Another year, another Bonnaroo. Needless to say, the No Country crew had a blast, and we were there in full-force to document the 14th 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 photographers Mary-Beth Blankenship and Matt Cairns 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 last two days (and head here for our coverage of the first two).
Catfish & The Bottlemen
Licking my Friday night battle wounds and searching for pseudo healthy eats, I wandered through Centeroo on Saturday afternoon with the anthemic indie rock sounds of Catfish & The Bottlemen acting serving as background noise. It was another of those strange moments where the festival in general was rather quiet, so listening to their set was almost equivalent to going for a walk with headphones on. This is the second year that C&tB have played Bonnaroo, and their continued growth both musically and as a brand is a testament to the continued success of the British rockers. [MH]
Kaleo. Photo by Matt Cairns.
Hailing all the way from Iceland, indie pop act Kaleo enchanted a modest but enthusiastic crowd with their early afternoon Who Stage set. Despite the sweltering Saturday heat, the stage benefitted from a shaded, ice coffee-serving adjacent tent (and a super cool replica Iron Throne from Game of Thrones, set up for photos and sponsored by HBO).
Gregory Alan Isakov
Gregory Alan Isakov is an artist I had some familiarity with prior to Bonnaroo. He is a solo folk artist employing the acoustic guitar and employs bluegrass influences with string instrumentals from the mandolin and violin. His lyrics are mainly of a longing for home, rest for a troubled heart, and memories delivered through medium toned bright melodic vocal. He is a South African immigrant who grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Isakov started touring with a band at the age of 16, and his music is a direct reflection of that longing for home. He was my first show on Saturday at the That Tent, and I sat in the shade of a tree, absorbing his music as it lulled me to a place of peace and calm. [LM]
The first band that I truly settled in with on Saturday was the soulful melodic sounds of Phox. It was my first time seeing them, and I immediately noticed that they have more of an indie rock sound in person than their poppier recordings. Regardless, the buttery vocals and playful banter of front woman Monica Martin were the perfect elixir to get the body ready for another day of Roo. [MH]
Another band that I’d been fortunate to befriend over the past year, Phox kicked off my Saturday with a beautifuly light set of delicate, whimsical sounds. Monica Martin’s voice is arguably one of the best in indie music today, soft and lush, yet powerful and magical. Of course what makes a good band good is when all the elements come together and her voice is sustained and broadened by the excellent musicianship and arrangements brought to life by the rest of Phox. Though we were already heading there, this ethereal, evocative sound drew us in, and I like to imagine it did the same for people coming into Bonnaroo who may not have had any knowledge or intention of seeing their set. On stage they were the perfect Saturday day band. Fun, engaging, and easy to get lost in. [AS]
I’ve seen Phox numerous times over the past year or so, and, while their live show typically ramps up the energy (while retaining the dense, melodic instrumentation and immense vocal prowess) of their recordings, the group’s ‘Roo set went over with even more polish, playfulness, and expertise than ever. Clearly a byproduct of nonstop touring, the Wisconsin band seem totally ready to graduate to rock star status, and the massive, early afternoon crowd only served to prove this. Aside from their wonderful catalog of material, the set also included some memorable banter (a warning not to date scientists), a surprise Blink-182 cover, and an epic guitar solo which involved guitarist Matt Holmen climbing onto the shoulders of a random tall, bearded guy using a folding chair. Not a bad way to kick off my Saturday. [PO]
Trampled By Turtles. Photo by Matt Cairns.
Trampled By Turtles
Shortly after picking up the pieces of my life (the few that remained anyway, after the debauchery of Friday night) and putting them back together, I loaded my day pack and wandered to the What Stage for new-grass pickers Trampled y Turtles. I’d been hearing all about them since they played Nashville a few months ago, and I can see why they turn so many heads. Furiously fast strumming and precision plucking make the Turtles one of the best string bands on this year’s bluegrass laced bill; unfortunately, the stifling heat and a hangover forced me to seek the shade of a tent stage after only four songs. [JR]
Seeking solace in the precious shade of This Tent, I immediately began to feel better, even though the jams on stage, courtesy of Woods, were just as hot as the sun I’d left behind. The purest jam band set I saw all weekend, Woods were another friend recommendation I’m glad I got hip to. They pushed the envelope on song length, much to the delight of fans who were hippie dancing to the beat. Know more for folk tunes than Phish-esque bravado, the Brooklyn based musicians were definitely playing to the crowd, and we loved them for it. [JR]
Bahamas. Photo by Matt Cairns.
