Leadoff: Coachella, Bonnaroo Continue To Innovate With 2020 Lineups

Rich Fury / Getty Images for Coachella
– Indio Innovator
Coachella’s early January lineup announcement once again indicated broader trends in the U.S. festival market.

Two of the U.S. festival market’s heaviest hitters, California’s Coachella and Tennessee’s Bonnaroo, announced their 2020 lineups earlier this month, providing insight into what the broader sphere will look like this year – and into the continued competition between Coachella promoters AEG and Goldenvoice and Bonnaroo promoters Live Nation, C3 and AC Entertainment, who together comprise a large chunk of the festival market.

At the headlining level, both festivals have veered slightly from their recent histories, while remaining true to their respective spirits. In April, a reformed Rage Against the Machine – which headlined the first Coachella in 1999, and reunited at the festival in 2007 – will take the stage in Indio, Calif., as will ascendant rapper Travis Scott and enigmatic R&B auteur Frank Ocean. The trio embodies new and old, acclaimed and popular, rap and rock.

But it’s the first Coachella since 2016 not to feature a female headliner, and this year’s slate doesn’t tick the pop box as clearly as Lady Gaga, Beyoncé or Ariana Grande did in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively. Still, Scott’s brand of pop-informed rap will draw the masses: The musician ranked No. 36 on Pollstar’s Top 100 Worldwide Tours chart last year, packing arenas from coast to coast for a gross of $53.5 million, while also headlining festivals including Hangout and Firefly and selling out his second Astroworld Festival – more than 50,000 tickets – before the announcement of its lineup, which didn’t drop until the day before the fest. 

“We were on tour last year selling out multiple shows at The Forum, so unfortunately/fortunately this put Coachella off to 2020,” Scott’s agent, Cara Lewis, told Pollstar via email. “His fans are fanatical who can’t get enough of him, so the ability to see him in the summer in an outdoor festival setting and buy his specially curated merch is a dream come true.”

Two months later, Bonnaroo will follow 2019’s event – its first sellout since 2013, as well as since Live Nation acquired a controlling stake in 2015 – with a similarly eclectic bill at Great Stage Park in Manchester, Tenn. The festival’s 2016 lineup, topped by LCD Soundsystem, Pearl Jam and Dead & Company, represented a sales nadir, and ever since it has searched for the ideal update to its once jam-centric roots, from big-tent pop acts (The Weeknd, Post Malone) to nostalgic rock (U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers) to rappers new (Chance the Rapper) and established (Eminem).

In 2020, Bonnaroo may have found its solution. Tool, which staged a sprawling arena tour in 2019 that ranked No. 60 on Pollstar’s Top 100 Worldwide Tours chart with $31.6 million grossed, will serve rock nostalgia, though of a more niche strain than previous headliners like Paul McCartney and Billy Joel. Tame Impala, which proved its mettle as a festival headliner last year with turns at Coachella, Lollapalooza and more, honors both Bonnaroo’s psychedelic and dance roots.

Lizzo, meanwhile, stands out. The rapidly rising artist provides Bonnaroo with a headliner at the intersection of pop, R&B and hip-hop, while adding gender and racial diversity to this year’s headlining slate. Though the festival has booked plenty of high-profile female acts in recent years, including Cardi B, Lorde and Florence + The Machine, Lizzo is the first to reach Bonnaroo’s top line since Björk in 2013.

Childish Gambino headlined both Coachella and Bonnaroo in 2019, but this year, the festivals have no headliner overlap.

Tim Mosenfelder / Getty Images
– Still Raging
Rage Against the Machine, which headlined the first Coachella in 1999, will reunite for the first time in nearly a decade at Coachella in April. Here, Tom Morello (left) and Zack De La Rocha (right) during Rage’s 2007 Coachella headlining set.

Further down their lineups, both festivals sport fascinating bookings. Coachella is again a veritable who’s who of the contemporary music business. Like Scott, several of the event’s most prominently billed hip-hop acts, such as 21 Savage, Lil Uzi Vert and Megan Thee Stallion, are relative newcomers. DaBaby, who released his first two studio albums in 2019, secured second-line billing for both Coachella and Bonnaroo in 2020, and his agent, MAC Agency CEO Andrew Lieber, had a simple explanation for Pollstar: “He outworked EVERY artist in 2019. No one even came close to his work ethic.”

Even the few hip-hop vets who did make the lineup, such as Run the Jewels and Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, did so with newer projects. Likewise, besides Rage and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, rock artists of yesteryear – once Coachella’s calling card – are scant. Calvin Harris, who headlined the festival in 2016, now has a second-line billing, which may signify another trend: Though Coachella booked major artists such as Disclosure and Flume, and smaller electronic favorites including Peggy Gou, DJ Koze and Floating Points, the mainstream EDM wave that defined the event in the early ’10s has largely receded.

