Putting together a great music festival lineup in 2023 is a much different proposition than it was in the past. Years of market saturation — even with an epidemiological fallow year — have led to homogenous lineups and events competing to remain distinct in order to attract the ever-dwindling consumer dollar. Epitomizing this struggle has been one of the largest, most beloved music festivals in the US: Bonnaroo.
The Manchester, Tennessee gathering has been held at Great Stage Park — affectionately known as The Farm — since 2002. Thanks to two years of cancelations, 2023 will mark the 20th edition of the fest, a landmark moment for an event seen as the prototype for large-scale North American festival experiences. Once the gold standard, Roo has had its share of stumbles in the last decade, notably dipping in attendance in the mid-2010s as the result of weaker lineups signaling an identity crisis.
What began as a jam band festival had shifted over the years to a more generally rock-centric event. As hip-hop began dominating the charts and electronic music festivals took a controlling share of the market, Bonnaroo sought to blend in. The lineups became hodgepodges, attempts to please everyone that fully satisfied too few.
2018’s bland headliners and 2019’s confused undercard showed a festival trying to find itself again. After Live Nation bought a majority stake ahead of 2020, things ironically were looking up with arguably the strongest bill in years. That event was of course called off, and while ’21 was a strong middle-of-the-road approximation of that much-hyped bill, Hurricane Ida forced a last minute cancellation for the second year in a row.
Returning in 2022, Bonnaroo brought a mixed bag: Stevie Nicks became the first female to officially headline, while strong draws like Tool and J. Cole made for an applaudable top line. But with a bunch of good-not-great lower bookings that again seemed to be targeting anyone (Roddy Ricch? Machine Gun Kelly? Illenium? LANY?), it was a letdown considering what could have been the two years prior.
Which brings us to 2023. Announced on January 10th, this year’s lineup might have actually figured out how to be the elusive “something for everyone” by taking all Roo’s past attempts and cramming them into one. That makes it still something of a mishmash, bouncing between genres and generations in ways that, on their face, might come off unbalanced. It’s the particular names within this potpourri of bookings, however, that make Bonnaroo 2023 the culmination of all Bonnaroos past.