Lured in by their catchy melodies and chillin’-for-days guitar licks, I took a seat at That Tent for the end of Bahamas, wandering across from This Tent. Band brainchild Afie Jurvanen was yet another musician who seemed just as thrilled to be at Bonnaroo as the rest of us. He thanked us all profusely for taking the time to hang with he and his bandmates, instead of going for always available heavier fare. Honestly, to me, in the brutal heat, I can always take a chill session. [JR]
Bleachers. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
Hands down one of the most anticipated sets for Saturday, Bleachers made the crowd wait a bit due to what appeared to be a few technical issues, but, when they finally came out, they ran out like a high school football team at State (not that I actually know what that’s like, my school didn’t even have a football team). Jack Antonoff bounded up to the mic, slung his guitar on, and away we went. I was excited for this set because the energy of fun. was intoxicating when I saw them last year, yet somehow Jack by himself had managed to take that and amplify it. The broad sound of the record, synths, and guitars, layered and stacked onto of multiple drum tracks (essentially ’80s new wave on steroids), was executed with precision, leaving nothing to the imagination or wanting. I wish I could have stayed for the entirety of Bleachers set but if it did nothing else, it’s made me eager to see them again, and I’m positive I’m not the only one. [AS]
When reflecting on yet another whirlwind year of Bonnaroo, and trying to narrow down the numerous stellar performances to a favorite, Bleachers is one I keep coming back to. It’s rare that you get to see a band spun off from another band that’s just as good/current/relevant, but, while different, Bleachers, the new musical vehicle of Jack Antonoff, definitely holds its own against his other beloved band, fun. Since I’d seen fun. a few times before, including their own Bonnaroo outing a few years back, and even Antonoff’s prior band, Steel Train, I had no doubt that his set would be something special. Special is an understatement though; it was absolutely magical. Absent his signature thick-rimmed glasses and sporting a vintage Mets tank, Antonoff and co. launched into their high-energy set with singalong ready anthem “Live a River Runs,” absolutely amping up the crowd with each and every tune. The dynamic of fun. has always been a little more level and restrained, however Bleachers, which is essentially Jack unleashed, carry themselves with a higher intensity and a definite element of unpredictability. Bangers like “Shadow,” “Wild Heart,” and “Rollercoaster” had fists pumping and thousands of enthusiastic fans singing along, and, with their flourishing synths and unabashed love for anthemic pop, it felt like a show primed for the main stage (or an arena circa 1985). Though I wandered off briefly to catch Phoebe Ryan, I returned to hear a kickass cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way,” and, while I couldn’t quite get far enough back in to see, I’m told Jack smashed his guitar to bits during closer “I Wanna Get Better,” jumping into the crowd and handing pieces to fans. This will definitely go down as one of my favorite Bonnaroo sets of all time, and was certainly of of this year’s absolute best. [PO]
Phoebe Ryan. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
I’m a sucker for synthy, r&b tinged, artsy indie pop, and Bonnaroo never fails to deliver both on established artists in that scene, and with buzzworthy up and comers. Phoebe Ryan, with only a couple of tracks to her name, definitely falls in the later camp, but, with the hype around her, and that killer “R. Kelly/Miguel” mashup that helped kickstart her career earlier this year, my interest was piqued enough to ditch Bleachers early to check out a few songs of her set. Arriving on stage nearly 15 minutes late (not a good look for a relative unknown), the quirky Ryan, with her signature green locks, and backed with a minimalist band of drummer and keyboard/laptop/sample guy (I think?), charmed with her somewhat awkward but definitely endearing delivery, playing to a few diehard fans and some typical festival-goers seeking shade. While I only had time for two songs (the urge to finish watching Bleachers was too strong), I loved what I heard, and definitely intend to keep an eye on Phoebe’s burgeoning career. [PO]
The War On Drugs
The War On Drugs’ set at Marathon Music Works was one of my top shows of the year last year, and the expectations were high for the Which Stage Bonnaroo debut. The heat was oppresive, but, fortunately, the laid back rock jams are perfect for chilling on a blanket under a shade tree. Definite standout moments included “Red Eyes” (which a LARGE percentage of the crowd had) and “Under The Pressure,” from last year’s breakout album, Lost In The Dream. It makes me all the more excited to see what the next release from The War On Drugs sounds like, and wonder if they will take the stoner dad rock in another level, or just lay out another 75 minutes of perfection. [MH]
If you were looking for a pure, sub-genre free rock ’n’ roll show, The War On Drugs set was just the ticket. Their mellow but inspired late afternoon performance was the perfect appetizer to the last full night of craziness that was to come. Of course at The Roo, there’s little fear of the real war on drugs, and many a bowl was puffed during the group’s standout single “Under the Pressure,” from their latest release, Lost in the Dream. Everyone, band included, was rocking their shades, and a toothy grin, as the tunes blasted, and the sun set in the distance. [JR]
Hozier. Photo by Matt Cairns.
Breakout Irish singer Hozier has had a MASSIVE year, and managed to make it to Nashville no less than five times for sold out shows at both Exit/In and The Ryman (all within the last nine months) throughout his rise to international fame. Having just seen his dazzling set at the Mother Church, most of of fell victim to scheduling conflicts on the Farm, but Hozier still stole the afternoon, packing the What Stage and mesmerizing with his unbelievable talent.
If you’re only familiar with Jamie xx for his work with legendary indie pop band The xx, you’re missing out. This talented producer has a solo career that’s just as impressive as his work with the band, and he went all out on his show at this year’s Bonnaroo. Unlike some of the other DJs that played, Jamie practices the art of DJing in its most traditional sense. He uses real vinyl, drum loops and actual turntables to mix his set, which definitely makes the show a lot more interesting than if he simply sat behind a MacBook for an hour. In my opinion, this set would have been better at nighttime, but even during the heat of the afternoon, this talented artist absolutely killed it. Hats off to xx. [JS]
Sturgill Simpson. Photo by Matt Cairns.
