One of the more interesting recent additions to the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival is the tradition of having someone curate a stage for the day. In 2011, Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz curated a Global Gypsy Punk Revue that included Jovanotti and Omar Souleyman. In 2010, Ozomatli curated a Latin tent. In 2009, Talking Heads frontman David Byrne curated a stage.
As we love the concept and hope to see it continue for the next ten years of Bonnaroo’s development, here are ten people we would love to see be given a chance to curate a stage. Some are musicians, some are not, but all have exhibited an interesting knowledge of diverse music and a willingness to collaborate with others.
Comedian Stephen Colbert has made waves several times over the last few years with the rare but notable inclusion of musicians on his popular Colbert Report show on Comedy Central. The famed “Colbert Bump” has brought a lot of attention to a number of artists, enough show that it recently crashed Jack White’s Third Man Records website temporarily from excessive traffic after he appeared on the show. Letting Colbert be responsible for choosing a day’s worth of artists and allowing him to Emcee the stage between acts would make for an interesting day at Bonnaroo.
When the artist lineup for Bonnaroo 2011 came out, many people thought we might be getting a Jack White curated stage as White produced artists Wanda Jackson, Loretta Lynn, and Karen Elson were all there. Alas, the artists all played on different days and White did not appear on stage with any of them. But the excitement that just the rumor of a White collaboration generated on the ground at Bonnaroo is all the proof we need that Bonnaroo organizers should make it official and let White have a stage for the day to feature artists and collaborate as he wanted.
Steven Van Zandt
Little Steven Van Zandt is the guitarist for Bonnaroo 2009 headliners Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and is a legend in his own right from that. But he has also made fame as an actor in HBO’s popular Sopranos series and, more importantly for this venture, as the host of Little Steven’s Underground Garage, a weekly radio program that features up and coming and established underground artists. On the show, Van Zandt has shown an almost encyclopedic knowledge of interesting lesser-known bands and a passion for promoting good music wherever he finds it. What more could you ask for from a stage curator?
My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James is well known for his interesting collaborations with everyone from M. Ward to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Both within My Morning Jacket and through his collaborations he has shown a willingness to shatter genre conventions to create something new. Letting James have an entire day to present music that inspires him could make for an interesting combo.
Comedy legend Bill Cosby has always been connected with the music world. His popular 80’s sitcom The Cosby Show featured tons of musical guest appearances from legends like Louis Armstrong and B.B. King and Cosby has always been an out-front advocate for black musicians. We know the list of legends he admires is long and impressive but it would be interesting to let him have a stage to promote younger artists as well. Having someone with the name recognition of Cosby acting as Emcee for a day would be a major get for Bonnaroo as well.
Les Claypool is the Kevin Bacon of Bonnaroo. He has collaborated with so many Bonnaroo artists that you can practically connect any two historic Bonnaroo performers by eventually tracking their collaborations with Claypool. It’s long been a running joke among Bonnaroo fans that you could actually fill an entire day of one tent’s performances just by booking all of the Claypool fronted bands that have played Bonnaroo over the 10 years. With that level of willingness to sit in and collaborate, you can be sure any Les Claypool curated stage would feature tons of sit-ins and interesting one-off shows.
Steve Vai is best known as the guitar shredding metalhead who is part of the famed G3 touring series. But Vai is so committed to diversity of musical freedom that he co-created the record label Favored Nations to allow amazing musicians to explore their musical rabbit trails without the pressures of a label looking for consistency with what made them famous. The results have been some very interesting records from the likes of Marty Friedman, Eric Johnson, and Tommy Emmanuel. Allowing Vai to curate a stage, with or without Favored Nations artists, would be an interesting exercise in musical freedom.
Synthpop pioneer Thomas Dolby has been pretty much absent from the album scene for the last 10 years or so but that doesn’t mean he’s been missing. Dolby is, among other things, the musical director of the annual TED conference, where he often brings in interesting and unique musicians for performances, often sitting in with their performances. With a new album coming out later this year and a number of interesting musical collaborations in the last year, the time to let Dolby bring the innovation he always books for the TED conference to Bonnaroo.
Best known for his film Buena Vista Social Club, Ry Cooder is a musical sponge, taking in practically every genre of music and processing it through his own lens. His 2010 collaboration with The Chieftains produced San Patricio, an album that seamlessly mixed Mexican and Irish music into a fun blend. Allowing Cooder to show off his many musical influences by curating a Bonnaroo stage would make for a very eclectic but fun day.
Pogues frontman Spider Stacy is a pioneer in the Celtic Punk genre but has also displayed a surprisingly deep knowledge of more traditional Irish music, collaborating with a number of legendary Irish artists such as Ronnie Drew. Allowing Stacy to book a stage of Irish music that interest him would be a definite change from the usual Bonnaroo acts and might make for some memorable times on the farm.
Who would you like to see curate a Bonnaroo stage? Let us know in the comments section.