Oh, Bonnaroo. You do it to us every time. Year by year, over 80,000 people make the pilgrimage to a field in the middle of nowhere, Tennessee to camp for four days in the blistering heat with little to no refuge and more dust than anyone should be able to handle. That sounds kinda miserable, right? How then, you might ask, did Bonnaroo make it to this, their 10th year? I think that can be summed up in their newfound theme song, by the Del McCoury Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, “Bonnaroo (Feel the Magic)”.
Each year, a mix of newcomers and festival veterans come to the farm to feel the magic – and it’s that same feeling that keeps people coming back. Yes, it was hot as hell. And yes, the dust was worse than it’s ever been. But none of that mattered once you entered Centeroo – you were in a musical utopia. The music of the theme song lends itself to the musical diversity you can find on the farm – its mix of bluegrass and jazz blends right in on the farm, where at any given time you might be able to catch a country show or a metal band, perhaps some hip-hop or a little jam band action. There’s something for everyone at Bonnaroo if you look for it.
This year certainly felt like a birthday celebration; from the fireworks show on Saturday night to the parachuters lighting up the night sky on Friday. The watchtower received a makeover – we now had our own bizarro cuckoo clock that played Dr. John’s “Desitively Bonnaroo” whenever it rang. And speaking of Desitively Bonnaroo - the album where the festival got its name finally made its way to the farm in the form of Dr. John and the original Meters performing it on Saturday night. It was a pitch-perfect way to celebrate the festival’s past and look forward to the future.
Photo by Max Blau
The birthday party was obvious by the inclusion of some of the festival’s unofficial ambassadors – My Morning Jacket were there, making their sixth appearance on the farm. Widespread Panic also played for their sixth time, while Béla Fleck and Les Claypool were both there with their original bands, after having played the festival many times in many different iterations. It felt like a reunion of old friends coming together to celebrate a birthday, and we can’t wait to be celebrating year 20 in 2021. Who knows what the festival will look like then? But for this year – yes, it was hot. It was dusty. But throughout the whole weekend, no matter where you were, you could easily reach out your hand and feel the magic.
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, June 9th
River City Extension – This Tent – 4:00 p.m.
It was only fitting that after an 18+ hour drive from Boston, the first song I heard approaching my first set of the festival was Too Tired To Drink. It must be daunting to be the first act to open the tents, but River City Extension did a more than admirable job. Frontman Joe Michelinis energy was matched only by backup vocalist Sam Tacon – the pair stomped the stage and beckoned the crowd to join them at every opportunity, including clapping along to album standout New Intelligence. Dan Melius clearly loved every moment of the gig, blowing his trumpet to bits when he wasnt thumping his chest and belting out vocal parts that werent even his. It took some effort at times to get the audience totally hooked, like the lackluster sing-along during Something Salty, Something Sweet, but the band never stopped giving it their all. To their great credit, they certainly had some new fans by the end. -Ben Kaye
Greensky Bluegrass – On Tap Lounge – 4:00 p.m.
After pulling an all-nighter waiting in line to get onto the campgrounds, Michigan’s bluegrass quintet Greensky Bluegrass‘ soaring harmonies, rapidly-picked banjo and sweet melodies were the perfect start to Bonnaroo 2011. As the set progressed through highlights such as “Into the Rafters”, typical bluegrass fare extended jam sessions, and an appearance from a Pee-wee Herman doll on a stick, the modest crowd swelled into a sweaty mess of dancing that far exceeded the small set-up for the On Tap Lounge and surely guaranteed them an audience at their sets later in the weekend. -Caitlin Meyer
Hayes Carll – The Other Tent, 4:15 p.m.
Opening a tent on Thursday is not an easy task. Most years the crowds are small because the people just aren’t there – Thursday is a travel and setup day for many. But since Bonnaroo opened the gates early this year – Wednesday afternoon instead of early Thursday morning – the farm was already hopping by the time the tents were open for business. Playing to a decent sized audience, Hayes Carll and his five-piece band played a strong set of the good kind of country – no gloss, no fake pop – just a down to earth set of old style country songs. The crowd was really into it – Carll had them howling and cheering over the hilarious “Another Like You”. He played mostly songs from latest effort KMAG YOYO, with a few from earlier albums, including a personal favorite – his cover of Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”. -Carson O’Shoney
Band of Skulls – That Tent – 8:30 p.m.
If theres one thing this band proved during their early evening set, its that rock and roll is alive and well, and it breathes in England. Everything Band of Skulls did, every crashing crescendo, every tasty lick, every How you doin, Bonnaroo?!”, was met with raucous approval from the front rails to beyond the edges of the lawns outside the tent. Whether it was hits like Light of the Morning or Death by Diamonds and Pearls or new tracks they didnt even know yet, the crowd devoured every moment, including the pick tossed by Russell Marsden into their hungry hands as the band slammed into I Know What I Am. The track Impossible was transformed into an impressive closer with a monstrously extended breakdown, making it a standout in a Thursday night highlight. -Ben Kaye
Wavves – This Tent – 5:30 p.m.
Wavves‘ packed set at This Tent didn’t truly start until it was almost over. Although Nathan Williams’ sloppy, loud sound matched the energy of the records, it just wasn’t suited for an outdoor, sandy festival setting. The show began with a run of newer and really old tracks, both of which were lost upon the casual listener expecting solely “Post Acid” and “King of the Beach”. A reprimanded crowd surfer resulted in Williams (in typical anti-establishment fashion) demanding that the crowd do whatever they want to have fun and completely ignore security. Following this spiel, Williams launched into a run of songs off last year’s King of the Beach – finally engaging the crowd. “Linus Spacehead” was especially well-received, with Williams’ screams of “I’m stuck in the sky/I’m never coming down” resonating particularly well in the suspended smoke above the crowd. -Caitlin Meyer
Freelance Whales – That Tent – 5:30 p.m.
The strange appeal of Freelance Whales baffled me, for the most part — here is an act with enough of a pop lean to tweak some lyrical structure for easy radio airplay, whose vocalist isn’t even a stone’s throw away, and this band has chosen an ethereal indie route that you can take or leave. Bonnaroo heated up brutally fast, and following the more country-centric vibe of Futurebirds with cheerful positivity was a sorely-needed departure in helping the crowd forget the sun temporarily. Sure, it was a tent with shade, but let’s get real…humidity knows no bounds, so we take what we can get. This includes happy indie pop like the phenomenal Freelance Whales. Now, excuse me while the hippie who spilled his beer on my shoe buys me a brew. Cheers! -David Buchanan
Karen Elson – The Other Tent – 5:45 p.m.
A night before her divorce party, Karen Elson put on her own kind of fiesta on the farm. Bringing along 3/4ths of the Greenhornes (or 1/2 of the Raconteurs, if you prefer) – Elson and her band tore through selections from The Ghost Who Walks along with a couple of covers – including a fantastic take on Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” and her Lou Reed cover and Record Store Day single “Vicious”. The band sounded better than ever – they’ve come a long way since she first started playing shows last year. Elson was in total control of the crowd. They were simply enthralled by her and it showed, in both their reactions and her performance. -Carson O’Shoney
Best Coast – The Other Tent – 7:15 p.m.