I left The War On Drugs a bit early to catch some of Nashville based country outlaw badass Sturgill Simpson in an absolutley packed That Tent. The crowd represented all walks of life from the older, “wiser” fans to kids that looked like they hadn’t slept in days. The one thing that really stood out was this was a show where EVERYONE was paying close attention to the music. 2015 has been a breakout year for Simpson, and we definitely anticipate that he will be rewarded handily at this years Americana Fest. Local tickets to see Simpson sell out quick, but he will be performing up the road at Louisville’s Forecastle Festival in July. Regardless of whether you are a fan of country music, you need to see this show live. Lead guitarist Laur Joamets (known around town as simply “Joe”) is an absolute force to be reckoned with. [MH]
Belle & Sebastian. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
Belle & Sebastian
Relatively elusive Scottish popsters Belle & Sebastian have been on my bucket list for quite a while, making this one of my not-to-miss shows, and it turns out I wasn’t the only one. This Tent was packed to the seams with fans pushing to get a better look, gushing with admiration, singing like they were in the shower, and smiling (alongside me) like they were seeing Belle & Sebastian for the first time. The antics of frontman Stuart Murdoch were just as playful as the ecclectic pop tunes, which included trying to catch gummy bears in his mouth, teasing the crowd with the Dukes Of Hazzard theme song, and crowd surfing to “Sukie In The Graveyard.” As the post-Bonnaroo announcement of local shows continues, I have fingers and toes crossed for the addition of a Nashville show. [MH]
The last time I saw Belle & Sebastian was nearly a decade ago at The Ryman. By sound alone, they haven’t aged a day. The original “orchestral” indie band, B&S came out to a fervent crowd of admirers, alternating back and forth between hits and fan favorites. It’s a little cliche to call a British person charming, but dammit if Belle & Sebastian are not some of the most charming performers you will ever see! It’s easy to rave about their musicianship, and that’s certainly been well documented over the years, but it’s the entirety of their performance that made it so memorable, and the only one outside of Kendrick Lamar that I could not tear myself away from. In the span of their hour and fifteen minute set they led a late nineties electronic throwback rave, invited what seemed like half of the tent on stage, and oh yeah, got Jon Hamm to come out and throw Stuart Murdoch gummy bears, which he of course deftly caught with his mouth because he’s Stuart Murdoch and is fucking awesome. This is why you go to Bonnaroo, kids. [AS]
Grabbing a pricey (but super delicious) burger from the This Tent adjacent Food Truck Oasis, I wandered over to Belle & Sebastian to a massive crowd, tired and unwilling to push in, so I only caught a few songs from the back. Veterans of the indie pop scene, the talented Scots sounded just as amazing as I expected, and I’d love to catch them again soon in a more proper club setting (would The Ryman be too much to hope for??). Aside from the Jon Hamm gummy bear set crash (which I missed, unfortunately), the band also received a surprise introduction from comedian Zach Galifianakis. Bonnaroo is weird. [PO]
Gary Clark Jr.
Opting to try out some new songs from the highly-anticipated followup record to his smash hit debut Blak and Blu, Gary Clark Jr. showed everyone why he’s becoming a household name, with near savant level blues guitar shredding. We told you all about his last Nashville stop in this post, and it’s nice to know he’s been busy writing new tunes since the last time we saw him (he also had his first child with model wife Nicole Trunfio). Unfortunately, most of the people around me were simply camping out for Childish Gambino, who was the next act up at Which Stage. No bother, after a couple songs I made haste for one of my most anticipated main stage acts of the fest, My Morning Jacket. [JR]
While popping into the best beer line in Centeroo, which was located next to The Other Tent, I was able to check out a few minutes of the SBTRKT set. I was pleasantly surprised. Typically from distance, DJ sets tend to fuzz out into the low-end bass spectrum, making them largely unintelligable. This set, however, featured some soulful singing from, I would guess, frequent collaborator Sampha, and, while it wasn’t going to pull me away from Belle & Sebastian or Atomic Bomb!, the kids were certainly feeling every note. [MH]
My Morning Jacket. Photo by Matt Cairns.
My Morning Jacket
Gobbling the last of my mushrooms on the walk over, I knew the My Morning Jacket show was about to blow my mind. Considered by many in the know to be the unofficial Bonnaroo house band (they’ve played the fest as much as anyone), MMJ hadn’t been back to the farm since a stellar set in 2011. Upon their return, they did not disappoint. I consider myself a diehard fan of the psych/jam southern rock ’n’ rollers, plus I was on drugs, but the kid rocking out next to me had an experience that reached a whole new level. During the massive set we’d shared some herb smoke and a tug (or several) on the vodka he’d smuggled in, but towards the end of the show I saw tears in his eyes. When I asked him what the problem was, he mentioned that he had started a text conversation with his estranged father, whom he hadn’t spoked with in five years. Apparently his dad was the one that had gotten him into music to start with, and the MMJ show had moved him SO much, he felt he had to reach out to the man who had meant the world to him as a child. Bonnaroo is all about partying, and loving you some live music, but when you witness a moment like this, it really sticks with you. It transcends music, and silly fest antics. It literally changed this young man’s life forever… and hopefully for the better. [JR]
Atomic Bomb! Who Is William Onyeabor?
