Bonnaroo 2013: Superfly’s Jonathan Mayer on Lineup, Legacy, Why Mumford Are a ‘Bulls-eye’ for Fest

Bonnaroo 2013, set for June 13-16 on a 700-acre pasture in Manchester, Tenn., will host 125 bands and 20 comedians on 13 stages. With Sir Paul McCartney headlining along with hot acts like Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers, classic crowd-pleasers like Wilco and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and many more stars in country, alt-country, R&B, EDM, hip-hop, bluegrass, jam, and other genres, the 12th Bonnaroo is not only one of the most diverse lineups the festival has ever hosted, it is also in all likelihood the most expensive.

The 2013 lineup for Bonnaroo, produced by Superfly Presents and AC Entertainment, was announced Tuesday on Bonnaroo365, the fest’s YouTube festival, with the Bonnaroo Lineup Announcement Megathon (BLAM), hosted by “Weird” Al Yankovic. Regarding the hour-long live announcement, Superfly president Jonathan Mayer tells Billboard.biz, “We continue to find creative ways to express Bonnaroo’s personality beyond what happens over the festival weekend.”

Bonnaroo Lineup 2013: Paul McCartney, Mumford & Sons, Tom Petty Headlining

Bonnaroo365 seeks to engage fans year-round, and this year fans even played a role in programming the festival by submitting videos promoting bands they’d like to see. That fan input led directly to Bonnaroo booking Norwegian artist Bernhoft, whom Mayers calls, “a great artist we actually didn’t know. That’s an example of how we engage with the audience, listen to the audience, how we want them to be part of the brand.”

Bringing in Weird Al Yankovic, who will also perform at Bonnaroo this year, was “about having fun,” which extends to the festival grounds and includes “peppering in a couple of oddball artists,” says Mayer. “We believe we have enough diversity to satisfy a diverse audience, but again still have that sense of discovery, allowing fans to go out there and stumble across something great. That’s our goal and that’s the fun thing about Bonnaroo.”

To call Bonnaroo’s musical offerings diverse is an understatement. One would be hard pressed to find such artists as Wu-Tang Clan, R. Kelly, Bjork, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Cat Power, ZZ Top, Billy Idol, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and Hall & Oates’ John Oates, Billy Idol, Dwight Yoakam, Sam Bush & Del McCoury, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band sharing a bill in any other scenario.

As usual, the Bonnaroo lineup also features a wealth of developing artists. To Mayer’s point, festivals’ popularity in general and Bonnaroo in particular are largely driven by fans’ desire for music discovery but, given the high costs of staging multi-act, multi-day events,must also include enough well-known names to drive ticket sales.  The key is to strike that balance, which Bonnaroo seems to have achieved (the full lineup is here).

While all festivals desire exclusivity among its headliners, Mayers says the Bonnaroo talent buyers don’t worry much about which bands the other fests are booking. “Each one of these great festivals have their own unique identity, from the venue, the setting, the location, the mix of artists, just the personality. We really don’t think about what everyone else is doing, we’re focused on what does Bonnaroo look like, what’s our voice, what’s our personality?,” Mayer says. “There are lots of great festivals out there, but we’re focused on building our identity. We are constantly talking about artist ideas, and we continually want to raise the stakes for ourselves and keep doing interesting things without worrying about what everyone else is doing.”

Festivals play a significant role in artist development today, and at Bonnaroo that development is evidenced by bands moving from the tents to the main headlining stage. This year, Mumford & Sons joins the ranks of previous “graduates” like My Morning Jacket and Kings Of Leon, both bands that first impressed Bonnaroovians on the smallest stages of the festival grounds.

While some festivals might book a hot act just because they are hot, Mumford & Sons, in terms of musicality, sits perfectly in the wheelhouse of Bonnaroo, where acoustic music has been a staple from the beginning. Mayer calls Mumford & Sons “a bulls-eye in terms of the Bonnaroo aesthetic, what they represent. I think they are a true Bonnaroo band, and we’re excited to have them be part of it.”

Tickets to Bonnaroo ’13 go on sale tomorrow, several days later than previous years. While competition for the festival ticket buyer is exponentially tougher than when Bonnaroo began, Mayer feels the strength of the lineup will offset any lost sales days. “We definitely like to put out the information as soon as possible and go up on sale, but we feel pretty confident about our lineup and that the sales will be there,” he says. “We’re 12 years in, but it feels like there continues to be great momentum. Just having the level artists we have participating is exciting.”