It doesn’t matter if you’re out in the massive camping fields of Manchester, Tennessee this weekend or sitting on your bed with an iPad and a livestream of the events -- there's still only one of you, and there will still be times when there are two (or more!) must-see Bonnaroo performances occurring at the same time. When these things happen, your options are limited: You could flip a coin, or check out whatever your friends are watching, or see what’s getting better buzz on Twitter. But for the over-planners who want every aspect of their festival schedule planned out in advance, we’ve put together a solid analysis of who should go see what, when, and why.
The conflict: If you like country-folk songwriting with an arty, independently-spirited edge, you probably have both Wilco and Jim James tattoos somewhere on your body. The question is, do you love Jim James’ recent Regions of Light and Sound of God more than you love Wilco’s greatest hits? Because on his most recent shows, James has been playing the new album in its entirety, front-to-back, while Wilco has been loading up a setlist that stretches from AM’s “Should’ve Been In Love” from 1995 to Wilco (The Album)’s “One Wing” from 2011.
Once you’ve figured out that bracket, put the winner against some counter-programming: The Wu-Tang Clan, very possibly with the rumored ODB hologram. Regardless whether Ol’ Dirty shows up in a laser-light form, though, Wu Tang’s sets are always expansive collections of the songs you came to hear – “C.R.E.A.M.,” “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin’ To Fuck Wit’,” “Gravel Pit,” etc – and highlights from the members’ various solo albums.
How to decide: If you’re at Bonnaroo with a beard or a loose, ankle-length skirt, go see your favorite between Wilco and Jim James. If not, rush to the Wu-Tang stage.
Friday, 11:30pm – 2am
The conflict: The XX, ZZ Top, and RZA all draw heavily on letters from the back of the alphabet, but other than that, they have little in common. Still, kinda weird, right? In any case, this decision probably rests on what the rest of your evening plans are: the XX wrap up at 12:45 in the morning, which – if you’re calling it an early night – would probably be a downright lovely way to cap off your Friday night. If you’re planning on heading over to the Animal Collective set at 2am, meanwhile, you should get your adrenaline up. Whether that means a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see RZA lead a group as diverse as Schoolboy Q, Solange Knowles, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Earl Sweatshirt into a wild posse set or a more pedestrian performance from ZZ Top is up to you.
How to decide: If you’re going back to the tent early, check out the XX and then tuck yourself in. If you’re staying up all night, as undeniable as the “La Grange” riff might be, how many chances are you going to have to see an all-star set like the RZA superjam? Go see that.
Solange vs. Death Grips
Saturday, 2:15 – 3:15pm
The conflict: Both Solange and Death Grips occupy the fringes of contemporary hip hop, which means that if you’re interested in challenging music, you’ve probably got a lot of time for both acts. Unfortunately, Bonnaroo isn’t giving you time for both of them -- Death Grips take the stage ten minutes before Solange, and they both end at 3:15, so you can only catch one.
How to decide: Do you want to dance or do you want to mosh? Solange and Death Grips may both play on the more confrontational, experimental side of things, but where Death Grips can get downright noise-rock, Solange is still pretty funky. You can shove a stranger to Death Grips’ “Fuck That,” while Solange’s “Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work” has a shuffling beat you can nod your head to.
Saturday, 11:30pm – 1:30am
The conflict: This might be the meanest schedule conflict at Bonnaroo. Even though R. Kelly, Billy Idol, and “Weird Al” Yankovic have nothing in common musically, the fact is that part of the enjoyment most Bonnaroo attendees are going to get out of each act’s set is going to be ironic. Everybody wants to say they saw R. Kelly/Billy Idol/”Weird Al” – but which one do you actually want to see?
How to decide: Which one do you like with the most sincerity? “Ignition (Remix)” is a perfect song, of course, but will you be able to keep a straight face if Kels drops “Sex Planet” in the set? Once you’ve heard “Rebel Yell” and “White Wedding,” will you be bored with Billy Idol? How well do you remember being a 13-year-old “Weird Al” Yankovic fanatic? The answer to these questions will tell you what set to check out.
The conflict: Fans of challenging, dark rock music have a contemporary icon in the National up against one of the living legends in the form of David Byrne, paired with St. Vincent. In the interest of counter-programming, though, Bonnaroo also threw A$AP Rocky onstage at the same time, and few American audiences have had the chance to take in his LongLiveA$AP set -- he’s been tied up in Europe most of the year. Meanwhile, there’s a wildcard in the form of The Hangover’s Ed Helms leading a bluegrass superjam that, who knows, could feature appearances by, who knows, Kendrick Lamar and Tom Petty and David Cross or something. Bet you’d feel like a dummy if you missed that.
How to decide: The odds that Ed Helms’ set is going to be more than a novelty act are pretty slim. Go see that if you hate challenging, dark rock music and blog rap.
Tom Petty vs. leaving early.
The conflict: Congratulations! You made it through a four-day camping/music/couch-drinking/probably-some-pills-or-molly-or-something-but-we’re-not-judging binge! You’ve seen some of your favorite acts from around the world. Now, to cap off the entire festival, you’ve got the chance to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tear through a set of their greatest hits! Or, if you’re as tired as just typing this paragraph has made us, you can pack your tent early and head out to bring the time you’ll be sleeping in your own bed that much closer.
How to decide: Close your eyes real quick, and picture yourself sitting on a blanket in a field, clapping your hands along with a massive group of people who are all singing “American Girl” after a very long and fun weekend. Now blink twice, and do the same thing, but imagine you’re at home in your bed getting ready to queue up some Netflix. One of those probably sounds awful to you, and the other one sounds like your idea of heaven. Pick the one that sounds like heaven.