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Is Kanye West finally welcome back to Bonnaroo?

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Welcome to Festival Outlook, a new supplemental column to Consequence of Sound’s Festival OutlookIn this installment, Alex Young discusses rumors of Kanye West’s possible return to Bonnaroo with CoS contributor Carson O’Shoney.

Alex Young: We all know the story by now: Kanye West showed up eight hours late to his performance at Bonnaroo 2008, put on a below average performance, and has since been banned from the festival. Or — so we thought. Recently, rumors surfaced on the popular Bonnaroo message board Inforoo that Kanye West would return to the Farm in 2014 and the evidence is certainly starting to pile up: Not only does the report come from a pretty reliable source, whose correctly predicted several other headliners in the past, but recently, OutKast announced dates in Europe the weekend of Bonnaroo. Presumably, Bonnaroo wouldn’t book both OutKast and Kanye to play the same year.

From Bonnaroo’s perspective, booking Kanye certainly makes a whole lot of sense. It’d be one of the few festivals to feature someone other than OutKast at the top of the lineup. Not only that, but Kanye has yet to play a festival headlining performance since the release of his latest opus, Yeezus. What better place to make his mark than the festival where he’s been vilified for the last half decade? After all, who doesn’t love a story of redemption?

Obviously, I’m a bit biased when it comes to Kanye and it’s also worth noting that I was not in attendance during the 2008 clusterfuck. But my colleague Carson O’Shoney was, so I invited him to come and talk with me about Kanye’s possible return to the Farm.

First things first, Carson, what were your impressions of the 2008 performance?

Carson O’Shoney: My first impression was that the whole experience was just bizarre and surreal. Taking away all the delays and controversy surrounding the show, it was just a strange sight seeing one of the world’s biggest pop stars take the stage to a half-empty field at 4:30 a.m. in the middle of nowhere, Tennessee. To then play his “Glow in the Dark” tour well beyond the sunrise and end in plain daylight was just absurd. The show itself, despite what some might say, was entertaining if nothing else. I didn’t mind waiting as much as other people seemed to, so once he came on, I was able to just enjoy it like I would any other show. It’s not the best Kanye show I’ve seen by any stretch, but it’s definitely not the “worst Bonnaroo set ever” either.

The setlist was solid even though it was cut short, Kanye seemed unfazed by the pre-show boos and debris thrown on stage, and what (relatively) little crowd that was left seemed to enjoy themselves once he got into the thick of the show. The Glow in the Dark setup didn’t work as well on the farm as it had in arenas that summer even aside from the sunrise, and while I did enjoy some of the stunning visuals and his silly interactions with Jane the Spaceship — I always thought he should have just ditched the whole elaborate setup for a stripped down “normal” set like he ended up doing at Lollapalooza later in the summer. If he had, we could have avoided this whole situation — but he didn’t, so here we are.

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AY: We never really got the full explanation of what happened. It was more of a he-said, they-said situation. Kanye blamed the festival for being disorganized and Pearl Jam for performing an hour beyond their scheduled time. The festival contended they made every accommodation requested by West’s camp. There were some reports that he arrived late to the festival site after attending a birthday party in Atlanta and refused to go on until all other music stopped playing. Kanye countered by publishing a scathing open letter in which he referred to festival organizers as “squid brains”.