One of the coolest parts of doing our Band Of The Day previews is finding new music, and that is how I came about the Atomic Bomb! superjam exploring the works of William Onyeabor. I was so excited to see this set that it was a no brainer for me to skip My Morning Jacket, who I will see later this summer, and to make sure I was in a prime spot to see the African elctro-funk magic come to life. I had high expectations, which were shattered within the first few minutes, as this was hands down the best thing I saw at Bonnaroo this year. The bandleader, Sinkane, directs the Atomic Bomb! band, but this superjam also featured Money Mark (Beastie Boys), Pat Mahone (LCD Soundsystem), Charles Lloyd, Jamie Lidell, Luke Jenner (The Rapture). Lidell and Jenner shared vocals while the crowd would go bananas when the 77 year old tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd would take his turn. It was improvisational in nature, but held true to the true magic of Onyeabor’s late ’70s groundbreaking music. With the exciting exception of local rapper Mike Floss shooting onto the stage to free-style over the beats at one point, and the crowd loved every second of the smiling local rising star. If you don’t know Onyeabor still, fix that, because I wouldn’t want you to miss out on another opportunity should it arise. [MH]
After a recharging sesh in the media tent (both for my body and for my phone), I bolted the the New Music On Tap Lounge, a spot I unfortunately feel like I too often neglected this year, to catch Highly Suspect. Hailing from Brooklyn, they’re a band I’d only heard casually a few times, but one whose live show I was told not to miss. Brandishing a pretty straightforward rock and roll sound, rounded out with a bit of blues and progressive tendencies (their technical chops did not disappoint), the trio rocked the tiny tent with the intensity and swagger of a much larger band, eliciting nonstop cheers and crowd response throughout. Frontman Johnny Stevens is a definite rockstar in the making, and, while I had to duck out early, I can’t wait to see a full set from this group the next time they play Nashville! [PO]
Childish Gambino. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
Childish Gambino would sadly be the last set I caught this Bonnaroo, but if there was one to go out on, I’m glad it was his. Performing on a Which Stage doused in red light, his band behind a curtain, I was worried Childish was going to pull a Kanye, the only problem being that only Kanye is Kanye and no one else alive has the sheer narcissistic confidence to pull that off. Luckily, a few songs in he found a stride, and the audience came right along with him. Chris Hardwick may be king of the nerds, but Childish Gambino, a.k.a. Donald Glover, is king of indie-nerd-hipsterdom. This was the most packed I’d seen Which Stage all weekend, and though he may have started out slow and meandering, Childish built his set up to an epic crescendo of college radio hit after hit. Like a Chinese finger trap, his flow kept getting tighter and the beats kept getting deeper and nastier the longer he went on. There’s the adage that people love rockstars because the guys want to be them and the girls want to fuck them. Actually, it’s the 21st century so it goes all ways now, but the point remains: that Saturday night, half the audience wanted to be him, and half the audience wanted to fuck him. [AS]
I was backstage when Childish Gambino began, and escorting a photographer to a nearby tent as his set ramped up, so, while I didn’t get to actually see much of his red light-bathed, full band backed, tastefully minimalist production and frenetic performance, I got to hear most of Gambino’s set. It wasn’t hard for me to imagine the rest, either, since I saw him on the exact same stage (albeit with a much earlier timeslot) at Bonnaroo ’12. Déjà vu much? While his crowd three years ago had already grown to massive proportions, his pull in 2015 is unprecedented; enhanced, certainly, by his spike in recent movie roles, high profile guest spots, and incredible late 2013 album, Because the Internet. There was a point in time when Childish felt like a hobby for Donald Glover, or simply another part he was playing, but, sometime over the last few years, Glover and Gambino have become one in the same, and the earnestness, intensity, and passion with which he performs has never been more honed. The best rap set of the weekend? For my money, hands down. Sorry Kendrick. [PO]
Slayer. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
To conclude the best block of music I saw all weekend, I wandered, exhausted from dancing, across to This Tent to find the blood red letters of Slayer illuminated above the stage. After sending the obligatory photos around to my sure to be jealous metal loving friends, I pushed my way side stage to get into the fray a bit. As Slayer took the stage, it was strange to see such an aggressive crowd. Not that anyone was being too much of an asshole, but there was just a lot of drunken testosterone flowing in the crowd, which usually isn’t the case at the hippie love fest that often takes over Bonnaroo. The audience was soon filled with mosh pits and head banging, while Slayer provided the high energy fuel to keep the party going. It was definitely fun to see, but the body was begging for a break by this point. [MH]
En route back towards camp, I stopped for a few minutes with The Mispers at the On Tap Lounge. Oddly, this was the first band that I had seen at this stage, where I usually spend a significant portion of my weekend. The Mispers play a high energy violin based folk pop that had the crowd grooving. If you have spent any time at this stage in the past, you know that their are “lounge” areas with giant bean bag pillows that were littered with sleeping kids. After a few songs, perhaps due to jealously seeing the relaxing fans, we made our way back to camp for a few minutes of rest… which turned into the rest of the night in the camp hammock. [MH]
Mumford and Sons. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
Mumford and Sons
Returning after a would-be headlining stint two years ago (canceled last minute for a medical emergency), folk rockers Mumford & Sons finally took top billing at the fest at a bit of an odd time: their latest album, Wilder Mind, largely ditches the folk, acoustic driven sound they helped popularize (which proceeded to spread all over the place, and inhabit the Bonnaroo bill for the past few years), in favor of a more electric, experimental approach. Don’t worry though; they didn’t leave the banjos behind. Plowing through an average-length set (we would have pegged them for to go long since it took two years to get back), the English group commanded a massive crowd, delighting with favorites like “I Will Wait,” “The Cave,” and “Believe.” Joined by Ed Helms (yes, the comedian, who also happens to be an accomplished banjo player, member of The Lonesome Trio, and leader of Bonnaroo’s bluegrass superjam for several years running) on “Awake My Soul,” things really went nuts at the end of their encore, when Helms re-emerged along with members of The War On Drugs, My Morning Jacket, Dawes, and Hozier to assist in a epic, jammed out cover of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends” (actually, it more closely resembled the Joe Cocker version, but you get the point). Definitely worth the long wait, Mumford helped cement the legacy they so quickly earned, landing as one of the weekend’s most memorable performances.
