Bonnaroo 2023 – The Bottom Line


It seems like you can’t say the word “Bonnaroo” to a stranger without getting a response that goes something like “OH, Yeah, I was THERE IN… Insert year.”

I attended Bonnaroo for nine years in a row, the last being in 2015, and one of the biggest things I’ve grown to understand is that Bonnaroo is infectious.

Even after I stopped going, I would still anticipate it each year and part of that anticipation is the wait for the release of the next year’s lineup.

I can testify absolutely that there’s nothing else like it. Since I’ve been covering festivals, I’ve been to big festivals and small ones, commercial ones and family affairs. I’ve been deep in the woods, right on the beach, in Golden Gate Park and Austin, Texas, but no matter where I am, I always wind up comparing it to Bonnaroo.

The Bonnaroo lineup comes every year like clockwork right after Christmas and no matter what kind of music you like, when it finally hits, it’s a bit like unwrapping a Christmas present.

If you’re like me, the first thing you see are the big bands… the ones in big letters, the headliners. Bonnaroo happens over four days, Thursday through Sunday and after you’ve seen the lineups over multiple years you realize the days are carefully orchestrated and these headlining bands set the tone for each day.

The other side of the coin is the bands in small print. These are usually bands I’ve never heard of and this year is no exception. From large to small, the print gets smaller as you move down the page and I’m here to tell you about this year’s fine-print bands.

This is my unofficial 2023 guide to the bands on the Bottom line. I’m searching the interwebs, trying to find what I can about these lesser-known artists to help us know a little about who and what they are.

Even though these artists reside on the bottom of the list in small print doesn’t mean they’re not great at what they do. In every sense, Bonnaroo is the big show and small bands at Bonnaroo are always going to have a unique flavor.

This isn’t a scientific guide, but rather a quick synopsis based on my scan of their digital footprint and a listen of their first couple of videos on YouTube. I’ll listen to their most popular songs and hopefully provide a window into their music.

I don’t recognize any of these bands but that’s not unusual given their place in the lineup and the fact that I was born when Lyndon Johnson was president.

Without any further adieu, here’s my “Bonnaroo 2023, Bottom Line listener’s guide”

Neighbor – If you came this year looking for the Jamband’s of Yore, vis a’ vis Bonnaroo in the early years this is a good place to start. Neighbor are shreddy, talented musicians who write with alacrity. Their music comes across as guitar and drum heavy with a nice dose of keys to spice things up. This is straight rock and roll on the easy, jammy and groovy side that reminds me a bit of Phish in their early days.

Petey – Petey’s biggest YouTube video is a song called “Don’t Tell the Boys.” It’s an odd mix of video cuts a’ la Napoleon Dynamite, paired with a free-form writing style that’s amusing and easygoing. His music sounds part Sunny Day Real Estate and part Death Cab and his live shows sound just as good, full of emotion and vulnerable songwriter driven pieces which leave an impression.

Suki Waterhouse – Her music is ethereal, dreamy and loose. She has quite the following on YouTube at 68,000 with hundreds of thousands of views on her top three songs. My favorite is her song Brutal in which she channels a bit of Dusty Springfield. Her pace is on the slow side and makes me want to sway to the music with a glass of wine in my hand.

Boogie T BTB Dirt Monkey BTB Subdocta – Thump, bang, bounce, bounce, Boogie T is in the house… music. Yes, this is house, drum and bass all rolled up with a splash of reggae and the metronomic beat of a rhino’s heart. It’s not really my thing but I can understand the appeal.

Maddy O’Neal – According to DJ Maddy herself, her “Vibe and soul … combine soundscapes from all across the spectrum of genres.” She doesn’t have a huge following on YouTube but her music is tightly packaged and well mixed and I loved the overlapping horns she used on her mix “Follow Me ft. Balkan Bump.” Unless I’m mistaken, Maddy will be playing late on a chilly evening to a crowd of folks floating like balloons on silver strings.

Jupiter & Okwess – “Jupiter and his band Okwess” – And now for something completely different. This music is definitely on the “other side” of Bonnaroo and plays well toward the radical diversity Bonnaroo has managed to bring through the years. According to his Sound Cloud account, Jupiter Bokondji is a 48 year old Kinshasan who cut his musical teeth in Berlin as the son of an African diplomat. If you want to get a sense for how this music moves, listen to “Mexico is my Land, (Mixtape)” on his YouTube channel. What I can say is this music grabbed me immediately and didn’t let go and I’ll be there.

NotLö – The best way I can describe this is as straight techno, drum and bass music with a driving rhythm and unrelenting beat. It’s fast, busy, heavy and a bit neurotic and should serve to keep one of the tents pulsing late into the evening.

Danielle Ponder – “The kinkier the hair, the deeper the roots” Danielle Ponder has a mélange of great qualities which she blends easily on her debut album, “Some of Us Are Brave.” Her music is beautiful and solemn, varied and powerful as is her voice, which I love. Her songs are searching and insightful and the music is bass heavy and delicate. Can’t miss her.

Giolì & Assia – Swinging a big stick on YouTube with their million-plus subscribers, this girl duo describes themselves as “multi-instrumentalists, singer-songwriters, DJ’s and Label owners … in complete control of their creative world.” Their music is bass and keyboard heavy and true to their word, they’re pros at playing their instruments. The drum beats are tight and their flavor ranges from heavy to airy and cinematic. Worth seeing.

Thee Sacred Souls – I love this band. They’re groovy, easy to listen to and perfectly channel hints of early soul and a splash of reggae. This music is super danceable and perfect for getting lost in. They remind me of one of my all-time favorite artists, Desmond Dekker. Listen to their song “Running Away” on YouTube. I’ll be there.

Night Tales – This duo hails form Australia and their music is house based emo / techno, blending drums and live vocals. They’re on the gentler side of house and their vocal harmonies make this show worth the trip.

Hermanos Gutiérrez – These Swiss / Latin brothers, are instrumentalists who’ve forged their own brand of dreamy Latin / Western based music, fingerpicking the hollow-body guitar with lap-steel providing the narrative. Their music is slow paced and original and evokes images of sand, rattlesnakes, cacti and a lone rider on horseback.

Paris Jackson – Her music does little to evoke her famous father, Michael Jackson, but is unique, brave and satisfying in its own right. Her music and presence are older than her years, perhaps because she’s lived more than most in the short time she’s been here. As expected, her music is solid and well produced, but there’s depth to it that gives it weight and appeal. I wasn’t expecting her, but now that I see her, I’m on board.

Rome in Silver – I couldn’t find a lot of information about this band, even on their own website, but this EDM selection has tour-dates galore and a full catalog of mixes on Soundcloud. Give them a listen and judge for yourself.

My top picks from this list, whom I’m definitely going to try to see are Neighbor, Petey, Jupiter & Okwess, Danielle Ponder, Thee Sacred Souls and Paris Jackson.

See you on the farm!

~Fil Manley

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