When Bonnaroo announced its 2013 schedule yesterday afternoon, it was hard not to notice the agonizing set-time conflicts. It's true: Paul McCartney, Mumford & Sons, and Tom Petty are performing largely unopposed, but if you're trekking down to Manchester, Tennessee, to see anybody else during the June 13 to 16 festival, you'll inevitably have to make some tough decisions. (Even Mumford decriers can always skip over to see guitar instrumentalist William Tyler.)
And yet, the organizers have done an excellent job, so plenty of what might look like hard choices probably won't be for most of us. Sure, R. Kelly's set overlaps with performances from Billy Idol and "Weird Al" Yankovic, along with a superjam featuring Jim James and others, but aren't those all fairly distinct types of shows? Harder than picking between a superjam and a Pied Piper of slow jams might be recovering in time to get to the Which Stage by noon for country truth-teller Kacey Musgraves' impossibly early Sunday set.
Which brings us to another of this year's positive developments: This year, Bonnaroo has teamed with the Nashville Convention Visitors Corp. to offer daily round-trip shuttle transportation from Music City to the Bonnaroo site. So you can sleep in a real bed and not have to worry about how you'll get there. Shuttle packages go on sale tomorrow at 12:00 p.m. EST, and you can get full details here.
With that said, we've listed our picks for the five most wrenching set-time conflicts below. Solange, Portugal. the Man, or Death Grips? You've probably made up your mind. Earl Sweatshirt or Passion Pit? Ditto. Swans or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes? We'd love to meet the infinitely complicated soul who just can't choose. These are the dilemmas that will keep us up at night.
5. Wilco vs. Jim James vs. the xx, 6:30/7:00/7:30-8:00/8:30/9:00, Friday
Two acts that embody Bonnaroo's jam-meets-indie spirit and a newer crew of beloved British electro-pop romantics. Their start times are staggered, but you can't see all of their full sets. If you're coming from Big K.R.I.T., Grizzly Bear, or Foals beforehand, you can't even catch the start of Wilco's set without leaving early. This is why festival schedules make our heads hurt. You can't lose with any of these.
Recommendation: You know what? Wilco. Maybe we'd traipse over a bit late after seeing what Big K.R.I.T. can do, or Grizzly Bear depending on our mood, but the always-great Jim James will be sans his My Morning Jacket, and the xx are unlikely to bring the guitar-gnashing unpredictability of Jeff Tweedy. When in Bonnaroo, see a band you'd expect to be great at Bonnaroo.
4. Purity Ring vs. Japandroids vs. Father John Misty, 9:15/10:00/10:30-10:15/11:00/11:30, Thursday
Really, Bonnaroo? You're going to make us choose between one of the most distinctive electronic-pop duos around, our 2012 band of the year, and a shamanic psych-folk ladykiller? We're cheating a little by including Purity Ring, considering they'll be done before Father John Misty starts, but still.
Recommendation: Ugh. Japandroids are so euphoric live. But if you're like us, you've seen them a million times because of it, and you might not have the stamina for that level of celebration in the middle of Bonnaroo's first day. Father John Misty's Fear Fun was one of last year's less-heralded pleasures, and sardonic frontman Josh Tillman is just the spirit guide you'd want to guide you into the festival realm. (We'd find some way to catch a bit of Purity Ring, too. Japandroids, we still love you.)
3. Tame Impala vs. the National vs. Divine Fits vs. David Byrne & St. Vincent, 6:00/6:30/7:00/7:30-7:15/8:00/8:30/9:00, Sunday
Disentangling this particular block of Sunday evening's schedule will be a real feat. Once again, these aren't all exact overlaps, so we're probably breaking the rules, but you can't be in five places at once. And there ought to be a lot of crossover between fanbases here: introspective Australian psych-guitar heroics? Magisterially brooding Brooklyn indie rockers with a brand-new album? A don't-call-it-a-supergroup indie-rock supergroup with new music in the works? An art-rock super-duo? And right after all these is A$AP Rocky, so good luck, suckers.
Recommendation: Divine Fits by a nose. David Byrne and St. Vincent's brassy funk workouts could pull us over depending on how we're feeling, but Spoon's Britt Daniel, Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs' Dan Boeckner, and New Bomb Turks drummer Sam Brown are onto something special with their latest band. Tame Impala and the National would both go over well, too, though, which is why these are "wrenching" conflicts.
2. Wu-Tang Clan vs. ZZ Top, 11:30-12:45/12:30, Friday
Legendary hip-hop crew versus legendary rock crew with legendary beards. This is the apotheosis of wrenching set-time conflicts. Wise Solomon recommends you split the baby in half.
Recommendation: ZZ Top by a whisker. (Some of us might be seeing Wu-Tang Clan a month later.)
1. Cat Power vs. Björk, 6:00/7:00-7:30/8:30, Saturday
This isn't right. No one should have to choose between Chan Marshall's voice and Björk's, let alone between their festival sets. And we're cheating again here, because we've narrowed it down from a decision that for some might be even tougher: Others overlapping with Cat Power and/or Björk include Dirty Projectors, Beach House, Dwight Yoakam, and A-Trak. All of whom we'd also love to see, in a just world.