Sometimes, you see an act at Bonnaroo you’ve never heard of before, and they absolutely blow your mind. Other times, it’s a band you’ve been obsessively following for years, and they still blow your mind. For me, Tycho fell squarely into the second category. Although I’ve seen this producer and his backing band play live on a number of occasions, their performance at this year’s Bonnaroo was one of the best. As usual, the group managed to nail the perfect balance between chilled out atmospherism and groovy drum licks. When combined with their impressive visual display, it’s hard to think of a band that felt more tight and together this weekend than Tycho. [JS]
After a great trip and an even better performance by My Morning Jacket, I caught my breath on a bench, waiting for the shrooms to wear off, and made some new friends. We talked for awhile, and I traded them some weed for a hit of some club drug or another. I took it immediately, and felt the effects in about thirty minutes, getting lost with them at the all-night rave party that is the Kalliope Stage (who can resist all those crazy lights?!). Before I was too far gone on the new high, I recommended we chill out with Tycho, for the last bit of their amazing instrumental set. I’d seen them open for alt-j back in April, and was blown away. It was perfect balance of chill to the crazy frenetic hour we spent at Kalliope, and they seemed to love the cool down too, adding the band to their list of Roo discoveries. [JR]
Unable to avoid feeling/hearing the massive bass drops coming from Which Stage, my new friends and I wondered over to Bassnectar’s set for a song or two. It was a spectacle best viewed from the back, as the glow stick warriors, in numbers usually reserved for a Phish show on the main stage, were there in full force. Tossing countless yellow, green, red, and blue bundles into the air as the drops dictated, costumed revelers were geeking out everywhere. Fire dancers, and glowing hula hop professionals frolicked about. Every imaginable combination of glowing colored lazers filled the air as the master DJ put it down. Good, but not-as-good-as-Flying-Lotus, visuals filled the stage background and the rave kids danced their faces off nonstop. I can see the appeal, at least party-wise, even if EDM music isn’t my favorite flavor. Holy shit! [JR]
Bassnectar is an experience. As a longtime fan, I was super pumped for his 1 a.m. set on the Which Stage. His music is what I would consider dubstep, and unique to him, as the name implies, is heavy on bass. The use of bass that you feel thumping in your chest and radiating into your person is combined with high energy beats and fast tempo. It’s irresistibly danceable, and, not surprisingly, a lot of his tunes have a home on my workout playlist. The fast paced tempo is often what I need to push me to reach my next goal. I spent his entire set on my feet dancing, enchanted by the he visuals, which are part and parcel to the experience, being ingeniously timed and stimulating. He stood in front of a massive screen visable far beyond the Which Stage view, and you could see his production equipment and his waist length hair swinging to the beat. The show opened with a scene from The Wizard of Oz, as the famed DJ took us down the yellow brick road. A great performer, Bassnectar truly connects with his audience reading their energy. He releases “the drop,” characteristic of dubstep, with precision, pulling even the most drained, tired and weary to their feet; and the glow stick applause showed that everyone appreciate what they had seen. [LM]
D’Angelo and the Vanguard
Fans of D’Angelo had been waiting for years for his new album to drop, and once it finally saw its release last December, D’Angelo faced a new concern: could he still bring it during a live show? I’m happy to report the answer to this question is a resounding yes. D’Angelo, along with his new backing band The Vanguard, absolutely nailed this year’s performance at ‘Roo. The group was funky, they were soulful, psychedelic, playful and even sentimental, all at the same time. Clearly, it’s tough to describe the exact vibe of their performance, but take my word for it, you don’t want to miss D’Angelo next time he’s in town. This was a perfect billing to end Saturday night at Bonnaroo, and definitely a performance fans won’t be forgetting anytime soon. [JS]
Opting out of the Superjam, I said goodbye to my fest friends and closed out my Saturday night with the legendary D’Angelo, and his band The Vanguard. The nearly forgotten R&B superstar got a late start and was channeling James Brown all night long, as he played an extended set and encore that we never wanted to end. He was going to make sure we all remembered him. When he played his classic joints, like “Brown Sugar,” they were re-interpreted with heavy funk and soul, thanks to the band, and the frontman laced them with crowd participation with ease. You would have never known the struggles he faced with fame, which nearly derailed his career for good. Closing out the encore, they pump faked us on multiple occasions, jamming out for a solid 20-30 mins, with many false stops along the way. The dance party was epic, maybe the best all weekend (rivaled only by Earth, Wind and Fire) and by the time it was actually over, say 3:30-4 am, I stumbled back to camp with a Cheshire Cat grin still going. [JR]
Photos by Mary-Beth Blankenship & Matt Cairns.
I attended this set on the recommendation of a friend, for whom I am forever grateful. Pokey LaFarge plays traditional American roots music, and he does it right. As soon as LaFarge and his five piece backing band took the stage, their charisma was immediately noticeable. Quickly, however, the charisma was drowned out by the band’s immense musical talent. It seems like every person in the band plays three instruments at a professional level, and they make it look easy. A big shoutout goes to Chloe Feoranzo, LaFarge’s sax and clarinet player. She, like the rest of the band, absolutely nailed this performance. [JS]
Shakey Graves. Photo by Matt Cairns.
