[REVIEW + PHOTOS] Bonnaroo 2016 | Saturday & Sunday

Bonnaroo2016-SatSunHeader

In part one of our Bonnaroo 2016 coverage, we shared our thoughts and photos from the festival’s first two days. Today, we wrap up with coverage of Saturday and Sunday, concluding our time at Bonnaroo’s magical 15th anniversary fest. Bonnaroo will be back June 8-11, 2017, but, until then, relive another wonderful weekend on the farm!

SATURDAY

GracePotter_Roo16-Insert Grace Potter. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Grace Potter

As ‘Roo veterans (and local residents) know, summer in Tennessee can be a scorcher. Fortunately, despite early triple digit predictions, we mostly lucked out this year, with temperatures around 90 for the bulk of the weekend (yes, that’s lucking out), and none of the intense storms that would arrive just days later. Saturday, however, tipped the thermometer, making for the hottest day of the bunch. Hydrating extra, eating a balanced lunch, and lathering in sunscreen, I got my Saturday started with Grace Potter, after some morning media work (ah, journalism) and daily routine (refilling ice, cleaning up, tidying the campsite; the glamorous mundane of on-site festival life barely mentioned). Finding one of the few shaded spots amidst the massive What Stage field, Potter’s mix of new original tunes and Nocturnals favorites helped energize me, and her soulful, unequaled delivery lifted my spirit enough to prepare for the long day of music ahead. I made it through maybe half the set before the settling heat of the day prompted some air-conditioned refuge before the next performance. My take away though, seeing Potter as a proper solo artist for the first time, is that she’s seriously got the goods, and no matter who’s backing her, Grace Potter is an unbelievable and compelling talent. [PO]

Chicano Batman

My Saturday started with a wander around Centeroo, and musically began with Chicano Batman.  In the blaring early afternoon heat, the artists, with arguably the best band name of the entire festival, took to the clearly hungover Which Stage, which was still completely littered with confetti from Tame Impala’s Friday night madness.  However, neither the heat nor the mess stopped Chicano Batman from starting our day off right dancing to their suave, jam influenced, latin rock vibes. [MH]

Whilk and Misky

My afternoon wander brought me to my inauguration with Whilk & Misky.  The London based duo enticed me to The Other Tent with their interesting mixture of electronics and folk.  One half of the duo pump out bass driven beats, while the other half pours in guitar driven folk and blues over raspy vocals to create something truly unique.  Unfortunately, just as soon as I arrived they wrapped their hit song, “Clap Your Hands,” and the set came to an end.  A bummer to see so little, but fantastic to know that I need to move them up to “to see” priority list. [MH]

Anderson East

Eager to get started earlier on Saturday than I had on Friday, I loaded up my day pack and headed out to catch Nashville rock ’n soul singing sensation, Anderson East. I found what little shade I could, and hunkered down, while Anderson and his band sweated it out on stage, giving it their all in yet another amazing performance. The heat was omnipresent and oppressive, but it wasn’t stopping anyone from enjoying the show. I chatted it up afterwards with another Music City native I was sitting next to, and we both agreed that, with 2015’s epic release Delilah now in Anderson’s rearview, we were both looking forward to a very bright future, with even more new music from the very talented Mr. East. [JR]

NataliePrass_Roo16-Insert Natalie Prass. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Natalie Prass

Of the numerous artists who’ve sprung from Nashville roots, only to move away and find success, Natalie Prass is, perhaps, the one I miss having around the most. From the earliest days of seeing her play solo, sampling and looping from single workstation, to her stint backing Jenny Lewis, to more recent breakthrough success, tours with Ryan Adams, and critical acclaim, the last few years of watching her grow, mature, and flourish as an artist have been wonderful and gratifying. As it turns out, her debut LP, released last year, had actually been finished for a bit while she was still in town, but has largely found an audience following her move back to Virginia, evidenced clearly by her sizable Bonnaroo crowd. Opening with a lovely rendition of her single “Your Fool,” Natalie’s enchanting voice and unassuming presence were as strong as ever; aside from an opening spot for Ryan Adams, I realized I hadn’t really seen a proper show post-newfound success. A natural talent with an aura of timelessness and an authenticity of musical eras past, Natalie wowed the crowd with her pleasant, poppy, layered tunes, and even a few covers, of Simon & Garfunkel and Anita Baker. A few songs in, Prass noticed a fan with an “RVA” sign (the nickname for her home of Richmond, VA), and remarked, upon holding it up and realizing it was written on a Natty Light box, that that’s what people used to call her in college. Despite her serious and earnest musical style, it’s great to see that Prass still has her goofy, endearing sense of humor intact as well. As much as I wanted to watch the whole set, some afternoon scheduling conflicts pulled me away a little early, and it was off to another tent. [PO]

Chris Stapleton

Even the short walk from This Tent to the new, permanent restrooms had me dripping with sweat on a day with a heat index exceeding 100 degrees. After taking my first flushable deuce at Bonnaroo ever in six years (praise Jesus!), I went to the main stage for Nashville resident, and new wave, outlaw country crooner, Chris Stapleton. In what has become one of my many Roo traditions, I got fried mushrooms from a favorite vender at the far side of the field, found shade, and enjoyed a snack with the tunes. Country music is almost always under represented at Bonnaroo because Nashville hosts CMA fest the same week, and most of the big names stay in the city, but Chris hits that sweet spot, where Southern rock, Americana, and country all seem to meet. Boasting a superb backing band, including Music City super-producer Dave Cobb on guitar, certainly helps your cause too. Mr. Stapleton serenaded us in the thick-as-fog humidity, and made it even bearable over a blackberry lemonade. His closer, “Tennessee Whiskey,” was the only song I really knew, thanks to so much radio play, but I can honestly say I enjoyed his whole set, and the man can belt it out. Even if it’s not your flavor, his work transcends genres, ending up in that wonderful place where it can just be called ‘good music,’ no matter the branding. [JR]

After waiting in line to score a pass to the 4:45 p.m. Judd Apatow and Friends show, I wandered over to the What Stage to catch a few songs of rising country legend Chris Stapleton. I wanted to have time to replenish on water and other essentials before the comedy show, so even though I only saw a bit of Stapleton’s set, I deem it necessary to add my two cents on the talent this man possesses. He has the utmost ability to channel the raw spirit of country music in both his songwriting and guitar playing. I was reminded of a mix of Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard with a voice that knows how to appeal to the modern day country audience. I left Bonnaroo vowing to delve more into his critically acclaimed album Traveler, and I am happy to report that so far it’s going great. [JC]

TheInternet_Roo16-Insert The Internet. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