Photo by Mark C. Austin
Besides Sleigh Bells, Best Coast had the biggest crowd of any Thursday act. Inexplicably, they were both in the smallest main tent at the festival. Bethany & co. took the stage to huge applause, then proceeded to play mostly selections from their latest effort, Crazy for You. Unfortunately, the band didn’t impress on stage. Most of the songs just bled together and it led to a pretty boring set. The crowd still went crazy for “Boyfriend”, and many didn’t seem to care that everything sounded the same – but for those of us hoping for more from a band that has written some solid songs, this was a big disappointment. -Carson O’Shoney
J. Cole – This Tent – 8:30 p.m.
Photo by Max Blau
Bonnaroo’s Thursday night lineup is notorious for nabbing acts on their way up. Acts like MGMT, Vampire Weekend and the xx have graced the farm on past Thursdays. This year, J. Cole was the obvious choice for Thursday’s about-to-blow-up act. He was the first act signed on Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, and he’s poised to release his debut album later this year. For fans who caught his show, it was a great chance to see him before he starts playing main stages – and he proved his worth with a high energy set. He got the crowd jumping, and they followed his every move, from throwing diamonds in the sky to a legit lighter salute – something rare in today’s concert scene. Look out for J. Cole – he’ll be all over the radio in due time. -Carson O’Shoney
The Drums – The Other Tent – 8:45 p.m.
Since it was mid-June in Tennessee, The Drums‘ vibe couldn’t be more suited to the temperatures, even excluding chilly coastlines elsewhere. There truly is little to be said for an act whose first big LP release has been repeatedly hailed by independent blogs, so we’ll stick to the current events.
You really had to be there to sink your teeth into a bite of something so surfer-oriented that you could imagine water coming down. It wasn’t a Centeroo fountain, but nobody complained — the sun had already been down for quite a bit. Songs like “Let’s Go Surfing” or “Best Friend” created a bubbly dance party that even frontman Jonathan Pierce took part of – without sweating too much, either.
With Thursday being the second worst afternoon to be billed on this week, we accept that The Drums could have half-assed their way through a whole short set. We’re happy they did not. -David Buchanan
Twin Shadow – This Tent – 10:00 p.m.
With the pain of having to choose between The Walkmen, Sleigh Bells, and Twin Shadow still fresh, George Lewis did his best to swoon the crowd in his favor. Although he may have lost in numbers, he won in performance – the dazzling blue and yellow lights, lush synthesizers, and low, tender voice in top-notch shape as he rolled through Forget‘s finest. Limited crowd interaction usually seems standoffish, but Lewis’ almost non-presence lent itself to an entrancing, rich set that matched the vibe and depth of the recordings perfectly. “I Can’t Wait” and “When We’re Dancing” proved to be show highlights, as the crowd swayed back and forth in pure ecstasy. – Caitlin Meyer
Sleigh Bells – The Other Tent – 10:15 p.m.
The full effect of the new Wednesday gate openings could be seen and felt by anyone who attended the Sleigh Bells set. In my four Roos, I have never seen a crowd like this one on a Thursday, nor ever at the Other Tent in general. As the Brooklyn duo burst into Crown On The Ground and the crowd surged forward, the first thought was this shouldve been at a bigger tent. When Alexis Krauss called out, This one goes out to the back before fan-favorite Rill Rill, she was talking to the people pressed against the fences to the right, up towards the water slide on the left, and beyond the trees in back. It was rowdy, almost scary, but behind a battering ram of bass and a wall of light and color turned solid by dust kicked into the air by dancing hordes, it was proof that these are two people totally at home throwing a party for upwards of 20,000 people, and rocking each and every one of them breathless. -Ben Kaye
Childish Gambino – This Tent – 11:30 p.m.
Photo by Mark C. Austin
Donald Glovers rapper side-persona is starting to become a more recognizable name than his real one. While in ways thats always been part of the Childish Gambino experiment, this was his first real test in front of a festival-sized crowd. He entered hard with the Youngbloodz sampling Let Me Dope You, but recent smash Freaks and Geeks had a strange mix and caught Gambino out of breath, slow on just his second song. Though he mumbled through most of his crowd interactions, his confidence grew with his energy as he bounded about stage, climbing atop a speaker to begin Yes. The crowd was with him the whole way, chanting his name during no fewer than five interims, and rushing the stage as he mounted the rails for I Be On That. In short-shorts and a Garth Brooks The Cat in the Hat t-shirt, he certainly didnt cut the typical rapper image, but the speed showcased on the Kanye sampling Break (All of the Lights), the vocal versatility of My Shine (he can sing!), and the gruffness closing out Lights Turned On show hes actually got the chops to be a recognizable force in hip-hop. -Ben Kaye
Beats Antique – The Other Tent – 11:45 p.m.
Classifying Beats Antique‘s unique blend of every genre imaginable is immensely difficult – and the same applies to their live show. The bass was heavy, but not enough to warrant dub step dancing; the percussion reeked afro-beat, but the grooves weren’t long enough to really get into. For a stoner-friendly world fusion jamming show, the set was plagued by prematurely ending songs and an abnormal amount of talking. That being said, though, the audience packed into the tent without complaint and spilled onto the surrounding grass, enjoying the musicianship as the band frequently switched around instruments and laughing at the attempt to organize the ‘world’s largest simultaneous clap’. -Caitlin Meyer
Friday, June 10th
Sharon Van Etten – Which Stage – 12:15 p.m.
Sharon Van Etten is no stranger to middle Tennessee. As she proclaimed during her Friday morning set, she lived in Murfreesboro (a much maligned college town) for a few years and, as she put it, “I’m not ashamed!”. This year marked her first performance at Bonnaroo, bringing her back to the region where she went to college. She seemed humbled by the experience – saying she was “a little overwhelmed” – as well as visibly flustered by the heat. But she pressed on and put on a pleasant early afternoon show. The sun was punishing, but the crowd didn’t let it distract them from Van Etten’s nuanced melodies. With a two piece band backing her up, she worked her way through songs from both of her albums, eliciting some strong reactions from the sparse but constantly growing crowd. A woman near me wiped tears away, while others near me attempted to dance – a difficult task for an introspective songwriter. Whatever the reaction, the crowd sure seemed appreciative. -Carson O’Shoney
Kylesa – That Tent – 1:45 p.m.
Two drummers going at it behind a keyboardist who adds ambience with a theremin? Can you say sci-fi horror with a twist of lime? Kylesa, while pounding through a heavy helping of Static Tensions and Spiral Shadow in pure rock fervor, tore down barriers of sound live, and there was not a single still body by the end of it all. If you needed evidence, all you had to do was look down towards the ground, where packs of crushed American Spirits and shattered Ray-Bans lost in a sand-locked mosh pit during “Running Red” and “Scapegoat”. Sincerely…Kylesa is not your usual metal band, and far from the quieter end of progressive, but throw in some Mastodon and you might as well call the infirmary ahead of schedule. You’ll need it. -David Buchanan
Béla Fleck & The Flecktones – Which Stage – 2:00 p.m.
Béla Fleck got the band back together last year – well really, the Flecktones never actually broke up, but for the first time since 1992 they’re back with original member Howard Levy. As the first major festival on their schedule since then, Bonnaroo was a perfect fit for their instrumental brand of bluegrass fusion, especially since Béla Fleck is one of the unofficial ambassadors of the festival – he’s been at the festival in some capacity more years than not. The four-piece wowed the substantial crowd with their incredible musicianship – the Wooten brothers seemed to be having the time of their lives, and Béla was masterful on the banjo. They mostly drew from their latest album, their first with the original lineup since 1992, Rocket Science, but they still found room for older classics like “Big Country”. Béla will be back, but this particular set will last as one of his most special at Bonnaroo. -Carson O’Shoney
Justin Townes Earle – The Other Tent – 2:30 p.m.
