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Bonnaroo 2014: Top 35 Moments + Photos

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Another year, another Bonnaroo. Each June, Manchester, TN, gains 80,000 temporary citizens who wish they could live there year-round. There are some who think about the festival and plan for it year-round, counting down the months until they pack up the car, head to Tennessee, and live on The Farm for four days. There are plenty of first timers, unsure of what they’re getting themselves into. There are also hundreds of volunteers, employees, artists, musicians, writers, and photographers in attendance. All of these people are coming together in a field in Tennessee for an experience like no other. There are plenty of great music festivals out there, but there’s nothing quite like Bonnaroo.

Could this have been the best Bonnaroo ever? The folks at AC Entertainment and Superfly continue to make necessary tweaks to make the festival run like a smoothly oiled machine that just keeps getting better with time. The difference in the festival as a whole from the first time I attended eight years ago to today is immense, and all the changes have been for the better.

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

The traffic, like last year, was reduced significantly from the ridiculous waits of previous years. The grounds were more open and beautiful than ever. The infamous ditch between the What & Which Stages was finally fixed. The cinema tent felt like a real theatre. The stages and comedy theatre seemed to run smoothly, even while dealing with various schedule changes. The Kalliope Stage was perfectly situated next to the Food Truck Oasis and provided a great place to eat and catch World Cup, NHL, and NBA finals games — plus, it gave ravers an extra place to dance into the morning. Even the weather cooperated for most of the weekend. The rain stayed away, aside from a few light drizzles, and the temperature remained relatively low all weekend with plenty of cloud coverage most days.

That’s not even mentioning the lineup, which was once again stellar in both depth and quality. The various Superjams held lots of surprises; Jack White put on a memorable headlining set; Skrillex did Skrillexy things until dawn (well, almost) and played three times across the weekend; the late-night lineups proved to be epic; and Elton John closed it all down with a massive sing-along. How can you top huge sing-alongs from Paul McCartney and Elton John in consecutive years? We’re not sure, but we can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2015. But before we look ahead to next year, let’s take a look back at the weekend that was, shall we?

–Carson O’Shoney
Senior Staff Writer

Wisest Life Lessons

Hannibal Buress with Sasheer Zamata and Emily Heller

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Thursday, Comedy Theatre – 7:00 p.m.

In my seven years attending festivals, I’d been to a comedy tent exactly once, and it was such an unsatisfying/frustrating experience I vowed never to attempt it again. But Hannibal Buress is really freaking funny, and a good laugh felt like the right way to start the weekend after 15 hours on the road. Thankfully, The Eric Andre Show star delivered, telling tales about how to live life his way. Whether letting his fly hang low (“I wear silver pants; I don’t care about pants rules.”), peeing his pants while on molly and dancing through it (“I’m wearing silver pants; what’d you expect?!”), or making large investments to avoid lending money, Buress shared his askew perspective on the norm to rollicking reactions from the packed tent. Still, his best bit had to be pointing out how many rap songs discuss morning erections. Seriously, everyone from Mystikal (“Woke up this morning/ Rocked up/ Dick hard like wolverine claws”) to Lil’ Wayne (“I woke up this morning, dick rock hard/ Dick harder than an armadilla”) has done it, and it’s a disturbing trend. Keep an ear out. –Ben Kaye

Most Unexpectedly Awesome Collaboration

Seasick Steve with John Paul Jones

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Saturday, What Stage – 1:30 p.m.

I’m told Seasick Steve is rather famous over in England, but I hadn’t heard his name until Bonnaroo announced their lineup for the year. Attracted as much by the moniker as the boogie blues, it ended up being well worth rising early Saturday to catch the man’s mainstage-opening performance. He opened playing a single-string “diddley board” for “Diddley Bo” before bringing out “the bassist for the greatest rock n’ roll band of all time,” John Paul Jones. Apparently frequent collaborators, the strange pair make for a damn fine-sounding live show, with JPJ switching from bass to mandolin to lapsteel throughout the set. The former Led Zeppelin bassist remained humble on stage, continuously smiling at the joy of playing with his friend. Meanwhile, at 73 years old, Steve is a perfect subtle showman, strumming his homemade instruments and addressing the crowd in his soft drawl. He even pulled up a lady named Charlene from the crowd to sing her a love song (“Walkin’ Man”), and in a sweet way, not a creepy-old-man-hitting-on-me way. “This is how we do it in the South,” he told the crowd before wooing Charlene. “She’s from Canada, so she’s gonna learn a thing or two.” Consider me more educated, too. –Ben Kaye

Classiest Set

Haerts

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Saturday, The Other Tent – 3:30 p.m.