The Internet

Continuing the “Odd Future offshoots at Bonnaroo” trend I’ve been happy to partake in over the past few years, The Internet, like Frank Ocean, have taken the biggest leap from the more hip hop rooted sound of their former bandmates. Rounded out with a full crew of backing players, the LA group are a full-on neo-soul band, elevated by the amazing voice and presence of singer Syd the Kyd. Performing for a sizable and excited tent crowd, I was happy to find that their set drew heavily from new album Ego Death, a genuine masterpiece and one of the best records of last year. Letting their music do the heavy lifting, the band took a straightforward and soulful approach, peppering in hip hop flair, impressive instrumentation, and expressive personality. I was hoping Tyler, the Creator might make an appearance, but he never emerged during the portion of the set I caught (and I heard nothing about him coming out at the end; seems he might have already departed the fest). No matter, The Internet don’t really need their OF pedigree to find an audience, because they’re forged an incredibly unique voice already, and, one of the most interesting and perhaps underrated perfumers of all of Bonnaroo, they added some much need spice and diversity to my mostly rock-focused weekend. [PO]

Judd Apatow & Friends

I caught the earlier performance from Judd Apatow and Friends, marking a nice break from the Bonnaroo heat. Judd has made a name for himself as the director of such hilarious comedies as The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, but, before that, he had an early career in standup. Back on the live comedy circuit for the first time in decades, he did a fantastic job, also serving as something as an MC for performers and SNL stars Vanessa Bayer and Pete Davidson, the latter of which drew exceptional amount of laughs when he bought weed from someone in the audience. But perhaps the most memorable moment of the show was when Apatow brought out Eddie Vedder to perform a tribute to the late comedian Gary Shandling. The song was written by the two and used excerpts from a journal that the standup comedy legend kept. The whole show was a great experience, and not just because the Comedy Tent provides a respite from the sun. [JC]

Steve Gunn

I left the Judd Apatow show and stopped by This Tent to check out the last few minutes of Steve Gunn. I was disappointed at the lack of people at his set. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the competition. However, the former Kurt Vile guitarist demonstrated an intricate musical ability and a knack for improvisation. It was Neil Young for the modern generation. I hope to catch more of a set from him sometime in the future, and it’s exciting to know that our local favorites Promised Land Sound are currently touring with him. [JC]

Needing a cool down, I stopped back into camp, and ended up taking a dream filled nap under a battery operated fan for a half an hour.  However, knowing that I wanted to catch Steve Gunn, I awoke to an alarm on my phone, gathered my belongings, and hustled over to This Tent.  I’m not sure how you respond to naps, but I arrived still in a bit of a groggy, dreamlike state, and that’s how I got to experience Steve Gunn.  His swirling guitar licks, chilled out vocals, and all around psychedelic sound made me wonder if I had ever awoken from the nap.  And, displaying a nature scene, the backdrop of the stage was even psychedelic in that it made the band look like they were playing from an outdoor stage rather than a tent when you looked a video simulcast.  Strange (drug free) psychedelic experiences aside, if you a fan of intricately arranged and beautiful rock guitar compositions with a retro psychedelic flair, then you need to put Steve Gunn on your short list. [MH]

BandOfHorses_Roo16-Insert Band of Horses. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Band of Horses

After another lengthy break to escape the heat of the day, I found a shaded spot to relax and watch a few songs from Band of Horses, a band I’ve loved for the better part of a decade now, and one I’ve seen more times than I can count at this point (more often than not at festivals). I had an overlapping few smaller performances on my schedule, but I couldn’t pass up a chance to see the start of their set which, to my delight, featured new tunes “Casual Party” and “Solemn Oath.” At this point, Band of Horses are a well-oiled, folk-tinged, indie rock machine, and their live outings are nothing short of speculator, whether intimate and stripped down at The Ryman, scaled down to the tiny space of The Basement, or full-on rock for a huge festival crowd. Though I surely take for granted how often I get to see them, I’m always reminded of why they’ve become such festival staples, and any chance to see Band of Horses is a chance worth taking. [PO]

Opting to stay right where I was instead of venturing out into the madness, I laid out and napped until it was time for Band of Horses to come on. One of my biggest discoveries at my first ever Bonnaroo in 2009, BOH have gone from indie darlings to legitimate big time rock band, and nothing hammers that point home more than watching them put it down on a main stage. They touched on some older work I love like “Great Salt Lake” and of course “The Funeral,” but their new single “Casual Party” was just as good. It feels like they aren’t going to be dropping off anytime soon. During the set, I happened to see two friends I keep up with from my home state of Ohio. Coincidently, they were also companions on my aforementioned Roo de-flowering. We talk on social media, so I knew they were on The Farm this year, but we hadn’t set up a meeting, so it all felt very random/organic. We caught up over a couple of joints, and rocked out for the rest of the show. [JR]

I have been a fan of Band of Horses ever since their 2006 debut Everything All The Time. Ben Bridewell’s songwriting immediately jumped out to me as a new force in the modern indie rock sound. The ethereal and mystic style found on songs like “The Funeral” and “Great Salt Lake” immediately found its place onto the soundtrack of my high school years. Their performance at Bonnaroo this year was just one of many times that I have seen them perform, and it didn’t disappoint.  The band treated the crowd to all of the old hits plus a healthy dose of songs from their new album Why Are You OK? Just like Jacob, I really enjoyed the energy of their new single “Casual Party.” Maybe it’s a follow up to “Weed Party” from 2006? [JC]

GraceMitchell_Roo16-Insert Grace Mitchell. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Grace Mitchell

Bonnaroo has a wonderful track record for filling its smaller stages with relevant, burgeoning pop singers, and, especially in recent years, promising young female vocalists, so I always try my hardest to take in new talent wherever possible. Buzzy newcomer Grace Mitchell definitely piqued my interest ahead of time, and my curiosity to watch her perform was enough to pull me away from Band of Horses. My impression of her, based on the handful of singles I’d heard beforehand, was that she was more of an indie/electropop artist, however, in concert, I found her to be a little more conventional rock, and even a bit retro in appearance and sound, backed by a band. With a powerful voice and a humble, earnest delivery, Grace played to a relatively modest crowd, but one made up of curious onlookers and media types, who largely seemed dialed into her rising star. Barely out of high school, Grace possessed both an innate confidence, and a youthful sense of wonder, remarking on watching HAIM perform, before telling an endearing story of attending Este Haim’s birthday party but being too nervous to speak to her. Though I only caught a handful of songs, my impression of Mitchell is that she has all of the elements necessary to become a powerful fixture in modern pop music, and, though she’s only just getting started, I’d expect some big things on the horizon. [PO]

Grandma Sparrow

One of my discoveries from writing pre-festival coverage, the weirdness of Granda Sparrow was enough to prompt a mental note to see the singer live if at all possible, and, fortunately, wedged in between a few other must-see sets, I was able to wander to the On Tap Lounge and satisfy my curiosity. The alter ego/performance art vehicle of Joe Westerlund, best known for drumming with Megafaun, Granda Sparrow, on paper seems like a Flaming Lips take on a Sgt. Pepper’s-esque concept album funneled through a kid’s music lens. The project’s debut LP, Grandma Sparrow & his Piddletractor Orchestra, definitely hits that mark (not that its Beatles or Lips-level genius, but certainly brushes shoulders with their weird, conceptual pop tendencies); live, it was a little harder to land, relying on Westerlund to embody characters and switch across concepts that the club stage crowd didn’t seem to be dialed enough into. To be fair, I only had a chance to watch a few songs, and I have a feeling that as a whole, the set would have felt cohesive, but the Grandma Sparrow I want to see, is the one with a big enough backing band, string section, and the resources to make his layered, play-like concept album properly come to life. Still, it was a fun little weird refugee amidst a very eclectic day. [PO]