One of my favorite discoveries in the last year or so, I knew Shakey Graves would bring it… even with a super early set time. He sold out Mercy his last stop in Nashville, and he was packing it out at That Tent too, even in 100 plus degree weather. Performing his one-man-band routine flawlessly (one foot on a kick drum, one on a high hat, fingers picking while sining) Mr. Graves had the whole crowd stomping to the beat. Broadening his sound on his latest record, And the War Came, the bandleader brought out some homies to take his jams to the next level. There was a chill-inducing singalong during the absent Esmé Patterson portions of the record’s stand out single, “Dearly Departed,” and, much too soon after that, his set was over. Best-show-in-a-bad-timeslot for me by far. [JR]
Having succumb to the heat of Bonnaroo and gone home to enjoy some air conditioning a night early, I returned Sunday showered and reenergized, venturing back into Centeroo just in time to catch a bit of Shakey Graves. Though I don’t believe I’ve ever managed to catch his full set, I’ve seen a few songs here and there at events like Bonnaroo, and Graves’ ability to carry the show, largely alone, though he now incorporates a backing band as well, is simply mind-blowing. [PO]
Chrome Pony. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
Ducking out of Shakey Graves a bit early, I headed to the New Music On Tape Lounge to show Chrome Pony some support. A local fave, the group played our weekly, Tuesday night Acme Feed & Seed showcase (along with this year’s other two Road to Bonnaroo winners) just days before the fest. Playing to a bit of a modest crowd (and is the case for most any early-afternoon set), I scanned the audience and noticed plenty of familiar faces, some of whom were every present at the Acme outing. Doing their best to rock hard despite the heat, Chrome Pony played with even more fervor and conviction, staying loud and keeping their set lean to win over as many new fans as possible. In a busy weekend with lots of new (to me) artists, seeing some familiar faces was a nice bump to help push through to the final ‘Roo stretch. [PO]
Hurray for the Riff Raff. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
Hurray for the Riff Raff
Another longtime No Country favorite, Hurray for the Riff Raff held it down in their mid-afternoon tent stage slot; honestly, we were a bit surprised they didn’t get higher billing, but maybe that’s just the Nashville bubble of hype we’re living in. Playing to a sizable crowd nonetheless, the folky, indie, Americana group, anchored by charismatic frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra, gave one of their best performances we’ve seen yet!
Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear. Photo by Matt Cairns.
Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear
Having just caught Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear supporting The Tallest Man on Earth at The Ryman, we were delighted to see the mother/son duo play to such a supportive crowd so early in the day on the Which Stage. Though they’re an act we think would benefit more from being up close and personal (can someone please book them at City Winery stat?), their modern spin on folk and soul music still went over gorgeously; a relatively new duo, they seem destined for big things.
twenty one pilots. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
twenty one pilots
It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for pop punk, and bands that live in the bubble of the pop punk (read: Warped Tour, Alternative Press, Hot Topic) scene. While twenty one pilots certainly emerged from, and still exist in this world, especially by association in my mind, their Bonnaroo return (following a crazy tent set a few years back) made it abundantly clear that they’ve crossed way, way over into mass appeal (their recent #1 album Blurryface moving nearly 150,000 copies in its first week, is also pretty conclusive evidence as well). Despite the sweltering heat, the band attracted an unbelievably massive crowd on Bonnaroo’s biggest stage, and proceeded to deliver, to my surprise, what would easily qualify as one of the weekend’s top five sets.
Starting a little late (an apparent “no climbing on the stage” contract was to blame), the duo erupted into Blurryface opener “Heavydirtysoul,” enigmatic frontman Tyler Joseph donning a thick coat and skeleton mask, screaming into a microphone suspended from an industrial poll, and bouncing from riser to riser between verses and choruses, all while shaking a tambourine and synced up to bass heavy, thumping backbeats. New sleeper hit singles “Stressed Out” and “Fairly Local” would follow, with Joseph trading instruments (guitars, piano, precision), and, along with drummer Josh Dun, swapping between ski masks and other subtle, strange stage attire. By the time the ukulele came out for “Heart of Gold,” Joseph, his neck and hands intentionally caked with dirt, was rocking a long, floral shirt, and the audience was sufficiently mesmerized by the intensity, emotional weight, and spastic energy of one of Bonnaroo’s most underrated bands. A pretty on the nose (but excellent) cover of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” came out of nowhere, as twenty one pilots slipped into a block of their louder, older, fast paced tunes. Tyler’s seamless ability to rap, sing, swap instruments and outfits, all while running around the stage like a madman, makes him one of the most compelling and skilled singers in rock today, and Dun’s unwavering backbeat, set to countless tracks and loops, never falters, even when his drum set is literally crowd surfed into a sea of showgoers. Easily one of the most impressive Bonnaroo performances I’ve ever seen, twenty one pilots are a band you MUST experience live to truly appreciate, and you have another chance to do so this fall at The Ryman. [PO]
Shabazz Palaces energized on Bonnaroo’s closing day at The Other Tent. The Seattle-based duo, who have two EPs and two full-length albums, are signed to Sub Pop Records. They previously performed in Nashville at Third Man Records, and have gained quite a bit of attention since then. The group took the stage Sunday afternoon with a minimalistic setup and kept the focus on their alternative styling of hip hop. The atmosphere at the show was subtle. It allowed festival-goers the freedom and space to dance, stand and watch or even lie in the grass and enjoy the music as they pleased. Ishmael Butler’s creative rap flow perfectly complemented Tendai “Baba” Maraire’s experimental instrumentalism. The set was unpredictable in nature; the group kept things spontaneous with freestyles and lengthy beats that flowed flawlessly from each song to the next. This kept up the enthusiasm from the crowded tent. They also played well-known hits such as “#CAKE” and others from their various EPs and albums. The majority of crowd favorites came from their latest album, Lese Majesty. The feedback from fans, combined with Butler’s interaction with them, added intensity to the progressiveness of the show. Though they may have been small print on the lineup, they left quite an impression on Bonnaroo. Their abstract style helped them fit right in on the Farm, and many people seemed to enjoy them. [OL]
Another of this year’s Road to Bonnaroo winners, and performers at our pre-Bonnroo Acme showcase, I’ve only ever seen Nashville’s Future Unlimited perform inside, with lights, enhanced production, and cool stage attire. Bowing to the heat of Bonnaroo, the guys dressed down a bit at their Sunday outing at the New Music On Tap Lounge; though not by much. Absent were the lights and the general vibe and ambience that darkness brings and Future Unlimited benefits greatly from. Though, there on the farm, competing with big pull acts like twenty one pilots, I got to see them at their most elemental, only confirming what I already knew; the songs themselves are good enough to land all alone, and the production and staging present at most of the band’s shows only serves to enhance their sound, not mask it. Quite a few ‘Roo attendees looked as if they had just wandered upon the set, drawn in by the band’s intensity and their somewhat out of place but seriously necessary style. Really, I just love what Future Unlimited are doing, and I hope outlets like Bonnaroo help balloon their presence to the broader recognition they’re destined for. [PO]
AWOLNATION. Photo by Matt Cairns.
