The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival is hoping to rebound from its worst attendance ever last year, and organizers are betting on a sound that’s a little different than what made the fest famous.
This year features more electronic artists, DJ’s and rappers than at any point in the fest’s 16 year history.
While the event has always been eclectic, the sound associated with Bonnaroo has often come from bands like Grateful Dead spinoff Dead and Company who finished off last year’s fest.
This year, the closer on Sunday is pop superstar The Weeknd.
“The new bookers are clearly trying to appeal to a more diverse audience or a broader audience,” says Lucas Shaw, an entertainment reporter for Bloomberg.
Shaw believes the shift is largely due to influence from C3, the company behind Lollapalooza. The former rival to Bonnaroo joined the group responsible for this year’s lineup.
“If the sense was, 'whatever happened last year didn’t work,' they needed to do whatever they could to make sure more people showed up this year,” he says.
Part of the change is physical. Bonnaroo transformed one of their longtime stages into a space strictly dedicated to DJ’s and other electronic performers.
Bonnaroo founder Ashley Capps says spotlighting the genre is intentional.
"We’ve certainly focused on developing that aspect of our programming this year," he says. "From the very beginning, the philosophy of booking Bonnaroo has always been about embracing change."
It’s still unknown whether all of the changes have made a positive impact on ticket sales. The fest does not release those figures.
But Shaw says the problems facing festivals could be deeper than who’s headlining.
"So far this year, we’ve seen more dramatic closures or things of that nature, just signs of trouble in the music festival business," Shaw says. "There are just so many now that there are a lot of bigger festivals that are struggling to do as well as they once did.”