Chicago – Ah, yes, festival season is in full swing! And for many, the mecca of music festivals is fast approaching. That would be Bonnaroo, of course. The four-day long camping festival in Manchester, Tennessee has long been a favorite among music lovers, who travel from all over the world to get down on the farm. This year, Bonnaroo celebrates “15 Years of Magic.” Bonnaroo 2016 will take place June 9th though the 12th, at Great Stage Park, the spectacular 700-acre farm and event space located just 60 miles south of Nashville, and will host more than 150 musicians, bands, and comedians performing across its 12 unique stages. As usual, Best New Bands is here to help you sort out what up and coming acts you should pencil in. Let’s get started with our Top 10 and a few extra, for good measure!
This Nashville rock band is no stranger to Bonnaroo. Back in 2014, the foursome tried out for the BMI Road to Bonnaroo Contest, and they succeeded, kicking off the fest on its first day. This year, after having signed with a major label and releasing debut album Feels Like – one of the best albums of 2015 – Bully returns to play on opening day, yet again. However, this time around singer Alicia Bognanno, drummer Stewart Copeland, guitarist Clayton Parker, and bassist Reece Lazarus will be playing a much bigger stage, perfectly suited for the band’s monumental sound, over at This Tent, Thursday 7:15 – 8: 00 p.m.
Photo of Bully at Lollapalooza by Sarah Hess for Best New Bands.
This may be the first year this Chicago outfit plays Bonnaroo, but these five are far from festival newbies. Twin Peaks – who released album number three, Down In Heaven, last month – has played Chicago festivals Pitchfork and Lollapalooza, as well as others like Sasquatch!, Governors Ball, Reading, and Leeds, bringing rock and roll to the masses. Known for putting on some wild shows with a sound that mixes old and new, while heavily inspired by David Bowie, The Beach Boys, and The Rolling Stones, Twin Peaks is everything you could want in a band. Let frontman Cadien Lake James, guitarist Clay Frankel, bassist Jack Dolan, drummer Connor Brodner, and keyboardist Colin Croom show you what it’s all about at This Tent, Thursday 9:00 – 10:00 p.m.
Photo of Twin Peaks at Lollapalooza by Sarah Hess for Best New Bands.
Twenty-four year-old Garrett Borns, known better by his stage name BØRNS, has been turning heads since 2014, when the Michigan native released the EP Candy, rich in decadent psychedelic tunes, sprinkled with some indie pop. Last fall BØRNS released his critically acclaimed debut Dopamine, making him ripe for festival season. BØRNS has toured with some heavy hitters, like Bleachers and Charli XCX, but the electric lover is ready to stand on his own at This Tent, Thursday 10:45 – 11:45 p.m.
Photo of BØRNS at Bumbershoot by Caitlin Peterkin for Best New Bands.
Believe us when we say this Chicago six-piece will be your favorite discovery of the weekend… that is unless you’re already hip to Whitney, whose debut album Light Upon The Lake has been called the best album of the summer by music critics. Whitney was formed in 2014 by Julien Ehrlich (drums, vocals) and Max Kakacek (guitar), after the best friends left the band Smith Westerns. Ehrlich and Kakacek are joined by Will Miller (trumpet), Malcolm Brown (keys), Print Chouteau (rhythm guitar), Josiah Marshall (bass), and the seventh member, sound engineer extraordinaire, Mister Charles Glanders. Together these gentlemen create a unique mix of country and R&B, with jazz undertones. The 70s country feel blends perfectly with Ehrlich’s sweet falsetto, which is not to be missed over at the Who Stage, Friday 5:30 – 6:15 p.m.
Photo of Whitney by Sarah Hess for Best New Bands.
Todd Michael Bridges, who is better known by his stage name Leon Bridges, mixes R&B, gospel, and soul with a bit of Southern flair and a touch of doo-wop. The Texas native blew minds with his fabulous song “Coming Home,” which is soaked in retro goodness, yet still manages to feel new and modern. Last year Bridges released his debut, Grammy nominated album, which was praised by critics and earned him comparisons to Sam Cooke. Leon Bridges is a trained choreographer and dancer, who has been celebrated for his powerful live performance. You’d be a fool to miss this star in the making at The Other Tent, Friday 8:15 – 9:30 p.m.
