Another year, another Bonnaroo. Needless to say, the No Country crew had a blast, and we were there in full-force to document the 13th annual installment of the Manchester, TN fest. In addition to our regular and semi-regular contributors, we brought in a few guests to weigh in on ‘Roo (check out the key at the bottom), and we had expert photographer Mary-Beth Blankenship on site to capture some of our favorite performances. After so many months of anticipation, we can’t believe it has finally come and gone, but, below, check out our recap and photos from Bonnaroo’s first two days (and head here for the last two).
LA based psychedelic rock quartet Allah-Las was the first show I caught at Bonnaroo, and, frankly, there couldn’t have been a better way to kick off the weekend. The group’s sunny vibes set the perfect precedent for the weekend, and it wasn’t hard to enjoy yourself at their killer set. [JS]
After getting my camp situated and having some celebratory beers with my new Bonnarovian neighbors, I headed into the festival and bee lined it to This Tent for Cass McCombs. He was finishing up one of my favorite songs, “Big Wheel,” when I arrived. His jammy, folk singer-songwriter sounds enthralled me from the start. He had on a white t-shirt with something scrawled on it in black sharpie about prisoners’ rights, but it was tough to read the handwritten message because he wore his guitar above his waist and it covered the last couple lines. His bandmates slide guitar on “Brighter” was awe-inspiring, and the short but sweet set was the perfect way to kick off Bonnaroo 2014. [JR]
Caveman’s fun and melodic brand of synth and reverby music reminded me a lot of The Cure. The intimacy of the smaller The Other Tent helped to contain the energy level within the audience. But the crowd was by no means small. The sun was nearly setting, so the heat was dissipating, but the bands were started to get really good. [SJ]
Foreign Fields. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
I started my Bonnaroo off right with a local (er, well local by way of Wisconsin) act, Foreign Fields. Amazingly, ‘Roo was my first opportunity to catch the duo (who play live with a full band) in person, and I was not disappointed. Their sweeping, layered, and hypnotic sound lent itself perfectly to the Communion-curated Sonic Stage, and the crowd, many of whom seemed to have wandered up upon hearing the group play, were engrossed throughout the set. [PO]
On my way to That Tent, I saw one of my favorite t-shirts of the entire festival. It depicted a cartoony turtle playing piano and it said “slow jams” underneath it in a cool font, which seemed appropriate for the next band on my docket, Real Estate. There sound is a super, super chill version of indie rock that has earned them some popularity and acclaimed since they formed in Ridgewood, New Jersey around 2009. I packed several bowls during the show and puffed them liberally while I spaced out a little. I was throughly pleased when they played my favorite song, “Talking Backwards,” and, soon after, I found my munchies kicking in, so I ordered a Cajun sausage from a vendor and inahled it like a starving orphan. [JR]
Following Allah-Las, I got a chance to check yet another engaging indie rock act: Real Estate. This proved to be quite an enjoyable transition, as the celebrated rock act managed to put on an incredibly chilled out and engaging show. Getting a chance to see such an influential act was certainly something special, and it would be safe to say that Real Estate has still got it. [JS]
Cloud Nothings. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
Cloud Nothings were my new discovery of the festival; at the request of a friend, I attended this show, and was pleasantly blown away. The group excels at creating a story arch that spans the length of their songs; just when you think the music cannot peak any further, the trio manages kick it up to another level. My first order of business after getting home from Bonnaroo was to download a few of their albums, and I’m definitely glad I got a chance to get exposed to these guys. [JS]
I only managed to see Cloud Nothings play a few songs, but, immediately, I was taken aback by how large and enthusiastic their crowd was. The group normally play club-sized spaces, but, at Bonnaroo, especially on Thursday night when the two main stages are not yet up and running, Cloud Nothings might as well have been major rockstars. They commanded the crowd with confidence and swagger, and managed to make their punk-tinged, high-energy performance feel intimate and unpredictable, even in a much larger than normal space. [PO]
Cherub. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
With the main stages yet to be opened, Cherub’s spot on This Tent reaped the benefit. Not to diminish but rather to highlight their incredible success in just a few short years, without a main stage competitor, it seemed as if a large faction of Bonnaroo was choosing Cherub, about 10-12k… and they all knew the words. Considering the last time I’d seen them was when they sold out the Mercy Lounge, a 500 capacity venue, this was an almost overwhelmingly impressive feat. To quote Sean Carter, “All the hustles glad just to see one of us make it.” [AS]
I knew that Nashville electro-rock duo Cherub had been picking up steam in recent months, and even managed to catch their Lollapalooza outing last summer, where they played for a solid crowd. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for just how massive their Bonanroo turnout would be. Second only to Jack White in crowd size for a Nashville performer, Cherub prepared for their epic set by spraying champagne on those who had managed to push their way to the front. They then proceeded to erupt into a high-energy performance, turning The Other Tent into one hell of a dance party, and laying to rest any doubt that they’re on track to become massive stars. [PO]