The first full Bonnaroovian day found Americana sounds taking over the smallest tent, and Justin Townes Earle lent his honest voice and songs to the scene. Joined on cello for the first third of his set by the man who played just beforehand, Ben Sollee, Earle put on an impressive display of guitar plucking and folk/country stylings. The set was made almost quaint by his constant reference to the crowd as ladies and gentlemen, though that illusion was dashed when he introed Slippin and Slidin by saying, Now ladies and gentlemen, as most people know I like to do a lot of drugs. So this song is about my sort of unwillingness to compete in the game of life sometimes. Like I said, the mans honest. A high-stepping, intense cover of Lightnin Hopkins My Starter Wont Start was a highlight of a simple yet glowing mid-day performance. -Ben Kaye
The Sword – That Tent – 3:30 p.m.
If the album art from Warp Riders wasn’t a big fat indicator of the direction The Sword comes from, you have a lot to learn about classic rock. From covering ZZ Top to dancing in and out of their three-disc catalog during the hottest part of the day, The Sword re-injects absolute metal into the current mainstream, on tools of the trade every band should acquire — not the least of which being sheer stage presence. Unfortunately, while all of the general pieces fell into place, Kyle Shutt appeared to be in some other place entirely for the majority of the set, particularly on opener “Unearthing The Orb”. What could have made for a fine throwback to Heavy Metal wound up a sub-par rendition of anything The Sword stands for, but the crowd didn’t seem to care at all. -David Buchanan
Abigail Washburn – The Other Tent – 4:00 p.m.
Photo by Max Blau
Despite starting 15 minutes late and having early sound issues, Abigail Washburn‘s set was undoubtedly one of the weekend’s best. Starting with City of Refuge‘s title track, dabbling in old material, and playing an extended version of traditional gospel song “Keys to the Kingdom”, her vocal prowess and impressive clawhammer banjo playing were the epitome of musicianship. It wasn’t all show though, as she danced around the stage as her bandmates each took a solo and eagerly interacted with the audience throughout. Round out the set with an incredibly talented pair of violinists, horns and a guest appearance from hubby Béla Fleck and Washburn just couldn’t lose. -Caitlin Meyer
Walk the Moon – Cafe Where? – 4:30 p.m.
The cool-down factor of the shaded Cafe Where was totally negated as it became a party packed with Walk the Moon fans mostly hailing from the bands home of Cincinnati. With a sincere yelp of So pumped!, the band got right to work with The Liftaway, jumping about and smiling joyfully. The track Lisa Baby was given a ridiculously fun vibe setting the whole tent bumping, and it was simply superfluous to preface Anna Sun by saying, Lets get a little crazy, were at Bonnaroo!. To introduce what would be the first encore I witnessed at the festival, they said, This song is appropriately titled Me and All My Friends. It was indeed apt, as a group of friends is exactly what this band feels like on stage. At one point, the woman next to me leaned in: I dont think theyre signed, dude, which is insane. Im gonna get them signed. Good luck with that, lady, because after that crisp, electrifying set, they fully deserve it. -Ben Kaye
Opeth – That Tent – 5:15 p.m.
Opeth is on the cusp of dropping its 10th album release, so for tattooed and well-worn traveling fans of this Swedish prog-metal powerhouse, expectations wavered sporadically between “We want new shit” and “We want classics.” The difficulty lay in deciding what constitutes “classic”, and with zero unheard tunes making the set, we settled for a sufficient seven or eight song doling out of the past. Ghost Reveries’ “The Grand Conjuration”, alongside Watershed‘s “Hex Omega” and “The Lotus Eater”, bookended a seven-strong setlist, all centering on a quaint Deliverance slow-burn, “In My Time Of Need” — this is not at all the ideal series, but with nods to both Blackwater Park and one half of my favorite de facto metal double-album, it was convenient. It’s a mild appetizer to sate taste buds, pending their 2011 Heritage tour. -David Buchanan
Givers – On Tap Lounge – 5:20 p.m.
Photo by Max Blau
Yet again proving the On Tap Lounge stage to be the weekend’s hidden gem, Lafayette, Louisiana’s Givers‘ energetic and fun set added some life to a long Friday afternoon. Sugary sweet male-female vocal harmonies alongside whimsical melodies resulted in a thoroughly danceable and enjoyable set. Singer Tiffany Lamson made sure to graciously thank the crowd after almost every song, and the genuine excitement was really refreshing. Highlights included EP favorite “Meantime” as well as tracks from their upcoming debut LP, and an extended version of poppy, psychedelic “Up Up Up” to close the show. -Caitlin Meyer
The Decemberists – What Stage – 5:30 p.m.
Photo by Max Blau
Were The Decemberists. Were pleased to be here. Were gonna play some songs for you. This first one starts like this. So quoth Colin Meloy as the midday heat began to fade and his band started their show with July, July!. That little speech set the stage perfectly, as the performance was simple, straightforward, and full of witty banter. This was the band’s first festival gig without Jenny Conlee, and Meloy sent her regards. She says hello, he said, and shes doing well. Now heres a song about the end of the world. He then chugged straight into Calamity Song. Conlees replacement was serviceable, though she wasnt nearly as charming or vocally strong next to Meloy. Still, the band played a pleasant set heavy on cuts from The King is Dead, though in the end the commentary was perhaps more memorable than the music. -Ben Kaye
Wanda Jackson – The Other Tent – 5:45 p.m.
Photo by Mark C. Austin
The First Lady of Rockabilly made her triumphant debut at Bonnaroo this year by transporting her audience to a different time. When she took the stage, suddenly we weren’t on a farm in Manchester. We were in Memphis in the late ’50s, sitting in on Wanda Jackson taking us on a tour of the music of the time. She covered a wide range – from country to rockabilly to gospel, with even a little yodeling in there. During her set she often spoke about her experiences with Elvis, proving to the younger generation her importance and experience. She also talked a lot about Jack White – prompting the crowd to freak out, hoping for an appearance by Mr. White himself. Alas, he did not show up, but she played some great renditions from the album that he produced, The Party Ain’t Over. Her backing band, The High Dollars, were extremely tight and made everything sound even better. She summed up her set quite nicely while introducing her biggest hit – “We’re gonna do “Let’s Have A Party” – why not? It’s Bonnaroo!” -Carson O’Shoney
Florence + The Machine – This Tent – 6:45 p.m.
Photo by Max Blau
The crowd for Londons Florence + The Machine at the This Tent (or, as the result of one of numerous sign failures, the S Tent) stretched back to the famed Mushroom Fountain. That many feet kicked a lot of dust into the air that when mixed with the early setting suns glare made for a difficult view of the stage if you werent under the tent. Even if they couldnt quite see her, they spiritedly sang with her for the Drumming Song refrain and the gorgeous chorus of Cosmic Love. The otherworldly voice shes become famed for matched her stage nature, as she swirled about theatrically in a flowing black robe, jumping and writhing to the beats, at one point bowing low as if performing for royalty. She didnt speak much, but that seemed fine with a crowd who wanted nothing more than to hear that wondrous voice or just bask in her presence, as sometimes still silence from the stage received the loudest ovations. -Ben Kaye
NOFX – That Tent – 7:00 p.m.
For a group who has habitually exhibited a “Don’t Give A Fuck” mentality over the years, NOFX‘s seemingly random inclusion at Bonnaroo was given to plenty of aggro-laced anarchy. Sadly, the display felt more like a cross between lackluster track pickings and a bad comedy routine. With an entire arsenal of aggression to draw from, with a means to literally destroy a crowd that was most likely high on something, “Stickin’ In My Eye” and “Linoleum” were thrown into the mix lazily, while NOFX itself spent the majority of time acting 20 years younger than they actually are. I expected immature antics, I expected crazy and stupid. I did not expect vicarious adolescence to be so god-damned boring. Thankfully, the circle pit managed to rock its own show out. -David Buchanan
My Morning Jacket – What Stage – 8:00 p.m.