Photo of Leon Bridges courtesy of Columbia Records.
New York City producers Ben “B-Roc” Ruttner and James “JPatt” Patterson have been making some of the best dance music around for ages, but it was only this year the duo released a full-length debut. The album, titled 55, features some of the hottest acts around, from X Ambassadors, Walk the Moon, and Carly Rae Jepsen, to Cam’ron and Fetty Wap. Songs like “New York City,” “I Wish (My Taylor Swift),” and “Classic” will have you singing along and moving to the beat. If you like to shake what your mamma gave ‘ya, then get your dance on at The Other Tent, Saturday 3:30 – 4:30 p.m.
Photo of The Knocks by Sarah Hess for Best New Bands.
By now, we hope you’ve heard of this sibling act, but if not, get yourself out from under that rock! Sisters Alana, Danielle, and Este Haim have been making music since childhood, but it wasn’t until 2012 that the three decided to make their band a full-time thing. HAIM’s Forever EP led to a deal with Polydor Records and the debut full-length Days Are Gone. Along with drummer Dash Hutton, the ladies took the music world by storm. This year, HAIM announced album number two is on its way, so it’s safe to say you’ll hear some new material at the Which Stage, Saturday 7:30 – 10:30 p.m.
Photo of HAIM live at MusicFest Northwest by Chris Davis for Best New Bands.
So yes, Ellie is far from a newbie, but we just had to give this Best New Bands alumna a spot in the Top 10 because we love her so much! BNB first discovered this UK pop star in the making back in 2012, after she released Halcyon, the follow-up to her phenomenal debut Lights. In that time, Ellie Goulding has toured with heavy hitters like Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift, but as of late, she has become a world-wide sensation herself, embarking on an arena tour following the release of her third album, Delirium. Be sure to catch Miss Goulding at the Which Stage, Saturday 9:15 – 8:30 p.m.
Photo of Ellie Goulding by Kristen Blanton for Best New Bands.
KURT VILE & THE VIOLATORS
Alright, here’s another BNB and Bonnaroo alumnus for you. Kurt Vile first broke into the music scene as a member of The War on Drugs, but shortly after the band released its debut album, Vile left to focus on his solo career, which he had been working on long before The War on Drugs, but grew momentum with his 2008 debut, Constant Hitmaker. Since then, Vile has amassed adoring fans with album after album filled with infectious rock and witty lyrics. Last year Kurt Vile & The Violators (Jesse Trbovich, Rob Laakso, and Kyle Spence) turned heads with the incredible song “Pretty Pimpin,” from the album b’lieve i’m goin down. While Kurt Vile & The Violators aren’t all that “new,” Vile and his band are who you should see at Which Stage, Sunday 3:30 – 4:30 p.m.
Photo of Kurt Vile courtesy of Matador Records.
Best New Bands caught this New York indie pop four-piece at Bonnaroo last year, over at The Who Stage. This year brothers Sam and Casey Harris, Noah Feldshuh, and Adam Levin have graduated to a bigger stage, and given the success of debut album VHS, they will surely need the extra room for fans, who no doubt discovered X Ambassadors through radio hits like “Renegades” and “Unsteady” or as the opening act for Muse’s recent arena tour. We’re pretty certain the men of X Ambassadors will soon be headlining their own arena tour, but before then, see this up and coming band at The Other Tent, Sunday 5:00 – 6:00 p.m.
Photo of X Ambassadors at Bonnaroo by Sarah Hess for Best New Bands.
There are so many amazing acts playing Bonnaroo this year, that is was hard to pick just ten, so here are some Honorable Mentions:
Hinds: Communion Stage, Thursday 7:45 – 8:30 p.m.
Andra Day: Which Stage, Friday 2:45 – 3:45 p.m.
Daughter: That Tent, Friday 3:45 – 4:45 p.m.
The Internet: This Tent, Saturday 4:00 – 5:00 p.m.
Sun Club: Who Stage, Sunday 2:30 – 3:15 p.m.
Select tickets are still available for Bonnaroo 2016. Visit the Bonnaroo website for more information.
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.