Banks. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
I knew a few of her songs prior to her set over at That Tent, but Spotify had not prepared me for Banks’ live set. Live she is enchanting, enthralling, and euphoric. She’s a slightly less goth-y American version of Lorde, not that the two are that comparable sonically, but she was mesmerizing in the same way Lorde captured my attention the first time I heard “Royals”. I also enjoy that I don’t have to feel like a dirty old man listening to her, since Banks has 7 years on Lorde. [AS]
Though I had heard Banks’ named floated around during her incredibly buzzy 2013, I don’t believe I had ever listened to her music prior to writing a recent Bonnaroo preview. I was immediately hooked, and made a point to catch her Thursday night outing. Not only was it every bit as emotionally-charged, haunting, and genuine as I had hoped, but the set also instantly won me over as a Banks fan, and made her forthcoming debut full-length, Goddess, one of my most-anticipated of the year (think Ellie Goulding meets Disclosure). Missed her at ‘Roo? Catch her this fall at Cannery Ballroom. [PO]
After passing out for a few hours under a shade tree (I’d only meant to sit for a few minutes), I rushed over to That Tent for what would end up being my top performer of day one. Omar Souleyman’s crazy Syrian style techno dance-music-madness was absolutely captivating. I don’t speak Arabic, but it didn’t really matter what he was saying; he had everyone whipped into a frenzy just the same. “Hopty, hopty, hopty hahh,” or something of the like. The crowd all jumped around in place and swayed back and forth to the crazy synthesized middle-eastern style wedding music Souleyman has mastered and made fairly famous. He is a must see for anyone who is into international sounds and those who seek something off the beaten path. [JR]
It would be safe to say that Omar Souleyman was a new discovery for a number of Bonnaroovians (he was for me). That didn’t stop the guy from throwing down during his set; he commanded the audience through a dominating stage presence and high energy tunes. Interestingly enough, a number of people in the audience knew the lyrics to many of Souleyman’s songs, which is impressive when one considers that the tracks are written in Kurdish and Arabic. [JS]
J. Roddy Walston & The Business
As soon as my first dance party of the fest ended I headed to This Tent for frequent Nashville performers J. Roddy Walston & The Business. I’d loved J. Roddy since the first time I’d heard their blusey hard rock over a year ago, but this was the first time I’d seen them live (shame on me). What you’ve heard is true, Roddy is all bravado and one of the best frontmen I saw all weekend, a mess of long headbanging curls, getting the crowd into from the very start. I shotguned a few beers I’d managed to sneak in from our cushy Guest Camping site and puffed another bowl while they played all their hits including “Brave Man’s Death,” “Don’t Break the Needle,” “Heavy Bells,” and my top song by them, “Take As It Comes.” [JR]
White Denim were, without a doubt, the band I was most excited to see on Thursday, and, thankfully, they played as rocking of a set as ever. The psychedelic rock outfit have been making a name on the festival scene recently, and their high energy performance at Bonnaroo will no doubt help to solidify that reputation. [JS]
Easily the loudest show I saw all week, Ty Segall was really something else. Even though it was after 1 a.m. before he started, he made sure everyone was wide-awake from the start of his set to the very end. I’m not super fimilar with his work, but I’ve heard his name tossed around before, and he was highly recommened by a good friend of mine whose taste in music is impeccable. His lo-fi, noise rock/garage punk was exhilerating, and I made notes to download some of his shit as soon as I got home. During his performance, some lady kept coming from back stage and stage diving into the crowd with moderate success, (from where I was standing it looked like she ate it pretty hard once or twice). By the end of the set, everyone’s ears were ringing and Ty had launched snacks from the green room backstage into crowd, much to everyone’s approval. His set was a great way to close out one of the best day one lineups I’ve seen in awhile. [JR]
Ty Segall drew a pretty large crowd at Bonnaroo; in fact, many people seemed to consider the rocker as the “headliner” for the evening. He definitely played like a headliner, dominating the stage and blasting audiences away with his fuzz drenched tunes. One would be hard pressed to think of a better way to end their first day on the Farm. [JS]
Photos by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
I started off my last day at the 2013 Forecastle Festival with Greensky Bluegrass, and I started off my first day of the 2014 Bonnaroo with the same. Solid players that absolutely own festival afternoons. [MH]
I heard recommendations to check out Greensky Bluegrass, and I’m glad I did. Their bluegrass jumps back and forth between more the traditional sounds of the acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, and dobro and then roaring overdriven dobro solos that conjure images of Duane Allman. The quality of the vocals, both the lead and the harmony, were fantastic. [SJ]
St. Paul & The Broken Bones
St. Paul and the Broken Bones play around Nashville a lot, so I thought I knew what to expect when checking out their set at Bonnaroo. However, the group seemed to kick things up a notch for the festival. Their rock-tinged soul tunes were a fantastic way to shake off the hangover from the night before, and as always it was stunning hearing a vocalist of the caliber of frontman Jane Austin. [JS]
Vintage Trouble. Photo by Shawn Jackson.