JuddApatow_Roo16-Insert Judd Apatow. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Judd Apatow & Friends

The second of two Judd Apatow performances (a third, Apatow-led Q&A in the Cinema Tent also took place earlier in the day), I was actually able to sneak in on a whim. Usually, with Bonnaroo Comedy, you must wait in line in advance to score a ticket, and with that ticket, you’re granted a seat at performance time. Whether it was the heat, the lack of SNL co-perfomrers, or the packed schedule, the show was only filled to about half capacity, and that means anyone interested could just walk right in; score! Comedy is one of my favorite things about Bonnaroo, but, unfortunately, something I rarely have time for; with the aforementioned ticket situation and the blocked out time necessity, it’s a hard commitment, but one that is always gratifying, and a nice break whenever I’m able to partake. A huge fan of Judd as a writer, producer, and director, and having watched a bit of his recent standup on The Tonight Show and other sparse comeback outings, I was looking forward to seeing him revisit his live roots. Bantering with a pretty wound up crowd, Judd’s routine was largely very personal, and, while funny, likely wouldn’t have resonated as much if you’re not familiar with his wife and kids. He’s clearly not a lifelong polished standup, but there’s some charm in seeing him find his footing once again, and just the awe of being in the presence of the Judd Apatow, remarkably humble and unafraid to be self-deprecating was a lifetime highlight in of itself. Staying as long as I could before needing to get to the next set, I was stoked to have a chance to also watch Beth Stelling, an up and comer I really loved researching when writing about this year’s comedy lineup. Beth has a very laid back, almost Hannibal Burress style of delivery, and her jokes, often at her own expense, are layered in a really smart and clever way that requires a certain degree of attention to appreciate fully. I think she’s brilliant and hilarious, but her subdued style didn’t seem to resonate quite as hard with the Roo-goers. Still, I left wholly satisfied, intending to keep an eye on her blossoming career. [PO]

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

Continuing the trend of neo soul performers at Roo this year, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats entertained an absolutely packed This Tent in the late afternoon heat on Saturday.  The band, really more of a collective of talented players, brought a bit more of a folk flair to their soulful set, and were equally entertaining to the dancing masses inside the tent, as they were to the lounging/napping piles filling the surrounding lawns.  I’ve heard plenty of Nathaniel Rateliff and co, but it was cool to see what all the hype was about with the live show. I’ll definitely be in the ticket line for their next scheduled Nashville date. [MH]

Oh Wonder

As Band of Horses were finishing up, I said goodbye to my friends, and decided to kick things up a notch, partaking in some party favors and wandering over to That Tent for Oh Wonder. A British duo specializing in trance rich, indie pop, OW aren’t normally the type of band I would seek on my own. However, thanks to our coverage of every single artist on the lineup again this year, I’d ended up doing a write-up on them, and liked what I heard. Starting as more of a way for the two to practice their craft in order to pursue other musical endeavorers, the band took off when they posted some stuff online. Now, just about a year later, they’re playing a tent stage at Bonnaroo; life is crazy sometimes.  As the sun set, I spaced out to wonderfully rich melodies and inspiring lyrics, ready to take on the evening. [JR]

HAIM

My first HAIM concert ever was at Bonnaroo 2013, and that remains one of my favorite festival performances of all time. Needless to say, I was beyond excited for their return. In spite of the lack arrival of new music, long overdue, the gals still earned enough goodwill with their phenomenal debut, Days Are Gone, to amass a gigantic following. The Which Stage field was absolutely packed, and the trio sounded as good as I’ve ever heard them, playing with the intensity and showmanship they no doubt honed on tour with Taylor Swift (in fact, this set was very similar to their 1989 tour performance, where I last saw them). Opening energetically with “If I Could Change Your Mind,” it was an early cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” that really made the crowd go nuts. Packing in just about every hit, plus a couple of new tunes, their energy, harmonies, and sound was nearly flawless, and left me wishing for a club show as soon as possible (what’s a guy gotta do to get HAIM at The Ryman?). Ducking out a little early, I made my way to Macklemore, unaware that the night would soon be derailed by the threat of a storm. [PO]

HAIM have been on my bucket list for years now, so I was ecstatic to see them on this year’s lineup. They are masters of absolutely rocking pop songs. The three California sisters have made monumental steps in combining the ethos of late ’70s Fleetwood Mac and ’80s mainstream music with the electronic age. I was especially impressed with their set; the band did a solid job in tearing through some of the best songs from their debut full length such as “Forever” and “The Wire,” and even treated us to a righteous cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U.” The trio concluded with their single “Falling,” featuring a second drum set on the stage that the three sisters tore to pieces in an extended drum-off with their main percussionist. But, as soon as HAIM finished their set, the Bonnaroo organizers came on the loud speaker and urged everyone to seek shelter for an impending storm. And man, oh man, what a tone that set for the rest of the night. [JC]

Macklemore_Roo16-Insert Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Say what you will about Macklemore’s hip hop cred, style, or popularity, but the undeniable fact remains that he didn’t make it so far, remaining a fiercely independent artist, without cause. In fact, the only other time I’ve seen him play was at Bonnaroo 2013, at the height of his initial boom in popularity, and, with that main stage set, one of the biggest crowds of the weekend, I became a believer, blown away by his energy, showmanship, and genuine skull. I’m a little more biased now, as my longtime friend Eric Nally has rocketed to recognition thanks to an appearance on new single “Downtown,” but I’ll freely admit that Macklemore and production partner Ryan Lewis’s latest effort, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, left a little something to be desired, compared to breakthrough debut The Heist. Regardless, the famed rapper has only grown in message, honed his style, and remained unrelentingly true to his vision, and I knew that this set would likely top my every expectation. I was not let down. Set up more like a rock or large-scale pop show than your average hip hop performance, the stage was decked out with lights, video projection, a band, props, background dancers, and boasted plenty of special guests. Without losing the element of authenticity, Macklemore and Lewis still performed with an unbelievable polish and larger than life skill, eliciting sing-alongs, elation, and huge crowd response. A few songs after a wild performance of “Thrift Shop,” Chance the Rapper, not an official 2016 performer, but one who made so many guest appearances and even a surprise Silent Disco set that he was deservingly dubbed “The Mayor of Bonnaroo,” came out for for a verse on “Need to Know.” The crowd only became more hyped with a transition into anthem of acceptance “Same Love,” but, immediately after, the mood took a turn, as security came out and surrounded Macklemore, whispering into his ear. He announced the need to take cover, promising that the show would go on, and, front row in a crowd of thousands, positive vibes turned into uneasiness, as I quickly made my way across the field.