Three-thirty in the afternoon might not typically fall into the “early” category of life, but on day three of Bonnaroo with the cloud coverage breaking and heat pouring down, it really is. That’s what made Haerts a good fit for the time slot, despite having only one EP out. Their dreamy synthpop played coolly over the fairly sparse crowd, with frontwoman Nini Fabi a near embodiment of the sound. Dressed in an elegant white dress that would’ve been as appropriate on a red carpet as a stage in Manchester, TN, her soft confidence gave her the presence of a ’70s pop balladeer, which does seem to be what the band is going for. Alongside favorites like “All the Days” and “Call My Name”, the Brooklyn quartet proved a welcome blast of cool with a few new slow jams. Though they probably would have been more successful and drawn a larger crowd had they been given a Thursday set, Haerts provided a touch of class to get the second-to-last day going in the right direction. –Ben Kaye

Best Life Soundtrack

Down N’ Dirt Hosted by Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson & Ilana Glazer

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

Sunday, Comedy Theatre – 2:00 p.m.

Wouldn’t you know it, Hannibal Buress put on such a good show that it encouraged me to go back in for another comedy performance. Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer were full of energy, coming out bumping and twerking as they danced through the crowd. After sharing the adventure they had getting to the fest (“It was like Mother Nature had her first period in 42 years”), the girls shared their personal soundtrack to life’s little moments. With Abbi occasionally hitting the notes and Ilana more about scatting to lyrics she didn’t really know, the applauding audience was given great tunes to play “in your head or IRL” during your daily inappropriate activities. Abbi, for example, would suggest the Forest Gump suite for makeout sessions or “River of Dreams” for “fuck jams,” while Ilana apparently listens to “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” while jerking off and heard “Against All Odds (Take a Look At Me Now)” during her first lesbian experience. I just hope they get to hear “Circle of Life” when they die in their sleep after a long, successful career as comedy’s raunchiest, most lovable female duo. –Ben Kaye

Best Way to Open a New Stage

High and Mighty Brass Band and the Big Red Beetle Second Line to the Kalliope Stage

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Friday, Centeroo and the Kalliope Stage – approx. 12:15 a.m.

As Bonnaroo continues to get bigger, more features find their way onto The Farm. One of the fresh additions this year was the Kalliope Stage, a glowing neon haven for dance and World Cup fans alike. I was heading to go catch the tail end of J. Roddy Waltson’s set when I heard the sounds of a brass marching band blowing in the evening air. Looking to my left, I saw a moko jumbie, frilly umbrellas pumping into the air, and a big ol’ sousaphone with the words “High and Mighty Brass Band” painted on the inside all bopping through Centeroo. Driving alongside was a giant VW Beetle all lit up with LEDs and sitting high on giant wheels. Of course I had to follow! The crowd following the procession was led to an oasis between The Other and This tents where the Kalliope Stage sprung to life with lasers and lights as the first DJ ever to play the stage threw the weekend’s first sneak-attack dance party. Surprise second lines are a trademark presence on The Farm, and having one open the festival’s newest stage on the first night was an excellent way to enjoy the weekend’s first late-night experience. –Ben Kaye

Most Earplug-Appropriate Set

Ty Segall

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Thursday, This Tent – 1:00 a.m.

Having seemingly won the lottery with his Thursday night headlining set, Ty Segall was met with some semi-drowsy faces when he walked out onto the That Stage at 1 a.m. He savagely beat them awake, thrashing out a brutal set backed by a four-piece lineup that included Mikal Cronin. “I Bought My Eyes” into “Slaughterhouse” was an expected standout moment, but right on par with that was a string of brand-new cuts that he broke out – or more accurately, broke over people’s ears – presumably set to appear on his forthcoming album, Manipulator. –Steven Arroyo

Best Reunion Set

Neutral Milk Hotel

footage Bonnaroo 2014: Top 35 Moments + Photos

Friday, This Tent – 8:00 p.m.

It’s a question every reunited act faces, but one that especially confronts Jeff Mangum this year: Are we only here for the reunion? Would Neutral Milk Hotel, known almost completely for one folk-oriented album, stand a chance at translating their stuff well enough to clear the high bar set by the late festival slot? And then you remember that this band peaked at a time when there essentially was no succeeding on recordings alone in indie rock. Clubs were the Internet. You needed live game. Neutral Milk Hotel has live game. Mangum, multi-instrumentalist garden gnome Scott Spillane, multi-instrumentalist-who-plays-everything-short-of-the-accordion-with-a-bow Julian Koster, and drummer/accordionist Jeremy Barnes spanned the vast majority of the NMH catalog with aggressive, dead-serious theatricality. Mangum’s lowered cap bill and full-on mane couldn’t hide the amazement on his face from the huge reception; this show, he concluded aloud, was his favorite of the reunion so far, while Spillane was reduced to a single, hard “wow.” –Steven Arroyo

Sharpest Mustache of the Weekend

Lionel Richie

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Saturday, What Stage – 8:00 p.m.

