Has Bonnaroo Gone Too Mainstream? Organizers Say No

A general view of the atmosphere at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival on June 9, 2016 in Manchester, Tenn.

With U2, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Weeknd and a collection of pop, hip-hop and EDM headliners, Bonnaroo has veered more sharply than ever from its origins as a jam-band festival in a dusty Manchester, Tennessee, field. You have to drop down to the fifth line of the 2017 poster to find a heavily improvisational rock band — Umphrey’s McGee — which is unusual for the festival, even in recent years.

“Historically, the Sunday-night band has been that classic-rock jam band, and that certainly is going to be different this year,” says Dean Budnick, editor-in-chief of Relix magazine, which is devoted to The Grateful Dead and its successors. “There’s no doubt about that.”

Adds a high-ranking concert-business source: “This might have been the year where there wasn’t the perfect [headliner] that sort of fit that hippie mold.”

Bonnaroo drew some 45,000 fans last June, a 46 percent drop from its peak in 2011, and organizers were undoubtedly under pressure to fix the problem quickly. (Live Nation, the world’s biggest promoter, bought a controlling interest in the festival in 2015, then purchased one of its founding promoters, AC Entertainment of Knoxville, Tennessee, late last year.) U2, which recently announced a stadium tour, had been informally discussing the possibility with Bonnaroo organizers for two or three years until the timing finally clicked in.

Although festival headliners in recent years have…