Bonnaroo will be in Manchester, TN on Thursday, June 13 through Sunday, June 16
Michael Schwab, Nashville Tennessean
When up to 80,000 people descend on Manchester, Tennessee, for the 18th annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, keep in mind that there may be a future festival performer somewhere in the crowd.
That’s been proved repeatedly over the last 18 years, as numerous Bonnaroo performers have gone from camping out at the festival to singing on its stages.
These are some of the most notable graduates — let us know if there’s someone we’ve missed.
Lumineers frontman Wesley Schultz was among the 70,000 jam-band fans who made the trek to Manchester for the first Bonnaroo in 2002.
Eleven years later, the folk-rock stars made their Bonnaroo debut, and they’re back again this year as one of the biggest names of the weekend.
The award-winning country artist first played Bonnaroo in 2013 — four years after she sneaked into the festival to see Nine Inch Nails perform on the very same stage.
“I don’t really remember a lot of it,” she joked with her audience during her Bonnaroo debut. She returned for another memorable performance in 2015 and is back for a highly anticipated third round this year.
New country singer Maren Morris made her debut at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival this year in Manchester, Tennessee, and talked about the trick to making new fans. (June 27)
The country star was a few months away from signing her record deal when she went to Bonnaroo in 2015. One year later, she was back at Bonnaroo to perform.
“I never thought, standing there watching Mumford (and Sons), that I would be playing the actual festival a year later,” Morris told The Tennessean. “I thought that was maybe two or three years down the line. And especially as a country artist, it’s rare to see that genre represented at Bonnaroo. I’m a lover of all music.”
This year, Morris is back to play the festival’s largest stage, in support of her hit sophomore album, “Girl.”
Cage the Elephant
In 2004 — two years before forming a world-renowned rock band — Matt Shultz and his future Cage the Elephant bandmates were just some kids from Bowling Green, Kentucky, strumming acoustic guitars in the Bonnaroo campgrounds.
Ten years later, Shultz was telling that story to a massive audience at Bonnaroo. He said their fellow campers told them they should perform at the festival.
“Now here we are.”
“We’ve been coming to this festival for 10 years. Now we’re playing the mother(expletive).”
That was the proclamation made from the What Stage by country duo Brothers Osborne in 2018, and they have the photos to back it up.
Judah & The Lion
The genre-hopping Nashville group literally worked its way up at Bonnaroo.
Back in 2014, members Judah Akers and Brian Macdonald volunteered part time at the festival to earn free tickets — helping patrons with disabilities and gathering signatures for an environmental nonprofit.
Just two years later, their fast-rising band performed on Bonnaroo’s second largest stage.
“It was the first music festival I ever attended,” Moon Taxi frontman Trevor Terndrup said of Bonnaroo. In fact, he went to the first Bonnaroo in 2002. “I was 18 … and I thought at the time, ‘I don’t ever want to go home.’ In a sense, I didn’t.”
Moon Taxi made it to the stages of Bonnaroo for the first time in 2012, and returned in 2015 and 2018.
Chance the Rapper
We’re throwing in an honorable mention for the hip-hop hitmaker, who’s gone back and forth between performing at Bonnaroo and just hanging out on the general grounds over the last six years.
Ahead of his main stage performance at Bonnaroo 2017, he’d gone down the water slide, made a cameo in the comedy tent and zipped around the service roads on a dirt bike.
“I’m not always booked here, but I love to come down here,” he told his audience. “It’s a beautiful weekend.”
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