With the main stage’s field filled, it’s not like there was a problematic chunk of attendees doubting what the slow ballads of Lionel Richie could realistically offer this festival, but the 64-year-old Richie still came out swinging directly at them. Richie’s crowd dialogue Saturday evening was sharper than anyone’s on The Farm this year, funny and old-school assertive with perfect awareness of his relationships with his “two groups” of fans (young and old people, in short). After imploring everyone to “pick up your cassette or your eight-track” and “call Lionel Richie” when in romantic crisis, trolling them by dangling a Diana Ross cameo (that she apparently turned down), and “covering everything” (he did, wisely ending on “All Night Long” and encoring with “We Are the World”), Richie punctuated the case he never had to make with a single question: “So, who you gonna call?” Everybody answered. “You’re damn right,” Lionel Richie’s mustache growled back. –Steven Arroyo

Most Solid Scheduling

Washed Out

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Sunday, The Other Tent – 5:45 p.m.

Washed Out is the aural equivalent of sitting down in the shade after a long day directly under the sun. Washed Out played in a tent just as Sunday’s peak temperatures were subsiding. We, and Bonnaroo, fully approved. –Steven Arroyo

Most Professional Set

Real Estate

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

Thursday, That Tent – 7:30 p.m.

Real Estate kicked off the weekend with a heavy dose of professionalism, showcasing their complete grasp on their material and an understanding of what is expected of their live shows. Sounding almost exactly like they do on record, the band ripped through their set as the sun began to set on the first day of the festival. I won’t go as far as to say it was one of the better sets of the weekend, let alone the day, but goddamn if that wasn’t some agreeable music. Very little else comes to mind when I think of the perfect thing to pair with a seven-dollar beer on a sunny day. –Pat Levy

Best Melting Pot of the Weekend

Omar Souleyman

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Photo by Chris Jorgensen

Thursday, That Tent – 10:30 p.m.

Acting as his own hypeman, Omar Souleyman traversed the stage several times during his set on Thursday evening. Performing to a larger audience than one might expect and in a perfect time slot for those looking to get their rave on early in the weekend, Souleyman controlled the crowd with his music. At a certain point, tracks started to blend together, with some standouts like “Wenu Wenu”, but it really didn’t matter because everyone was having such a damn good time. It was a unifying experience so early in the weekend, sweaty dancing fools from all corners of the country coming together to jam with the coolest Middle Eastern musician alive. –Pat Levy

The “If You Don’t Know, Now You Know” Show

James Blake

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Saturday, That Tent – 8:45 p.m.

After a last-minute stage switch left a lot of Fugees fans in the front row for the UK crooner’s set, James Blake set out to make everyone who didn’t already know his name familiar with him. Boy did he succeed, drawing in a huge crowd with his dulcet tones and bass-y synths matching perfectly with the new dusk. Maybe there isn’t much in common between James Blake and Jack White, but after Blake’s delicate but powerful set, there were thousands of fans perfectly set up for Jack White to knock down with his power chords. –Pat Levy

Most Inebriated Moderator

Drunk History w/ Derek Waters

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Saturday, Cinema Tent – 3:45 p.m.

Showcasing a few clips from the upcoming season of the Comedy Central show and acting out bizarre onstage antics with several guests, Derek Waters showed that sometimes the most fun you can have getting inebriated at Bonnaroo is by just getting flat-out wasted. Based on the volume of the audible laughter filling the cinema tent, it was clear that no one was there just for the free A/C. The tent was full of fans of the show and the web series, so when Waters previewed a clip of two drunk grown men bathing together, the audience burst into laughter because they understood that through a certain lens, anything is funny. –Pat Levy

Ultimate Greatest Non-Band Legacy

Wet Hot American Summer w/ David Wain

Sunday, Cinema Tent – 5:00 p.m.

With a foreword by director David Wain, his seminal classic screened in the afternoon on the festival’s closing day, and I cannot tell you how much better that film is on a big screen, surrounded by huge fans all quoting the lines along with you. We all wept and laughed with Coop and Gene, cheered for the Bunk 3 kids after they saved the camp from the falling satellite, and celebrated in the happy union of Beth and Henry, but most of all, we felt united as a close-knit group of fans of the best summer camp, nay, summer movie of all time. –Pat Levy

A Perfect Jammy Start to the Weekend

Jonathan Wilson

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Thursday, This Tent – 4:00 p.m.

Striking a nice balance between Southern rock and ’60s soul, Jonathan Wilson was quick to whip out some impressive jams and epic guitar solos to satisfy Bonnaroo’s roots and kick off Thursday right. Their opening song spanned over nine minutes and felt like it couldn’t get old. The band’s chilled-out stage demeanor turned the focus onto how their instruments communicated with the audience, especially with bassist Dan Horne’s adventurous licks and Jason Borger’s intense keyboard work. With such an enthusiastic response from the audience, Jonathan Wilson’s jamming and slow jams should be gaining much more attention in the near future. –Sam Willett

Surrogate My Morning Jacket Act

Caveman

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Photo by Chris Jorgensen

Thursday, The Other Tent – 6:15 p.m.