Photo by Max Blau
This year, their sixth at Bonnaroo, My Morning Jacket finally made their What stage debut. It wasn’t in the spot that some were hoping – confining them to a two hour set doesn’t give them justice, especially after their four hour late night marathon in 2008, but the Kentucky boys made the best of it. A trumpeter opened the set with the opening notes of “Victory Dance”, then Jim James & co. appeared and sent the audience into a frenzy. James, sporting amazing boots as usual, was turned way down for the first part of the opening song, which led to some confusion among the crowd. The problem was fixed quickly and then MMJ were off and running. Donning a new stage setup, the band powered through mostly songs from new album Circuital – all of which sounded great live, but reached into their expansive discography for some old crowd favorites like “Off the Record”, “Steam Engine”, and “Mahgeetah”. The Nashville Horn Association helped them out throughout their set, then they got an extra boost from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band for a rowdy rendition of “Highly Suspicious” (that it was right after “Holdin’ On To Black Metal” made for a great one-two punch of fun) and “Dancefloors”. After ending with their classic “One Big Holiday”, there was no doubt that My Morning Jacket are still the unquestioned Kings of Bonnaroo. -Carson O’Shoney
Primus – Which Stage – 9:15 p.m.
Hot off the heels of a stellar performance in Raleigh, NC, the three men of Primus fame decided to pay a visit at Bonnaroo’s esteemed Which Stage, complete with paratroopers and falling blue lights (anyone who caught a little black ribbon with an iPhone scanning square, please tell me what the fuck that was). The challenge in catching an act twice in a row is running through the redundancy of a repeat setlist, so Primus was tasked with changing things up. Les Claypool led the way, and though alterations were minor, the mood was most definitely a far cry from some dinky auditorium in North Carolina’s capitol city.
A sea of stoned faces jumped to “Harold On The Rocks” and my personal favorite, “American Life”; those who weren’t moving were mesmerized by the blue lights overhead, the random green lasers others packed for just such an occasion, and the disturbing realism of Claypool’s pig mask (and yet again, no “Mr. Krinkle”). Primus could have feasibly pulled all the stops at ‘Roo, but decided to stick relatively close to their touring set. Insider information aside, we do know that Primus did not give it 100%, and for reasons known only to fans of Primus, the atmosphere had not been dampened a bit — save by the humidity. -David Buchanan
Big Boi – The Other Tent – 12:45 a.m.
Photo by Max Blau
Ever since the release of Sir Lucious Left Foot, Big Boi has gone on the road and become one of the most dependable live hip-hop acts around. It doesn’t hurt when you have an extensive back catalogue from one of the greatest hip-hop acts of all time to cull music from. He did play through plenty of OutKast’s greatest hits – all of which hyped up the crowd to extreme levels. The “new shit” also went over really well – he played the best cuts from his solo album like “Shutterbug”, “Daddy Fat Sax” and “General Patton”. He also had plenty of people dancing – both on stage and in the audience. His crew of jumpsuit-wearing backup dancers were great, but they had nothing on the little kid that was just going crazy front and center for a good chunk of the set. Ultimately, many left the set early to go see Lil’ Wayne (seriously Bonnaroo, that conflict is brutal), but it was Big Boi who ended up stealing the show and put on the best hip-hop set of the night. -Carson O’Shoney
Arcade Fire – What Stage – 11:00 p.m.
Photo by Max Blau
If Coachella was their coming out party as one of Americas most important modern bands, then this was their confirmation. The display was almost identical to that other festivals, with the Grindhouse trailers and theater marquee, but there was a triumphant quality that could not have been present in California. For years, fans have clamored to get Arcade Fire to the Tennessee farm, and it was immensely gratifying to hear Win Butler step to the mic to say We are very fuckin happy to finally be here. Were so happy. Ok, here we go, before diving into Keep The Car Running. It was a homecoming for a band that never lived here, and it was perfection.
Apposite opener Ready To Start had every band member and every audience member wilding out. The sheer power of watching six musicians simultaneously step to their mics to scream Hey! during No Cars Go has chills crawling up my arms even as I write about it. Pianos pounded, guitars wailed, accordions hummed, and everyone danced.
Butler spoke of his appreciation for the heat, saying that being from Texas, summer should be hot and humid. Its nice to feel proper humidity again, before changing a lyric in The Suburbs to and drive to a field in the middle of Tennessee with my friends to cacophonous cheering. They exploded from that track into highlight Month of May, turning suddenly into an honest-to-goodness rock-and-roll band. This persona continued through Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) and the ferocious transition into Rebellion (Lies), ending in a drum being thrown across stage for the final shattering note.
As the lights came up for the encore and the crowd pushed forward to fill the gaps left by those thinking a late-night set would be better than this, Butler said, We wrote this song to play in front of 20 people. It took some getting use to to play it for a field full of people. With tens of thousands singing along, Wake Up felt built for this venue size. If it hadnt been proven already, giving the final song to Régine Chassagne for Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) solidified that this isnt just Win Butlers crew, but a formidable band in its prime. You just have the honor of living at the same time. -Ben Kaye
Lil Wayne – Which Stage – 1:30 a.m.
Photo by Mark C. Austin
There has been a grand amount of hooplah regarding MCs at Bonnaroo, this year. Ever since Kanye West’s late arrival back in 2008, plus a severe lack of urban vibes at a festival known for its recycling benefits, this was an unexpected docket member to spot. Nonetheless, alongside Big Boi, Wiz Khalifa, Atmosphere, and Eminem…here lies Lil Wayne‘s set.
Despite some new Carter IV material, a rump-shakin’ audience of females, the bombastic introduction (which would no doubt be topped later), and persistent hype amongst fans and detractors alike, this performance was easily the least engrossing or original rap output all weekend long, and this is a real shame.
I’ve been told that Lil Wayne’s bass-heavy beatdown came overlapping Mumford & Sons, that the general audiences were split into semi-factions of rap versus folk rock. Typically, one vies for a cleaner cut-off point, such as what was present when Buffalo Springfield faded on “Rockin’ In The Free World” to launch Eminem’s blasts shortly thereafter, instead of wishing one was in the Silent Disco. A rap show, drum-and-bass do not make. Let’s hear the damn lyrics, already! -David Buchanan
Pretty Lights – That Tent – 2:15 a.m.
Derek Vincent Smith aka Pretty Lights used his coveted latenight spot to introduce a new stage show. Though it was almost a half-hour late, it was a pretty cool set to behold. Through the dust and haze, he cut a shadowy figure amongst towering light structures that lit up like a cityscape. Various waves and swarms of colors and shapes varied from song to song, swirling out across a constantly pulsating crowd. Though samples of Pink Floyds Time”, Kanyes All of the Lights, and the Steve Miller Band/Seals Fly Like An Eagle made appearances, it was a slow start, as at one point he cut the music to bellow, How many of yall in here are real Pretty Lights motherfuckers?! Come on!, apparently unsatisfied with one tracks response. The tempo picked up, though, and if it didnt before, at least his stage show lives up to his name. -Ben Kaye
Shpongle – This Tent – 2:30 a.m.
