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Bonnaroo 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

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bonnaroo logans cosWe all come to Bonnaroo for one reason or another: love, escape, freedom, “fuck it.” Whatever brings you there usually brings you back. That’s because The Farm is more or less a permutation of nirvana —  a raw, unrivaled experience that, yes, includes unbearable heat and the occasional whiff of feces, but also one where the positives squash the negatives like a water bottle that’s been dropped in the middle of a Deadmau5 set. Hyperbole? Possibly. But nowhere I’ve traveled — be it a festival, a foreign country, or a small town in Iowa — has ever been so welcoming.

Like many people, I’m often one to avoid public interaction with strangers, instead diving into my phone or using my ear buds to create an artificial wall, so I won’t be bothered. But not at Roo. For four days, I’m among new friends who are willing and able to hold a pleasant conversation. This is a beautiful tradition of Bonnaroo and one they’ve kept going for 14 years strong. Here’s why that’s important: The further we all drudge into the abyss of adulthood, the more we cherish these moments. Time passes while life spaces out and speeds up. Making the most out of this time is what Bonnaroo has always been about. What’s more, each year is vastly different, from additions and evolutions to lineup changes and our own expectations.

It’s hard to ever walk in knowing what to expect.

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

This year, those who visited Manchester, Tennessee, were treated to a few new “luxuries”: flushable toilets (I’m obsessed), new stages, and even a grove-of-sorts featuring hammocks and one Instagram-ready forest chandelier. The Who Stage was a small, black-bannered home for bands who otherwise might not have made the cut. Off to the side was a tent where the same artists could interact with their fans and sign goodies. Not so hot was the buzzkill Kalliope Stage, which was tucked in between This Tent and The Other Tent, sort of like that sweaty guy who crams into your friends’ circle halfway through a show. The stage’s endless barrage of generic techno and dubstep plagued any ambiance being crafted on the more celebrated main stages.

However, as I walked with the crowd on my way back from watching the bloody season finale of Game of Thrones — Bonnaroo is very pro-Westeros, thank God — the communal “That was amazing!” feeling remained stronger than ever. We saw the potential artist of our generation (Kendrick Lamar). We saw a member of Led Zeppelin (Robert Plant). We saw a collection of some of the best artists in different genres (Caribou, Run the Jewels, Tears for Fears). And though I will likely have a month-long hangover, it was worth every second. The best part? We’re already counting down to Bonnaroo 2016!

In the meantime, read ahead for our full report from this year.

–Kevin McMahon
Staff Writer

Kacey Musgraves

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Photo by Ben Kaye

That Tent — Friday, 7:15 p.m.

“Let’s stay for five songs and bolt for Alabama [Shakes].” That was the consensus of the several gentleman behind me during Kacey Musgraves’ evening set. After taking in the cheesy Western milieu onstage, which included light-up cacti, I was on the same page. To be fair, Musgraves deserves plenty of credit for her work, which has inspired quite the following since her start on Nashville Star in 2007. Better yet, her songs fall perfectly in line with the medium-rare portion of the pop-country steak with platitudes and lyrics that taste good and go down easy: “Mind your own biscuits, and life will be gravy,” she sings on “Biscuits”. Thing is, I’ve just never been a steak guy myself. –Kevin McMahon

Temples

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

The Other Tent — Thursday, 8:30 p.m.

As the sun set on the first of four constitution-testing days on the farm, UK psych-rockers Temples took the stage to a noted sigh of relief. The quartet donned their standard ’70s garb, and off we went. 12-string lead melodies on tracks like “Colours to Life” and “Shelter Song” punch to the front and stick with you. Vocal harmonies sound like calls to the countryside set in another time. In all, Temples seem like the next logical progression in European psychedelia. While the word “recycled” comes to mind, it’s not meant in bad taste. We’ve got to recycle if we are to survive; it’s a good thing. –Kevin McMahon

Bear’s Den

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Photo by Ben Kaye

The Who Stage — Thursday, 9:00 p.m.

After a 10-minute delay due to some rough soundcheck difficulties, Bear’s Den proved greatly worth the wait for the well-packed Who Stage crowd. Though the band’s heartbreak folk isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, it certainly connected with the girl who was brought to tears at the first note of opener “Elysium”. With warm vocals and spot-on harmonies, the British band delivered a gentle set that simultaneously beat with a solid energy, with guitarist Andrew Davie and banjo player Joey Haynes playing into each other as much as toward the crowd. There’s an earnestness in their show, and it clearly works. –Ben Kaye

Iceage

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Photo by Ben Kaye

This Tent — Thursday, 8:15 p.m.

Apparently, I avoided some awkwardness by arriving to Iceage’s set a few minutes late: The controversial Danish punks started playing their “On My Fingers” only to stop a minute or so later. After a separate lighting issue was resolved, though, the band finally launched into their hard-charging sound for good, and at its best, it was mesmerizing. Even when guitarist Johan Wieth chugged out an entrancing, standalone riff toward the end of the set, all eyes were on frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, whose phantom-like presence was as intriguingly theatrical as it was strange. Credit where it’s due, though, because Iceage’s other three members were locked in in their own right, with drummer Dan Kjær Nielsen smashing away at a near-scary velocity. One quibble: Iceage’s overall gloominess isn’t exactly conducive to cheery festival vibes, and they didn’t modify much to help that. –Michael Madden

All Them Witches

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Photo by Ben Kaye

The Who Stage — Saturday, 12:00 a.m.

