Last week, we began a series highlighting some of the lesser known acts playing this year's Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Our first post shined a light on Thursday's under-appreciated acts, and now it's time to take a look at the Friday line-up. Friday is the day that Bonnaroo really kicks into gear with its first headliner, Sir Paul McCartney, and plenty of huge stars including Wilco, Passion Pit, Of Monsters and Men, and Wu-Tang Clan. If you're goal is to avoid the crowds, let us point you in the direction of some really great emerging and talented acts playing this year at the Farm.
With a voice like Adele and a songwriting style akin to Fiona Apple, it's easy to see why Jillette Johnson has so many people excited. This New Yorker starlet grabbed my attention from the opening notes of "Cameron," from her EP Whiskey & Frosting and didn't let go until the album came to an end. Her debut LP is due out in June and anticipation is high to see if it matches the high quality of her EP. A lot of the bands that are going to end up on this list may appeal to niche subgenres, but Jillette Johnson is going to make a large impact with her emotional and highly confessional songwriting when her debut LP drops. Count on it.
2. Charli XCX Friday: The Other Tent (2:15 PM - 3:15 PM)
Expectations were high for Charli XCX's debut album, True Romance. With her striking visual aesthetic and slew of great internet singles, some were wary that we might have another Lana Del Rey-style disappointment on our hands. Thankfully, that didn't happen, and True Romance has become one of the great synth-pop albums of the year. Charli XCX played at the Hype Hotel this year where Baeble partnered with Hype Machine and she put on a truly electric set. If she can bring the energy to Manchester that she brought to Austin, Charli XCX could make for one of the best sets of an absurdly stacked Friday line-up.
3. Reptar Friday: The Other Tent (12:30 PM - 1:30 PM)
Hailing from Athens, GA, eccentric rockers Reptar are another band that Baeble grew to love down in Austin. Playing our 2012 SXSW show, Reptar instantly endeared themselves with their quirky sensibilities and playful tunes. One listen to fantastic single, "Sebastian," and it's easy to hear the influences of bands as diverse as Modest Mouse, Animal Collective, and Talking Heads in Reptar's synth-driven, danceable tunes. As one of the bands ringing Friday in, Reptar's infectious songs should put a skip in the step of even the most stubborn festival-goers.
Every year Bonnaroo puts together a Spotify playlist of the bands playing at that year's festival. It's an easy way for people to work out their schedules if they don't have time to listen to multiple cuts from each band playing. And, one of the tracks that instantly bowled me over was "Breathe You in My Dreams" by Brooklyn songwriter Trixie Whitley (of band Black Dub). Her voice is simply astounding and her lyricism is striking and mature. Her debut solo full-length, Fourth Corner, has just been released and it will be exciting to see how it stacks up to her EPs and "Breathe You in My Dreams" which has been getting a lot of play thanks to its soulful gravitas.
I'm probably stretching the definition of unknown here because jazz fusion pioneer John McLaughlin has been making music for decades. But as far as being someone whose presence may have escaped the notice of most of the youngest festival goers, he certainly fits the bill of under-appreciated. McLaughlin played on multiple Miles Davis records in his prime and as a solo artist has gained considerable renown for his guitar playing with Rolling Stone naming him one of the top 50 guitarists of all time. He'll be playing with his band, the Fourth Dimension, this year and their album, To the One, is compelling spin on jazz fusion/guitar rock, and I highly recommend his set to any jazz heads at the festival.
6. Ex Cops Friday: New Music On Tap Lounge (8:00 PM - 8:50 PM)
With a high-profile tour this summer, Belle & Sebastian were consistently brought up as potential Bonnaroo acts for this summer's festival, but like Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, they were nowhere to be seen when the final line-up was announced. Well, if you can't see Belle & Sebastian this summer, why not check out Brooklyn art rock band Ex Cops whose harmonies seem reminiscent of everybody's favorite Scottish art-rockers. Singles "James," "Ken," and "You Are a Lion, I Am a Lamb" recall the post-punk revival stirrings of the early aughts/late 90s. It's a shame their set ends so close to the beginning of Paul McCartney because they're definitely worth checking out.
One of the things that Bonnaroo likes to do is to devote one tent for at least one day to primarily playing world music. This year, it's the That Tent on Friday, and the highlight of that series will be world music favorites, Amadou & Mariam. However, earlier in the day, Nigerian guitar phenom Bombino will be playing a set that will be sure to invigorate all guitar aficionados in the audience. Unless you speak the regional Tamashek language, you'll probably have no idea what he's singing about (African politics mostly), but you can stand in awe of his guitar wizardry. When a guitarist can gain favorable comparisons to Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix, you know he's good.
8. Luxury Liners Friday: New Music On Tap Lounge (12:00 AM - 12:50 AM)
On Saturday, Bjork and Beach House compete in what will easily be one of the toughest decisions of the festival. So, if you wind up choosing Bjork but still want to catch a band that sounds similar to Beach House, why not check out Baltimore dream pop act Luxury Liners. Sounding like the male version of Victoria Legrand, Carter Tanton (formerly of Lower Dens) makes gorgeous, ambient pop, and although this set competes with Wu-Tang Clan, if you're wanting a peaceful end to your Saturday on the Farm, Luxury Liners tranquil pop will bring your evening to a soothing conclusion.
9. Alanna Royale Friday: New Music On Tap Lounge (12:00 PM - 12:50 PM)
Female fronted blues revivalist acts are starting to make a mini-comeback lately with the Alabama Shakes and Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers. Bonnaroo is presenting another one of these sets with Alanna Royale. A local Tennessee act, Alanna Royale is a band composed of seven people and brings a jazzy side to their blues rock with a healthy appreciation of how much a dedicated horn section can liven up a set. Songs like "City Limits" have a retro-appeal without letting the nostalgia overwhelm good song-writing, and as one of the earliest acts of Friday, Alanna Royale fills the long tradition of showcasing great talent from America's South.
At last year's Bonnaroo, a set from "livetronica" outfit Big Gigantic provided a perspective-shifting experience on the possibilities of "dub"-influenced electronic outfits. It was nice to be reminded that not all "dubstep" acts are "bro-step" like Skrillex. Electronic rock act Conspirator have the bass-heavy productions one might associate with dub but they also have enough intricate melodies and soaring production tricks to win over even the biggest dub haters. If you're a weirdo and don't like Wilco, Jim James, or The xx, head on over to the Other Tent for what should surely become one of the biggest parties of the evening.