Bonnaroo Has Been Trying To Score U2 for 'Many Years'

The Edge and Bono of U2
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The Edge and Bono of U2 perform onstage at the 2016 iHeartRadio Music Festival at T-Mobile Arena on Sept. 23, 2016 in Las Vegas. 

"I think all the stars aligned” for 2017, says Superfly co-founder Rick Farman.

The 2017 Bonnaroo lineup has arrived in full, and at the top of it sits one of the great white whales for the long-running Tennessee fest. U2, along with Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Weeknd, will be heading to Manchester, Tenn. from June 8-11, making a pit stop on its just-announced Joshua Tree stadium tour to perform at the festival for the first time.

How long has Bonnaroo — which launched in 2002 and has boasted headliners like Bruce Springsteen, The Police, Paul McCartney and Pearl Jam — been trying to snag Bono and co. for the main stage?

“Many years,” answers Rick Farman, co-founder of Bonnaroo co-producer Superfly, with a laugh. Helping to expedite the process for 2017: Live Nation acquired a majority stake in Bonnaroo co-producers AC Entertainment last October, after acquiring a majority stake in the festival itself in 2015.

"My partner, Jonathan Mayers, has been talking to [Live Nation Chairman of Global Music/President of Global Touring] Arthur Fogel -- who oversees all the U2 touring -- for at least 3 or 4 years now, as a substantive conversation,” Farman continues. "The timing was right for them, and obviously our partnership with Live Nation — some of the dialogue that we were able to have with people over there — was a positive. I think all the stars aligned.”

Despite headlining four international tours since the turn of the century, U2 has never been a regular at U.S. festivals. The group has yet to play Coachella or Lollapalooza, and its appearances at events like Glastonbury in 2011 and the Live 8 concert in 2005 took place overseas. “Obviously, you want to have something unique from a programming perspective,” says Farman, "and it’s no secret that the proliferation of festivals has made that more challenging. For us to have the opportunity to be at least the first ones that present U2 over here is a dream come true.”

Farman calls the 2017 lineup (which also includes Chance The Rapper, Major Lazer, The xx and Cage The Elephant) “really balanced,” and says that most of the booking conversations started in earnest last summer. He points to Lorde’s inclusion in the lineup -- making her Bonnaroo debut -- as a good example of that genre and demographic equilibrium.

"I think it’s important for us to have all sorts of diversity,” he says. "And certainly having a female artist as strong as [Lorde] near the top of the bill is something that’s attractive to us.”

In spite of reports of low ticket sales from 2016, Farman asserts that the four-day, 24-hour festival has not altered its core philosophy. "We haven’t changed our overall view of how talent should come together,” he says. "We’re another year integrated with the Live Nation team, and … to be part of their team and knowledge base is a huge asset for Bonnaroo. We’ve got some more smart people at the table helping us to figure it out, and a lot of interesting specialty programming coming down the pipeline."

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