On record, Nashville’s All Them Witches are a heavy mix of Southern blues and hard rock psychedelia. They brought that same sound to the Who Stage as the clock struck midnight Saturday night, but perhaps inspired by Bonnaroo’s roots, they expanded their sound and ventured into more jammy territory. With Mumford’s fireworks blasting behind them, they tore through cuts from Our Mother Electricity and Lightning at the Door. It was a confident performance from such a young band, but could have used more of the muster that’s found on the records. Regardless, these guys have a bright future ahead of them. –Carson O’Shoney

Gary Clark Jr.

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Which Stage — Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

With B.B. King’s symbolic passing last month, the blues need a chosen son now more than ever. If Saturday evening at Bonnaroo is an indication, Gary Clark Jr. seems to be up to the job. He embodies the face-lift rhythm the blues needs if it’s to remain a widely valued staple of music in 2015. His updated version understands, embraces, and incorporates the music the blues has influenced: from country to rock, hip-hop and beyond. At the end of April, Clark mentioned he was about finished with his second album in an interview with Rolling Stone. It might just turn out to be a stumbling genre’s defibrillator. –Kevin McMahon

Mini Mansions

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

The Who Stage — Friday, 5:30 p.m.

To simply label Mini Mansions a Queens of the Stone Age side project is doing them a disservice. Sure, QOTSA’s bassist, Michael Shuman, is involved, but the band is really about the keys and vocals of Tyler Parkford and the drums and vocals of Zach Dawes. Their mix of Marc Bolan-esque glam, late-era Beatles psychedelia and glitzy synthpop was a perfect fit for the new Who Stage. Highlighted by a slowed-down cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”, they thrilled their small audience, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see them back here on a bigger stage soon. –Carson O’Shoney

Dej Loaf

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Photo by Ben Kaye

That Tent — Thursday, 6:45 p.m.

Even with her candied melodies, which make her music closer to TLC than Trick Trick, Detroit rapper/singer Dej Loaf showed up in Manchester distinguished by her street sensibilities. A member of XXL’s 2015 Freshmen class, her Bonnaroo set was a chance to see whether the hype is warranted. She got some serious mileage out of “Try Me”, performing the hook with and without the beat at separate points during her set. It’s her hit if she has only one, but the thing is that she has (or has been featured on) other unstompable earworms, too: “We Be on It”, Kid Ink’s “Be Real”, and The Game’s “Ryda”, among others. Onstage, she coolly performed these songs and more, with accompaniment coming from Detroit rapper Oba Rowland. Buoyed by chants of “Detroit vs. Everybody,” Dej and co. confirmed there’s a movement in her city worth siding with. –Michael Madden

Cameron Esposito, Kurt Braunohler, Ron Funches

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Comedy Theatre — Thursday, 4:00 p.m.

With an eclectic mix of performers slated for the first show of the weekend, the comedy theatre opened with a bang. Our Comedian of the Year for 2014Cameron Esposito, kicked things off with a hilarious routine focused on lesbianism and periods. Adorable soft-spoken goofball Ron Funches came next, warming the hearts of the audience with his giggle alone and making them giggle themselves with his views on his newfound richness. Jamie Lee fell a little flat after those two, as a self-proclaimed “basic bitch” telling gross-out jokes. Luckily, Kurt Braunohler closed the show on a high note, from stories of proposing on a hot air balloon (tip: don’t) to messing up his marriage within days of tying the knot. It didn’t hurt that he told the crowd how much better Bonnaroo was than Coachella, aka “desert prison.” A little Bonnaroo love goes a long way, but this crowd loved him either way. –Carson O’Shoney

BRONCHO

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Photo by Ben Kaye

New Music on Tap Lounge — Thursday, 11:15 p.m.

Closing down the On Tap stage on Thursday, BRONCHO shifted seamlessly between shoegaze, garage rock, and punk, all with hooks that just ever so subtly register in pop. Drummer Nathan Price started the set with a cigarette between his lips and kept his head down over his kit the rest of the time, cutting his drums with whip-sharp hits. Frontman Ryan Lindsey twitched about with a jerky, mumbly energy, all yelps and sputters, but in a good way. He glared down at the crowd with something that looked like disinterest or even hostility, but he was actually just having a ball, and so was the highly responsive late-night crowd. –Ben Kaye

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

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Photo by Ben Kaye

The Other Tent — Friday, 4:45 p.m.

Fresh off the heels of their excellent album Multi-Love, Unknown Mortal Orchestra provided a perfectly breezy afternoon set. With low-key grooves, a lovely daytime light show, and a few drum/keyboard/guitar solos, UMO bridged a gap between their brand of lo-fi psychedelic pop music and some of the more jammy roots of the festival. Singer Ruban Nielson connected with the audience in more ways than one — he sang from the rails during one song, even switching hats with a fan for the rest of the show. There weren’t many highs, but there also weren’t any lows — it was just a consistently fun and groovy set throughout. –Carson O’Shoney

Sylvan Esso

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

The Other Tent — Friday, 6:30 p.m.