Vintage Trouble are an old favorite of mine, having come through Nashville a few times annually for the past few years. I could overhear new fans throughout the crowd discovering them and falling in love just as I had some time back. Their high energy, rocked-up soul music is infectious, and frontman Ty Taylor makes certain not to leave a single audience member behind, encouraging lots of crowd participation and even venturing very far out from the stage to be among the people as he belts out his songs. I brought a big group with me for this one, and earned Vintage Trouble a lot of new fans in the process. [SJ]
Big Sam’s Funky Nation
New Orleans inspired jazz/funk/rock outfit Big Sam’s Funky Nation were a blast from the very beggining. They had the crowd grooving and bopping instantly. After about a song or two, the LSD I’d scored with friends in general admission camping earlier in the day started to take hold. I took two hits, wanting to test my limits, and, in hindsight, one would have probably been enough. When the first and biggest peak of the trip came, I had to lay down flat on the ground, dig my fingers into the mud and hang on for dear life as the complete euphoria nearly made me loose my mind. I kept quiet, and no one around me knew I was too fucked up for my own good. I felt The Fear nearly take me, but Sam’s tunes kept me tethered to earth, and I avoided a freak out. It sounds unpleasant, but once you get through the first peak of the high it’s always smooth sailing. [JR]
The Wood Brothers. Photo by Shawn Jackson.
The Wood Brothers
The Wood Brothers are another favorite of mine. Shortly after their gradual move to Nashville over the past few years, they have been popping up all over the place. Whether at Music City Roots, 3rd & Lindsley, or elsewhere, they have been picking up fans by the truckload and selling out shows with massive force. With performances like theirs at Bonnaroo this year, it’s easy to see why. It wasn’t nearly as intimate as their recent sold-out 3rd & Lindsley shows, but the energy and superb musicianship were still strong. Their mellow, somber songwriting was a little of a downer for some in our crowd after having just witnessed the jumping and wailing of Vintage Trouble, but it was a very good set. [SJ]
The psychedelic rockers from Philly are already one of my favorite bands, and I’d seen them live at least five times prior; however, this was the first time I’d seen them at the peak of an acid trip. It may sound crazy to someone who has never dabbled with hallucinogens, but, I swear to God, I could see the music coming from the speakers. A tide of rainbow colors ebbing and flowing from the three story speaker stacks at Which Stage. It was a great show and I’d tell you more about it but all I managed to jot down in my note pad was “sometimes you take acid; sometimes acid takes you,” which became my mantra for the rest of the day and the rest of my thirteen hour trip. [JR]
Roadkill Ghost Choir
This band is my new discovery from the trip. I was immediately impressed by their sound, best described as a mixture of rock and folk. Lead singer Andrew Shepard has an incredible voice than can easily go from singing soft and melodically to loud and gritty, making their music dynamic and vibrant. And they announced on Monday that they are releasing their debut album In Tongues on August 19th, so the experience doesn’t have to end with Bonnaroo. [MG]
For me, Bonnaroo is about finding something completely unique that blows my mind. Enter my first Roo opportunity of 2014 with DakhaBrakha. Anyone can Wikipedia the band and read that they began performing folk music from their Ukrainian homeland and then implemented world music elements, but it isn’t until I saw this band that I had any clue of the power that quartet. The rhythms are tribal, and the folk is near chanted in foreign tongue, which actually enhances the worldy feel of the music, and their traditional native headwear and clothing were inspiring. I meandered through shows upon my Friday arrival to Roo, but DakhaBrakha was the first act that pinged every sense in my body. [MH]
We all know that Umphrey’s McGee is a festival favorite, but it’s hard to really understand why until you get the chance to see them at a major music festival like Bonnaroo. The Indiana jam band feed on the energy of the crowd more ravenously than any group I’ve seen before, which means that a packed festival like Bonnaroo is basically a breeding grounds for a fantastic performance. Umphrey’s McGee was dynamic, engaging, and impressive, to say the least. [JS]
Jake Bugg. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
I had the privilege of watching Jake perform a few songs solo in the Hay Bale studio prior to his set. It was uncannily clear and solid, a hard feat for any rock act to accomplish solo, let alone acoustic. The fact that once he hit the stage the songs simply became fuller, and that the quality was not dependent on pedals or a band, speaks a lot to the quality of his writing. He’s like a British, rock and roll Conor Oberst, given his youth and prowess. Clearly the audience agreed, as it was amongst one of the most appreciative I saw all weekend. Any skepticism I’d had about the “Lightning Bolt” kid went out the window, and I’m eager to see what he comes up with next. [AS]
Still very much tripping, I began to wander around the farm and came to rest at This Tent, where Jake Bugg had amassed a large crowd. We’ve all heard last summers inescapable single “Lightening Bolt” but other than that I knew very little of Bugg’s music other than he sings with a thick British drawl. Much to my delight and amazement, he is a very gifted guitar player. His solos had me lolling back and fourth a giggly mess of smiles. He has a good following, and his fans all seemed to know every word to every song. Some short stalky Englishwomen gave me a puff of her joint, which helped level off the visuals from the LSD for a time, while still keeping my ever present euphoria at peak. I jotted down some song titles she told me and have since added them to my expansive “to download” list, but I couldn’t stay till the end because there was just too much to see. [JR]
