With Black Friday come and gone and the first batch of Bonnaroo early bird tickets sold, Bonnaroo rumor season begins in earnest. If the festival follows past trends, never a sure thing with fests like Hangout and Firefly doing surprise early drops, the initial lineup should be revealed in January or February. Bonnaroo hasn’t said if they’ll be bringing back their annual clue game but, if so, that should begin in December. Until then, fans can only speculate on likely artists based on recent trends and tour dates.
One trend that can always be counted on at Bonnaroo is the classic rock headliner. In recent years, Bonnaroo fans have gotten sets from Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Elton John, and Billy Joel to satisfy their classic rock cravings. But who could be the 2016 classic rock headliner? Some potential acts, such as Iron Maiden and The Cure, are already more or less ruled out due to conflicting tour dates. But these five classic rock acts are currently free Bonnaroo weekend.
The Who’s current tour ends on May 29th in Las Vegas, just a couple of weeks before Bonnaroo. While it’s uncertain if the Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend-led classic rock titans plan to do anything beyond those dates, two weeks is close enough to have the band still in touring shape, the road crew still employed, and the band in prime position to close out their tour with a huge 90,000 person blowout.
Dead & Company
Bonnaroo organizer Jonathan Mayers said in a Reddit AMA in March that the festival made a run at getting the Grateful Dead “Fare Thee Well” show to headline Bonnaroo 2015, but were turned down when the band decided to headline their own series of dates. So it seems probable that Bonnaroo bookers could have taken another shot by offering a headlining stage to Dead & Company, which consists of Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann with John Mayer and Oteil Burbridge. Dead & Company have been headlining arenas this Fall and, while their current slate of shows ends on New Years Eve, there’s been a persistent rumor that feedback has been positive enough to convince the band to book dates into 2016.
While many Bonnaroo fans balked at the idea of Metallica headlining the festival in 2008, their energetic show won most of the audience over. Currently, Metallica isn’t touring and only has one show scheduled for 2016, in February, but Bonnaroo has been utilizing exclusives to set themselves apart from the crowded festival scene in the last couple of years, with both Billy Joel and Elton John being festival exclusive gets in their respective years. Metallica almost always plays a few shows per year so their tour production and touring shape isn’t an issue. Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo spent time on The Farm in 2015 to promote his new film Jaco and participating in the Superjam, so organizers have been in contact with at least some portion of Metallica’s management team in the last year.
With dozens of music festivals littering the American music landscape, you’ve got to do something big to set yourself apart. U2 would certainly fit that definition of big. One of the few touring acts who regularly fill football stadiums, the Irish rockers would make a huge statement for Bonnaroo, especially if they got them as an exclusive. The thing that has always made U2 unlikely for Bonnaroo is the massive stage show they bring with them on tour, but the band’s 2015 Innocence+Experience Tour was a stripped down version, for U2 anyway, and could easily fit Bonnaroo’s What Stage. U2 currently has no tour dates set in 2016 but do have a huge HBO special coming in December that would be great lead in to a tour announcement or Bonnaroo one-off in January.
Neil Young last played Bonnaroo in 2011 as part of the reunited Buffalo Springfield, but hasn’t headlined the festival since 2003. Young has no tour dates scheduled past November, but he headlined AC Entertainment’s new Wayhome Festival in 2015 and Bonnaroo has been shown to book bands far in advance before, so a 2016 Bonnaroo headlining slot being part of the negotiations isn’t out of the question. Certainly Young would be a huge get for Bonnaroo’s long-time fanbase and would be a good nod to the festival’s early years on its 15th anniversary.
Bonnaroo 2016 will be held June 9th-12th, 2016 at Great Stage Park in Manchester, Tn. Discounted early bird tickets are on sale now.
What classic rock headliner would you like to see play Bonnaroo 2016? Let us know in the comments.