Sylvan Esso took the stage riding the edge of day two’s descent into evening. As they did, lead singer Amelia Meath took a moment to scan the crowd. When she had finished, her assessment was brief: “You set the vibe. Let’s do it,” she beamed. Meath’s black dress, spotted with glittery eyes, shimmered in the twilight. For someone who is new to the the front woman position, her grace is something to behold. This poise is crucial to the success of a Sylvan Esso performance. Without a large visual accompaniment, all we see is Meath and Sanborn, who is preoccupied with creating the eclectic brand of beats Meath’s soothing pop vocals rest on. Meath’s sincerity and ability to engage a large audience mitigates the emptiness of the stage. What we’re left with is a dance show capable of doing a lot with a little. –Kevin McMahon

Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas

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Photo by Ben Kaye

The Other Tent — Sunday, 1:15 p.m.

Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas brought out as big a crowd as you could hope for an opening slot on the final day of Bonnaroo. The heat was sweltering, but so was the band, with Hernandez herself commanding all the attention. She’s a petite woman with not just a big voice, but a big presence, stepping high and hopping about with seemingly endless energy. As they ripped into recent hit “Don’t Take My Man to Idaho”, it struck that Hernandez is a mid-’90s Gwen Stefani with a blues twist, and the band is a ska soul outfit, all energy and fire with a whiskey edge. –Ben Kaye

Jamie xx

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

The Other Tent — Saturday, 6:00 p.m.

Electronic producer Jamie xx, aka Jamie Smith, is not one for excess. As masterful as it sounds, and as many musical histories as it pays homage to, his new In Colour is dense enough to show off his formidable musical IQ and no more. Naturally, Smith dressed modestly for his Saturday set and didn’t touch a mic once. He spun favorite records including The Persuasions’ “Good Times” (sampled on In Colour‘s Young Thug- and Popcaan-featuring “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”), but it was the material taken from his album that truly showcased his good taste, the beats hitting with a perfect balance of grandeur and sleekness. Frankly, Smith resides at the cutting edge of electronic music, even if his stripped-down visual aesthetic indicates something less high stakes. –Michael Madden

Courtney Barnett

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

This Tent — Thursday, 10:45 p.m.

For Courtney Barnett, the “singer-songwriter” label is a bit misleading. It’s true — she does write and sing her songs — but as evidenced by the number of times I heard “I was not expecting that!” after her show, most just assume that label means solo and acoustic. Not so with Barnett, who came out guns blazing on Thursday night with a loud and grungy 45-minute set. The energy stayed high, the crowd was as hyped as a Thursday crowd gets, and in between songs she charmed the pants off everyone with her Australian accent and sly sense of humor. It was everything you could hope for in her Bonnaroo debut. –Carson O’Shoney

The War on Drugs

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Which Stage — Saturday, 5:45 p.m.

You’ll never see more people on drugs cheering for something called The War on Drugs than at Bonnaroo. Their dreamy, jangly rock was suited well for an afternoon underneath the Tennessee sun. It was the perfect set for laying on a blanket, beer in hand, surrounded by friends and contemplating life. And on the third day of a long, hot, sweaty weekend, sometimes that’s exactly what you need. –Carson O’Shoney

Dawes

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

What Stage — Friday, 5:30 p.m.

“This is our third time playing Bonnaroo,” Taylor Goldsmith said early in Dawes’ Friday afternoon set, “but our first one the main stage. And let me tell ya, it’s a completely different experience.” Thankfully, it was an excellent experience, as well. Goldsmith used the larger performance space well, taking large strides towards members and the front of the stage as he tore into solo after solo. New bandmate Duane Betts, son of The Allman Brothers’ Dickey, blended in well, and Dawes remains one of the most engaging Americana live bands around. And it doesn’t get much better than a crowd belting of “When My Time Comes”, especially with the Goldsmith brothers putting in an extra bit of oomph for the Roo crowd. –Ben Kaye

Mac DeMarco

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

This Tent — Thursday, 12:15 a.m.

Does anyone belong at Bonnaroo more than Mac DeMarco? After watching the musician joke and tear through four cigarettes in just the sound check, we had our answer: No. Simply put, the fans want DeMarco as much as they want to hear his music. He’s like a giant human dimple; everything he does is charming, whether he’s handling broken strings like it’s part of the show or crowd surfing with ease. The guy does his best to strip down any ego, so everyone can just “hang out”. His music ain’t too bad, either. “Salad Days” was a goofy yet pleasing opener, his cover of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years” was Pure DeMarco, “Still Together” wrapped things up with its Lion King-partitioned chorus, and his quick cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” was a legitimate encore. What a wonderful ending to day one. –Kevin McMahon

SZA

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

The Other Tent — Saturday, 4:15 p.m.