One word: Tone. Kids take lessons and practice until their fingers bleed, but tone is something you are just born with. Jake Bugg is one of those kids. [MH]
Though he might look like a bonus member of One Direction, 20 year old Jake Bugg sounds more like Bob Dylan. The young’n’s talents were on full display at Bonnaroo, where he blasted through a set stuffed with hits. Although the singer appeared a bit moody (or maybe just very British), he sounded pretty flawless, and Bonnaroo answered back with uproarious enthusiasm. I only caught a few songs before I had to move on, but Bugg’s Bonnaroo set definitely had me even more bummed I didn’t get a chance to see his recent Ryman outing. [PO]
John & Jacob
Local boys John and Jacob couldn’t have been more deserving of their first-time spot at Bonnaroo. Accomplished songwriters, the duo (who play with a permanent live band) have made ripples in the country realm, but harbor enough crossover pop rock potential to win over the masses, and their skill was on full display at ‘Roo. Their mid-afternoon set was confident, fun, and incredibly polished, likely leaving many wondering why this act wasn’t on a larger stage (they almost certainly will be sooner than later). [PO]
With all the lineup conflicts of Friday I only managed a few songs at Danny Brown. Here’s what I came away with though. Dude’s a freak and it is fantastic. If you don’t know him, go to YouTube, Spotify, or iTunes, and check him out now (put on headphones if you’re at work). He may never reach the pop cultural height as Kanye, which at this point may be a blessing, but he’s an innovator and artist in spirit on par. [AS]
I rushed from John and Jacob to catch a bit of enigmatic rapper Danny Brown; a performer I regretfully missed at Bonnaroo 2012. Though I didn’t see much more of Danny this time around, what I did catch of the alternative MC was stellar. Bonnaroo’s the perfect setting for a genre-bending, street smart, punk loving artist with instantly memorable songs, and Brown’s hyper-enthuastic crowd helped push his show over the top. Equal parts rap star and rock star, Danny Brown couldn’t have been a better way to warm up for the evening’s Kanye West set. [PO]
It’s been a few years since 2011’s Every Kingdom release, but Ben Howard keeps glued to the road and festival circuit. Boldly rocking a blue longsleeve shirt with the top button fastened, Howard didn’t seem to lose any airflow. His delicate studio vocals were roughed up a bit live, which felt appropriate given the stout turnout at Which Stage. Fans were treated to favorites like “Old Pine” and “Keep Your Head Up” while mixing in a few tracks I didn’t recognize. Here’s hoping a new release will remedy that soon. [WD]
Skinny Lister. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
Skinny Lister were my great discovery of Bonnaroo. Going in I’d never heard of them, but coming out, I’m making sure to keep an eye out to see them the next time they’re nearby. Traditional, foot-stomping folk imports from the UK, these guys really made me want a drink, if for no other reason than to hoist it up high and slosh it around as I pogoed and bounced along with the rest of the crowd. We got to speak with them a bit in the press area before their set, and their humility only makes me love them more. They may never be a headliner in the vein of Jack White or Elton, but they love what they do and its palpable when they perform. [AS]
My only previous experience with Skinny Lister, over a year ago when they opened for Flogging Molly at Marathon Music Works, was blast, and one that has stuck in my mind ever since. I knew that their high-energy, drunken, folk punk antics (dancing jigs, passing around jugs of rum) would translate well to Bonnaroo’s tiny Cafe Where stage, and they certainly did. A mix of fervent Skinny Lister fans and passersby who were drawn in, the audience was one of the wildest of the weekend’s club shows, and Skinny Lister proved they deserved a much larger stage next time around. [PO]
Taran Killam and Friends
The Comedy Tent has come a long way since my first time at Bonnaroo, and ever since the Conan sets in 2010, I’ve been dying to go back. I was hoping to catch more sets, but the one we did manage to catch, Taran Killam, was more than enough to satisfy my comedic lust. It was wonderful to see Taran, a relatively new cast member to SNL, still earning his keep as a main player, on his own in his own right. He definitely did not disappoint and his set has me looking forward to seeing more from him in future seasons of SNL. [AS]
Over the course of four Bonnaroos, I’ve never had time to take in anything but the music. This year, however, I felt determined to at least catch a comedy show, and Saturday Night Live‘s Taran Killam, who helped announced this year’s ‘Roo lineup, seemed like the perfect choice. Killam is an improv/sketch comic, however, not a standup, so his performance relied heavily on interactivity, storytelling, and SNL related bits. Additionally, Killam brought along fellow SNL associates Kyle Mooney (of Good Neighbors), Tim Robinson, and Brooks Wheelan, as well as standup Ryan Belleville. The whole thing was hilarious, a lot of fun, and nice (and air-conditioned) break from the live music grind. [PO]
The Master Musicians of Jajouka
I was really looking forward to this because Jack Smith, another No Country contributor and my ride to Manchester, had told me all about them on the drive in. The Moroccan style jam band with legendary DJ logic spinning in time was a sight to see. Anytime a big international act that most Americans know nothing about comes to play ‘Roo, I try to be all over it. Unfortunately, they had some major problems getting mic’d up and ready to play. They ran way behind and I only stayed for two songs, which I throughly enjoyed but I had to keep moving. As anyone who’s been before knows, there’s just too much shit going on all at once to waste any time at one stage, if there isn’t music being played. [JR]
The Orwells. Photo from a crappy cell phone.