I understand that Bonnaroo must make decisions based on safety, and don’t blame them for choosing to evacuate, but, at least at the What Stage, it would have been nice to be informed of exactly what was going on. Dark skies and no cell service prompted an initial fear that a greater danger, like a tornado could be looming, but, as soon as I reunited with my group, and found out that only a thunderstorm was the cause of concern, I ran back to camp, stored anything that might get soaked, and holed up in my car (off, and with no intention of moving) with a bottle of bourbon. As it turns out, only a few bolts of lightning and nary a drop of rain occurred, and, about an hour later, music resumed, main stage performers delayed and most tents and club stages on track, but with added overlap. With half a set remaining, Macklemore, Lewis, and band reemerged to a wound up crowd, restoring the momentum and returning the excitement as they finished their performance. A cover of Prince’s “Kiss” proved surprisingly tasteful, and gave way to latest single “Dance Off,” during which the MC invited random audience members to hop on stage and square off with their best moves. After a revelrous rendition of “Can’t Hold Us,” the extended performance ended with an epic performance of “Downtown,” featuring a surprise (to most) appearance from Nally, and the video projected likeness of Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, and Grandmaster Caz, bringing to larger than life proportions a song that is already a quintessential modern summer jam. Any lesser performer might have lost momentum after a mass crowd evacuation, but Macklemore handled like a pro, and delivered hands down one of the most compelling performances of the weekend. [PO]

The Claypool Lennon Delirium

A show I had selected on the Bonnaroo app before I left Nashville, The Claypool Lennon Delirium was just about to start when the event organizers came over the PA, stopped all in progress performances, and asked everyone to clear out of Centeroo. They said there were some strong storms in the area producing powerful lightning, so we were to evacuate and take shelter in our cars. “Evacuate immediately” is not something you ever want to hear when intoxicated, but after letting the fear take over for a few minutes, I got control of myself amongst the hurried crowd, and rendezvoused with my crew at camp. The storm blew over after about an hour, and soon enough I was jamming with the son of a Beatle and the greatest bass player possibly ever. I knew none of the songs, but loved every second of the show and the crazy Egyptian themed digital-display backdrop. Strange and bizarre images, like a woman’s torso with a sphinx head, or giant space crabs, panned across the pyramid landscape. In-between songs, Sean Lennon mentioned it was his first ever Bonnaroo to many cheers, and Les claimed he’d played 76 Bonnaroos. Note: the festival only turned 15 this year, but Claypool has played nearly all of those dates with wildly different acts. On a song where Lennon employed a talk box, I completely zoned in, and on the next track Mr. Bonnaroo’s bass licks were so tasty I thought I might start salivating. It was all over much too quickly, and with the weather rescheduling everything, most of the fans were a frantic mess, trying to figure out where to be for who, and at what time. I knew where I wanted to be, so I made my way to What Stage for PJ. [JR]

The first time I saw Les Claypool was nine years ago when I was a puny little teenager on my first LSD experience at Gathering Of The Vibes Music Festival in Bridgeport, CT. He came out in a pig mask, played “Dueling Banjos” on his bass, and screamed “YOU GOT A PRETTY MOUTH BOY!” So you can only imagine the impression the musical virtuoso made on me that day. While I have now been to Bonnaroo four times, this year marked the first time I got to see the Roo Veteran in one of his many incarnations. When I first heard that he teamed up with John Lennon’s son and Ghost of a Sabre Tooth Tiger frontman Sean Lennon, I thought that it made perfect sense. The two may be in different corners of the weirdo spectrum, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t join forces and become a psychedelic powerhouse. That is just what they showed Bonnaroo with their Saturday night set. I was worried that the lightning would cancel their set. But after the storm came and went (Centeroo was shut down for about an hour), the two took the stage at That Tent with their new project to give Roo a rocking pre-Pearl Jam party. They covered a lot from their debut full-length The Monolith Of The Phobos, most notably “Mr. Wright” and “Breath Of A Salesman.” But they also delved into a variety of exceptional covers that included “Up On The Roof” by The Les Claypool Frog Brigade, “Astronomy Domine” by Pink Floyd, and a killer version “Tomorrow Never Knows” by The Beatles that featured an extended jam. We were even treated to some Primus tunes Claypool knew we wanted. The Delirium slipped in a verse of “Jerry Was A Racecar Driver” and absolutely rocked “Southbound Pachyderm” to close out the show. I am extremely happy that these two freaks formed a band together, and I think they really have something killer here. Their set made for one of my top five moments of the weekend. [JC]

Ron Gallo

In the strange post-thunderstorm closure of Centeroo, I made my way back into the frey, and rolled up just in time to catch a little bit of new Nashville transplant Ron Gallo.  A seasoned performer, Gallo commanded the little On Tap Lounge stage with the attitude and presence of a man with multiple tours under his belt, and owned the crowd with his brilliant guitar work.  From the recorded works that I have heard of Gallo, he possesses a bluesy psychedelic rock background, but, if I had my eyes closed during his live set, I might imagine that I was transported through time to cross a live set from The Doors off my bucket list.  Nashville, welcome Ron Gallo, because we are lucky to have him. [MH]

EllieGoulding_Roo16-Insert Ellie Goulding. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Ellie Goulding

With schedules suddenly squished, Ellie Goulding was already well into her set as I was leaving Macklemore, so I hustled back to the Which Stage to watch as much of the songstress as I could manage, making the tough call to forego The Claypool Lennon Delirium. At this point a bona fide pop superstar, and bigger than she’s even been thanks to a string of recent crossover hits and soundtrack and promotional placements, I was excited to see how Ellie had evolved since I last saw her at Lollapalooza in 2013. As I suspected, she was elevated in every way, with huge production, unbounded confidence, and magnetic presence. I’ve given most of her music a listen, though I don’t profess to be intimately familiar with much beyond the biggest hits, and, during the stretch of songs I saw, “Lights” was the only biggie (I’m sure “Anything Can Happen,” “Love Me Like You Do,” and the rest came later). Donning a Pearl Jam shirt and maintaining her charming, English demeanor, Ellie performed with even more rock and roll intensity and a higher level of engagement than I remembered, captivating the crowd and leaving me wishing I could stay until the very end. But, alas, it was off next to see the band she had honored on her shirt: Pearl Jam. [PO]

Pearl Jam

“Wait till you see them live.” This is what I found myself saying repeatedly in the months preceding this year’s Bonnaroo. Pearl Jam, though still one of the largest bands in the world, regularly selling out 20, 30, 40, and even 50 thousand capacity venues around the globe, did not seem to generate the fervor that past headliners have. Admittedly, as a longtime fan I am biased, but I couldn’t understand the general indifference. Perhaps it wasn’t PJ alone, but a general blasé from the Roovian faithful regarding the overall lineup. “Just wait till you see them live” I kept saying. Then Saturday night came, the lights dimmed, and Pearl Jam walked out to the largest crowd of the entire festival. The promised lightning storm that never materialized only seemed to energize the crowd, and certainly helped me secure a better spot than before, racing from the campgrounds to the What Stage. After a surprisingly raucous and fun set from Macklemore (say what you will, that guy’s got it and he killed it!) you could feel the anticipation mounting as the change over stretched on. I wondered what they would open with, because for a band with a near three decade history that plays 3-4 hour sets nightly, there’s a lot to choose from. As the nasty, snarling growl of Jeff Ament’s bass ripped through the crowd and set the stage for “Go,” it was clear that PJ had no intention of saying “here are the hits, remember us?” It wasn’t until over halfway through the first set, that they even got to something off Ten.