As Coachella’s treatment of previous stalwarts has evolved, so has its international inclusivity. In 2019, the festival booked acts including Bad Bunny, J Balvin and BLACKPINK, and this year it has once again brought in artists from around the world, such as Mexican ensemble Banda MS and highly influential K-pop group BIGBANG.

88rising, the American media platform that serves as a platform for several high-profile Asian artists, not only has multiple acts booked individually – Niki (Indonesia), Rich Brian (Indonesia), Joji (Japan) – but also has special billing below the by-day lineups: “Featuring 88rising’s Double Happiness on Saturday.” Details remain under wraps, but the booking seems a likely extension of the company’s tour of the same name, and could feature collaborations with past 88rising collaborators sharing the Coachella bill, like Charli XCX.

Among the most fascinating acts booked for both Coachella and Bonnaroo – including Lana Del Rey and Flume – is King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. Represented by Panache Entertainment, the Australian psych-rock band is among a minority of artists booked by boutique agencies to be playing either festival.

“I have a much smaller roster of artists, as opposed to a big agency,” Panache owner Michelle Cable said. “As a smaller agent, it’s harder to get your foot into the door with some of the bigger festivals, but Panache has been around a long time, so I’ve developed relationships with those bookers at Coachella and Bonnaroo over the years.”

Part of the challenge, according to Cable, is that smaller agencies “don’t have an arsenal of huge massive acts behind you to push your smaller acts.” But the hard-ticket prowess of an act like King Gizzard, which will headline two nights at Red Rocks in May, helps.

Cable said Goldenvoice founder and Coachella co-founder Paul Tollett still prioritizes indie agencies and artists.

“He told me, ‘Don’t worry, I want to have a conversation with you about who you have available,’” she said. “I’m on his radar. It’s nice when those festival buyers are like, ‘Yeah, let’s see what Michelle or Panache has to send over, before I book this whole lineup.’”

As rock’s cultural prominence has lessened, festival buyers who continue to book rock artists send an important message. Said Cable: “A festival like Coachella sells out no matter what, but it’s great when the booker wants to still have the rock genre represented.”

Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic for Bonnaroo Arts And Music Festivalnull
– Treyja Vu
Phish performs at Bonnaroo’s What Stage in 2019. The band’s Trey Anastasio will appear at Bonnaroo this year with reformed supertrio Oysterhead – his eighth time playing the Tennessee fest.

With Bonnaroo, King Gizzard and Tame Impala’s bookings prove the event’s psychedelic DNA remains intact. While other festivals like LOCKN’ and Peach Music Festival now own the jam band lane that Bonnaroo pioneered at the festival level in the early ’00s, the Tennessee event still manages to honor its roots. Oysterhead, the super trio comprised of Phish’s Trey Anastasio, Primus’ Les Claypool and The Police’s Stewart Copeland, will hit the event as part of a 2019 reunion tour; its most recent gig was Bonnaroo 2006. Jam-funk act Pigeons Playing Ping Pong will play, as will jam-adjacent progressive bluegrass artists Greensky Bluegrass and Billy Strings.

Bonnaroo has also kindled an international flame, albeit with signature jammy flair, this year booking Dutch band Altin Gün, which fuses psych-rock and traditional Turkish folk songs, and Mdou Moctar, who hails from Niger and specializes in mind-bending Tuareg guitar music.

Coachella and Bonnaroo also continue to lead the festival sphere in embracing experiential programming.

“Given the saturated market, the events that tend to succeed are usually established lifestyle brands (e.g. Coachella) or festivals that create unique programming for consumers,” UTA agent David Strunk, who specializes in music festivals, told Pollstar in September. “To that end, festivals are expanding to incorporate comedy, culinary options or high-touch VIP programs. Ultimately, festivals that have found success are ones that offer a more memorable experience for fans.”

In that vein, Coachella continues to offer one of the festival industry’s most robust non-musical slates, with high-end dining, a vinyl shop, a vintage market, art installations and its iconic Ferris wheel.

Bonnaroo’s attractions are similar plentiful, with several Plazas providing entertainment throughout its campground. Roo’s Sanctuary of Self-Love, curated by Paramore’s Hayley Williams, returns in 2020; so does Brooklyn nightclub House of Yes, which will host Bonnaroo’s second-annual pride parade.

Festivals “continue to provide an experience outside of the music that is more enjoyable to the festivalgoer,” CAA agent Lee Goforth, who leads the agency’s festival team, told Pollstar via email. “Fans are spending 12+ hours on site, so capturing their attention and entertaining that entire time is important.”

Coachella and Bonnaroo’s 2020 lineup announcements hint at what to expect this year from other major festivals including Governors Ball, Lollapalooza and Outside Lands, from who’s hot to who might be off-limits.

“Many festivals won’t even have a chance to offer to artists on these two festivals due to their respective radius clauses,” Goforth said. “I think everyone is always going to be interested in who these festivals are booking.”