Photo by Max Blau
Wow is the only word that comes to mind when trying to verbalize “The Shpongletron Experience”. Opening with “Divine Moments of Truth” and launching into a nonstop onslaught of lasers, blinking eyes, warped faces, hooping girls on-stage, psychedelic imagery, glow sticks, and, oh, music – the show was almost too much. But it wasn’t. Simon Posford, hidden in the top shelf of his contraption wearing a feathered hat, kept the hallucinogenic dream/nightmare, depending on your state, going strong for close to three hours, pushing ravers and curious passersby to the limit after a long day in the sun. -Caitlin Meyer
Saturday, June 11th
The beauty or curse of early sets on Saturday is that most people are too wiped from the overexcitement of the previous nights late-night sets. Thus, the crowd at the first show of the day, U.K. blues rockers Alberta Cross, was pretty sparse, though a handful of devotees were right up from. These fans got the pleasure of lead-singer Petter Ericson Stakee right in their face for Rise from the Shadows, getting a chance to belt into the mic along with him, and one lucky fan even got to keep Stakees tambourine. The set was full of newer tunes, some never before played live, though older tracks like Old Man Chicago and closer ATX were standouts. The mix was a little heavy on the lows, often masking the piano and vocals, but altogether it was a rocking way to start the day. -Ben Kaye
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears – This Tent – 12:30 p.m.
Black Joe Lewis is a near-perfect early afternoon festival band. High energy bands are a valuable resource in that time slot. Luckily, they were put right where they belong and they kicked off Saturday afternoon with a bang. With the band decked out in classy black & white, they kicked it into high gear early and often with their mix of blues and funk. Plenty of other acts got their audience up and dancing, but few did it with the swagger and soul of Black Joe Lewis. -Carson O’Shoney
Hanggai – The Other Tent – 12:45 p.m.
Making their American debut and kicking off the day of gypsy punk music curated by Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz, Chinese folk band Hanggai set the bar for the rest of Saturday’s artists incredibly high. Seamlessly blending throat singing, a wide variety of traditional stringed instruments, and phenomenal harmonies, songs such as “Xiger Xiger” were breathtaking, to say the least. Unable to express his excitement and gratitude for the day in English, the lead singer just smiled and danced. The energy was contagious, and standout tracks such as “Drinking Song” eased a skeptical crowd into shamelessly indulging in the exotic beauty of Hanggai. -Caitlin Meyer
You Choose The Cover: Lelia Broussard .vs. The Sheepdogs – This Tent – 2:00 p.m.
This was a unique show featuring two acts competing for a deal with Atlantic Records and the Holy Grail of music publicity, the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. L.A.s Lelia Broussard and Canadas The Sheepdogs had made it through various rounds of voting to get down to Tennessee. SNLs Jay Pharoh was on hand to MC and ask audience members to text their choice after the performances, but it was clear who the winners would be before things even got started. Canadas presence was in full force, with flags and beach-balls bearing the maple leaf bouncing and waving around. Little Lelia Broussard came on stage dressed in a day-glow yellow top and red face paint, her band dressed all in black. She cheerily busted out poppy songs about fucking like a teenager and hipsters when theyre bitches, and a good portion of the crowd was really into it.
The vibe was totally different when The Sheepdogs ascended the stairs. The considerably increased crowd sent up woots and hollers as the foursome personifying 70s Southern rockers plugged in their instruments. One of the greatest rock moments of the whole festival came as lead-singer Ewan Currie looked for a bottle-opener for his beer. Someone get this man a bottle opener, bellowed Pharoh to the stage crew. As a fan tossed a lighter to Currie, applause and cheers rang out. They reached their apex as Currie popped open his beer, tossed the lighter back, and took a swing. Never mind! cried Pharoh over the din. Give it up for The Sheepdogs! Then the first bluesy chords of Who? struck, and for me, the contest was over. If not then, then surely after the cheering and singalong for I Dont Know, the winner was clear. Maybe they just fit better at Roo, though, as the contest website shows Broussard with far more Facebook likes and Tweets. You know where my vote went, though. The Sheepdogs rocked. -Ben Kaye
Old Crow Medicine Show – Which Stage – 2:00 p.m.
Photo by C. Taylor Crothers
So enamored was I by The Sheepdogs, that I only managed to get in two and a half songs of Old Crow Medicine Show. Thankfully, the first one and a half were Wagon Wheel and Tell It To Me, both featuring the horns section from Mumford & Sons. Feel that cool breeze when we played that Wagon Wheel? asked Ketch Secor. It was like a gust of air conditioning blown off the highway. I didnt feel that, but I heard a jamming hoedown and an encore of Tear It Down. Before they played that, Secor screamed out, You cant come down to Manchester, Tennessee and not sing a song about a mule! Well, glad I got to hear it then. -Ben Kaye
Forro in the Dark – The Other Tent – 2:15 p.m.
Directly following Hanggai was no easy task, but Brazilian world dance band was definitely up to the task. Dressed in coordinating button ups and ties, the five-piece continued to dole out extended jamming doses of percussion-heavy, danceable rhythms with an undeniable South American flavor. The Other Stage curator Eugene Hutz made a guest appearance, to an explosive positive response from the audience. Between the on-stage banter, long-winded but hilarious band member introductions and phenomenally performed music, the set was yet another testament to Hutz’s ability to book bands, and on the last soulful trumpet solo, it was tough to watch them leave the stage. -Caitlin Meyer
Alison Krauss & Union Station, featuring Jerry Douglas – Which Stage – 4:00 p.m.
There is always more than a fair share bluegrass and grassroots music at Bonnaroo, and while this was no Dr. John or Greensky Bluegrass, Alison Krauss and her band of country pluckers never ceased to dole out the spirited vibrations at their Which Stage performance. Inevitably, passers by stopped to take a gander, and those arriving a shy late still soaked in Ms. Krauss’ angelic voice and killer southern charms.
Alison Krauss & Union Station are a staple in the world of folk and country, while their leading fiddle-strokin’ lady has made her mark beside the likes of Robert Plant (who totally should have made an appearance here) and Brad Paisley. Nonetheless, seeing this set was a lot like visiting family in the mountains for a bonfire and a jug of homemade wine. Comfortable. -David Buchanan
Portugal. The Man – That Tent – 5:00 p.m.
About halfway through Deer Tick, rabid Portugal. The Man fans began to infiltrate That Tent, pushing to the front. That eagerness was mirrored in the band’s performance too, as John Gourney excitedly recounted the band’s last time at Bonnaroo when the band finally took the stage. Blasting through The Satanic Satanist‘s staples “Do You” and “People Say” alongside two new tracks from the upcoming, In The Mountain, In The Cloud, and a sampling of older material, the band could do no wrong as the swirling mix of Gourney’s vocals, psychedelics and impressive guitar riffs exuded energy and passion. With any luck, next time they swing through the farm, they’ll have a night time set to finally do their entrancing light show justice. -Caitlin Meyer
DeVotchKa – The Other Tent – 5:15 p.m.
Around 5:30 p.m., the gathered audience at the Other Tent began to get impatient – 15 minutes had gone by since their scheduled set time with no sight of DeVotchKa. However, a couple minutes later, Gogol Bordello walked on stage and gave a surprise three song acoustic set. This pleased the crowd at Eugene HÃ¼tz’s Gypsy Punk Revue stage, but they were even more taken when DeVotchKa finally walked on at 6 p.m. – then got really crazy when Gogol came back on stage to help them play their second song. Playing a good selection from their albums while focusing on the new one, the band sounded solid as usual as frontman Nick Urata crooned his way into the audience’s heart. The icing on the top was the aerial burlesque dancer, who ascended two strands of thick ribbon to the top of the tent and performed a stunning dance routine while the band played. It’s become standard for their shows, but it doesn’t make it any less magical when you do get to experience it. -Carson O’Shoney
Mumford & Sons – Which Stage – 6:15 p.m.