Anyone not familiar with Pearl Jam’s live show must have been caught off guard, and anyone who has seen them before must have been more than pleased. They were in full force, intensity ever mounting. Pearl Jam is always operating on full cylinders: whether that’s Mike McCready venting his problems through face melting solos, or Eddie Vedder’s unbridled vocal ferocity segueing into tender falsettos, each member of the band is engaging, and that’s why they are so heralded as a live act. Every element of this was on full display for their Bonnaroo set, but so was their human side. There were some political interjections, not unsurprising for a band who put out a song called “Bushleaguer” right at the start of the Bush Presidency, but perhaps the most Bonnaroo moment of Pearl Jam’s set, the most intimate, was when Vedder brought out his 12 year old daughter for the crowd to sing happy birthday to. In true Bonnaroo fashion, he asked the crowd to hold up their flashlights as candles, which the younger Vedder “blew out” to make her wish. Moments such as that are what have made and kept me a fan of this band. Their music, their show is blatantly evident of the humanity behind it. For as large and ‘rock god’ in status as its members’ presence may be, Pearl Jam are still very clearly one of us. Vulnerable, occasionally joyous, often dismayed, and somehow still persevering.

Of course, there were numerous songs I would have loved to have heard (“The Fixer,” “Sometimes,” etc), but Pearl Jam did a remarkable job of cramming their expansive catalogue into the allotted time, starting a little deeper than expected but resolving with a continuous assault of favorites and hits. As is somewhat traditional for the band, they closed with Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” turning the entire audience, front to back, into one massive, churning singalong of sweaty humans belting at the top of our lungs. Usually at the end of “Rockin’ in the Free World,” Eddie throws his tambourines out into the audience, only this time the tambourines seemed to have no end as he would throw one, turn to the side of the stage and be tossed another. Rinse and repeat. On the other end of the stage, McCready and Ament were tossing out picks, with Stone Gossard and Matt Cameron joining in at points. It was an Oprah moment of “and you get a tambourine! And you get a guitar pick!” and it was clear that the band was as elated as we were. To me though, it seemed like something else. It felt like gratitude. To feel that from a band that has nothing left to prove is a rare experience. As we turned and left, a celebratory fireworks show commemorating Bonnaroo’s 15 years lit our path, and I hope that the rest of Pearl Jam’s audience walked away that night carrying with them that sense of joy, love, and respect that the festival was founded on. [AS]

I was definitely on the receiving end of that “wait until you see them live” message for Pearl Jam. I respect the group immensely for sure, and they, along with the rest of the early ’90s grunge and alt rock movement in general helped shape my taste as I was getting into “good” music in my pre-teen years, but, admittedly, I’ve never developed a strong taste for much beyond Ten. I’d heard talk of Pearl Jam’s amazing live show, and knew that they were more than up to the task of headlining Bonnaroo, but, for my personal taste, they just didn’t carry the excitement factor of a Radiohead or Jack White. What would have been a mostly unobstructed set turned into a mess of scheduling conflicts post-storm, so I had to make the choice in advance to only watch part of the performance, and to duck out to finish my plan of coverage. As soon as they started though, I knew it would be hard not to stay for the whole thing. Surface familiarity with much of the material aside, the band absolutely ripped, playing with more intensity, angst, and passion than any of their recordings might suggest. Intellectually, I understood that these guys were enduring rock stars, but seeing and hearing them in action and up close, I finally got it, and now, without a doubt, I’ll be thrilled the next time I see Pearl Jam at the top of a lineup, so I can get the full-on live experience. [PO]

A band I loved in my youth, being just old enough to truly appreciate grunge rock at the height of its popularity, Pearl Jam saw heavy play in my music rotation for many years. However, right after college (around 2007), I started to lose touch with the band for no particular reason other than I was discovering new bands. Now, almost ten years later, here they were for my enjoyment, going strong as ever, and kicking all the asses. Before they got started I wanted to have some level of snark on deck, just in case they sucked, but straight out of the gate it was obvious it was going to be a phenomenal performance. They played all the hits from my era of fanhood, including a healthy number of cuts from their debut, Ten, which I’d listened to start to finish maybe a thousand times when I was twelve years old. I also must say that after seeing them live, I would stack lead guitarist Mike McCready up against ANYONE in rock music today. If you don’t know already (I didn’t), that dude is fucking disgustingly good, and his solos were the best guitar work I’d see all weekend. Lead singer Eddie Vedder was powerful, and Bruce Springsteen-esque in the way he worked the stage, and the crowd. He did do two, long-ish political rants, which a hardcore PJ fan next to me said is pretty much par for the course. But it didn’t bother me any, because the chill inducing, life long memories, like their epic rendition of “Comfortably Numb” backed by a fireworks display, will stick with me forever. [JR]

Just like my history with LCD Soundsystem, I have never been a Pearl Jam fan. Again, this was purely because I have never given them the time of day more than the songs you hear on hard rock radio, but I was most definitely not going to miss a chance to seem them at my favorite festival. The lightning set a tone for Pearl Jam’s set; when everyone was invited back into Centeroo they came back with the intention of going to see the rock legends. And my oh my did the band come out swinging. Aside from the hits, I wasn’t familiar with much of the material, but that didn’t stop me from fully engaging in the group’s utmost ability to shred a Saturday night headlining set. Longtime guitarist Mike McCready slayed on lead guitar and made for one of my favorite parts of the set. Eddie Vedder commanded the band in a fashion that represented that of The Who frontman Roger Daltrey. I felt a magic on the What Stage field that night that was very similar to Paul McCartney’s 2013 performance; Pearl Jam had Bonnaroo in the palm of their hands. They gave the festival everything necessary for a rocking journey through the band’s singles, deep cuts, and even some epic covers of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” and Neil Young’s “Rockin In The Free World.” I was loving it so much that I decided to be late for the SuperJam and watch the entire PJ set. The only thing that would have helped add to the vibe was if the lightning kept going as a backdrop, although Bonnaroo fireworks are nothing to complain about. It is kind of chilling to think about the violent story behind “Jeremy”, and the peaceful nature of the political interludes Vedder had in-between songs when the tragedy in Orlando was hours away from happening. But Bonnaroo is about positivity and we as a festival crowd were about to be tested on our ability to come together and keep the smiles abound. [JC]

Miguel_Roo16-Insert Miguel. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Miguel

Pearl Jam had a simply massive crowd, so much so that I was worried it might detract from Miguel’s midnight tent sent, originally slated to be more offset. Fortunately, the r&b fans held out in droves, and seemed shockingly excited for the late hour, anxiously awaiting the soulful singer’s arrival. Magical and magnetic, after a dazzlingly musical intro, Miguel seemed to float in as if on cloud, instantly drawing in every eye with his style, charm, and charisma, not to mention his timeless voice. Prince-like in his stage work and versatile talent, Miguel sounded absolutely fantastic, and, in contrast to Pearl Jam’s loud, heavy, rock and roll bite, his sexy, calming, and subdued pop r&b stylings helped calm and ease me into the final stretch of the night. With more to see, I cut out a bit early, and moved on; unbeknownst to me, though, I’d see Miguel again sooner than expected. [PO]