FOR OVER A MONTH WE WENT BACK AND FORTH ON WETHER OR NOT WE COULD EVEN FIT MY STAGE AT THE FESTIVAL. ONE DAY THEY WOULD SAY YES… WE’D SEND THEM OUR SPECS THEN THEY THEY’D SAY OK… THEN THEY WOULD SEND SPECS BACK THAT DIDN’T FIT THE STAGE. WE WERE OBVIOUSLY DEALING WITH FUCKING IDIOTS WHO DIDN’T REALLY HAVE THE CAPACITY TO REALLY PUT ON THIS SHOW PROPERLY. THEY TRIED 2 GIVE ME A TIME SLOT WERE IT WAS STILL LIGHT OUTSIDE … I HAVE A FUCKING LIGHT SHOW DUMB ASS, IT’S NOT CALLED GLOW IN THE DARK FOR NO REASON SQUID BRAINS! MY PEOPLE WORKED OUT A COMPROMISED STAGE PLOT AND A 3AM TIME SLOT AND I AGREED. FAST FOWARD TO THE DAY OF THE SHOW. MY PRODUCTION MANAGER TRIED TO LOAD IN FOR 24 HOURS BEFORE I WENT ON STAGE BUT THE FESTIVAL WOULDN’T ALLOW US TO DO ANYTHING UNTILL PEARL JAM LEFT THE STAGE. PEARL JAM ENDED ONE HOUR
LATE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AT THAT POINT WE’RE RACING AGAINST THE SUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Not surprisingly, most Bonnaroovians ended up siding with the festival, turning Kanye West into public enemy No. 1. “Fuck Kanye” and “Kanye Sux” graffiti has been a frequent site at Bonnaroo ever since and the idea of the rapper returning to the festival was as unfathomable as Charles Manson leading a Superjam. Why then, would the festival even consider bringing back Kanye? Time heals all wounds, and in the years since the infamous performance, Kanye has released his two greatest albums. What better way to differentiate yourself from all other festivals with OutKast at the top of the bill then by booking the greatest living emcee? And you know Kanye is going to bring it: he usually produces his best work when his back is against the wall.

What I do wonder is how the general Bonnaroo population will accept him.

radiate positivity Is Kanye West finally welcome back to Bonnaroo?

Photo via April’s Festivals

CO: What I find funny is that lately, the rallying cry of Bonnaroovians has been “Radiate Positivity”. They seem to conveniently forget about that when Kanye comes up. Sure, the “Fuck Kanye” graffiti has become a staple on the farm, but it doesn’t exactly add to the positive vibes they seem to be going for. It has been six years since the Kanye incident – and, like you, I think time heals all wounds. There are some who think it’ll never be the right time, but at this point, I think they’re the vocal minority. On Inforoo and r/bonnaroo, you’ll find some people claiming they’ll never come back to Bonnaroo if they bring Kanye back – but for every one who makes that claim, there seems to be five more who are willing to give him another chance. I think everything will go off without a hitch – those that still feel that strongly won’t show up and will miss out on everything else due to a six-year grudge, while everyone else will have a good time on the farm and can choose to see or not see Kanye’s set – but I suspect it’ll be a packed field.

On one hand, not snagging OutKast for a headlining slot at Bonnaroo would be a big disappointment for some. Those that maybe only go to one festival a year and were banking on Roo being one of OutKast’s 40 festival headlining sets will be missing out on one of the biggest reunion tours of this decade. As a resident of Tennessee, I know I’ll be disappointed if Big Boi and Andre don’t make it to my home state one way or another, and I just assumed Bonnaroo would be where they play. But on the other hand, with OutKast topping lineups at just about every single other major US festival (and even some minor ones), going in a different direction would give Bonnaroo a unique headlining group that could be a draw in and of itself. Aside from the Bonnaroo performance, Kanye has put on some legendary headlining sets at festivals – especially the Coachella set in 2011. That was his first major headlining set at a festival since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy dropped, while this year’s potential Roo set would be his first festival headlining set since Yeezus. It has the potential to be an all-time classic.

AY: I’m in total agreement with you on this one. Everybody likes a good story of redemption and what better than Kanye returning to Bonnaroo for his first post-Yeezus festival appearance. Plus, with rumors of Elton John, Drake, and Chance the Rapper also playing the festival, I imagine he’d have a few tricks up his sleeve.

What I do wonder is whether he’d attempt to stage a Yeezus show, complete with the mountain and massive video screen. If he goes that path, it increases the possibility of another technical snafu. Also, I’m not quite sure if the average Bonnaroo attendee would understand or appreciate what he’s going for with the show. Like, after a 10-hour day bathing in the sun, would they really want to see Kanye reinterpretation of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain? However, if he plays a set similar to the one like he did in Pennsylvania last week, I definitely think he has the potential of delivering a performance for the ages.

