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Earth, Wind & Fire Look Forward to the 'Generational Merging' of Playing Bonnaroo

Earth, Wind & Fire
Larry Marano/Getty Images

Verdine White, Ralph Johnson and Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire perform at The Fillmore on June 2, 2015 in Miami Beach, Florida. 

Earth, Wind & Fire is fully cognizant of being this year's heritage act at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. But the group is no stranger to playing large-scale festivals where it might stick out a bit from the rest of the lineup.

"It kind of goes back to our roots," bassist and co-founder Verdine White told Billboard during a recent conference call. "(1974's) California Jam, you know, things like that we did way back in the day before any of these young people were born. We were playing a lot of those kind of festivals back in the early '70s and things like that. It's a cool festival to be part of, and we're really happy about that. It's kind of going to remind us of back in the day."  

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EWF has been "flip-flopping some ideas around" during rehearsals to make its Bonnaroo set special. And White and company are confident that, like other heritage acts before them, the Bonnaroo crowd will be receptive to EWF's nearly 45-year array of hits.

"I think it'll be new for them, you know? It'll be the first time they ever see us," White explained. "For our generation, we use the word 'nostalgia,' but for them I think it's going to be a great new experience. I'm sure all of us, from (Paul) McCartney to Lionel (Richie), we've all been surprised that they know all these songs. A lot of these people, the young people, they know all the tunes, man, and we're anxious to get out there and show them those songs and for them to see us and see what their parents have been telling them about us. It's kind of like a generational merging rather than a generational gap, as we used to call it back in the day."

Some of EWF's surprises may involve the triple-platinum That's The Way of the World, the group's first No. 1 Billboard 200 album that celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. "We're pulling out some songs from that particular era and this summer we're going to be doing quite a bit of content based on that, live," White affirmed. "That's The Way of the World was such a big breakthrough record for us, a very transitional record, and still holds up today."

EWF will be playing shows right up to its Bonnaroo appearance on June 12, then starts another summer run with Chicago on July 15 in Concord, Calif. And with the group on a bit of a creative roll (Now, Then & Forever, its first new studio album in eight years, came out in 2013, followed by a Holiday collection last fall), another recording project is also in mind.

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"We're kind of going around in our heads, trying to figure out a little calendar to do it," White said. "Right now we're so busy with all these concerts. We got to figure out a way to fit it in."

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