I caught part of AWOLNATION’s set on the What Stage. Though I’m only familiar with their top 40 hits, I love that their music is rock influenced with dark and moody undertones; the stuff of teen angst. Frontman Aaron Bruno’s vocals contain great use of harmony, and the lyrics are raw and angry. Songs like “Sail,” are riddled with frustration. My main objective was to catch their hit single “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf),” but the entire show was one of my major surprises of the weekend. I expected a simple outchurning of their hits; what I got was a high energy, engaging show. [LM]
Although MØ has already generated a following over in Europe, the electro-pop singer has made it her goal for the last year or two to break out here in the United States. Based on the strength of her performance at Bonnaroo, it’s hard not to think that’s inevitable. While her backing band jam to a unique combination of acoustic and electronic sounds, singer MØ goes absolutely nuts dancing and hyping the crowd up. Her energy was palpable in a way that few other pop artists are able to match, and there’s no reason to doubt her high energy has helped her gain some much buzz already. If you didn’t manage to catch the rising star’s Bonnaroo set, help out MØ’s goal of breaking into the American scene and check her out today. [JS]
A relatively recent discovery on my part, Danish pop singer MØ reminds me Charli XCX, from when she played Bonanroo a couple years ago. Clearly headed for superstardom, MØ blends elements of indie pop, alternative, electronic, and r&b to form something that has both mainstream appeal and broader artistic credibility. Shockingly good in her raw talent and arena-ready level of audience engagement, MØ, dressed like a Spice Girl for today’s musical landscape (fittingly, she even covered a Spice Girls song), kept the crowd pumped and the momentum unwavering, even for her lesser known tracks. With a talented, percussion heavy (and inexplicably shirtless) backing band, this up and comer really had the whole package, and the sizable crowd watching her every move seemed to agree. Like Charli, MØ’s quirky, poppy, artsy brand of indie pop is undoubtedly poised to elevate her to broader mainstream success, and getting to see her at this stage of her career was a real treat. [PO]
Spoon. Photo by Matt Cairns.
After some of MØ’’s set, and a dab or two of free molly, given to me by campsite neighbors earlier in the day, I wondered off in dire need of shade. Let me tell ALL OF YOU out there who have never been Roo’ing before; the shade will save your fucking life… no exaggeration at all. Hydrating and relaxing in the oasis at the back of the What Stage, I enjoyed Spoon’s hit friendly set. Formed in 1993, it’s hard to fathom how truly prolific, and sometimes overlooked, their career has been. Don’t get me wrong, they were playing the main stage at Bonnaroo, and thousands were singing along, but when you watch them play, and realize how fucking good they are, you always feel like they are still underrated. Right on cue they broke into probably my favorite track, “The Underdog.” [JR]
Sol Cat. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
The third and final Road to ‘Roo winner and recent Acme performer of the day, Sol Cat, are a band I’ve seen countless times, but one I never get tired of. By the time their set rolled around, I was definitely feeling the hurt. Tired, sunburned, and barely standing, I couldn’t help but hobble back to the On Tap Lounge to give the local boys a listen. Rocking sunglasses and looking surprisingly energetic (either they showed up late or are really good at pushing through a few days of festival debauchery), Sol Cat delivered a standout performance, pulling one of the best Club Stage crowds of the weekend (including, I’m told, Shakey Graves in attendance), and stacking their show with only the most captivating, festival-friendly tunes. Though I soon had to wander off in search of the coveted A/C and hydration of the press tent, in order to survive Bonnaroo’s final hours, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment on behalf of all of the Nashville talent that finds its way onto the festival lineup each year, and, especially, this year’s stellar Road to Bonnaroo winners. [PO]
Punch Brothers. Photo by Matt Cairns.