Cardiknox_Roo16-Insert Cardiknox. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Cardiknox

I recently saw indie pop duo Cardinox open for Carly Rae Jepsen in Nashville, and dug their vibe at that show, so when I saw their name on the Bonnaroo bill, I took note to keep them in mind to revisit if time allowed. Following Miguel and with a few minutes to spare until SuperJam, I opted to wander to the Who Stage, rather then squeeze in more Pearl Jam, for a taste of their late night set. Unfortunately, the relative newcomers seem to have been the evening’s casualty of scheduling conflict, performing only to a handful of people, a mix of diehard fans and tripped out attendees who seemed to have wandered over on a whim. Still, they took it like champs, singer Lonnie Angle bringing the full ferocity and polish of her typical show. Doing their best to win over the crowd, more passersby began to wander up as the set carried on, and, at one point, they even replayed a song (“Wild Child,” I believe), admitting that no one was really there when they played it the first time. I’m not pointing out the poor showing to put down Cardiknox; they were great. My point is that, with so many happenings big and small, often some of the coolest and most interesting moments lie just off the beaten path, and no matter where you look, something magical is always taking place at Bonnaroo. [PO]

SuperJam_Roo16-Insert SuperJam. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

SuperJam

I love the longstanding Bonnroo tradition of SuperJam, but rarely find myself with the time or energy to watch the whole thing. This year, I actually got to see the bulk of it, wandering away for a bit only to see Big Grams. Part of the pull this time around was the Tennessee theme, part was the pedigree of bandleader Kamasi Washington, and part was the rumor I’d heard floating around all day that Justin Timberlake might make an appearance (unlikely as it might have been, that’d be a definite “kick myself for missing” moment if it came to pass). Kicking things off with a cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Getaway,” featuring none other than Michelle Williams of Destiny’s child, I knew immediately this Kamasi and co. meant business, and that this would be an epic jam for the ages. Williams stuck around for a Ramsey Lewis tune (this whole thing was a fascinating musical history listen on my adopted home state), before Allen Stone emerged to sing B.B. King, all the while backed by some seriously talented players whose jazz chops allowed for incredible versatility and range. Needing some late night nourishment, I departed to find food before watching a few songs from Big Grams, returning just in time to see Chicano Batman play the “Theme from Shaft,” extremely random but incredibly cool (I also apparently missed Lizzo, Stephan Jenkins, Tiffany Lamson, and Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats). The next string of tracks were a bit go a mixed bag, high points being Oh Wonder’s best Dolly Parton impression for “Jolene,” GRiZ’s shocking saxophone skills for Yusef Lateef’s “Morning,” and the return of Lizzo to tackle Tina Turner (Williams also returned, and Patrice Quinn and MishCatt came out as well). Towards the end, the crowd began to thin, so I kept pushing my way closer, hoping the JT rumor might come to pass. As the jam reached its end, Kamasi started to hype a special guest, and the band began to play the intro to “Sexyback”… elated, I had a sudden rush of adrenaline, realizing that the rumor was true, and Bonnaroo history was about to happen. But, then, Miguel walked out. He crushed it, doing his best JT, and it served as a fitting ending. In fact, it was likely Miguel’s rehearsal that someone overheard that started the Justin rumor in the first place. A letdown, sure, but only because I let it be; I can’t complain, because the SuperJam was star-studded and supremely epic, and for the first time in a few years, I really had a chance to take most of it in. [PO]

Making haste to The Other Tent after the packed out PJ show was no easy task, but I had the largest ever Bonnaroo fireworks display to light my way. Thankfully, I got to the SuperJam just a few songs in. The previous year I’d been a little disappointed with Roo’s signature event, although D’angelo’s barn burner, late night set more than made up for it. However the 2016 version, curated by renewed saxophonist Kamasi Washington, rivaled any SuperJam I’d ever seen. Billed as a tribute to Tennessee, the format was pretty cool. Washington would call up a random performer from the 2016 lineup to do a song originally written or performed by a Tennessee artist. Stephen Jenkins, frontman of Third Eye Blind, was the first I saw perform and his version of Jonny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” was pedestrian at best (doesn’t help that living in Nashville has ruined that song for me), but it only improved from there. Top honors for me goes to Lizzo, performing Aretha Franklin’s “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” because goddamn that girl can sing! Also worth mention were Oh Wonder on Dolly’s “Jolene,” Nathaniel Ratliff on “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City,” Chicano Batman on “The Theme from Shaft,” Miguel on JT’s “Sexy Back” and Kamasi vs GRiZ on THE most epic sax solo battle I have ever seen. Wonderful concept and even better execution. Kudos Bonnaroo. [JR]

The SuperJam is one of the best things about Bonnaroo. It is such a unique tradition that Bonnaroo implements, bringing musicians together onstage that you would have never pictured together before. There was no SuperJam at my first Bonnaroo, but at my second I got to witness Jim James and John Oates curate one of the best performances I would ever see on the farm. It was full of funk and soul and very surprising guests; for example Billy Idol came out to sing “Bang A Gong” and absolutely crushed it. So, it was no question that I was going to check out this year’s SuperJam, led by the mighty Kamasi Washington who had proved his Bonnaroo worth just the day before. I was extremely worn out from Pearl Jam, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from witnessing the magic, especially because the theme of this year’s event was ‘The Heart And Soul of Tennessee.” So I found a place in the back to relax and listened to the tunes. Like Jacob, I was blown away by Lizzo’s rendition of Tina Turner’s “I Can’t Stand The Rain.” I also thought it was really entertaining when Kamasi and crew brought out Chicano Batman to do the theme from Shaft. The SuperJam is all about exploring musical boundaries and having a blast while doing so, and tt was most definitely evident that everyone involved in the post-Pearl Jam extravaganza was having the time of their lives. [JC]

Big Grams

Escaping the SuperJam for just a bit, and scarfing down some pizza while watching the craziest Bonnaroo fireworks show I’ve ever seen (thanks Pearl Jam), I waited for Big Grams, the supergroup collaboration of Big Boi and Phantogram, to begin. Taking the stage a little late, allowing a hype man to kill time and help build anticipation, the trio exploded into “Run for Your Life,” the opener of their debut EP, followed, in track order, by “Lights On.” I’d never seen Phantogram, and I’ve only seen Big Boi in the context of Outkast, so this was kind of a cool and unique first way to experience the whole package. They sounded huge, with blaring synths and driving beats, singer Sarah Barthel’s voice powerful and larger than life, juxtaposed effortlessly with Big Boi’s fast, syncopated rap style. Part rock band, part hip hop project, Big Grams extract the best of both worlds, and utilize their experience and pedigree to come across as seasoned vets, rather than a brand new project. Wanting to run back to the SuperJam, I didn’t get a chance to see if they might cover tunes from the respective solo projects, but, given the pace of the set, I’d assume they played most every song the EP. For a show that started at 2am, and one up against several other acts, their crowd was huge. After a couple of years of mostly turning in early, I remembered why I used to have such a blast at late Bonnaroo nights, absolutely exhausted mornings be damned. [PO]

Photos by Mary-Beth Blankenship.