Since My Morning Jacket played their first Bonnaroo in 2003, Jim James and Co. have been an essential part of carrying forth the Bonnaroovian spirit, fusing some genuine soul into star-packed SuperJams and multiple-hour sets. Caveman, an up-and-coming indie folk outfit from New York City, brought their contagious hooks to the table and garnered a similar feeling with their set, which was packed with highlights from their acclaimed sophomore album and endless enthusiasm. Frontman Matthew Iwanusa commanded attendees to find a partner to slow dance with, as he transitioned between beating a bass drum and kicking out simple-but-sweet guitar work, tickling our funny bones and conjuring sweet memories of that other special Bonnaroo band. –Sam Willett

The Relentless Outliers of Thursday

Cloud Nothings

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Thursday, This Tent – 8:30 p.m.

The Thursday schedule was stacked with chilled-out, summer-appropriate artists, nothing too stressful or taxing. Cloud Nothings don’t fit that bill, obviously, and pulverized the This Tent’s speakers with their unnerving distortion. Kicking off with the deathly aggressive “Quieter Today”, the three-piece outfit pummeled whatever calmness was in the air and transformed it into rightful aggression while furiously working their way through much of Attack on Memory and their fantastic new album, Here and Nowhere Else. While some of the lead guitar parts were missed in “Stay Useless” and “Falling In”, the band made up for it with sporadic noise experimentation, while Dylan Baldi roared every lyric in competition with their collective intensity. To say the least, it was a perfect warm-up for what Ty Segall would bring to That Tent later in the evening. –Sam Willett

Greatest Source of Nostalgia

Banks

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Thursday, This Tent – 10:00 p.m.

Being Banks’s first festival and late-night performance of her career, she confessed that nerves were racing through her vocal chords. Nobody in the audience would’ve ever guessed, though, given her sensual body movement and vocal hues, which infused some R&B magic into This Tent. Especially crowd-pleasing was her confident strut through an amazing cover of Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody”. Her bass-heavy production transformed the track into a dark but equally funky performance. She even displayed some impressive rapping skills when she laid down Timbaland’s verse. One thing’s for sure: Banks became an instant highlight on Thursday by offering her audience a moment of nostalgia that echoed through our minds all night long. –Sam Willett

The Fourth Slightly SuperJam

Disclosure and Sam Smith

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Friday, This Tent – 4:00 p.m.

During Disclosure’s set at last year’s Lollapalooza, I put a few bets down that Jessie Ware, also on that lineup, would make an appearance to rock “Confess to Me” with the London duo. Unfortunately, I left disappointed, but their performance at Bonnaroo revived my spirits. After enrapturing the audience with Settle closer “Help Me Lose My Mind”, they opened the stage with the most celebrated collaborator on their debut, Sam Smith. Even though Smith included a stripped-down, piano-led version in his earlier solo set, his live addition to “Latch” was absolutely seamless. His falsetto coasted perfectly over its exhilarating chorus hook, while the duo provided its backbone with booming electronics and live instrumentation. Even though hearing “New Slaves” twice during Kanye’s set seemed repetitive, singing along with Smith only got better as the day continued. –Sam Willett

Loudest Festival Firecracker

Janelle Monáe

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

Friday, What Stage – 5:30 p.m.

Restrained by a straightjacket strapped to a dolly, Janelle Monáe approached the What Stage in full maniac costume. She nudged and wiggled to break each strap free, and when she did, a continuous, animated energy was unleashed. She and her band instantly broke out into choreographed dance that exemplified both the robotic and human qualities behind her music. Even the horn players twisted their bodies in unlikely positions to match their intensity. The performance even included a few theatrical moments, especially her faux knee injury, which initially had me fooled. Thankfully, her male dancers, dressed as doctors, revived her with a human AED, using their hands like electrified shocking pads.

What really brought the stage to life, though, was Monáe’s effortless balance between dancing and singing. While her vocals capitalized every impressive note on R&B ballads like “Primetime” and fun-loving “Electric Lady”, she whipped her body across the stage and tangled herself in stage props, like her majestic black cape, during her dance solos. To say the least, Monáe owned the large and intimidating What Stage, where Vampire Weekend and Kanye West would later do the same. –Sam Willett

Best Mission Statement

Chance the Rapper

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

Friday, That Tent – 2:30 a.m.

Chance the Rapper and the Social Experiment have been working together for the past year or so to not only transform Chance’s celebrated mixtape, Acid Rap, into a electrified live performance but also to inspire attendees to think differently. Even though he felt it wasn’t festival appropriate, “Paranoia” opened the audience’s eyes to the most serious side of Chance, someone who is scared by the violence and negligence of his hometown. The band’s reinterpretation of Nosaj Thing’s production was cast in horns and solemn strumming while Chance proclaimed the need to take the problem of Chicago’s gun violence into our own hands with vivid passion. With the strong communal element embedded in Bonnaroo, he was loud and clear and, hopefully, inspired everyone in attendance.