Photo by Mark C. Austin
The problem with repeating acts from year to year is that they now have to play up to the expectations set by the previous appearance. Mumford & Sons set last summer was phenomenal, and while this one was good, it just didnt have the umph as their tent show did. Still, it was the biggest Which Stage crowd of the day, with fans hanging off walls and trees, and there were improvements: the harmonies on Timshel were tighter than ever, and their banter was better. David Mayfield and dobro master/produce/Union Station member Jerry Douglas joined the band for Awake My Soul, and future album standout Lover of the Light continues to be an impressive live rocker. The absolute highlight had to be when members of Old Crow Medicine Show, The Apache Relay, Douglas, and Cadillac Sky joined in for an encore of Amazing Grace. A total of 19 people were onstage, and that makes it two years running that Mumford has brought a band not on the schedule to the festival. -Ben Kaye
Loretta Lynn – That Tent – 6:45 p.m.
“Y’all ready for a real country show?” – that’s what Loretta Lynn‘s bandleader exclaimed at the beginning of her first Bonnarooo set. It was the perfect place for her old school country – she now lives in Tennessee so it was something of a hometown show for her. The band played a song without her first, then her twin daughters came on stage for one song before she finally greeted the crowd to huge applause. You never know what you’re gonna get vocal-wise when a singer is pushing 80 years old – but Lynn put any questions aside and sounded absolutely fantastic. She did put on a real country show – her own catalogue acts like a tour through country music history on it’s own – but she also covered some standards by Conway Twitty, Patsy Cline, The Oak Ridge Boys and more. When she transitioned into her gospel section towards the end, it sounded just as fantastic as everything else. This was yet another set where Jack White was mentioned and sent the crowd into a frenzy – but she claimed that he had “left her out to dry” after she asked him to join her on stage. “Just wait till I see him next…” she said jokingly. This was disappointing for some – but she more than made up with it throughout her set, which ended with what everyone was hoping for – “Coal Miner’s Daughter”. -Carson O’Shoney
The Black Keys – What Stage – 8:00 p.m.
Photo by Max Blau
The Black Keys have become a well oiled machine live. Sometimes, this can be a good thing. For example, the band – weather it was just Patrick and Dan, or their expanded band they brought on for the middle portion of the set – sounded extremely tight. And they were playing the songs that the extremely and ridiculously large crowd wanted to hear. But the problem with a machine is that it leaves no room for improvisation. When a band consists of two people and touts a fantastic and substantial back catalogue, you expect them to be able to cull from a large number of songs and play a different show each night. The White Stripes used to do it all the time – they knew their material like the back of their hand and could play pretty much anything on a whim on any given night. Unfortunately, the Black Keys forgo this and more or less play the exact same hour and 10 minutes every show, regardless of time or place. Most bands realize that Bonnaroo is not just another stop on the itinerary. Some bands play multiple shows, others promise special sets with special guests, others take advantage of their time and play perhaps one of their longest shows ever (Radiohead comes to mind). Instead, the Black Keys ended their set 20 minutes short and didn’t come back on for an encore – even though they probably had the biggest crowd for a non-headliner. It’s always nice to see bands really appreciate the farm and the fans that brave all the elements to see them there. And it makes it that much more disappointing when a band doesn’t live up to the challenge. -Carson O’Shoney
Buffalo Springfield -Which Stage – 9:30 p.m.
Photo by Max Blau
Buffalo Springfield was unquestionably the most unique “get” for Bonnaroo this year. Neil Young’s first band, with Stephen Stills and Richie Furay, reunited last year for the first time since 1968. This was their lone festival date of the year, after a short run of headlining dates leading up to the fest. They unceremoniously walked on stage and went right into “On My Way Home”. The sound was very quiet – a recurring theme at the Which stage, prompting the crowd to chant “turn it up!” or “loud-er! loud-er!” between songs. They eventually balanced the sound out – but it was never as loud as it should have been. It was no bother though, as the band seemed to be having a good time on stage and their energy was contagious. The crowd, a good mix of young and old, showed great appreciation for being able to see this legendary band in such a setting. That setting was not lost on the band, either – towards the end of their set, Neil Young proclaimed “This is the biggest gig weve ever done. This is about 10 times as many people as weve ever seen as a group before.”
Photo by Max Blau
While Stills and Furay together have more songs in their catalogue than Young, it was Young who stole the show – he had more energy than the rest of them combined, and his rendition of “Broken Arrow” may have been the best single song performance. Well, that or their rocking set closing version of Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”. Young was by far the crowd favorite – they cheered every time he showed up on stage or began to sing. He led the crowd in some arm waving – he made his arms into an “O” while shouting “Bonnarooooooooooo” and the crowd ate up every bit of it. A lightning storm threatened to cut the set short, but it ended up just being about 15 minutes of medium rain and actually added to the set – the strong winds made for some great natural hair-blowing-in-the-wind effects. Even those who weren’t familiar with the bands work were surely impressed – seeing Neil Young wail on guitar is simply one of the better things in all of music. But the final three knockout punches of “Broken Arrow”, “For What It’s Worth” and “Rockin’ in the Free World” were what really solidified it as one of the best sets of the weekend. -Carson O’Shoney
Matthew and the Atlas – On Tap Lounge – 10:40 p.m.
Watching a folk group who build their music upon sweet vocal harmonies while Buffalo Springfield was moderately audible certainly made for an interesting juxtaposition. Matthew and the Atlas‘ brand of orchestral folk, though, and their immaculate, passionate performance demanded the audience’s full attention. Pushing through songs from their assorted EP’s, notably “Within the Rose”, their performance was heartfelt and honest, as was the band, as they were profoundly surprised and humbled near the end by how many people had trickled into their show. Riveting narrative lyrics, chilling harmonies – the next time these guys are on the farm, they definitely won’t be playing such a small stage. – Caitlin Meyer
Eminem – What Stage – 11:00 p.m.
Have you ever been to a concert where everything went so inexplicably smooth, you’d swear the crowd reactions were scripted under duress? So impeccably spot-on, the rehearsals alone would make sweatshops look like air-conditioned cubicle office spaces?
Eminem is back in the rural south…and we were there.
Everyone — the thoroughly baked, the recklessly drugged, those mercilessly aching for a direct-to-camp teleportation device — stood before the What Stage to witness Eminem’s Recovery (and then some), wondering what the selection had in store.
Marshall Mathers & The Recovery Band whipped the once-fatigued audience into a frenzy, offering a reliable Em medley — “Won’t Back Down”, “3AM”, “Square Dance”, “W.T.P.”, “So Bad”, the works — followed closely by our first real surprise all evening, the entrance of Royce Da 5’9, forming rap duo Bad Meets Evil as though it were Voltron (thus prompting a harmonious expanse of handheld fire during “Lighters”).
The rest of Em’s performance was wrapped around expected fare, notably some naughty call-and-response, and hit songs “Love The Way You Lie” and encore track “Lose Yourself”. Was it all default settings? Undoubtedly, but the key factors at play were Eminem’s overall energy — consistently explosive, to put it lightly — and the swaying arms that wafted left and right all into the late, late hour.
