The 11th Annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival rolls into Manchester, Tennessee this week, bringing in 150 performers to its 10 stages and 80,000 campers to soak it all in. The larger-than-life four-day festival will consume 700 acres of farmland in the small town June 7th-10th. This year’s bill boasts headliners Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Phish, and the Beach Boys and comedic performances by Aziz Ansari, Steven Wright, and Reggie Watts.
In a recent telephone press conference, old school rocker Alice Cooper, Jack Antonoff of the indie-power pop breakout act Fun, and Canadian singer-songwriter Feist chatted with reporters about the upcoming festival.
Cooper performs his first Bonnaroo in a Saturday midnight time-slot in That Tent, one of the fest’s main stages. He promises a full-out high-energy show complete with his infamous guillotine act. “If you’re in the first 20 rows, you’ll probably get some blood on you,” he says. “My band has the instructions to kill the audience.”
They’ll be “killing the audience” with a continuation of last year’s show, the same show Cooper is presenting at several festivals on his 2012 “Terror Tour.” Cooper intends to inject a few additional songs like “Caffeine” or “Runaway Train” to the set list, “but we’ll still do ‘Bite Your Face Off,’” he says.
Cooper is looking forward to playing for Bonnaroo’s young crowd, an audience who he suspects has never seen an Alice Cooper show. “I just hope that this generation gets a big shot of testosterone because a lot of the bands just don’t seem like they want to be rock stars,” he says. “I can’t wait to kill this audience because they’re not expecting me at all. I think they might be expecting the old scary, skinny guy.”
Jack Antonoff, whose band Fun has become a recent sensation with the popular hit single “We Are Young,” first took the stage at Bonnaroo in 2005 and has played the fest three times in different bands. He describes the 2005 performance as a magical, life-changing experience. “It’s really like no other festival, like no other shows,” he says. “To this day I’ve never had a show like that.”
Reminiscing on that, Antonoff says it is nearly impossible to describe the feeling of playing in an outdoor tent to 10,000 people. He says it became a “glimmer of light” that he’s continued to strive for. “So when we plays shows, whether I’m consciously thinking about that night in 2005 at Bonnaroo, or whether it’s just the feeling of that night, I’m always trying to get there,” Antonoff says. “[Being] back at the scene of the crime seven years later and still making music in a band that I love is so emotional and so special.”
Antonoff says they have a few tricks up their sleeves to make this a “next-level-type” show for Fun. He hopes for it to be their best show of the year, one they’ll talk about for years to come. Fun takes the stage in That Tent on Sunday.
Canadian singer-songwriter Feist, who is a member of the indie-pop outfit Broken Social Scene, brings her solo act to Bonnaroo for a Friday set on Which Stage. Having played Bonnaroo in 2007, which she described as a “fun, sweaty, chaotic show,” along with a handful of other festivals, she has learned to adjust her performance to work in an outdoor setting.
“When you’re on a festival stage, there are certain things that will just completely get swallowed by the wind and get carried off into the breeze and not be audible if you’re playing a really sensitive, dynamically quiet ballad song,” Feist says. “I don’t try to reach for those extreme subtleties [at a festival] even though in a way it’s sort of a misrepresentation of what I do.”
She describes festival sets as being so unpredictable that they can become a bit of a challenge. Taking into account the weather and other possible on-stage catastrophes, she says it can sometimes feel like riding out turbulence. “There can be a lot of pride in riding those scenarios out,” she says. “And when half the power on the stage goes out, and all you’ve got left is drums and the lead vocals, you can turn it into something worthwhile while everyone else is scrambling around fixing whatever the problem is.”
Feist hopes to have time to check out a few acts from this year’s diverse lineup, including Alice Cooper, Kenny Rogers, Tune Yards, and Bon Iver.