Immediately afterwards, he drew from the budding jukestep scene and adapted its pumped-up percussion and rapid heartbeat to “Everything’s Good (Good Ass Outro)”. With the passing of DJ Rashad still in mind, it was an appropriate reminder, and Chance’s dancing skills highlighted the joy behind his performance. Despite being a young gun and a Bonnaroo first timer, Chance instantly connected with the vibe of the whole festival: to be a good neighbor and radiate positivity. He played both roles perfectly in his performance on Friday. –Sam Willett

Loudest Clapping Session

John Butler Trio

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Saturday, The Other Tent – 7:00 p.m.

John Butler Trio showcased a variety of dynamics during their Saturday set, smoothly transitioning between carefree banjo-led tracks (“Better Than”) and electrified rock anthems (“Blame It on Me”). Butler could not be topped when he picked up his 12-string acoustic guitar, though. His most outstanding moment came during “Ocean”, an instrumental involving finger-picking arrangements, all done with his lengthy, detailed fingernails and a chorus pedal. The audience matched that intensity with clapping that could probably be heard from the other side of Centeroo, which only encouraged Butler to dig deeper into the neck of his guitar. Lasting nearly 15 minutes, each movement of the instrumental masterpiece further drew in the audience, making its conclusion all the more explosive and sonically impressive. –Sam Willett

Biggest Curveball

Lauryn Hill

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

Saturday, The Other Tent- 9:00 p.m.

Prior to Hill’s set, I was told by a nearby festivalgoer that her onstage persona veers away from the feel of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. After hearing her band’s energetic brand of funk, I knew exactly what that person meant: The spotlight-worthy solemnity that made her R&B solo debut such a classic has been abandoned for a reggae wash that transitions between lip-blurring hip-hop and soulful rejoicing, complete with phenomenal backup singers. This instrumental-focused direction felt rather appropriate at The Farm, assuming a SuperJam dimension in its carefree, unrestrained attitude — a quality that’s par for Hill’s trademark energy and rebellious nature. While, yes, it’s easy to miss the emotional detective of yesteryear, her career-spanning set eschewed the restrictive nostalgia for a new definition of love. –Sam Willett

Bonnaroo’s Most Intimate Performance

Frank Ocean

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Photo by Sam Willett

Saturday, The Other Tent- 12:30 a.m.

It’s easy to dream about what could possibly happen during a Frank Ocean performance, especially since they are so rare. Rumored features from the Odd Future crew, especially Earl Sweatshirt for “Super Rich Kids”, are expected, and knowing the magic embedded into Centeroo, anything can happen. Instead, Ocean walked out holding a record player at his side, standing alone in front of a backdrop of glimmering gold streamers. With only his vocals to keep company, the young crooner provided an intimacy no other artist could unlock all weekend.

When he launched into “Thinkin Bout You”, the audience joined along with each word and inflection. A special moment came when Ocean tinkered with the harmonies and improvised as the sea of spectators carried the main melody. He continued this little game as the late night turned to morning, and singles off Nostalgia.Ultra and gems off channel ORANGE kept everyone awake and in awe. Much to everyone’s surprise, the record player rattled off simplified backing tracks that brought a new perspective to the songs. He even sprinkled in some B-sides — “Voodoo” and “Wise Man” — which captured him at his most confident.

Frank Ocean Bonnaroo

Although he’s appeared rather shy in the past, Ocean sang like it was Saturday morning in the shower. What’s more, he took intriguing risks that deepened the impact of his most emotionally invested tracks, and all of us could feel it. Even though he mostly kept mum, he thrived on his devoted audience and developed a memorable portrait for Bonnaroo’s rather exclusive scrapbook. –Sam Willett

Bonnaroo’s Exclusive Secret Night Club

Darkside

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Saturday, That Tent- 2:30 a.m.

It was always a “Duh” choice to slot Darkside late, late into the night. So when Saturday inched towards 2:30 a.m., Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington electrified the many sleepy souls by opening the doors to the best imaginary dance club in Manchester, TN. Stacked with tracks off last year’s exceptional debut, Psychic, the two delivered soulful keyboard arrangements and bass riffs that injected plenty of adrenaline into the heart. Set closer “Golden Arrow” was a choice highlight, infused with spacey psychedelia that eventually warped into a panicked conclusion, similar to how they reworked “A1” on their past tour. A few newcomers stumbled out appearing tired and confused but rather intrigued, chatting with their equally exhausted friends like they’d just seen a UFO. Close. –Sam Willett

Best Food of Bonnaroo

The Amish Baking Co.