R&B singer SZA may be seen as a secondary figure in TDE’s stable, having arrived after the core four in Black Hippy, but that doesn’t mean she’s not ascendant. Looking like a festivalgoer herself in a crop top and a skirt, the 24-year-old sang and danced with a bubbly sense of freedom. But the atmosphere could only be so relaxed; she’s also prone to tender introspection a la TDE’s Kendrick Lamar and Isaiah Rashad, emoting uninhibited in the pockets of “Childs Play”. That goes for both times she played the song: once solo, capably handling Chance the Rapper’s stop-and-start verse, and once with Chance himself. However, neither Chance nor SZA’s other guest, Anna Wise, could distract from the soulfulness of her performance, one that included a rare and enthusiastically received encore. SZA has resources, but considering her control as a vocalist and her incisiveness as a lyricist, she should be fine no matter how many she uses. –Michael Madden

Tanya Tagaq

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Photo by Ben Kaye

This Tent — Friday, 3:15 p.m.

It’s hard for anyone to adjust to Tennessee heat in the middle of June, but Tanya Tagaq takes the cake for least equipped to deal with this weather. “I’m from 200 miles away from the North Pole. This Eskimo is HOT,” she proclaimed as she took the stage. She spoke with the crowd for a good five minutes, explaining what throat singing is and that they improvise most of the set so this exact one will never happen again. Her polite and sweet personality shone in this opening, proving much needed context before the music took over and transformed her into something else entirely. Plenty of artists lose themselves in the music – but none quite like this. She became something else entirely. Something primal. She connected the past and the present by bringing this traditional Inuit throat singing into a modern context with experimental accompaniment by a drummer and a violinist. It was intense, guttural, moving, and beautiful — almost too weird for Bonnaroo. The crowd was small, but the true experimental music fans loved every minute. –Carson O’Shoney

Antonio Sánchez’s Live Score of Birdman

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Cinema Tent — Saturday, 2:30 p.m.

I’d never seen a live scoring of a film, and I’d never seen Birdman, so when I saw that Antonio Sánchez would be drumming in the cinema tent for the movie, I thought it would be a perfect way to experience both for the first time. I was right. The amazing continuous-shot editing of the film gives it a hard sense of forward momentum, and having Sánchez there skittering around his jazzy score amplified the urgency to the nth. An intense, immediate film was made even more so thanks to live music. You only get to see a movie for the first time once, and I can’t imagine a better way than this. –Ben Kaye

Glass Animals

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

The Other Tent — Thursday, 9:45 p.m.

Every year, Bonnaroo finds a way to put the buzziest bands in the smallest of tents on Thursday night. This year, Glass Animals got that treatment, as their enormous crowd sprawled out from the Other Tent to beyond the Ferris wheel. The problem? Unless you were inside the actual tent, you couldn’t hear anything but the faint sound of bass — it was hard to even guess what song was happening at any particular time. Reports from inside the tent indicate that it was a fun and solid set, but the majority of fans never found that out for themselves. –Carson O’Shoney

Elle King

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

The Who Stage — Friday, 4:00 p.m.

Coming out with squirt guns blazing is an easy way to win over a crowd on a steaming-hot, midday show, but Elle King wasn’t there for a cool down. King delivered a pounding set of feminist country rock, complete with personal hits like “Good Time to Be a Man” and a cover of The Beatles’ “Oh! Darling”. She admitted she’d been called a man-hater for writing the former, but contested, “That’s not true. I’d sleep with all ya’ll,” as she shot silly string over sweaty faces. With banjo swagger, a bit of weirdness, complaints about the heat, and a powerful vocalist and presence, it was really a quintessential Bonnaroo set. –Ben Kaye

Reggie Watts

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

Comedy Theatre — Sunday, 1:00 p.m.

You never quite know what you’re going to get at a Reggie Watts show. The thing is, neither does he. Nearly every song at every show is improvised. For this show, after a special intro from Metallica’s Robert Trujillo, he started with a riff about the backstory and legend of Bonnaroo as seen through the eyes of a Glastonbury-goer and some physical bits; then he got to the songs. Some were unintelligible — riffing on cadences, inflections, accents, and more rather than actual lyrics — while others weaved in Bonnaroo-related lyrics that the crowd ate up. Near the end, Reggie made one of his beats with an extra impressive beatbox, and the beat was so good that almost half the crowd rushed to the front of the stage to dance, making it probably the first dance party the Comedy Theatre has ever seen. –Carson O’Shoney

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib

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Photo by Ben Kaye

The Other Tent — Sunday, 5:45 p.m.

He can be dark and merciless with the best of them, but Gary, Indiana-bred rapper Freddie Gibbs, celebrating his 33rd birthday, was pretty lighthearted on Sunday, comically (and yes, filthily) flirting with several female Bonnaroovians from his spot onstage. Joined by DJ Madlib, the pair cycled through selections from their excellent collaborative album, last year’s Piñata, as well as non-Madlib-produced Gibbs material like “Rob Me a Nigga”, “Lay It Down”, and “Pronto”. Chance the Rapper made a cameo mid-set, as he does, and Gibbs proceeded to call the Chicagoan one of his generation’s most talented songwriters and one of the few rappers he finds worthy of genuine respect. The shout-out was evidence of Gibbs’ distaste for fakery in the rap industry as much as it was a compliment sent Chance’s way. Gibbs knew that no other rapper at Bonnaroo deals in his kind of unapologetic toughness, and he wanted to leave a definitive impression of where he’s coming from with that style. –Michael Madden

Pallbearer

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

That Tent — Friday, 2:00 p.m.