Eminem did a very by-the-book show, and he came at it 110%, never once dropping the ball. He entered with swagger, he exited with class; he gave respect where it was due, he sent appropriate shout-outs to past collaborators and longtime friends, the late Nate Dogg and Proof. By Saturday night, most of us were ready to call it quits (AM DJ sets, notwithstanding), but the What Stage lawn saw very little inactivity come the arrival of Detroit’s prodigal son.
Photo by Max Blau
The sing-along set ended with a bang come fireworks, and a pilgrimage to the Tennessee farmland was wasted none, even when most of us wondered why Lil Wayne, being in the vicinity prior, had not joined in for a “No Love” reprisal. Either way, welcome back to the south, Em. -David Buchanan
Dr. John – That Tent – 12:30 p.m.
Photo by Max Blau
One of the biggest attractions of the weekend was undoubtedly Dr. John‘s late night set. What better way to celebrate a birthday than by inviting the man who inspired the name of the festival? Bonnaroo did just that – and Dr. John brought a few friends along to perform his album, Desitively Bonnaroo, in its entirety (the album that, of course, gave Bonnaroo it’s name). The legendary Meters – with their original lineup – served as the backing band while also opening the show with a set of their own classics. Once their 45 minute career-spanning set was over, there was a short break before they came back on stage and were joined by Alan Toussaint and, finally, Dr. John – who received a hero’s welcome. With a who’s-who of classic New Orleans music on-stage, including the original backup singers from the album – they ripped right into album opener “Quitters Never Win”. From the opening all the way to closer “Desitively Bonnaroo”, That Tent was overtaken by the New Orleans sound – there was surely not a more funky party this year at Bonnaroo. -Carson O’Shoney
Omar Souleyman -The Other Tent – 12:30 a.m.
Omar Souleyman is a Syrian artist, specializing in his own unique brand of genre-bending traditional Middle Eastern and dance music, whose set rounded out the eclectic group of artists hand-picked by Eugene Hutz for the gypsy punk celebration. Despite the live show only including keyboards and Souleyman’s trademark stoic delivery, the outrageous beats were still delivered cleanly to the increasingly impatient Gogol Bordello crowd. While standouts such as “Hafer Gabrak Bidi” and their infectious melodies worked, the set, on the whole, lent itself to monotony, as an hour and a half was too long. -Caitlin Meyer
Scissor Sisters – This Tent – 12:45 a.m.
I had only cursory knowledge of Scissor Sisters before this show, so I wasnt expecting much, but in the end I was pleasantly surprised. It was by far the most positive vibe I felt all festival, lewd as it was. How lewd? To all the girls who are scantly clad today, proclaimed Ana Matronic, You look like whores. Good job. But that idea of loving who you are, whatever that is, was pervasive, and it made for a damn good time. Pillars of flames shot up for Fire With Fire, and their cover of Comfortably Numb transformed the song into a totally new, spectacular beast. Tongue firmly in cheek, they showed they knew exactly who they were when they introduced I Dont Feel Like Dancing as your moms favorite Scissor Sisters song. And your grandmas, too. That sort of self-awareness and confidence is what kept having to walk away from Dr. John from being utterly depressing. -Ben Kaye
Late Night Parade with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Portugal. The Man – Centeroo – 2:15 a.m.
As soon as Dr. John’s set ended – people started seeing flashes and hearing cheers coming from side stage. What emerged from the backstage area was the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, complete with My Morning Jacket’s Patrick Hallahan, leading the crowd in Bonnaroo’s late night parade. Bonnaroo had tweeted about this earlier that day, alluding that the parade would lead to “something crazy you don’t even know about…”, so people followed. The end result didn’t matter to most – everyone was having a ball walking beside and behind the PHJB, marching in step and clapping along. A few were quick to ask “Where’s Jack White?” between songs, but most just let loose and had a good time following them from the That Tent through Centeroo, past Girl Talk at This Tent. The destination ended up being somewhere between Which Stage and the Cinema Tent, along the outside fence of Centeroo, where a band was waiting on a float like you’d see in a parade with Mr. T’s head. Smoke obscured the band as we walked up, then the PHJB gave their final notes and Portugal. The Man took the spotlight. By the time they started playing, it was 2:45 a.m., and it happened to be their lead singer’s birthday. They celebrated by popping bottles of champagne all over the crowd and handing it to them to drink. They played three songs before the power went out – they seemed disappointed but walked off stage, but no sooner did they get off the float that the power came back on, so they went back up and finished a solid 45 minute set. It’s truly moments like these that makes Bonnaroo so special. -Carson O’Shoney
Sunday, June 13th
The Head and The Heart – The Other Tent – 12:00 p.m.
Photo by Mark C. Austin
Nothing against the city, but Seattle wasnt impressing me on Sunday. First off was The Head and The Heart, whose indie folk tunes brought out quite an impressive crowd for the time slot, but had little heart and too much head. The majority of the band focused so intensely on playing as tightly as possible, that it lacked the joy of a live show. This wasnt always true: Tyler Williams constantly looked like a happy puppy behind the drums, while Charity Rose Thielen shined on Lost In My Mind, enjoying it so much she applauded along with the audience at the end. Ghosts showed Josiah Johnson as the stronger of the two frontmen (Jonathan Russell needs to loosen the hell up), and the Iron & Wine horns section provided such impressive backups that even the band watched in awe as they closed out the song. Theres definitely potential in this young band, they just need to stretch their legs some more. -Ben Kaye
Smith Westerns – This Tent – 12:30 p.m.
It’s exciting to see notable transformation in a band’s live show, and Smith Westerns have come so far since their small club shows last year. The Omori brothers were no longer hesitant to interact with the crowd, the performance was tighter – they earned that spot and This Tent. With the setlist featuring a healthy mix of both Dye It Blonde and Smith Westerns, songs such as “End of the Night” and “Dreams” were executed fast and clean, epitomizing the fine line between glam and garage rock that the Smith Westerns tend to walk. Although the crowd refrained from getting too into the danceable tracks, the responses to Omori calling a portion of the set ‘smoke time’ and lines such as “If you didn’t like this set, fuck you” were more than enthusiastic. -Caitlin Meyer
Mavis Staples – What Stage – 1:15 p.m.
Photo by Max Blau
It was a stroke of genius to schedule Mavis Staples for an early Sunday morning set. Those who showed up early at the What stage ended up not missing church – because Mavis took everyone there for just over an hour. She’s become one of the most dependable fixtures in the festival scene – she’s just so masterful at what she does that it’s infectious. Not everyone, especially at a music festival, will be into the message of her set – but no one out there shouldn’t be able to appreciate her talent. She covered everything from her father’s “Freedom Highway” to a classic in her set, “The Weight” and even “For What It’s Worth” – an appropriate choice after Buffalo Springfield played the night before. She also played selections from her illustrious career, including crowd-pleaser “You Are Not Alone”. -Carson O’Shoney
Fences – Sonic Stage – 1:15 p.m.
Photo by Ben Kaye
Fences was another Seattle letdown. Id heard nothing but greatness about Christopher Mansfields indie band, but only saw sparks of it here. The man himself seemed fairly disinterested in the small-stage set, despite apparently having jumped at the chance to play it. He barely looked at the audience, and seemed to turn his back on them at every solo. He seemed bored, so I was bored too. Its worth noting that some of the highlights, Sadie and The Same Tattoos, had keyboardist Jonathan Warman focusing on his guitar. Not that hes a bad keyboardist, just an observation. -Ben Kaye
John Waters – The Comedy Theatre – 3:00 p.m.