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Photo by Sam Willett

Located right across from the Brooers Festival and the Which Stage, The Amish Baking Co. whipped up thousands of their donuts from scratch throughout the weekend in Centroo, proving that the mouth is just as important as the ears at The Farm. From the line, eager customers could watch employees pounding out dough for the ovens and dipping each treat into their homemade glaze. No lie: Each bite sent 1.21 gigawatts of ecstasy towards every taste bud, making it an out-of-body, outta-time experience. It’s going to be difficult surviving in the real world without it. Dammit. –Sam Willett

Good Ol’ Clean Fun

Taran Killam

Thursday, Comedy Tent – 5:00 p.m.

taran killam Bonnaroo 2014: Top 35 Moments + PhotosTaran Killam is not a stand-up comedian. In fact, he claims he’s only tried it once and he bombed. So when he was announced as one of the first performers for this year’s comedy lineup, no one knew what to expect — including himself. During one of the weekend’s press conferences, the SNL star explained that when he agreed to co-host this year’s BLAM webcast, he didn’t know it meant a round-trip ticket to the actual festival. To his credit, Killam took advantage of the opportunity, stringing together a slew of funny friends and peers for one hilarious variety show.

Classic stand-up (Brooks Wheelan, Ryan Belleville), conceptual stand-up (Sasheer Zamata’s Bobby Womack hilarity), and meta performance work (Good Neighbor’s “math magician”) fleshed out the opening lineup before Killam hit the stage with an energy as high as the festivalgoers in attendance. “Who’s having a good time?” he asked loud and enthusiastically. “Who’s got druuuuugs?” When everyone cheered at the latter, he cut the music, pointed at a happy-go-lucky woman in the front row, and screamed, “GOT HER! SECURITY! Right there. Escort her away.” Good Neighbor members disguised as cops acted accordingly, and the bit went on, starting with a clever song about having “good, clean fun.”

A murder mystery followed, involving his openers and a random audience member, and Killam revisited several of SNL‘s top musical moments in recent years, specifically “Boy Dance Party”, “Mokiki Does the Sloppy Swish”, and the “Les Jeunes de Paris” French dance. He ended the set by dancing to Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend”, matching Robyn’s dance move for move from the video, thus bringing to life one of the best YouTube clips out there and sending everyone back into Centeroo with a smile on their face. You can’t argue with that. –Carson O’Shoney

Photo by Ryan Drake

Most Athletic

Diarrhea Planet

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Photo by Those Darlins

Friday, Troo Music Lounge – 12:45 a.m.

Diarrhea Planet brought a little bit of Nashville to The Farm on Friday night. But it’s not the Nashville that most people know and watch every week on network TV. Rather, it’s the underground rock scene that has exploded in recent years, perpetrated by local labels and tastemakers like Nashville’s Dead and Infinity Cat and fueled by raucous outfits a la JEFF the Brotherhood and PUJOL. For their debut at Bonnaroo, Diarrhea Planet brought a little of their house show magic to the Miller Lite Lounge, where fans both new and old climbed onto whatever rafters they could reach, crowd surfing and tackling each other like mice in a blaze. The band themselves joined in, hanging for as long as they could and adding to the loud ‘n’ rowdy party. Yeah, security had a fun night. Sheesh. –Carson O’Shoney

Best Onstage Entourage

Damon Albarn

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

Saturday, What Stage – 5:45 p.m.

Damon Albarn’s genre- and career-spanning main stage set might have exuded more Bonnaroo spirit than any other the whole weekend. The UK savant outlined nearly his entire resume — Blur, The Good, the Bad & the Queen, Gorillaz, and his own solo material – shimmying through genres from Britpop to moody electronica to hip-hop. He wasn’t alone, either. A string section, a mini-chorus, and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble joined him for various slices of the night, in addition to some A-list guest appearances by De La Soul (“Feel Good, Inc.”) and Del The Funky Homosapien (“Clint Eastwood”). It was a highly communal experience, and Albarn engaged his eclectic crowd with such devotion and candor. Never once did he dip into the histrionics, and when he admitted that “a gig like this in the U.S.” was “a dream come true,” his honesty rang loud and clear. For the fans who have seen Blur, Gorillaz, and The Good, the Bad & the Queen all pass up Bonnaroo in favor of Coachella, it was a dream come true to finally get to see all of those songs performed at The Farm and all in one set. –Carson O’Shoney

The Best Thing (Almost) Nobody Saw

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Saturday, That Tent – 12:30 a.m.

Once the schedule was announced and The Flaming Lips, Frank Ocean, and the Skrillex SuperJam were all directly conflicting with one another, it was obvious that Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ show would be woefully under-attended. As Jack White went well beyond his allotted time, things became more and more vacant and comfortable over at That Tent. “There’s not many people here are there,” Cave observed after a haunting rendition of “We No Who U R”. “Well, we’ve got the cream of the crop.” And like that, he won the crowd over.