There weren’t a ton of metal acts at Bonnaroo 2015, but Little Rock doom ambassadors Pallbearer made their presence felt and then some, carrying their lengthy songs out with complete control. Astral guitar melodies and swooping vocal harmonies beautify the band’s sound to an extent, but their sheer force shouldn’t be called into question. Frontman Brett Campbell was about as much of a team player as he could’ve been while technically remaining the lead singer. He knows the front line of his band (himself, guitarist Devin Holt, and bassist Joseph D. Rowland) works together too well for him to indulge in the spotlight much. Pallbearer’s performance, then, was an almost hypnotically synchronized one. –Michael Madden

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Which Stage — Sunday, 7:45 p.m.

We’ve seen legendary rock ‘n’ roll musicians come and go on the farm, usually playing their one headlining set and then never returning. But Robert Plant has become something of a staple, playing three different times in three different iterations since 2008. Each time previous, he’s been a bit of a Zep tease – he’d play some old Zeppelin tunes, but they would be stripped-down, folky versions of them that mostly just left you wanting more. This time around there was a little of that happening, but he really broke the Led out with nearly full-fledged versions of “Black Dog”, “Whole Lotta Love”, and “Rock and Roll”. There were some sound bleed issues – I could hear G-Eazy pretty clearly during some of the more quiet parts, but that just comes with the territory at the Which stage. Plant truly seems to love playing Bonnaroo – he was in high spirits after just having to cancel a string of dates the week prior due to a bout with laryngitis. The Sensational Shape Shifters were perhaps the best band he’s played with on the farm – no disrespect to the Band of Joy or his and Alison Krauss’ band, but they handled both the rock and folk songs perfectly and threatened to steal the show on a few occasions. But really this was all about Plant, and he proved once again that he’s still got it after all these years. –Carson O’Shoney

Spoon

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

What Stage — Sunday, 4:45 p.m.

Spoon’s live shows are about as reliable and consistent as their discography. So when Britt Daniel and co. killed it in their Bonnaroo main stage debut, it didn’t really come as a surprise. Their setlist was littered with classics (“I Turn My Camera On”, “I Summon You”, “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”, and “The Way We Get By”), a few standouts from their new record (“Rent I Pay” and “Do You”), and even a brand-new track called “Satellite” and their blazing Cramps cover, “TV Set”. Daniel was in a playful mood, and the rest of the band had the energy to match. It was hard to tell who was having a better time – the band or the crowd. –Carson O’Shoney

80s SuperJam

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Photo by Ben Kaye

The Other Tent — Saturday, 1:30 a.m.

My motto is regardless of conflict, you make your way to the Bonnaroo SuperJam. So sure, it’s a bummer to miss the elusive D’Angelo, but there’s never going to be another chance to see Cherub perform “Word Up” with Metallica’s Rob Trujillo and Soulive’s Eric Krasno playing support and Reggie Watts singing backup. True, there have been better Jams in the past (as one colleague noted, this one felt more like celebrity karaoke than pure collaboration), but you still just can’t beat the experience. Think what you will of fun. or Bleachers, but Jack Antonoff killed Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” and Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”. Chance the Rapper covered Will Smith, and came back to do “This Is How We Do It”. And if you survived till the early AM, you got to watch DMC himself bust out “Tricky” and “Walk This Way”. Every moment was one-of-a-kind, and there’s just no competing with that. –Ben Kaye

Alabama Shakes

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

What Stage — Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Alabama Shakes are an increasingly rare thing, a band that borrows generously from ‘60s and ‘70s classic rock sounds and still manages to sound more progressive than most of their peers. Still, the Shakes’ ultimate strength is not about advancement but familiarity: the raw soul of Brittany Howard’s astounding voice, reminiscent of classic singers like Nina Simone and Janis Joplin. Only at the end of the band’s packed set, though, did Howard set down her turquoise Gibson SG to focus on her vocals and vocals alone. As great as she is as a singer, Alabama Shakes songs also have guitar riffs that, while unlikely to crack the sky open like a Zeppelin monster still can, land with the kind of impact a young Southern rock band is expected to revere but not actually achieve. Whether that kind of musicianship is a lost art or an art form lost on many of today’s young music fans, Alabama Shakes are confidently moving forward regardless of the turns the modern music industry takes. –Michael Madden

Flying Lotus

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Photo by Waytao Shing

The Other Tent — Friday, 12:15 a.m.

