If the theme of Bonnaroo 2017 became a festival trying to balance its own storied legacy with the demands of the modern American festival circuit, then Sunday closed the festival out with a powerful portrait of the Farm's future. Although Bonnaroo made its name by booking arena rock megastars, beloved jam bands, and bluegrass icons, the demographic that cares about those acts is aging out of the festival lifestyle and a new generation of music loving young people are taking their place. If Bonnaroo's final day was any indication, the kid's will be alright.
R&B/Pop megastar The Weeknd
closed out the festival this year, and his headlining performance is a clear blueprint for where Bonnaroo will likely head in years to come. The Weeknd has only been a mainstream pop star for a couple years and has only been releasing music under The Weeknd name for a couple years more than that. Despite that, he can sell out arenas around the country and world. Some Bonnaroo vets prefer their headliners to have more longevity as performers, but The Weeknd is proof that the only thing a headliner has to be is someone that can sell tickets. And considering how many more tickets Bonnaroo sold this year compared to last year, there's little doubt of his ability to draw.
Music festivals have a bias towards rock and hip-hop as headliner worthy acts. In the last six years, the only Bonnaroo headliner that might not be considered "rock" (they're definitely not hip-hop) was Mumford & Sons but anyone who listened to Wilder Mind
now knows the band had a rock album in them. That business model might have worked ten years ago, but the market has changed. 18-22 year olds don't care about dad rock. They want something to dance their asses off to for a couple hours (and maybe a lot more than that if they have the right drugs in their system). The Weeknd may not mean much to the 30-45 crowd who always show up to Bonnaroo in larger numbers than you'd expect, but to tens of thousands of young people, he's the height of post-MJ pop excess. As it turns out, you can have room in your heart for "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Can't Feel My Face."
took to the What Stage before The Weeknd, and if American music festivals can get over their predisposition not to book women as headliners (how has Rihanna not headlined a major American music festival yet?), Lorde will headline one of the major three American festivals within the next five years. Although the beginning of her set was plagued with significant technical problems that delayed her performance for over twenty minutes, Lorde's singular presence as a performer -- a presence that is difficult to reconcile with the fact that she's only 20 years old -- altered the center of gravity of Bonnaroo's main stage. It was difficult to focus on anything but her, her sleek tunes, and the clear fervor her young fans had for her new and old material. Melodrama
drops soon and it's going to light the charts on fire if her crowd's rabid enthusiasm was any indication.
Trap superstar Travis Scott
also showed another angle of the future of Bonnaroo. Bonnaroo hip-hop acts (even incendiary performers like Chance and Kendrick) tend to be cut from the 90s east/west coast molds. They're traditional MCs even if they have non-traditional production and politically charged rhymes. Travis Scott drew a sea of rap heads, and he also showed a sea change in what hip-hop connects with the most young people. Travis Scott is not a notable lyricist, but his dance-heavy approach to hip-hop will be a ticket to print money on the festival circuit for years to come.
Even smaller stage performances marked a new direction for Bonnaroo's future and the future of what Americana festivals may look like. Two country performers -- CAM and Margo Price -- had the first two slots at Bonnaroo's second biggest stage (the Which Stage). CAM's pop sensibilities and ethereal vocals are a reminder that country music can embrace pop elegance without sacrificing intimate immediacy. Margo Price is cut from more of an alt-country mold. If Kris Kristofferson and Patsy Cline adopted a child that smoked too much weed and drank too much whiskey, it would resemble Price. Despite her old school influences, Price also has her own modern pop ear despite the deliberate twang and deeply southern roots of her appeal. And she played to a crowd that was eating up every track and returning most of them with a hearty yell.
The Bonnaroo of the past is dead and is never coming back. If you attended Bonnaroo's with lineups as stacked as 2013 (Paul McCartney, Nas, Tom Petty, St. Vincent, Kendrick Lamar, David Byrne, The National, motherf***ing Bjork), it may feel like a tragedy. But the world changes. Music changes. You have to learn to embrace the transformations. Bonnaroo is different. It's a constantly changing beast. Being purchased by Live Nation will do that to a festival. But, for now, it's reputation as a musical haven is not in doubt.