“We’re gonna do this quickly, so we can go see Skrillex,” Cave joked before leaping over to “Jubilee Street”. Shortly after, he stood over the audience with help from the temporary bridge between the stage and the railing. He leaned forward, holding hands with his followers for balance, almost laying on top of them. Every few songs he would glare at a specific person and push nearby fans aside to sing directly into their soul. “Intense” doesn’t exactly work, considering most of these jarring glimpses of insanity were dotted with silly dance moves.

“Stagger Lee”, “The Mercy Seat”, and initial set closer “Push the Sky Away” turned up the heat, attracting a respectable audience who demanded to hear more — and so the Bad Seeds answered. They returned with “Weeping Song”, a snippet of “We Real Cool” (before Cave decided it was too quiet to drown out the sounds of Skrillex), and “Papa Won’t Leave You Henry”. It was unquestionably one of the best sets of the fest and almost nobody saw it. –Carson O’Shoney

Top Future Headliner

Arctic Monkeys

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

Sunday, What Stage – 5:45 p.m.

Here in the U.S., the Arctic Monkeys have always been a buzzy band, but they still have yet to reach headliner status like they did in their home country and elsewhere in Europe years ago. On Sunday afternoon, however, they drew one of the largest non-headlining sets of the fest (rivaled by Vampire Weekend), which seemed to suggest that they won’t be playing afternoon sets over here for much longer. Songs from across their discography were well received, from recent hits off AM, like “Do I Wanna Know?” and “R U Mine?”, to their debut single, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”. The crowd was wrapped around the fingertips of Alex Turner, looking suave as ever as he lead his band through their series of hits. It was a straightforward set without any surprises, but on a Sunday afternoon – usually a zombie day for crowds at Bonnaroo after three long days on The Farm – they churned the crowd into an early morning frenzy. –Carson O’Shoney

Best Sing-Along

Elton John

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Photo by Jeff Kravitz

Sunday, What Stage – 9:30 p.m.

The final set of the weekend marked the first ever U.S. festival set by Sir Elton John. Naturally, his set didn’t vary too much from his current Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 40th year anniversary tour, but why should it have? Of course he played all of his big hits, and of course they all turned into great, big ol’ sing-alongs as 50,000+ souls sang “Tiny Dancer”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, and “Rocket Man”. During “Rocket Man”, a Buzz Lightyear balloon that had been seen around Centeroo all weekend was released into space, a perfect moment that everyone cheered and appreciated once they noticed it floating away and realized the situation. The one surprise of the set was an appearance by Ben Folds, who sat in on piano and sang on the Yellow Brick Road deep cut “Grey Seal”. John closed the festival with another pair of sing-alongs — “Your Song” and “Crocodile Rock” — sending everyone home singing and dancing. –Carson O’Shoney

Best SuperJam

Skrillex and Friends SuperJam

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Saturday, This Tent – 12:00 a.m.

SuperJam used to be a one-off, often secret, special performance by a collective of musicians pulled together from all different genres. Since last year, however, there’s been the choice of three (3!!!) different Jams focused on varied genres – a veritable Jam-a-Palooza. This year, Ed Helms’ returning Bluegrass Situation SuperJam brought another round of pleasant surprises (Sarah Jarosz and The Black Lillies’ cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”, Lake Street Drive and Lone Bellow tackling Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ “Islands in the Stream”) to close the That Tent on Sunday. At midnight on Friday, Derek Trucks led an all-star band featuring Susan Tedeschi, bassist Willie Weeks, and Lettuce’s Ryan Zoidis and Nigel Hall through knockouts like an opening funk cover of “Eleanor Rigby”. Iconic singers Taj Mahal and Chaka Khan each made an appearance, with the former energetically powering through Otis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose” and The Allman Brothers’ “Statesboro Blues” and the latter proving she still has it with Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be”.

SkrillexSuperJam-BenKaye-Bonnaroo2014-27But these were known quantities. When the SuperJam lineups were announced, you knew Chaka Khan was gonna be a good show. What you didn’t know was what Skrillex and Big Gigantic would do with the likes of Janelle Monáe, Warpaint, and Robby Krieger of The freaking Doors. It seems even SuperFly didn’t know what they had gotten themselves into, originally scheduling Sonny Moore’s musical clustercuss on the smaller Other Tent before switching it to the much larger This Tent at the last minute. And good lord was that space needed. The Other Tent simply wouldn’t have held Monáe ripping through Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” and James Brown’s “I Feel Good”. It would have shuddered at the usually mellow Warpaint’s sexual awakening during Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam” and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”. And it would’ve collapsed under the audience’s response when Krieger appeared for the classic “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” while Cage the Elephant’s Matt Shultz took the lead.