This was my third time seeing The Orwells, but this Bonnaroo performance was a reminder of why they don’t have full-on punk rock festivals on hot, sweaty farms. Performing on the Miller Lite On Tap Stage, this band was clearly booked at a stage too small. Fans were packed in, and they kept coming. By the time that I was pushed away from the stage, I found myself with other rowdy fans lifting up the flaps of the tent for a view. Within two songs, kids were pushing past me, climbing over gear boxes, crowd surfing with raised fists, giant lounge pillows flying through the air, kids climbing scaffolding and scrambling above lighting rigs. Within minutes, plugs were pulled, security was scuffling with aggressive kids, and things finally simmered down. I had a fantastic time seeing The Orwells again, but it certainly was a detour from the love & peace vibe that is typically associated with Bonnaroo. [MH]
Janelle Monáe. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
Janelle Monae was probably my favorite performance of the entire festival (aside from Jack White, of course). I’ve always admired her as an artist, but seeing her perform took my respect for her to a whole new level. She had incredible energy that she projected onto the crowd, and she didn’t slow down throughout the entire hour; her voice was just as strong at the end as it was when she started. “Dance Apocalyptic” and “Q.U.E.E.N” had everyone in the crowd movin’ and shakin’ along with her, and “Primetime” had everyone in awe. Her stage setup was perfectly fitting to the black and white theme she had going on for The Electric Lady, and she had a theatrical interaction with her band and backup singers that was a complement to the performance but wasn’t too distracting. I couldn’t rave about her set enough to properly do it justice. [MG]
The Naked and Famous. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
Andrew Bird & The Hands of Glory
I’d seen Andrew perform at my first ever ‘Roo (2009), and I’ve been a fan of his work every since. His amazing and unique contraptions that he brings to the stage, in addition to his mastery of the loop pedal, are something to watch live. The way he plucks and plays his violin much like an ukulele or miniature guitar is also something you don’t see everyday, although there are plenty of people copying his style now-a-days. His chill sounds were beautiful and fun as always, but in my tripping state of mind it wasn’t holding my attention like I thought it would, so after about four songs I moved on. [JR]
J. Roddy Walston & The Business (Sonic Stage)
I’ve seen J. Roddy Walston & The Business in cities all over at this point. I’ve dragged friends into rowdy joints to demonstrate the power of the bar room rock sounds of these guys. That’s one of the reasons that I headed to see J. Roddy one more time at The Sonic Stage on Friday afternoon. While it lacked the dirty bar room charm that I am used to from J. Roddy, it certainly fucking rocked. I’m sure there was a bit of pride for J. Roddy himself, who was raised in nearby Cleveland (TN), and he sweated every bit of energy possible on that stage to show his respect to his homeland. [MH]
The Head and the Heart. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
Fly Golden Eagle. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
Fly Golden Eagle
Since The Orwells wrecked havoc on the New Music on Tap Lounge, a crew was hammering a barricade into the ground in front of the stage. Fly Golden Eagle commented on the distance between the band and crowd, which should’ve been a more intimate affair. Fortunately, Ben Trimble’s reedy vocals and a strong band performance reached the crowd just fine. It may have not been as wild as a local show, but “Devil’s Eye (Basilisk)” was a high point of my Friday. [WD]
A Tribe Called Red
On my way to get a taste of Vampire Weekend at What Stage, I was sidetracked by a massive commotion at That Tent. A Tribe Called Red were having what I can only describe as an MDMA-fueled rain dance party. Their trippy dubstep and hip hop inspired club music is mixed over real Native American chanting and drum beats with interesting affect. Mostly kids strung out on Molly were pow-wowing in massive dance circles, and hopping along to the crazy beats. Lots of headdresses and feathers flying about at that show. It was one of the most unique things I saw/heard all weekend, and I joined one of the circles for a song or two before continuing on to the main stage. [JR]
Vampire Weekend. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
Our favorite young republicans had one of the coolest stage backdrops I’d see all weekend, and lead singer/guitarist Ezra Koenig has this laissez faire demeanor when playing and singing that I really dig. He seems like a chill ass mother fucker, and I’m in love with his trademark guitar, a beautiful off-white colored hollow-body Epiphone (a Sheraton it’s called), he plays almost exclusively. I slowly worked my way closer through the throng but there were just too many sorority girls singing along to every song too loudly for me to really enjoy their set. After about five songs I bailed for less crowded pastures. [JR]
Animals As Leaders
Although this show took place on the Miller Lite stage (one of the smallest in the festival), it was one of the most interesting performances of the entire weekend. Animals As Leader are a metal act with perhaps some of the most talented members in the genre; the drums were tight, the bass was bumping, and oh god the guitar solos were sweet. If you ever get a chance to see this incredible act, definitely go for it. You won’t be disappointed. [JS]
