NEW YORK — This year, The Bamboozle is so big it even surprised the festival’s director, John D’Esposito.
“Every year, I think ‘What am I gonna do to top this?”” D’Esposito says about his massive annual festival in the parking lots of the Meadowlands Stadium. “But this time, I really have no idea.”
The seventh edition of the music festival features its biggest headliner yet — Lil Wayne, who will wrap up his first post-prison tour at the Meadowlands next Sunday — as well as many of the stars who have helped build The Bamboozle into a must-see festival in the past six years, including Saturday headliners Taking Back Sunday, as well as newcomers that include Friday headliner Wiz Khalifa and Grammy winner Bruno Mars.
The pop-heavy slate of heavy-hitters, which also includes Motley Crue, Boyz II Men, 30 Seconds to Mars and Gaslight Anthem, is a reflection of The Bamboozle’s transformation from collection of punk and indie upstarts to a broader range of big names and up-and-comers.
“People still compare us to Warped Tour, and that’s kind of insulting now,” D’Esposito says. “We’ve outgrown that. They’re still looking to be Hot Topic. We’re looking to be the whole mall.”
The festival’s signing of Lil Wayne as a headliner — back in December, before the rapper even announced his own tour — is a signal of The Bamboozle’s growing clout. How did they manage it?
“It was really because of teamwork with our fans,” D’Esposito says. “It started last year, when Drake was playing, and he got the crowd to scream, ‘Free Weezy!’ and it got on YouTube. We were able to say to him that 40,000 kids sang to him while he was in prison and show it to him. The fans really booked Lil Wayne for us last year.”
For D’Esposito, bringing back the reunited Taking Back Sunday was a “no-brainer.” “We would’ve booked them last year as soon as we heard that they would reunite,” he says. “But we needed to let things happen on their end. Now that they’re ready with a new album, it’s great to have them with us and with our friends in our element.”
For The Movielife, it was a no-brainer to reunite at The Bamboozle. “We have a history with Christian (McKnight, Bamboozle’s talent booker) because he always put on shows when we were starting out,” says Movielife singer Vinnie Caruana, who now leads I Am the Avalanche, which will also play this year’s festival. “We’re happy to be working with him again. It also gives everyone who wants to see us the opportunity to go.”
But it’s not just Movielife fans who were surprised by the reunion announcement. Caruana wasn’t really expecting it, either.
“There were always offers,” says Caruana, who will reunite with guitarist Brandon Reilly, now in Nightmare of You, guitarist Dan Navetta and bassist Phil Navetta, and drummer Evan Baken. “No one ever wanted to do it, so I was convinced it would never happen. Everyone was doing their own thing. But this time, the guys were all like, ‘Let’s do it!’ I didn’t ask any questions. I’m stoked.”
D’Esposito is stoked as well for this year’s festival, which will also include the return of the hip-hop-themed B-Boy Arena, the hard-rocking Saints & Sinners area, and the introduction of the dance-themed Temple of Boozle, featuring DJs and dance acts.
“There is a very big change in the way kids identify as fans,” he says. “My mom listened to The Beatles. I listened to New Edition. Kids today listen to everything. We had to change to reflect that. ... It pushes us to our limit. But that’s what we want.”
THESE GUYS COULD BE BIG
Each year, John D’Esposito finds some new talent for The Bamboozle that he thinks will hit it big. Here are this year’s picks:
CHIDDY BANG The Philadelphia duo, whose “Opposite of Adults” video recently won an mtvU Woodie for best video, combines hip-hop, indie rock and electronica. D’Esposito is so taken with them that they’re headlining the Bamboozle Roadshow tour.
MACHINE GUN KELLY The Cleveland rapper, known for his rapid-fire rhyming inspired by his hometown heroes Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, is making a lot of noise with his self-released debut “Lace Up.”
ANIMALS AS LEADERS The Washington, D.C., band is part of the next generation of progressive instrumental metal, with its intricate rhythms and hard-hitting guitars.
GOING DARK The New Jersey trio of tween boys play “‘70s rock jams, and they sing and write their own music,” D’Esposito says. “They were so good, we were, like, ‘Are you kidding?’ That doesn’t happen too often.”
THE BAMBOOZLE FESTIVAL 2011
6 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday, The Meadowlands parking lot, East Rutherford, N.J.
INFO: $45-$65; 201-559- 1515, ticketmaster.com