Medium-Hot Takes with Blake: 5 Takeaways From Bunbury 2017 Lineup
Cincinnati’s own Bunbury announced the lineup for its 6th year, and 3rd with entertainment company PromoWest Management earlier tonight. You can see it below.
Now, let’s try to make sense of this sucker.
[One] The Final Stage of Bunbury’s De-Rockifying
Like most music festivals in the Lolla-Roo-Chella tradition, Bunbury started mostly as a tent for alternative rock and indie acts with broad and/or potential crossover appeal. Like, its first year was headlined by Weezer, Jane’s Addiction, and Death Cab for Cutie, and its second included fun. and MGMT in top spots. In 2015, Snoop Dogg became the festival’s first headlining rapper, and last year added DeadMau5 as Saturday’s main event. We don’t have the daily breakdown yet, but based on the poster, we can guess that Wiz Khalifa and Bassnectar or G-Eazy — whose like a WalMart leather jacket that understands the concept of rap if not the practice —are headlining this year. This lineup is also the most electronic and rap-friendly the festival has seen yet, with touring veterans like Tech N9ne and newer arrivals like D.R.A.M. and Jon Bellion. The rock stuff is still there (The 1975 are a newer band; Flogging Molly, AFI, The Shins, 30 Seconds to Mars, the returning Death Cab, and Muse — more on them later — are not), but what’s fresh and new at the ‘bury this year definitely ain’t rock.
[Two] Bunbury’s Incredibly Shrinking Act(s)
This year’s Bunbury runs 43 artists deep, down from last year’s low of 47, and the previous year’s 51. In the years before that; it routinely went over 60, albeit by filling the ranks with smaller/local acts. The official line is that this is an effort to recruit more high quality artists, but it’s hard to take that at face value when Thirty Seconds to Mars is staring at me in the second damn row.
Beside, the more pressing concern when it comes to a sparse lineup is how it’s going to affect the logistics of day to day festivaling. As I noted in my Day 1 recap of last year, Bunbury already has timing problems where either one or no bands are playing, so getting held captive by like, VHS Collection isn’t outright impossible. And even beyond that, it’s just a matter of value: music festival tickets aren’t known for their low price to begin with, and knowing you’re seeing less and less is just a kick in the soft stuff.
[Three] Who the Fuck Asked for Muse?
Let me start by saying this could be like how I was with the Killers last year: snobby at an off-peak rock headliner at the announcement, only to fall for them within the first 20 seconds of the actual show.
But c’mon: Muse? I think “Knights of Cydonia” fucking rules, as mandated by federal law since I was a teenager in 2006, but if Muse is the highest name on your festival poster…oof. Could they have a solid 70 minute set list? Probably? It’s hard to say over a discography as uneven and (for the last two records) outright sucky as their’s. They don’t have the Killers’ single depth, or the stone cold classic album to their name, but they do bring spectacle. Right now, Muse exists in that weird space where they aren’t quite a legacy act yet, even though they’re fairly removed from their heyday and last hit single: the more repetitive than good “Madness” from The 2nd Law. I don’t know, between 2009 and 2011, these guys seemed like a sure festival bet. Now? Might get “Citizen Erased,” might get non-Bassnectar dubstep.
[Four] This Lineup Is Weirdly Redundant
There are some acts on the lineup that are functionally repeats of each other. If you’re gonna book gonzo, overdramatic, spacey rock band Muse, why include the overwrought, gas-bag theatrics of arena rockers Thirty Seconds to Mars (aside from so I can get hammered and scream Joker quotes at Jared Leto)? And G-Eazy is just Wiz Khalifa updated for a post-Drake pop landscape. Wanna slick your hair back, roll up the sleeves on your favorite greasy button-down, and rock out to your favorite twangy middle aged punk rockers? Good news, you’ve got options in Reverend Horton Heat and Flogging Molly! I like some of these acts, but man, there are a lot of bundled deals out here this year, and that’s not even touching the plethora of singer/rapper/producer/songwriters littering the bottom half of the poster. If it works, it works, but man, what I wouldn’t give for the ‘bury to dream a little bigger.
[five] Bunbury’s Trying on Looks for the Festival Circuit
Look, most festivals seem to be having an off year. Call it a byproduct of promoters assuming The xx are ideal “do drugs in a large space” music, call it years of people calling festivals too commercial (man), call it the festival bubble finally bursting, but no lineup seems like it’s truly held attention so far. Personally, I think the bum year can be attributed to a little of all three, along with most festivals having an identity crisis as it gets harder to predict what’ll sell.
This is why I think PromoWest has nudged Bunbury away from the alternative days of its origins, and into an across the board crowdpleaser. You’ve got a mix of dependable if unflashy alt stalwarts, some in-the-moment pop music, a few early nostalgia picks for ’00s rock, and buttressed it with stuff that has online chatter (so many of these acts like Hayley Kiyoko, Kevin Garrett, and Eden that I could pick out of a lineup of H&M workers have millions of YouTube hits), and veteran acts touring the country for the 17th time. I don’t think the lineup’s terrible, but most of these seem like they’d be side stages or early evening takes elsewhere. There’s a discernible lack of buzz.