Flying Lotus dazzled in his Other Tent late-night set. Bringing along a slightly altered version of his current stage show — with a screen in front and behind him — he was only seen as two bright, glowing, green goggles between the visuals, which gave the set a mysterious and creepy feel. Those visuals, playing off both screens to create a 3D feel, provided more “whoa” moments from the crowd than perhaps any other set of the weekend. He broke Captain Murphy out for the first time on The Farm (the project emerged after his last Bonnaroo performance), but many were hoping for a collaboration with the rappers on The Farm that he has songs with, Chance the Rapper (who actually was in attendance, dancing) and Kendrick Lamar. Neither showed up to perform, but the music was seamless, and the visuals were fantastic throughout. –Carson O’Shoney

Slayer

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

This Tent — Saturday, 10:00 p.m.

Bonnaroo has seen its fair share of metal moments, from Metallica’s headlining set to Mastodon tearing up the tents multiple times. But nothing — and I mean nothing — comes close to Slayer’s Saturday night set. They came out dressed exactly like you’d expect — all in black, one band member in a Slayer t-shirt, another in one that says “Kill the Kardashians” across the front. Their singer looked like a metal Santa or a hippie that’s been trapped on The Farm since 2002, but when the songs started, the devil came out. Despite some sound troubles that temporarily quieted the set — pretty much the last thing you want to happen at a Slayer show — most of it was as blaringly loud and fast as you would imagine. Multiple mosh pits formed, some combining with others to make mega-pits that stretched nearly the whole width of the tent. It was all going about as well as a Slayer mosh pit could go … until they played “Raining Blood”. Then all hell broke loose. I didn’t think it was humanly possible to mosh and move as fast and as hard as the crowd did when those legendary notes were played. I’ve never seen a Bonnaroo crowd go more berserk for a single song, and that’s no small feat. –Carson O’Shoney

Caribou

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Photo by Ben Kaye

The Other Tent — Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

When Dan Snaith stepped onstage at The Other Tent, it was hard not to chuckle. Just moments before, a heavily inebriated Freddie Gibbs smoked blunts and drank an entire bottle of Patron onstage (to be fair, it was his birthday). Both shows turned out amazing, but the contrast was something only Bonnaroo could pull off. Caribou are surgically tight. Their stage performance falls between the uptempo micro house of Jamie xx and the live version of Animal Collective. Unlike AC, Caribou stay very on beat, any experimental nodules fit within the dance aesthetic Snaith expertly crafts. Beginning with “Your Love Will Set You Free”, Caribou noticeably reactivated the crowd for the last four songs. It was a final hurrah for those of us uninterested in Billy Joel. The power of those four songs created all the closure needed to grapple with the end-of-Bonnaroo-blues.–Kevin McMahon

Atomic Bomb!

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Photo by Ben Kaye

That Tent — Saturday, 8:15 p.m.

Decisions can become very hard at Bonnaroo for a number of reasons (we’ll stick to the musical ones). Catching Atomic Bomb! was a difficult decision during an 8-10 p.m. coeval that included Childish Gambino, Gary Clark Jr., and My Morning Jacket. As this show proved, there are very few bad decisions (musically) to be made at Bonnaroo. The super group includes the likes of LCD Soundsystem’s Pat Mahoney, Luke Jenner, Money Mark, Jamie Lidell, and the amazing Sinkane band holding it all together. What we got was a Nigerian funk-rooted fusion show. There was soul, R&B, progressive electro, silliness, and even hip-hop via Mike Floss. All these styles flowed in and out of the original music of the great William Onyeabor. The caliber of the musicians made for a seamless performance. Extra props to the sound engineers for perfectly equalizing what looked to be over 25 onstage microphones. –Kevin McMahon

Deadmau5

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

What Stage — Friday, 12:00 a.m.
This year marks the first time we had a true late-night main stage headliner at Bonnaroo. 2008’s Kanye West debacle was the first attempt at a post-midnight show start. Ask around and there is still a bad taste on the tongues of Bonnaroovians who suffered through his unacceptable tardiness. Deadmau5 parallels West in many ways: boisterous, outspoken, and constantly forced to assert his artistry because of the misinformed many. But Deadmau5 showed up on time. And it was fucking sick. He’s in the rare cut of electronic producers who can compose both albums and performances. His mastery of these two mediums were on full display Friday night. Deadmau5 conducted a lossless reconstruction of originals and remixes from arguably the most influential catalogue in mainstream EDM today. We also got to see the geodesic trip machine that is “The Thunderdome.” After the technical face-plant during its debut at Governors Ball (blew the power), it was great to see it in full force. Easily one of the most high-quality, multi-sensory performances on the market today. –Kevin McMahon

Earth Wind and Fire

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

Which Stage — Friday, 11:30 p.m.

Earth Wind and Fire are already quintessential Bonnaroo. They’re legends in their own right, and their catalog spans R&B, soul, funk, jazz, disco, pop, rock, and more while offering up undeniable positivity-radiating grooves like “September”, “Shining Star, and “Boogie Wonderland”. Late Friday night, the original three piece and their large band took the stage close to midnight — the first night that The Farm truly sees the weird come out as the wee hours manifest more and more options for entertainment. As such, the band had a surprise or two up their shiny, costumed sleeves.

