival is that it allows people to see music they normally wouldn’t. I wouldn’t buy a Lil Wayne ticket, but I’m excited to see him in concert, and Eminem is an undeniable performer. And as much as there’s a backlash to a band like Metallica, if you were there, it certainly wasn’t as if it was empty. There were tens of thousands of people watching Metallica.”

“Clearly they’re hitting the big demos this year — hip-hop, big indie, a lot of the big Americana acts — because I think a lot of people who go to these festivals have eclectic tastes,” O’Rear said. “And I think Bonnaroo is better for it.”

What do you think of this year’s Bonnaroo lineup? Let us know in the comments!