Awesome arguments abound for why U2 should headline Bonnaroo 2010, and any arguments against the proposition could be turned into reasons why it’s still a great idea.
The best case for bringing the boys to Bonnaroo might be how infrequently U2 have ever played the Volunteer state: opening for J. Geils at UT Knoxville in 1982, headlining the Murphy Center at MTSU in Murfreesboro on the Joshua Tree tour in 1987 (around the same time they Rattle and Hum film crew went to Memphis), and bringing the spectacle of Popmart to Memphis in 1997. Atlanta has always been U2’s mid-south staple, and the current 360 dates for summer 2010 only include one southern date in Miami.
The second best case for U2 addressing the throng that assembles each summer in Manchester would come from the Bonnaroo organizers and their commitment to attracting top-tier rock performers. If U2 does not get the nod and play their first Tennessee show in over 13 years, whoever takes the What Stage on Saturday night will likely be one of U2’s elder peers like The Stones, The Who, or Paul McCartney, a true peer like Green Day or R.E.M., or one of the younger pretenders to their throne, a band like Coldplay or The Killers. Tennessee homeboys Kings of Leon have already played day set on the mainstage at Bonnaroo, and it’s likely too soon to bring them back as the main act.
The third premise for U2 at the ‘roo has already been floated to defend the Glastonbury decision: reaching out to a younger audience and even expanding the band’s already enormous fanbase. Clearly, Bonnaroo goes for the righteous blend of hippie and hipster, adding to its jamband roots a plethora of jazz, world music, reggae, electonica, and indy-rock; U2’s globally-minded musical and social spirit could actually do quite well at such a gig. If sluggish sales for No Line On The Horizon and casual demographic surveys of the crowds at 360 shows are any indication, it would not be all wrong for a band with U2’s impressive resume to reach out to the crowd that comes from around North America to for this top-shelf event.
Bonnaroo regulars return each summer not just for the impressive array of artists but for the experience itself, its particular convergence of the communal and the cosmic, from the sometimes treacherous logistics to the frequently transcendent memories. Many of us would love to add a U2 set to a long list of Bonnaroo bests.
Fan-author and devout U2 follower Cathal McCarron understands the potential beauty of U2 bringing its noise to a major festival. He comments about the Glastonbury decision: “This is the best bad news I’ve ever heard. I’ve been to Glasto eight (or nine, it’s hard to remember) times. I’ve have been to the Pyramid Stage watching headliners like Radiohead, Coldplay, Paul McCartney, The Killers, The White Stripes, and God knows who else, and usually thinking about just how much U2 would demolish the place. And then they go and announce this for one of the two years when I’ve not got a ticket! The atmosphere by the Pyramid Stage for the headliner at Glasto is beautifully, almost indescribably, electric. It’s a genuinely magical experience; there really is something special in the air there—just a few days after the summer solstice and just a few miles down the road from Stonehenge. The atmosphere is going to be far and away better than the atmosphere at some regular U2 gigs.”
The common-sense argument against U2 joining the festival movement at this juncture seems to stem from the apparent incompatibility of U2 fans with the types of folks that go to festivals. Given my extensive experience at both Bonnaroo and U2 shows, there’s plenty of truth to this claim. But just this kind of cross-cultural experience (even if it is only across mostly white, privileged rock-fan subcultures) might serve both U2 fans and Bonnaroo fans very well.
Of course, some U2-haters would denounce such a decision, just as U2-hate is currently clogging the comment threads on some UK newsites where the Glastonbury tag has been noted. Doubt anything could rival the hate Bonnaroo fans had for Kanye in 2008. The worst U2 could get is a mediocre reaction like the Police did in 2007, but that was mainly because Sting was whiny from the stage and the set was criminally short.
notwithstanding, U2 are not hippies, and U2 fans are definitely not hippies. But Bono can certainly play well with hippies as he did as Dr. Robert in the film Across The Universe. If this rumor comes to pass and U2 are announced as Bonnaroo headliners, Maybe U2 Fans immediately starting another rumor. For a band that has been accused of safe, corporate business decisions, unclawing the megatour for some festival dates represents a brave move. For the true U2 fan, every day on tour is our own private Bono-roo, but going to Glastonbury is an Edgy decision of Adamic revelation and risk, taking our private Larrypalooza to a larger public.
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