After 18 songs, they brought out both Chance The Rapper and Kendrick Lamar, the latter of whom had just wrapped an epic headlining set over on the main stage. (More on that soon.) The two freestyled and danced together and everyone in the vicinity (both on and off the stage) seemed to feel the magic. The following day, Chance the Rapper tweeted that he was “minding his own business camping at Bonnaroo” when “outta nowhere legendary bassist Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire invites me and Kendrick Lamar to come on stage and freestyle with the band.” That’s Bonnaroo for you, and that’s why we all keep coming back. –Amanda Koellner

Mumford and Sons

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Photo by Amanda Koellner

What Stage — Saturday, 11:00 p.m.

“We want to thank Jack Johnson for stepping in [in 2013],” Marcus Mumford said early in Mumford and Sons’ triumphant Saturday headlining performance. “For all of you who came to see us two years ago, we hope you’re with us now. Classic Ted. Had to seek attention by going and getting brain surgery — what a wanker!” He was joking of course, but the set was as much a celebration of their bassist being alive as it was finally getting to play the Bonnaroo headlining gig they’d always dreamed of.

And Mumford and Sons are in fact really spectacular headliners. Their songs rang out powerfully over Great Stage Park, and while the setlist didn’t vary too drastically from recent shows, it proved they’ve found a smart balance between their new and old material. “Snake Eyes” into “Lover of the Light” into “Thistle & Weeds” felt entirely smooth, despite each track coming from a different record.

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Beyond a fine balancing act and redemptive return, the set featured the kind of cameos you can only get at Roo. After plucking along on banjo during “Awake My Soul”, Ed Helms returned for the spectacular finale featuring My Morning Jacket, Dawes, Hozier, and The War on Drugs’ saxophonist Jon Natchez. “With a Little Help From My Friends” may be a little cliché for a guest-heavy closer, but who cares; it was an awesome moment in the truest sense of the word. –Ben Kaye

Kendrick Lamar

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

What Stage — Friday, 9:45 p.m.

Though a masterpiece to many, To Pimp a Butterfly just didn’t do it for some of Kendrick Lamar’s fans. Instead of showcasing the breadth of the new album, then, the Compton rapper went for familiar banger after familiar banger on Friday; he opened with “Money Trees”, played “m.A.A.d city” twice, things like that. He did not come as a poet; he came as someone who just sold 324,000 first-week copies of his album. That’s not to say his most serious lyrical themes didn’t make it through, but Kendrick was mostly content to give a high-energy performance that highlighted his ability to create hugely popular songs, and no one appeared to have a fuckin’ problem with that. TPAB is worth dissecting lyric by lyric, but its way of making you feel alive is not about elation. Elation is what Kendrick got out of his audience on Friday, and as it turns out, that’s a pretty life-affirming way of going about things, too. –Michael Madden

Tears for Fears

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Photo by Ben Kaye

This Tent — Friday, 8:30 p.m.

After hearing a load of slack over my excitement for Tears for Fears, I was pleased to see them command such a large audience. It wasn’t just nostalgia, however, as Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith more than deserved such a powerful crowd. Their vocal and instrumental talents appeared completely un-aged as they delivered classics like “Mad World” and deeper cuts like “Change”. Even more amazing was the crowd participation on nearly every song; young and old were singing along, from the cover of “Creep” to opener “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. Of all the great sing-along moments at Roo, it’s hard to surpass Orzabal stepping away from the mic and giving the crowd the opening refrain of closer “Shout”. Tears for Fears are no ’80s schmaltz, and they proved it Friday night. –Ben Kaye

Florence and the Machine

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

What Stage — Sunday, 7:00 p.m.

Two months after breaking her foot during Florence and the Machine’s first weekend at Coachella, Florence Welch fearlessly sprinted through a clearing in her Bonnaroo audience on Sunday night. Still, her legs didn’t take her as far as her voice, which is pure, seemingly limitless, and one she encourages her fans to back up; she turned sun-battered Bonnaroovians into the “world’s hottest choir.” For an hour, she radiated confidence in her material, including the songs from her fresh-out How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. There might be something comical about the juxtaposition of Welch, such an emphatic force when she wants to be, and her harpist, presiding over such a gentle-sounding instrument, but then again, that harpist didn’t go unheard; a Florence and the Machine show becomes such a grandiose event that seemingly everyone onstage gets a chance to shine, from the guitarists (on “What Kind of Man?”, in this case) to the horn players (“How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful”). At her level of fame, Welch could easily make music with few moving parts and still find success with it. Instead, she’s continuing to build massive sounds with her band and able to deliver a kinetic, holistic performance because of it. –Michael Madden

Run the Jewels

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

This Tent — Friday, 11:15 p.m.

El-P and Killer Mike’s chemistry is contagious. It’s a big part of why Run the Jewels works so well, especially in a live setting. They came onstage to a packed tent and set the tone by saying, “We’re Run the Jewels, and we’re here to fuck shit up!” From that moment on, it was a pure adrenaline rush of a show. Hard-hitting beats and insane energy came from the stage. Below in the crowd, Run the Jewels hands were thrown between every song, and fans shouted along with every word. In a time where hip-hop shows sometimes require a full band to go over well in environments like Bonnaroo, RTJ kicked it old school and proved that you could still kick ass with just a DJ and two microphones. –Carson O’Shoney

My Morning Jacket

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

What Stage — Saturday, 8:00 p.m.