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Photo by Joshua Mellin

CO: I’m trying to picture the mountain set up working on the What stage and I just can’t see it happening. I don’t know what alternative he’ll choose, but he’s got a few months between the end of the current Yeezus tour and Bonnaroo, so I’m sure he can come up with something. Whether it’s a stripped down, full band show like Lollapalooza 2008 or something entirely new, I think that would be the better route because it would minimize the chances of a repeat of 2008. This time around he would most likely be a legit headliner, so he could set up in the morning and not have to wait until the band before him finishes – another plus. Anything that distances this set from his last is a good thing.

As far as collaborators go, I’ve learned to not get my hopes up. Lupe Fiasco was playing Bonnaroo the same year as Kanye, and everyone just assumed he would show up for Kanye’s show, but no such luck. In Atlanta on the Yeezus tour, Kanye name-checked 2 Chainz and Lil’ Wayne, who were in the crowd but never showed on stage. Of course, both of those sets were meticulously planned performances with little room for improvisation, so if he brings a new setup to Bonnaroo — those possibilities are indeed tantalizing.

AY: So we’re both in agreement that Kanye performing at Bonnaroo 2014 would be a great thing, possibly historic. But what else are you looking forward to based on the current rumors? I, for one, feel like a Jack White solo set is long overdue. Would also love to see Foo Fighters show up somewhere on the bill, maybe as a 1 a.m. late-night set? All in all, this definitely has the potential to be one of the stronger lineups in recent memory.

CO: A Jack White solo set is indeed long overdue. In fact, after playing Bonnaroo with all three of his bands within a four year span (2007-2010), Jack hasn’t made an appearance since. That would be the best kinda-headliner-but-not-really set I can think of for this year. And I love the Elton John rumors and hope that it’s true. For some reason he is one of those legacy acts that never gets talked about in festival discussions – mostly because he never plays them – but it makes perfect sense. Can you imagine the mass singalong that an Elton John set on the farm would cause?

There seems to be an abundance of big non-headliner bands that could end up on the farm as well – Phoenix, Vampire Weekend, Interpol, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Avett Brothers, Arctic Monkeys, The Flaming Lips, etc. Even if only half of those end up on the lineup, that’s still a fantastic slate of subheadliners. Then there’s the tantalizing smaller acts floating around to fill out the undercard – Run the Jewels, Omar Souleyman, Chance the Rapper, Deafheaven, Danny Brown, James Blake, etc. The possibilities are absolutely exciting – this could be a Bonnaroo for the ages.

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I also asked two longtime Bonnaroo attendees, who have vastly different opinions when it comes to Kanye’s possible return, to pen their thoughts on the situation.

Anti-Kanye

Beth Rodgers

I’ve been to Bonnaroo seven times since 2006, and I maybe it isn’t cool to admit this, I don’t mind, but the festival means a lot to me. That’s something to keep in mind here. Maybe it goes without saying, but I’m really more pro-Bonnaroo than I am anti-Kanye, so I’ll say a little. Anyone who has attended Bonnaroo knows that something special is happening there, and a lot of Bonnaroo fans do feel a personal sentiment towards their experience on the farm. Even though the tone of the festival has changed over the years, it’s still a very positive experience. The hippie vibes linger, so it just feels like a magical escape. I’ve never been able to put my finger on it, but I keep going back for some reason. From its roots, Bonnaroo literally means “good stuff” and that is precisely what you’ll get out of it. Maybe Bonnaroo isn’t special in that respect, I’m sure that many festivals offer an experience beyond words. However, at Great Stage Park, they pack in such a diverse line up that it’s hard to beat. For me – someone with broad tastes and who is very enthusiastic about music – no other festival comes close to the variety that Bonnaroo offers. Last summer, I went from Björk to Dwight Yokam – where else would that happen? It’s a completely music-centered existence on the farm. You can’t get away from it; even in the camping areas there’s at least a drum circle or someone’s radio to be heard around the clock.