Neutral Milk Hotel
Everyone has those bands, those songs that they associated with certain people, certain times in their lives, and Neutral Milk Hotel is that band for my high school years. They opened my eyes to the vast world of indie music, and I was introduced to them by one of the most important people in my life so far. And while she may no longer be a presence in mine, Neutral Milk Hotel still can be, and so to say I was eagerly anticipating their set is so far beyond an understatement. Though they look much older, grizzled with straggly grey beards, they’ve beyond comprehension managed to retain their sound to a note, particularly frontman Jeff Mangum’s voice bizarrely beautiful, hauntingly reedy voice. Perhaps a lot of the crowd came to Neutral Milk Hotel in similar fashion, as there was a shared joy in hearing those gorgeous, strained melodies live on once more. [AS]
It was pretty much the exact same set list from their Nashville show we told you all about in this post, but the biggest difference between that show and the Bonnaroo performance was the massive crowd on the farm. The quiet confines and perfect pitch acoustics of the Ryman Auditorium were traded in for a 300+ person sing along to every song and the opportunity to smoke copious amounts of cannabis in an open-air tent. Although the former will always hold a special place in my heart (my first show at the Ryman) it was awe-inspiring to know that so many young people are into a band I liked in high school. Here’s to hoping a new album is in the works after this tour winds down. [JR]
I’m pretty sure nothing could top Neutral Milk Hotel’s recent Ryman performance (and my first experience seeing them) in my mind, but the group’s Bonnaroo set sure gave it a run for its money. Heavy on the In the Aeroplane Over the Sea tracks, the show appeared to be many fans’ first time catching the newly reunited band, and the energy and excitement felt infectious. Probably a poor choice for a tent stage, I could barely see Neutral Milk Hotel themselves, but what I heard of the set sounded practically flawless, and was definitely one of my most memorable 2014 performances (from one of my all-time favorite bands). [PO]
Walking from the press tent to my campsite, I only really caught Phoenix in passing. However, their Bonnaroo performance, when compared to their recent club outing at Marathon Music Works, was a difference in night and day. Seeing the French rockers on a massive stage, feeding off of the energy of their audience, helped me better understand the power of their live show and why they’re so often featured atop festival lineups, and felt infinitely more exciting than their previous smaller outing. [PO]
Bringing the rock sound to the On Tap Stage seemed par for the course on Friday, and Blank Range were no different. We’ve seen these guys dozens of times at this point, and they are always on point. What’s different in their performance versus the other times we’ve seen them in Nashville? They didn’t shoot for the moon with antics and over the top solos… they trusted their sound, and brought the sound we’ve grown to love to the people on the farm. [MH]
FUCK THE PRESS! AND FUCK EVERYONE WHO’S STILL ON THE WHOLE ‘GAY FISH’ LINE! Kanye is one of the great artists of our time, like it or not. And while he may not end up being as a widely innovative and renowned as some of the people he aspires to (Steve Jobs, Einstein… Jesus), you have to give him props for his candid ambition. Having recently seen ‘Ye this past November on his “Yeezus” tour, to which I still attest was the greatest performance of any artistic format I’ve ever witnessed, I had admittedly high hopes. Initially, I was disappointed but only because I’d built myself up into expecting the spectacle that is “Yeezus.” However, once I took into account that Yeezus was a massively different show (literally) and that of course he’d have to create a different performance for a crowd of potentially 90,000 versus the 4-6,000 that was Bridgestone, I was able to watch his set more objectively. His performance was still on point, the colossal LED tower he’d built served as a personification of his monolithic presence that could be seen from any point on the field, and his barrage of hits coupled with newer tracks that have taken a much more alienating approach to popular music, only proved to show the breadth and depth of this artist as he had the crowd moving along to every single beat, most air-rapping (that’s right, I coined a new term, I’M A GENIUS!) along to every single word. The fact that so many in the crowd were there to diss him only exemplifies how much of an impact this man has had. I’ll put it this way, if Hitler was alive and giving a speech I doubt that many people would go and listen just so they could hate on him. With Kanye, though there were certainly those in the crowd there to throw stones, the point is they were still there, and I’m going to guess they were secretly air-rapping in their heads as well, tapping their foot under cover of darkness. It’s cool, all you Judeeezasses, Yeezus forgives you. [AS]