Shultz wasn’t the only surprise, either. Mystikal and Craig Robinson appeared early in the set, but the biggest shocker came during the encore. Ms. Lauryn Hill, fresh off her solo set earlier in the night, stormed the stage with a hyper-speed version of “Lost Ones”. Half the crowd had peeled off thinking the show had already ended, not realizing an encore was coming. Dupes. They missed the weekend’s most unexpected guest appearance, and the incredible closing rendition of “Ready or Not”. All this, and we haven’t even mentioned Skrillex demonstrating his guitar skills and his ability to effectively add his dubby trademark to any song, Damian Marley’s spit-fire performance, or the help of Thundercat, Zedd, and Incubus’ Mike Einziger’s backing support. No one had any idea what this thing would look or sound like going in, but coming out the crowd left with one of the best, most unpredictable sets of the weekend, and that’s what SuperJam is all about. –Ben Kaye

The Most Divisive, Controversial, and Talked About Set

Kanye West

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

Friday, What Stage – 10:00 p.m.

This was it. The moment that Kanye West was going to redeem himself. The years of Kanye hate stemming from his ill-fated 2008 set was going to be a thing of the past. People thought he would never come back, but it was actually happening. So, how did it go? Well, it depends on who you ask.

On Saturday, negative reactions to Kanye’s Friday the 13th headlining set wafted over the populace. People either didn’t like his rants or didn’t appreciate his attitude, with some even complaining about his stage setup. In a way, it was like festivalgoers expected Yeezy to arrive, stand at the edge of the stage, apologize profusely, and stick to the hits. But really, do these people know anything about Kanye West? When has he ever apologized for anything? When has he ever not spoken his mind? When has he ever made his live performances something easy to digest? Truth be told, he’s never been a compromising artist, but rather an enigma that gets more polarizing year after year.

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Okay, so not everyone at the set was living in the past. In the pit and the surrounding area closer to the stage, folks were chanting for Yeezus long before he walked on stage (ahem, only seven minutes past the scheduled start time). These fans kept waving their hands in the air all night. These fans jumped when Kanye said jump. These fans sang along to every song at the top of their lungs. Bottom line: These fans were completely into it. These fans were why Kanye returned.

The issues with the stage setup were legit. Although Ye’s new vertical screen provided a dramatic enough backdrop to turn him into a silhouette, it wasn’t a great visual for those way, way back. The only way to actually see him on the screen was through the distorted image that was projected behind him. In a surprising twist, the setlist was light on Yeezus material and heavy on his overall discography.

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

One minor annoyance was the way he would start and stop songs that weren’t up to his standards. In other words, if he wasn’t getting it exactly right, or if he wanted the audience to be more involved, he would stop a song in the middle and start it again. Frustrations aside, this did keep the energy from ever dispelling, even amidst the 25-minute rant that he continues to tack onto “Runaway”. It’s something he’s practiced for years, and Bonnaroo was no different.

Yes, he called out the press, but only because he saw how well the thousands present were reacting to his show. This was what they needed to cover, he insisted, and not all the negatives they zero in on instead. “When I talk that shit, it’s so that you can talk that shit,” he speculated in a positive twist. “If you a fan of me, you a fan of your motherfuckin’ self. You can do something that’ll change the world.” He told the audience multiple times how much he loved them. Yet in a self-fulfilling prophecy, it’s the negativity that gets all the attention.

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

So, did Kanye redeem himself? Yes and no. It was a fun show that got more hate than it deserved, but those near the front know how good it was. But it wasn’t the resounding, triumphant success some were hoping for. Sadly, we’ll still see plenty of “Fuck Kanye” graffiti on The Farm for years to come. –Carson O’Shoney

The One Set You’ll Remember 10 Years From Now

Jack White

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

Between Radiohead’s headlining performance in 2006 and My Morning Jacket’s four-hour jamfest in 2008, Bonnaroo has no shortage of legendary sets in its 13-year history. On Saturday night, Jack White immortalized his place amongst the festival’s most elite, delivering a blitzing two-and-a-half-hour headlining set. It was the epitome of a rock show; a high-adrenaline, well-rehearsed production of greatest hits (The White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather were all represented), fan favorites (“Hotel Yorba”, “We’re Going to Be Friends”), new songs (which are much better in a live setting, mind you), and even some rarities (“Astro”). There were even theatrical moments…

“Who makes music happen? Does a tabloid like Rolling Stone make music happen?” White exclaimed shortly after kicking off his set. “You and I make it exist!”

As the set extended well beyond it’s 12:15 a.m. curfew, it became evident that White was playing with a rare aggression, as if the whole future of rock ‘n’ roll rested solely on his shoulders. After concluding his main set with a ferocious one-two punch of “Ball and Biscuit” and Led Zeppelin’s “The Lemon Song”, the Third Man himself obliged to calls for an encore, one which lasted nearly an hour and spanned 10(!) songs. By night’s end, Kanye’s proclamation of being “the Greatest Rock Star on the Planet” became a distant memory under the flood of 90,000 Bonaroovians singing along to “Seven Nation Army”. –Alex Young

Gallery

Photographers: Ben Kaye, Amanda Koellner, Chris Jorgensen

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