SUNDAY

ThePinklets_Roo16-Insert The Pinklets. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

The Pinklets

Hot, sore, grimy, and thoroughly exhausted, I awoke Sunday to the tragic news in Orlando, draining me emotionally in addition to physically. Needing some refuge from the fest before powering through the final day, our photographer and I snuck out to Waffle House, providing the fuel and relative, reflective solitude to regain composure, and prepare for another full day of music. First on the list and one of the first of the day were Knoxville sister trio The Pinklets. Undoubtedly the youngest band on the bill (they’re now between 11 and 16, but started the band when still in the single digits), and only just now shifting to a more mature style, as they line up more gigs, I was blown away by the skill for a band so young. With pleasant melodies, technical proficiency, and a pop rock sound that harbors so much potential, the pleasant set, performed with confidence to a sizable early crowd, left me certain that this band wee well on the way to becoming the next Eisley or HAIM. Keep an eye on The Pinklets, so you can say you followed them back when. [PO]

Cymande

I did a write up on English Afro-beat legends Cymande during our preview series, so I wanted to at least catch  song or two from their Sunday morning set. On my way to see Charles Bradley, I stopped by the Which Stage just in time to see them play my favorite song “Dove,” an 11 minute journey that fuses Afro-beat and reggae into one to create a mystical dance number that had all of Bonnaroo grooving. I wanted to see more but I was already late for Charles Bradley, and couldn’t stand to let him play without me there. [JC]

CharlesBradley_Roo16-Insert Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires

There’s nothing like the soulful sounds and uplifting spirit of Charles Bradley to make you feel alive and inspired on a Sunday, and, grabbing a spot in the shade, his set finally helped snap me out of a funk, and feel ready to sink into the positive vibes of the day. The modern embodiment of a classic soul legend, there’s no one else around doing it quite like Charles nowadays, and he and his skilled band are always a transcendent experience. I admit, I only made it a few songs in before wimping out and needing to find some A/C, but, hey, it was the last day so I have an excuse. Some artists are primed for festival stages, and Charles Bradley is one of them, commanding a sizable crowd for a main stage set for so early in the day; all the more impressive considering the fact that he typically plays smaller clubs when he tours alone. [PO]

I first saw Charles Bradley back in college when he performed a show with Daptone Records queen Sharon Jones. Since then, Bradley has solidified his fame in the world of soul music. Bradley treated Bonnaroo to songs from every one of his extremely enjoyable albums. I particularly enjoyed his unique spin on the Black Sabbath song “Changes.” He completely transformed the original track and created something new to the point where I don’t know how many people in the audience knew what it was. Bradley’s voice possessed such strength and raw tension that it was heard throughout all of Centeroo. I can only hope that he expanded his fanbase with the great start to Sunday. [JC]

KurtVile_Roo16-Insert Kurt Vile & The Violators. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Kurt Vile & The Violators

I’m definitely a big Kurt Vile fan, and, yet, have only somehow managed to see him in the context of festivals. While he’s great, and, as his presence continues to rise, the audience response and scale of his show only intensifies, but hearing my peer’s accounts and reading reviews of his more conventional club outings, I’m definitely itching to catch him in a more intimate context. His Bonnaroo Which Stage set was the opposite of intimate; set on a huge stage, the field was absolutely packed, and only got crazier when Chance the Rapper hosted a pop-up Silent Disco DJ set (again, damn this year’s award Silent Disco placement). I’m only really familiar with Kurt’s two most recent albums, which have helped transform him into a certifiable indie rock god, and, unsurprisingly, that’s where the bulk of the material of his set came from, recreated faithfully and magically through eclectic instrumentation and his strong backing band. I’m not sure how, but Vile only manages to sound better with each performance, and at this rate, his career is sure to transcend the folky, psyched-out indie boom, and make him long-term rock staple for years to come. [PO]

I say this to almost everyone that I talk to about Bonnaroo.  It’s an endurance test, especially if you are camping.  That being said, by the time Sunday came around, I just needed a shade tree, some great music, and LOTS of water.  I took my low slung lawn chair, found shade under the Which Stage trees, and settled in for Kurt Vile.  Vile, in his usual eccentric ways, came bounding onto the stage, and ripped right into “Dust Bunnies” from his incredible 2015 release b’lieve i’m goin’ down, and continued to paint his guitar heavy soundscapes over the largely chilled out crowd.  Of course, Kurt wouldn’t disappoint the fans that have recently come to love him from extensive radio play of “Pretty Pimpin,'” but it was a particularly spaced out extended version of “Wakin’ On A Pretty Day” and the first track to hook me, “Baby’s Arms,” that sent me away particularly satisfied, at least until the kids started mobbing around where I was sitting thanks to a pop-up set from Chance The Rapper at the Silent Disco. [MH]

Sunday afternoon was a perfect time for Kurt Vile, but his set came in the midst of my busiest chunk of the weekend, so I missed the first few songs of his set due to the imperative need to recharge at camp. I got there just as he was starting “Jesus Fever” from his fourth record Smoke Ring For My Halo. Vile led his group through some very impressive musical exploration, especially on the 10 minute epic “Wakin on a Pretty Day.” Of course, it wouldn’t be a Kurt Vile set if we didn’t hear the grooving bouncy hit “Pretty Pimpin,” the song everyone at Roo knew the lyrics to which made for my favorite part of his show. I also really got a kick out of watching the crowd bob their heads in the exact same slacker manner as the audience at his Marathon Music Works appearance earlier this year. Although this time around, I am positive the heat had something to do with it. [JC]

Jason Isbell

After staying up until dawn the night before to rave my face off at the glowing, non-stop Kalliope Stage (a monster set from DJ London Bridges helped egg me on), I was worthless Sunday morning. I laid around and marinated in own juices, wondering if I even had any serotonin left in my brain, until about 4 pm, when I finally got motivated. I ventured to the main stage to see yet another Nashville performer, Jason Isbell. Performing with his lovely and talented wife Amanda Shires on fiddle, Jason plowed through his cannon of amazing southern rock story style songs. Easily one of my favorite contemporary singer-songwriters, Isbell has the unique ability to tell a story in song, and make you feel like you are right there with him. Whether it’s speaking on his battles with sobriety or what life is like growing up in a small town, his songs ring truer than most. Get him in your life you haven’t already, I can promise you won’t regret it. [JR]

Steep Canyon Rangers

Very aware that I would be opting out of the Bluegrass Situation to catch both sets of Dead & Company, I decided to get my Bluegrass fix with the Steep Canyon Rangers. I knew they were amazing, because I’d seen them perform with Steve Martin on banjo back in 2010. That performance obviously had little more panache, but I assure you SCR are just as lively without the funny man. The blistering pace, and amazing vocal harmonies were just what I need to take my mind off the heat and my damn hangover. [JR]