Punch Brothers were easily in my top three best acts I saw all weekend. It was the final show for me on Sunday, and it was an absolutely perfect ending. Peaceful harmonized lyrics backed by a mirage of string instruments including a stand up bass, banjo, mandolin and violen awakened my heart and relaxed me for my drive back to Nashville. There is a heavy bluegrass and classical influence here, and I was in awe of the artistry crafted in this show. Lucky for me, the audience was on the smaller side and I could get close to absorb their brilliant craftmanship. [LM]
Florence + The Machine. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
Florence + The Machine
Prior to their performance, I’m not sure any band was as hyped up to me as Florence + The Machine. It seemed like everyone at the Farm this year was pumped to see them, and, while I wasn’t a fan before the show, as soon as they began I saw why. Lead singer Florence Welch puts off intensely positive energy that’s simply infectious. It would be safe to say that Florence ran at least three miles over the course of her set; she never stopped moving the entire show. Meanwhile, her backing band played an extremely tight set, perfectly setting the mood for the performance. All in all, it’s safe to say this was one of the best sets of the weekend, and it was definitely capable of living up to the group’s fans’ expectations. [JS]
Hands down, without a doubt, my top performance of Bonnaroo 2015. Before their set, I would have considered myself a mild fan of their music at best, but every ex girlfriend I’ve had since college absolutely adores the woman, so I wasn’t going to pass her up. When it comes to describing the energy and the vibe of Florence + The Machine’s headlining set, words fail me… and I enjoy talking. My plan was to bail halfway through their set, only to check out Robert Plant, but I was completely captivated. There would be no leaving. Pure charisma, love, and good cheer flow from vocalist Florence Welch like the stench that was wafting up from massive crowd. She is a damn near unstoppable force of nature, a whirling dervish who never stood still, taking energy from the crowd and then giving it back tenfold. I fell in love at Bonnaroo, and the angel’s name was Florence Welch. [JR]
Wow. Just wow. A fan of Florence + The Machine since their breakout with “Dog Days Are Over,” I’ve always been curious to see the group live, but had no idea what I was in for with their captivating, unbeatable Bonnaroo set. Slotted right before Billy Joel and playing to a massive What Stage crowd (at least on par with, if not larger than for Kendrick), frontwoman Florence Welch and co. made up for their extended absence with huge singalongs, unfailing energy, and infectious positivity. Welch is a true gem; not only beaming with unbelievable vocal talent, but simply radiating good energy, managing to connect with her fans on an almost one on one level, despite the gigantic stage and field of fans. A standout at this year’s fest, Florence + The Machine should definitely receive the highest billing the next time they come around, and I hope that’ll be sooner than later. [PO]
Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters
Along with Earth, Wind and Fire, Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters were one of those groups that I’d never thought I’d have a chance to see live. Sure, it’s not Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin, but Plant did a good job of playing both Zeppelin tunes and material from his newer record. More interestingly, Plant’s backing band played a variety of ethnic instruments, most of which it would be safe to say no one in the audience had any familiarity with. However, Plant and his band masterfully worked these instruments into the blues-rock context Plant originally got famous for. All in all, a solid performance, and a great opportunity to see one of rock’s living legends doing his thing. [JS]
I thought I was more excited for Robert Plant than I actually was. Coming off of a Florence high, it was hard to appreciate Plant almost giving us what we want (Led Zeppelin), but in a re-worked, rootsier way. To be sure, I consider him one of the greatest rock vocalists in history, and Led Zeppelin are legendary; even Plant’s own solo output, especially his latest LP, is phenomenal. It’s just frustrating that Led Zeppelin could play Bonnaroo, but haven’t, or won’t. Listening to Robert do his thing for a few songs (and damn, that dude can still sing), I grabbed my last Amish donut of the weekend (seriously, if you have not experienced the perfection that is a Bonnaroo Amish donut, you haven’t lived; have one every day will there, and your life will be better), and prepared to grab the remains of my campsite. Ok, I guess hearing Robert Plant sing “Goin’ to California” was pretty legendary. [PO]
Betty Who. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
On my way out of Centeroo, I had to stop by to see Betty Who close down the Who Stage (surely that was intentional, right??). Quickly rising through the pop echelon on her inevitable path to superstardom, the young singer reminded me of Katy Perry (with whom she recently toured), the first time I saw her on a tiny stage almost a decade ago. With her blue hair, bubbly attitude, and baked in performance polish, Betty Who already felt like she had outgrown the stage she was placed on, and, in all likelihood, we’ll see her headlining Bridgestone Arena after a couple more years and a couple more hits. I’m a sucker for a good pop singer, and Who was a definite high to help finish up my weekend. [PO]
For the second year in a row, Bonnaroo picked a near perfect piano playing closer … this time the American version, with all due respect to Sir Elton in ’14. Billy Joel was just as wonderful as you would imagine, and just as funny. His swagger and self-deprecating sense of humor was the perfect swan song for another epic year. He played all the hits: “Big Shot,” “My Life,” “Uptown Girl,” and, of course, “Piano Man,” although he played the latter earlier than I thought he would. Any number of encores could never have been enough, and they shut it down at almost eleven on the dot… much too soon for anyone. But all good things must come to an end, at least until next year. [JR]
Call it blasphemous if you like, but I was just as unenthused about Billy Joel’s final set as I was about Elton John’s last year. I like both performers just fine, to be sure, and I’m glad they’ve been around long enough to stick to the hits (many of which I enjoy quite a bit). They just don’t excite me the way a Paul McCartney (or, I can dream, a David Bowie) set might. Finishing up at the campground, exploring the new electric forest (now in the campground), and rounding up my crew, I made it back to bid Bonnaroo a farewell, and saw Billy play my personal favorite, the cheese-tactic “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” proceeded by a cover of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” with an overexcited roadie doing a spot-on Brian Johnson impression. It was fun, and I’m glad I can say I saw a bit of Billy Joel, but the long weekend had taken its toll, so I made one final stroll through the iconic arch (it was rainbow this year), and headed home, another magical, unparalleled Bonnaroo experience complete. [PO]
Photos by Mary-Beth Blankenship & Matt Cairns.
[AS] Adrien Saporiti
[JR] Jacob Ryan
[JS] Jack Smith
[LM] Liz McElwee
[MH] Matt Hall
[OL] Olivia Ladd
[PO] Philip Obenschain