Seeing My Morning Jacket at Bonnaroo is a rite of passage. As one of the bands that has grown with the festival and played many of its stages, it’s an event whenever they return to The Farm. Each new show will be compared to the legendary 2008 marathon performance, but that doesn’t mean they can’t stand on their own merits, too. This time around, MMJ have a return-to-form new album in tow, yet they mainly focused on their back catalog and played almost every fan favorite. New track “Believe (Nobody Knows)” killed it as the opener, and the band proceeded to tear through 17 more crowd-pleasers, sounding more cohesive and confident than ever. Jim James wasn’t as talkative as usual, preferring to periodically give triumphant thumbs-up poses to the crowd to erupting applause. “Dondante” was as dark and thrilling as ever, “Off the Record” got a little extra jam time, and set closer “One Big Holiday” got what seemed like the entire Farm jumping. The fact that this registers as a relatively normal MMJ show (as opposed to the four hours and multitude of covers in 2008) just goes to prove that they’re still one of the best live bands on the planet. –Carson O’Shoney

Billy Joel

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Photo by Ben Kaye

What Stage — Sunday, 9:00 p.m.

Anyone who was wondering if the Piano Man could match last year’s performance by the Rocket Man was put on notice right from the get-go. Billy Joel opened his festival-closing spot with “My Life” and “Pressure”, only to dig deeper into his catalog with “Everybody Loves You Now” immediately after. As his piano swiveled to face different parts of the audience, he continued to deliver hit after hit in a lively, feel-good performance that had everyone dancing and singing. There were even glow stick showers during the likes of “Movin’ Out” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. It was all you could hope for in a headlining show.

Long Island’s favorite son was light on the banter, introducing songs like he was telling stories to some random passersby and quipping about his ex-wives. He took swipes at a pesky moth with his fly swatter and scored the traditional flight of the floating lanterns with bars of Star Wars’ “The Imperial March” and the Jaws theme. In that way, Joel’s set was perhaps a bit subtler than most, as he let the songs do much of the convincing. But when he went big, he went wild; Joel picked up a guitar and walked center stage to introduce his guitar roadie, Chainsaw.

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Photo by Ben Kaye

“If you don’t like him, you can boo his ass right off the stage,” Joel said, but it wouldn’t come to that. With his boss passing the stage wearing a big grin, Chainsaw absolutely ripped AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”, delivering a near-perfect imitation of Brian Johnson. Sure, it couldn’t match Mumford and Sons’ guest-heavy encore, but it was a playful sidebar in the middle of a set that would’ve been solid on its own.

Joel’s age showed every now and then; he panted in the heat and had to take a breather as he readied his harmonica for “Piano Man”. But then he would play with his mic stand during “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”, spinning it and tossing it high. When he opened his mouth to kick off the encore with “Uptown Girl”, he sounded just like he did in 1983; there wasn’t a single sour note. Joel may be an elder statesman, but he’s also one of the best performers of his era, so the fact that he’s still around and putting on killer shows like this shouldn’t really be a surprise, but even Joel himself is sometimes taken aback by his own story.

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Photo by Ben Kaye

“This came out in 1975,” he said when introducing “The Entertainer”. “Which shows you how much I know.” It’s a good thing that song remained just a lyrical story, and an even better thing that Billy Joel is still around to perform his unmatched repertoire of timeless hits. –Ben Kaye

D’Angelo

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

This Tent — Saturday, 1:00 a.m.

Being late for a show at Bonnaroo tends to not go over well. Just ask Kanye. So when the clock hit 1:30 a.m. and D’Angelo still hadn’t hit the stage, I worried the audience might turn on him. Maybe someone forgot to tell him his set got bumped up, I thought. But then five minutes later, he finally arrived — with panache. He strutted to the front after the rest of the band took their positions, paused with his back to the crowd long enough to wonder if he would ever move again, then finally faced his fans and dove right into “Ain’t That Easy”. The Vanguard might very well be the tightest, most cohesive, and all-around best band on The Farm this year. What makes that even more special is the fact that the majority of the band was put together for D’Angelo’s live return to American soil for the Superjam in 2012.

They hit every note in stride and kept the audience on their toes, whether faithfully reconstructing the sounds on their excellent Black Messiah or jamming out to the extreme. From acoustic, delicate songs like “Really Love” to the big, funky jams like “Sugah Daddy”, the Vanguard truly made the show happen. D’Angelo himself seemed to be in a great mood, looking much better and healthier than his last time on site. He was all smiles while he interacted with the audience, danced around, and changed into one impeccable outfit after another. He also kept the powerful messages heard in his album alive by dedicating “The Charade” to the likes of Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown. They played an hour-long set followed by a 30-minute encore, going all the way til 3 a.m.

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

By the end, everyone had forgotten about his tardy arrival because they had just witnessed a legendary Bonnaroo show. If Prince never makes it to The Farm, at least we can say we witnessed D’Angelo. –Carson O’Shoney

Gallery

Photographers: David Brendan Hall, Ben Kaye, Amanda Koellner