If you’re clever, the investment you make with the cost of admission can go a long way. Shows start at noon and don’t stop until the sun is all the way up – that’s nearly 18 hours of non-stop concerts! If you stay in Centeroo, where all the performances take place, and move around a lot, you can see a dozen or more shows in one day. 2008, the year Kanye West, MIA, Willie Nelson, Zach Galifianakis, Pearl Jam, and Sigur Ros performed, and the year they gave B.B. King a key to the city of Manchester; I did the math and it turns out I paid about $4 per act. I saw all or some of around 30-40 shows in those four days. That was also the year that Metallica was one of the headliners. When the lineup came out, that was what bothered me. Sure Metallica is a big deal, but did they fit into the Bonnaroo atmosphere? At that point in Bonnaroo’s history, the headliners hadn’t exactly been that heavy, dark, or edgy. That diversity I was just gushing over hadn’t been finely tuned yet. Metallica’s most recent releases at the time weren’t as solid, in my opinion, as their classics, and I generally didn’t appreciate their attitude. This was, of course, the Napster affair and that seemed to rub against the spirit of generosity that I’d felt on the farm the previous two summers. So they were a surprise, and not exactly a good one, but I wasn’t so against it that I wouldn’t go. When tickets went on sale, I bought my GA ticket and started making plans.

When you arrive at Bonnaroo and check in at the tollbooths, they hand you a guidebook. The guide in 2008 featured an interview with Metallica, and in it Lars Ulrich himself said, “It’s about a love for music. It stops and ends there.” They sort of pride themselves on knowing who their audience is, and they proved it that weekend. Reading the article made me more excited to see their show, I might have skipped it otherwise. Metallica’s set was energetic, and filled with their hits from their earlier years. I don’t think they played a single song that wasn’t already at least 10-15 years old. There were pyro effects at the beginning of “One”, James Hetfield hollered “BONNAROO!” countless times, and I recall being asked “Do you feel alive!?” They engaged the crowd, were obviously having a blast on stage, and said they’d love to come back again. It remains one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to – at Bonnaroo or otherwise.

I didn’t give much thought to Kanye West being there. He wasn’t a headliner, and I genuinely love his work even if I don’t like him. I remember getting a bad feeling about the situation when I found out about the schedule change, but I was also glad we’d get to see the Glow in the Dark setup in the actual dark. He was initially set to appear on the Which Stage, Bonnaroo’s second-largest venue, at 8:15 p.m. on Saturday. That time of day, on that far eastern edge of the Central Time zone, would have had him playing in the dusk. So he asked and they re-scheduled him to perform on the largest stage, the Which Stage, at 2:15 a.m.. At around 4:30 a.m., the time his set was actually supposed to be wrapping up, he finally appeared on a stage that seemed to have been waiting for him and nothing else. He rushed through a 45 minute set, did not engage the crowd once, all while the sun was quickly rising.

I got my four dollars out of Kanye. I’d round it up to $5 and pay that to see him do it the very same way again. The Metallica show, on the other hand, was priceless! That’s how I feel now, five years later and several more Bonnaroo experiences under my belt. The schedule change, the delay, the hype, his ego…it all should have led to something at least half as mind blowing as Metallica. Bonnaroo is where good stuff happens, maybe even amazing stuff. What happened with Kanye was more than disappointing, it was offensive to attendees who genuinely love music and go to Bonnaroo to live that way for four days. That’s why you still see and hear, “Fuck Kanye!” at the festival as recently as last summer. His attitude coupled with his performance is just too much for everyone to be at peace with.

I understand that Kanye West has some loyal and diehard fans, so maybe for them his concert that year was not disappointing. I can see where one might have been content and even thrilled to wait for hours on such a lackluster concert. But those fans deserved better, whether they realize it or not. I personally felt like he phoned it in, fulfilled his contract, doing the very bare minimum. I still love his music, and I mean that. I haven’t actually listened to Yeezus much yet, but My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy stayed in my CD player for weeks. I think he’s incredibly talented at his art. But he is not humble, and Bonnaroo isn’t the right place to make everything about you.