I’ve seen Kanye West a total of four times now: twice on regular tour runs, and twice at festivals. The former (“Glow in the Dark” and “Yeezus” runs) have been more memorable, high-concept, and unlike anything else in hip hop (and music at large). The latter have been more stripped down and straightforward, and one, Lollapalooza, landed tastefully and effectively. Although this year’s Bonnaroo wasn’t the disappointment many (likely biased) Roo-goers seemed to peg it as being, I can say, at least, that it was the least memorable Kanye West performance I’ve ever seen. Was it bad? Of course not. Kanye West is one of this generation’s best rappers, an enigmatic performer, and at figure constantly surrounded in controversy, and he rarely disappoints (save, maybe, for Bonnaroo ’08). Yeezy plowed through a hit-packed, straightforward set, sidetracked only for a rant about the press and about the misunderstanding surrounding his last Bonnaroo misadventure (those not familiar with ‘Ye might have pegged this as show specific – but he does it literally every night). I kind of doubt we’ll be seeing West return to Bonnaroo any time soon (the audience wasn’t that into it), but, at least for me, he was a fantastic addition to the bill, and a pleasant way to kick off the weekend. I would have loved to see the more theatrical side of Kanye, sure, but that’s not especially practical in a festival setting, and the fact that he still has the technical skill to put on a kickass show without it is a true testament to his artistry. [PO]
I only managed to catch a couple minutes of Mastodon, who kicked off a pretty epic metal block (which also consisted of Deafheaven and Meshuggah). A couple minutes is all I need to appreciate their sludgy, progressive, southern metal stylings, however. They might be an oddball fit, even by Bonnaroo standards, but it’s always great to see quality heavy music on the bill. [PO]
Ice Cube. Photo by Shawn Jackson.
While some of of the rappers of the weekend (*cough* Kanye *cough*) had mixed reactions from the crowd, legendary MC Ice Cube did not run into this issue whatsoever. The former NWA member may not have the street cred he used to, no doubt because of that unfortunate string of family-friendly movies, but Cube brought all the energy and attitude he could to his Bonnaroo set. The crowd definitely dug the show, and it would be safe to say that Ice Cube played one of the best hip hop sets of the weekend. [JS]
Ice Cube was more like the icing on the cake while waiting to see Diarrhea Planet. With a perfect view of the stage, I was transported back to my youth when I was sneaking NWA tapes around trying to convince my parents that they didn’t really say bad words in the record. Total flashback, and such a strong performer. [MH]
While passing between Mastodon and Diarrhea Planet, I stopped for a moment to take in the legend that is Ice Cube. I wouldn’t consider myself all that familiar with his catalog, and didn’t immediately recognize the few songs I caught, but, still, the man is legendary, and his show seemed a lot of fun. Bonus points for holding his own after Kanye. [PO]
I didn’t roll up to The Other Tent as a Disclosure fan. It’s one of those shows my friends talked me into. Props to Rachel, Scott and Ferrin; Disclosure ended up being my favorite show of the entire festival. The tent was buzzing with an electric excitement when we arrived. When the Lawrence brothers crashed onto the stage, their massive jams blew the place apart. The producers know how to work a festival with their playful pop-dance sound. Sam Smith jumping in for a go-hard live performance of “Latch” still ratchets up my pulse. [WD]
Derek Trucks Superjam
Whenever a Superjam is announced you know you are going to get, literally, a once in a lifetime performance. The collection of musicians gathered for a particular jam probably will never be all together on stage ever again, so my advice is don’t miss them. One of my best ‘Roo memories all-time was the Dr. John and Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys) helmed installment back in 2011. This year’s Derek Trucks (of Allman Brothers fame, since 1999) lead Superjam was almost as epic. It was a star studded, guitar jam fueled romp, highlighted by brief Ben Folds and Andrew Bird appearances. However, Taj Mahal nearly stole the show… until Chaka Khan came out to thunderous applause, sporting her signature lion mane afro. She played a Stevie Wonder song and did an Aretha Franklin number more than justice but my brain nearly melted when she rocked out Led Zeppelin’s “What Is And What Should Never Be,” headbanging to Trucks take on Jimmy Page’s epic guitar solos. What also makes the Superjams so much fun to watch is the looks on the musicians’ faces. You can tell they’re having the time of their lives, easily just as much fun as the audience, smiling to one another and getting their groove on. It’s so cool to see people working together from many different genres that might not every share a stage otherwise. All around it was the highlight of day two for me. [JR]
Diarrhea Planet. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
At 12:45 a.m., with energy waining, Diarrhea Planet came on like a maelstrom of pure, obnoxiously loud punk joy. Revitalized, perhaps from the adrenaline of suddenly being engulfed by a violent mass of dirty, sweaty twenty-somethings, I found myself in the middle of this riotous crowd, fist pumping and screaming along. Diarrhea Planet’s set reminded me of all the stories you can find on Nirvana. Loud and energetic but incredibly tuneful and melodic., their set was a highlight for sure. [AS]
I’m going to let everyone else in the country talk about how this was one of the best performances of this years Bonnaroo. I’m not going to talk about crowd surfing records, or hanging guitarists, or even the general awesome shred of the Nashville breakouts. Instead, I had the pleasure of camping next to these guys on Friday night, and we had some nice conversations. What I’m going to leave you with is that these are some of the nicest, most down to earth musicians that I have ever met. [MH]
