This spring music fans from around the country will be packing tents, sunscreen, and hopefully deodorant, and heading to Manchester, Tennessee for the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. While the rest of the country must wait until June 7th to enjoy the festivities, Nashville locals will get an early taste of great music by musicians who enter a contest for the chance to perform on the illustrious stage.
There are three rounds of competition, each called 8 Off 8th, which happens on Monday on the Mercy Lounge nightclub stage, each featuring eight hopefuls who hope they have the ability to wow the crowd with three song sets that showcase their ability to play along with big names at Bonnaroo like Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beach Boys, Skrillex, and Ludacris. Last year, the 3 winners of The Road to Bonnaroo were Chancellor Warhol, Cheer Up Charlie Daniels, and Uncle Skeleton.
The series is presented by BMI, the Nashville Scene, Mercy Lounge and the Bonnaroo Festival itself, and gives music lovers the power to decide who will rock out on the 700 acre farm. Attendees at the shows vote on site and hold 50% of the deciding power, while local music journalists, bloggers and hosts of Nashville’s 8 off 8th showcase share the power with the other 50%. And even though all performers can’t win, they all do get the opportunity to perform in front of a wildly receptive crowd.
Sadly the shows don’t feature samples of the whiskey caramel laden Ben & Jerry’s Bonnaroo Buzz, but all 21 and over concertgoers will be able to wet their whistle as the bar with $1 off all Yuengling and New Belgium products.
The first round of Road to Bonnaroo featured a diverse lineup that included winners By Lightning!, electro hip-hop duo Sam & Tre, positivity slinging soul singer Laura Reed, Colorfeels, Quichenight, TOY, The Hollywood Kills, and Brandon Jazz.
The Monday night crowd got extremely hyped during the Sam & Tre set, as party rapper Tre spit rhymes that got the crowd jumping, while his dj partner Sam backed him with the assistance of his brother KidsMeal, who is a leader in Nashville’s electronic music scene. There was a radical change of pace when the petite singer/songwriter Laura Reed took the stage with a mission to radiate positivity, with a soulful sound that would attract fans of Lauryn Hills and Erykah Badu.
The diverse crowd was unanimously won over when Colorfeels took the stage. But to the band’s dismay, they played two minutes longer than the 15 minute time limit and they allegedly played four songs instead of three, even though their manager asserted the third song included a extended outro. None-the-less, they were disqualified despite winning the votes of the audience and the judges. After the disqualification, By Lightning replaced them as the new winner of the first round of Road to Bonnaroo.
The second round featured Americana sweetheart Nikki Lane, Keegan DeWitt’ new pop side project Wild Cub, Evan P. Donohue, edgy pop band Five Knives, funk master Marquee Mayfield (formerly ReLapse), The Running, Static Revival, and Indie rock band Tesla Rossa.
Five Knives is a female-led band with erie electro-pop songs songs that are not for the faint of heart. Lead singer Anna Worstell went full throttle as she shouted the choruses to an attentive crowd. The band also consisted in four band members pounding drums to keyboard synthesizers while wearing skinny jeans and black skull bandanas over their mouths. Fans who would trade bubblegum pop for edgier bands like Crystal Castles and Sleigh Bells will not be frightened by the new aggressive attitude of Five Knives. Fresh off a performance on the opening night of Nashville Fashion Week, the electronic rock group provided a powerful female voice that would be hard to forget.
Evan P. Donohue returned to the Road to Bonnaroo stage for the second year in a row, and he brought a lot of surprises with him. The young indie-pop musician, backed by The Weeks, opened up the night and he wasn’t afraid to show his Elvis Costello and Of Montreal influences. He ended his set with a duet with Nashville’s Caitlin Rose who excited fans of indie and country music. Evan P. Donohue got his start wowing students at Belmont University, but his impressive tales of love and life’s journeys have attracted a whole new world of fans.
Nikki Lane was the final artist to perform at round two of Road to Bonnaroo, and she might well be the biggest name known outside of Nashville thanks to appearing in Vogue and having her music played on NPR. The country darling moved to Nashville to record her debut album which features an old style country sound. Even though she was closing the night, she still brought decided energy to the room as she joked with the crowd with banter like “I’m high too...unless you’re an officer” and “this next song is about a cheating bastard”.
The Running brought a funky mix of rock and ska to the night, plus one of the biggest fan bases of the night. The grungy band entertained a cheering crowd that featured sign holders and a dancing grandma. Marquee Mayfield definitely would have won if the contest was based on the best brass section. They brought the funk that would attract acid-jazz fans of Jamiroquai, with a performance of pop fusion sound complimented by horns and bass lines. Tesla Rossa brought their indie rock vibes and guitar power to the stage, while Static Revival seemed confident in their role as long haired southern rockers as they took the stage with no new frills, but just their best music.
As awesome as all these bands might be, the second round winner of the Road to Bonnaroo 2012 was Wild Cub. Singer Keegan DeWitt has paid his dues in the music industry by composing scores for films that have been nominated for the independent film Spirit Awards and New York Times Critic's Pick, participating in Daytrotter recording sessions, and earning the spot of one of the 10 best solo artists of 2010 by Paste Magazine. At the South By Southwest festival this March, Keegan DeWitt introduced his new side project, Wild Cub and Road To Bonnaroo was the first show back in his hometown. Keegan showed off well crafted melodies and unbridled energy as he sang, played the guitar and drums. The band Wild Cub may be new, but the long experience of its members definitely makes them well deserving to play at Bonnaroo this summer.
There’s just one chance left for one lucky band or performer, when Round 3 of The Road To Bonnaroo takes place on April 16th on the Mercy Lounge stage. The first two rounds of Road To Bonnaroo has created a lot of excitement, and the final round will most definitely continue to showcase Nashville talent at the highest possible level.