Bonnaroo’s Best Bets: 10 Acts To See At The Fest!

Eminem and Lil Wayne top the bill, but there are plenty of other worthy bands to see.

If, for some reason, you weren’t aware of it by now (perhaps you don’t read Relix magazine on the regular?), the 10th annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival kicks off Thursday (June 9) in its spiritual home of Manchester, Tennessee, bringing with it tens of thousands of voracious music fans, a whole lot of creatively griddled arepas and some seriously wasted Wookies, too.

And while some say this year’s lineup — topped by the likes of Eminem, Lil Wayne and Arcade Fire — strays too far from Bonnaroo’s generally crunchy roots (you know, aside from bands like Widespread Panic, My Morning Jacket and the String Cheese Incident), the true beauty of Bonnaroo has always been in its ability to provide something for everyone, even if that something is “watching basketball in an air-conditioned theater” (yes, Game 5 of the NBA Finals will be shown).

That’s especially true of this year’s bill, too, which is teeming with talent. And so, as we prepare to head down to this year’s ‘Roo, we’ve decided to put together a list of 10 must-see acts, our favorite bands on the bill not named Eminem or Lil Wayne. Because the headliners get all the love (and everyone’s going to check them out anyway) — it’s time to let someone else shine.

Best Coast
When? Thursday, 7:15 p.m., the Other Tent
Why? Their Crazy for You was one of 2010′s best surprises: a hazy, lazy collection of lo-fi surf rock that also managed to capture classic California pop hooks. Most of the credit is due to frontwoman/mastermind Bethany Cosentino, who, in addition to being a cat obsessive (always a plus in our book), wrote the tunes and possesses a preternatural pop sensibility. Did we also mention she’s best pals with Hayley Williams?

Dam-Funk & Master Blaster
When? Thursday, 1 a.m., This Tent
Why? Dusty, lusty, loced-out electro courtesy of Damon Riddick, California’s self-proclaimed “Ambassador of Boogie Funk.” Steeped in the hazy traditions of West Coast G-funk (and the smoove sonics of groups like Shalamar), Riddick’s at his best when the lights are down low, which makes his 1 a.m. Bonnaroo set all the better. As a bonus, he’s backed up by his cracking live band, Master Blaster. Yet another reason why sleep is overrated.

Wanda Jackson
When? Friday, 5:45 p.m., the Other Tent
Why? Why not? She’s the Queen of Rockabilly, a legend who’s been making music for more than 50 years now, scoring no-nonsense country, pop and gospel hits along the way. And she’s showing no signs of slowing down, either. In January, she released The Party Ain’t Over, a whip-smart collection of roiling rockabilly produced by none other than Jack White. Oh, and she once dated Elvis Presley. Swag.

Florence and the Machine
When? Friday, 6:45 p.m., This Tent
Why? By now, you know who she is. And you’ve probably downloaded her album. But if you haven’t gotten the chance to see Ms. Welch (and her Machine) live, well then, there’s probably no better place to do so than at a giant summer festival. No matter how big the stage, there’s an intimacy to the most minimal moments of her set, and when Flo powers up her formidable pipes (like on “Dog Days Are Over” or “You’ve Got the Love”), the outpouring of joy is practically too huge to be contained. So, yes, it will sound pretty excellent in a gigantic field. On drugs.

Big Boi
When? Friday, 12:45 a.m., the Other Tent
Why? Dude, it’s Big Boi. Not only is he Southern rap royalty, but his 2010 album Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty was one of the year’s best , full of wacked-out funk (“Shutterbugg”) and wide-screen weirdness (“General Patton”), cameos by everyone from Yelawolf to George Clinton and enough trunk-rattling funk to fill three Outkast albums. And live, he more than matches its sonic wallop, getting soulful, silly and downright stanky.

Portugal. The Man
When? Saturday, 5 p.m., That Tent
Why? Their upcoming major-label bow, In the Mountain in the Cloud (due July 19), is one of the year’s best rock efforts, brimming with angst, atmosphere and angular, indie-leaning guitars (for a taste, check out the 13-minute short film they just premiered on IFC). You’ll be reading much more about them in the months to come, so why not check them out at Bonnaroo? You will hold supreme bragging rights over all your friends. Trust us.

My Morning Jacket
When? Saturday, 8 p.m., What Stage
Why? Yeah, we know, they’re not exactly up-and-comers, but if you consider yourself a music fan, then you owe it to yourself to experience MMJ at Bonnaroo at least once in your lifetime. Over the years, they’ve seemingly harnessed the vibes of the fest to produce some downright epic shows, including a near four-hour marathon gig in 2008 that’s become a thing of taper lore. As a bonus, their brand-new Circuital album totally rips.

Dr. John with the Original Meters and Allen Toussaint
When? Saturday, 12:30 a.m., That Tent
Why? The kind of once-in-a-lifetime show that Bonnaroo has become famous for over the years, it’s a trio of New Orleans legends performing the Good Doctor’s classic 1974 Desitively Bonnaroo album in its entirety. And yes, that’s the inspiration for the fest’s name. Combine all that with a slightly magical after-midnight set time (which, as anyone who caught Dr. John’s “Night Tripper” show at Bonnaroo 2006 can attest to, genuinely means something), and you’ve got the makings of a truly epic experience.

The Mardi Gras Parade
When? Saturday, 2:15 a.m., the campgrounds
Why? An annual Bonnaroo tradition, featuring floats, bands and all manner of debauchery. The official word from the fest is that it won’t be happening this year, but we’ve heard the opposite from a few sources. We hope the latter is true, since it’s one of the highlights each year. Guess you’ll just have to show up and see…

Robyn
When? Sunday, 4:30 p.m., the Other Tent
Why? No offense to any of her contemporaries, but for our money, Robyn is the best pop star on the planet , a hard-working, genre-busting force responsible for some of the most memorable electro-tunes in recent memory (and three of the best albums of 2010 , too). Live, the bittersweet Swede harnesses all that hustle for a show that’s sweaty, sexy and, above all, uplifting. Not to be missed.