As to the rumors that Kanye West has been asked to return to the farm to headline Bonnaroo 2014, I can’t say that I’m happy about that. Headlining means he would be playing unopposed, which he clearly wanted back in 2008. I economize my time at Bonnaroo and that’s just too great a risk to spend money on. If you don’t want to see the headliner, other options are limited to staying at camp, wandering the camping areas, or poking around a quieter and near-empty Centeroo. If the act before him and the festival organizers and the fans waiting for him (*all to blame for his debacle last time, according to Kanye himself) cause him to be late or have a bad show, that’s about two hours of the festival down the drain with nothing else happening to make up for it.

I believe in second chances, and I’ve no doubts that his concert this year would be an improvement, but mostly because it was so bad that it wouldn’t be hard to improve upon. I just don’t think it’s justified. No one deserves to have Kanye West back on that lineup. It is an honor that he isn’t quite worthy of after last time, and the fans deserve better. I’m not enraged; I would actually be perfectly okay with his being on the lineup, just not as a headliner. Those slots should be filled by artists who, for example, have not accused the festival’s organizers of being incompetent!

Pro-Kanye

Tim James

When the rumor first broke that Kanye would be playing Bonnaroo, a smile immediately came to my face. For the past five years of seeing lineup posters, scouring internet rumors and predictions on Consequence of Sound and other sites, I would pray to see the name “Kanye West.” But alas, the closest thing I have gotten to Kanye at Roo is some clever graffiti in the portos.

I have always found it peculiar how the legend of the failed Kanye set nearly six years ago still haunts the farm and fellow Rooers. I completely understand the show was a disaster in many ways. Punctuality at a festival is something that means a lot to me. I have a daily schedule that is up to me to deviate from, not the artists, and showing up even 10 minutes late can throw a wrench into my plans. Yet, I get a sense from the Bonnaroo Community that this standard should only be held to hip-hop artists. Jack White abruptly ended his Radio City show a little over a year ago after only 45 minutes and bashed the organizers of that event. Still, he is showing up on mock lineups everywhere. I may be in the minority here, but I don’t think all of the blame should be given to one man.

There is no doubt in my mind that the organizers from Superfly and AC Entertainment handled the situation horribly from beginning to end. Between the schedule change, the Phil Lesh situation, and the updates on the screen, organizers of such a large scale festival need to be aware of things like this. Somewhat of a “disaster recovery” plan should be put into place in the event that something goes wrong. Obviously, Mr. West, felt the same way. It’s not as if this man has a history of showing up late to concerts or bailing on them altogether. Enough finger pointing, though. It seems as if Kanye and the higher ups at Bonnaroo have buried the hatchet so why can’t some of Bonnaroo’s most loyal fans?

There are two things that have fueled my passion in music in the recent past, Bonnaroo and Kanye. My love for Kanye comes not from his lyrics. (He is a slightly above average lyricist.) It doesn’t come from his antics (annoying and childish) or from his producing abilities (although he is one of the best). The thing that draws me toward Kanye and any artist, honestly, is passion. The man puts more passion into his music than anybody I have ever listened to. As a Bonnaroo veteran, that is something I can really appreciate. You could feel the passion on the What Stage field during “Hey Jude” last year, when the lanterns were flying during Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2012, and amid the LED helicopters falling from the sky during a Les Claypool solo jam. This man brings passion to his live shows and as someone who lives for those moments on the farm…I cannot wait.

The Yeezus tour will most likely be over come June and the possibilities as to what he can bring to the farm are endless. The catalogue he can pull from and guests that may show up have all the makings to go down as one of the best shows in the history of Roo. I think any Bonnaroo veteran would and should welcome this man back to the farm and let him do it right, just like he has over the last six years. Hopefully, come June, a few less words will be written on the portos.

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