Where do I begin? Well, I guess I should start with the openers. The Gregory Brothers, better known as the Auto-tune the News guys, opened the set and they were…interesting. They basically showed their clips on screens and then performed live versions of the songs they made out of them. The audience wasn’t really sure how to react, and it didn’t help that the screens shut down after a couple songs, making everything make much less sense. They did cheer for “Bed Intruder Song” and “Double Rainbow” – but I think any Bonnaroo crowd would go crazy over someone just saying the words ‘double rainbow’. Tig Notaro was up next – perhaps best known as Tig the lesbian cop in the Sarah Silverman Program. Her short set was very subdued, and she could tell the crowd wasn’t totally into it, but she was pleasantly funny regardless.
Then the fabulous John Waters finally came on stage and immediately proved that his depravity knows no bounds. His entire set was basically a non-stop stream of consciousness rant about anything and everything – things he loves, things he hates, his (sexual) fascination with Alvin the Chipmunk, turd terrorism, bears, adult babies, blossoms, ultimate nudity and more (google those last few at your own risk). I think he summed it up nice when he said, “I’ve had murderers call me fucked up!” He kept going further down the rabbit hole, daring his audience to keep listening as he introduced them to new sexual things that we’ve never heard of. “John my ears are not garbage cans!” he said, imitating his audience as they listen to him – “Well, they are today!” In reality, he was everything we were hoping for and more. Way more. -Carson O’Shoney
Daniel Lanoiss Black Dub – This Tent – 3:30 p.m.
Photo by Max Blau
This set surprised me, as it quickly crept into my top five of the festival. The crowd was sparse, as many probably dont know Daniel Lanois, despite having produced seminal albums for U2, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young. Those who werent in attendance missed what had to have been one of if not the best female vocalist on the farm in Trixie Whitley. That deep, soulful voice coming out of this thin, hipster-looking knockout on songs like Nomad and Silverado was simply jaw-dropping, and Surely still tickles me in ways I didnt think music could. When she sat down next to the skankiest drummer at the festival, Brian Blade, and grooved along, it was pure magic. Blade plays his kit like a child discovering all the wonderful things a new toy can do, slinking and flowing over it with Sammy Davis Jr. suavity. The band had one of the sexiest sounds and the sexiest singer on the farm, hands down. -Ben Kaye
Galactic – What Stage – 3:30 p.m.
Galactic proved to be the perfect soundtrack for the final afternoon of Bonnaroo. Patrons played frisbee, hid in the limited shade and lazily lounged, enjoying some down time and calm tunes. That’s not to say that the band itself was calm, though, as Galactic’s set proved as funky as ever, in true New Orleans fashion with blasting horns and stellar bass grooves. With Ben Ellman fresh off of a fun, danceable set on the Sonic Stage with his side project Gypsyphonic Disko, the gang was in top notch performing shape, delivering solid versions of “All Behind You Now” and “How Many More Times”. -Caitlin Meyer
Iron & Wine – Which Stage – 4:30 p.m.
Photo by Max Blau
Acoustic, lethargic songs sung to thousands of people in 90 degree sun is the recipe for an afternoon nap. Luckily, that’s not what Sam Beam did, taking the stage with horns, female vocals and an assortment of random instruments. Watching songs such as “Boy With A Coin” come to life, with dimensions added previously unimaginable, was moving. Beam was personable throughout, donning a snazzy suit and chatting casually with the huge audience. While the song transformations didn’t always work and purist fans may consider the set to be one of the weekend’s most divisive, the strung out versions of tracks, a clean rendition of “Tree By The River” and obligatory performance of “Flightless Bird” were immensely enjoyable. -Caitlin Meyer
Beirut – The Other Tent – 6:15 p.m.
Robyn’s encore was the worst possible thing that could happen to a Beirut fan, as it only lengthened the already intolerable amount of wait time for elusive Zach Condon and company to finally take the stage. When they did, though, it was all worth it – skipping the Strokes, missing Superjam, wading through the glitter-adorned masses of Robyn fans. With the signature opening accordion of “The Concubine”, the crowd exploded into a massive collective of swaying and swooning, Condon’s impeccable voice atop the pattering percussion and timid trumpet.
Progressing through a healthy portion of The Flying Cup Club, sporadic Gulag Orkestar and throwing in two songs from the upcoming LP, their momentum was interminable. Condon charmed the audience with his surprise at the endless applause, and continued pouring everything he had into each word he sang. As the end drew near, the sun set and the band closed with a one-two punch of “Mount Wroclai (Idle Days)” and “The Gulag Orkestar”, both done with chilling power and raw emotion. Deafening ‘one more song’ and encore chants brought a bewildered Condon back to the stage, insisting that they only had one song left they could play. A hearty chorus of “ohs” got the whole crowd dancing and singing – a perfect end to both the set and a phenomenal weekend. -Caitlin Meyer
The Strokes – Which Stage – 6:45 p.m.
Like the Black Keys, The Strokes are another seen-em-once-seen-em-1000-times band, at least in their most recent shows since Angles was released. They didn’t take advantage of their longer set time – they came out late and ended early – they didn’t change up the setlist, and they didn’t even have their simple-but-effective light show in tow. This was likely due to the fact that they had to take the stage in the sunlight – which was quite humorous, as Julian still had to look his coolest and wore a leather jacket in the unbearable heat. The Strokes have never been a very active band on stage, but at other shows they had their light show to make up for it. Without it, they just looked bored on stage and did not seem to be giving their all. At the same time, I heard raves about the show – perhaps if I hadn’t already seen them twice in the past year, I would have enjoyed it more. I’m sure for first timers it was a blast hearing those songs. But for me, it wasn’t up to par with even the other two shows I saw in the past year, including last year’s headlining show at Lollapalooza. The Strokes don’t have the most expansive catalogue, but they’ve gotta learn to change it up a little and stop being lazy if they want repeat customers. -Carson O’Shoney
Superjam ft. Dan Auerbach and Dr. John – That Tent – 7:00 p.m.
Photo by Max Blau
For many, the return of this fabled event was a festival highlight before it even happened. During the 30 minute, highly directed soundcheck, the anticipation was palpable. What was actually going to happen? What would they play? If youd noticed that the hat atop the Bonnaroo arch was Dr. Johns from the cover of Desitively Bonnaroo, you couldve guessed that this special jam would focus on his music and the funky jazz sounds of New Orleans. The man cut a stoic figure up on stage, his face barely moving despite his powerful vocals – a bizzaro parallel to Auerbachs visible child-like thrill. Joined by My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan (whose main job was to bang a bongo or tambourine and take swigs from his beer) and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the set featured Dr. John standards like Jump Sturdy, a wonderful rendition of Betty Harriss Theres a Break in the Road, and the one song everyone in attendance could name, Iko Iko. Standouts were the bombastic Little Sister and the packed St. James Infirmary.
Photo by Max Blau
It was spotty at times, but it was pieced together in just a weeks time, and the pure joy of it all made any slip-up forgiveable. After all, you were watching Auerbach shred his guitar and Dr. John pound his piano (as one crowd member put it, how many fingers does he have?) together, a once-in-a-lifetime combination. The most lasting image of all came after Dr. John was left onstage for a solo performance of Such A Night. A white towel draped across his neck, Auerbach returned to thank the crowd and, along with the Dr., receive his much deserved applause. As he led the man of the hour slowly from the stage in the pale blue lights, turning for one last wave, the crowd showered their appreciation on the pair. For me, that image of two great musicians leaving behind a unique, hour-long masterpiece of a performance was the perfect embodiment of the end of another successful Bonnaroo. -Ben Kaye
The Culture of Bonnaroo