Without a doubt one of my most-anticipated acts of all of Bonnaroo, Nashville’s Diarrhea Planet brought an unparalleled amount of energy to their late night stop at the fest’s New Music on Tap Lounge. The crowd was bursting with faces new and old, and, though things got rowdy, everyone was respectful (no Orwells-level shenanigans) and channeling enthusiastic rock and roll vibes. Diarrhea Planet were impossibly loud, so much so that their songs were practically indistinguishable, but it barely mattered; what they brought to Bonnaroo (and to every DP show we’ve ever seen) was a pure, uncut, unbeatable level of showmanship and enthusiasm; the physical embodiment of rock and roll. They’re one of the best live bands around, period, and, if there was any musical justice, their name would be on top of the bill. [PO]
I had been hearing about this band all over Nashville for about a year, and I nearly got in the door of their venue at SXSW before it was at capacity, so anticipation was high for this show. Fortunately they delivered what I was expecting and then some. The crowd was completely insane. As soon as the first verse was under way, fans were getting thrown into the air, and the crowd surfing did not stop until the show ended. The lineup, which includes four guitarists, ensures a wall of crunch to accompany the rhythm section and almost pop-punk-rock vocals. I couldn’t help but smile at the calamity the entire show. It was definitely one of the most fun of the weekend, ending only when one of the guitarists crowd surfed his way back into the crowd to the trellis overhanging audience members and hung himself upside down by the legs to give his guitar solo. Then the staff cut the power no doubt in an effort to end the stunt which could have resulted in some serious injury. [SJ]
Skrillex. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
Well after 2 a.m., the LSD I was on was still going pretty strong. My plan was to just walk back to camp, swap stories with my friends and neighbors, and wait for the drugs to wear off. However, Skrillex and his three-story spaceship had different plans for me, and my altered mind. Far from a fan of the dubstep/EDM craze, I’d planned on just skipping him, but the light show and stage effects were simply just too good to pass up, especially on hallucinogens. It was probably the coolest stage production/effects I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been to hundreds and hundreds of shows spanning nearly ever genre. Whoever says DJs aren’t musicians is full of shit. He was working the crowd and running the show from start to finish, getting us hyped with banter and setting up his trademark beat drops to perfection. At one point he lost his feed for a few minutes and quickly had to adjust on the fly with little or no ill effect (just in case you thought he wasn’t ever “making” the music live). Although I won’t be buying any of his stuff on iTunes anytime soon, I was definitely impressed and he changed my perception of EDM DJs forever, even if he is the cream of the crop and the rest are a distant second. [JR]
Capping off my Friday night, I spent a few minutes watching the spectacle of EDM crown prince Skrillex. From far away, the DJ’s performance is fun, at least visually, and his nostalgic nods to ’90s pop culture were a nice addition, but, I think, to really appreciate this time of performance, you have to be in the midst of the crowd. Sleep won this round, however, and I forwent the prospect of a dance party in favor of a decent night’s sleep. [PO]
There’s no group even remotely close to Die Antwoord, which might explain why their performance seemed totally out of this world. The South African rap-electronic group is incredibly lively, and their light show matched the attitude of the performers. For the last show of the evening, they definitely ended the day correctly and managed to keep a rather tired and hazy audience dancing the entire time. All in all, it was quite impressive work. [JS]
On the way back to the campsite from Die Antwoord, I managed to catch the last 6-7 songs from legendary metal act Meshuggah. The show was perhaps not as crowded as I might have liked, but that didn’t stop the group from absolutely throwing down. If you haven’t gotten to see Meshuggah before, know that they are so heavy. It’s pretty amazing, and I’m definitely glad I got to catch the last part of their set. [JS]
I’m not the biggest metal fan in the world, but to quiet my metalhead friends that have spent years calling me a pussy, I decided to stop in to see Mastodon and later rallied for Meshuggah. Mastodon were great. Powerful, melodic metal, that is best served LOUD. And, then, there was Meshuggah. HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT. As I arrived during the setup for a full, but not packed, crowd, a glowing drums kit with at least 400 different playable parts shone like a beacon in the early hours as Friday turned to Saturday. Once it started, there was no holding back. Again, I’m not the biggest metal fan out there and I don’t get the dog barking vocals, but those drums were ferocious tigers that kept pouncing my ears and pummeling my body. I’m not sure that I’m going to become a Meshuggah groupie or anything, but I will freely tell anyone I see that this was the most impressive thing I saw at Bonnaroo. [MH]
Photos by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
[AS] Adrien Saporiti
[JR] Jacob Ryan
[JS] Jack Smith
[MG] Meredith Galyon
[MH] Matt Hall
[PO] Philip Obenschain
[SJ] Shawn Jackson
[WD] Wes Davenport