FatherJohnMisty_Roo16-Insert Father John Misty. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Father John Misty

The Thermals’ Hutch Harris recently tweeted [sic] “still waiting for the father john misty cosplay era to end,” which not only made me laugh out loud, but sort of sums up the prevailing gripe towards FJM. He’s emblematic of the overblown scene of modern-hipsterdom, something of a sarcastic, self-aware troll who can do something like cover Taylor Swift in the style of Velvet Underground in a holier-than-thou attempt to mock Ryan Adams, all the while positioning himself as “better than” the past-their-prime and pretentious sect of too-cool-for-school indie kids for whom he serves as something of a modern messiah. This insufferable assholishness might otherwise be enough to turn me off of an artist entirely, but goddamnit, Father John Misty is fucking amazing, and I can’t help but call myself a fan (see also: Kanye West). He opened, OPENED with “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings,” perhaps his best known song, coming out swinging with his mischievous aura and radiant confidence, knowing instantly that he had the massive crowd in the palm of his hands. Per usual, he sounded fantastic and effortless, pulling tracks pretty evenly from his two LPs. I made it to “I’m Writing a Novel” before needing to move on to the next set, but I could hear an inspired rendition of “Bored in the USA” beginning as I walked, which further showcased the singer’s range and sensibilities, and seemed to delight the many diehards in the crowd. [PO]

It was hot. It was so damn hot. But that wasn’t going to stop me from seeing one of my idols, Father John Misty, for the second time. Everything about the man is enchanting: his charisma, his songwriting, and his vision all formulate into a force in music today that is not to be reckoned with. FJM, or Josh Tillman, released the groundbreaking I Love You, Honeybear last year as a followup to 2012’s Fear Fun. His performance was a perfect companion to Sunday afternoon. He played all of the songs I wanted to hear, most notably “I’m Writing A Novel” and “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me.” We were even treated to the classic, eccentric FJM wit when Tillman looked at the question sign on the field and said “This giant question sign doesn’t do much to help the existential quandary of getting in front of thousands of college students on mushrooms and talking about your feelings.” Those that know Tillman and follow his Instagram laughed. Others that were just hearing him for the first time were puzzled and immediately shrugged it off. As he finished with the biggest rocker from Honeybear called “Ideal Husband,” I head-banged along in sheer joy that I just got to see FJM again. I hope I don’t have to wait that long until next time. [JC]

DeathCabForCute_Roo16-Insert Death Cab for Cutie. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Death Cab for Cutie

The first time I ever saw Death Cab for Cutie was at Bonnaroo 2006. It was my first Bonnaroo, and came just days after graduating high school, a time in my life when Death Cab, arguably at their prime, meant more to me than just about any other band. I just Googled the setlist from that performance, and my jaw dropped; it’s basically my dream show, and one I’ll almost certainly never see unless for some sort of nostalgic anniversary tour (they’ve released way too much new music since). That, in a nutshell, is both the wonder and danger of nostalgia; I’ll always have fond memories of my first DCFC show, and I know that they’re a band that must always grow, create, and change to continue to exist, something I accept because I love that they’re around, yet, in my heart, I want to freeze them in that moment in time forever. With the recent departure of founding member and producer Chris Walla, the band are in their most transitional period yet, and the result seems to be a newfound “make or break” type of energy, leading to some really compelling live shows as of late. I was really impressed with their Ryman outing last year, my first experience with the new lineup, and Bonnaroo proved to be even better. Their first two songs, “The New Year” and “Crooked Teeth,” brought me back to Bonnaroo ’06, and instantly made the longtime fans in the crowd apparent. The “old” songs (still boggles my mind that Plans and Transatlanticism are over a decade old now) sound just as fresh and impassioned as anything since, and the healthy balance of set selections proved that the band haven’t forgotten about any era of fan, and appreciate what everyone wants to hear the most. Something of an indie rock elder statesman at this point, Ben Gibbard seemed a bit tired, but remained as witty and humble as ever, bantering between songs and expressing sincere gratitude towards the massive main stage crowd. The running theme of Sunday, a scheduling conflict forced me to duck out a little early, but I’m kind of devastated that I did, as the band apparently ended with “Transatlanticism,” the same song they closed with at my first Bonnaroo; what a perfect, circular, and symbolic end as the group strive for new beginnings. [PO]

ThirdEyeBlind_Roo16-Insert Third Eye Blind. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Third Eye Blind

The last main act I had on my must-see list (I’m no Deadhead, but we’ll get to that shortly), Third Eye Blind are, inexplicably, a band I’ve never caught live, despite having plenty of opportunities over the years. Like most, I got into them thanks to their inescapable ’90s radio play, fueled by massive hits from their eponymous debut like “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Jumper.” I was only 9 when that record dropped, but it hit that sweet spot of late ’90s alt rock boom, where, looking for something other than pop divas, boybands, and the out-of-steam grunge scene, my pre-teen, maturing musical sensibilities latched onto the best of what I could find. I still maintain that, while many of their peers faded or proved to be a flash in the pan, capitalizing on a popular and passing fad, Third Eye Blind have always been transcendent, superior songwriters, working within the tools and sound of their time, but in a way that has helped their music endure, and their career continue to evolve and keep them relevant for the decades since. After a bit of a letdown appearance from singer Stephan Jenkins the previous night at SuperJam, he more than redeemed himself with an electrifying full band show, equal parts fan service and musical assertion that Third Eye Blind still matter in 2016. After a weird choice to open with “Faster” and a new song, two cuts from Blue, my second favorite 3EB album, lulled me back in, and then, after admitting they had written a set, but were just going to toss it out, “Gratitude” made me and the rest of the crowd go wild, finally finding a stride as the band read the pulse of their first Bonnaroo. “Motorcycle Drive By” and “Losing a Whole Year,” peppered in between somewhat forgettable covers of Beyonce and Prince, were everything the 20-year-long Third Eye Blind fan in me craved, and sounded just as energetic, emotionally wrecked, and urgent as they did back in the day. And, of course, “Jumper” and “Semi-Charmed Life,” broken up by new tune “Say It” to close the show, made for an absolutely epic and emotional highlight of my Sunday, and entire weekend, finally delivering something I’ve literally been waiting most of my life for. While most bands like Third Eye Blind feel like a nostalgic cash-in or legacy grab on festival lineups, their crowd, placement, and tone at Bonnaroo felt remarkably fresh and relevant, and perhaps against the odds, it makes me so happy to see them still going strong. I love Third Eye Blind and I don’t care who knows it. [PO]

Eliciting the biggest emotional response from me all weekend, Third Eye Blind may seem cheesy to some, but they hold a nostalgia that will forever remain a part of me. Their amazing debut, self-titled LP was a heavy part of the soundtrack to my life in my formative high school years, especially the rougher parts, and during the tough break ups (ha!). They came out guns blazing, with huge energy that only built, thanks to the surprisingly large and young crowd. It was the band’s first ever Roo, and after playing a couple newer songs that no one seemed to recognize, they gave the crowd what they obviously wanted, playing earlier hits like “Never Let You Go,” “Graduate,” “Narcolepsy,” and “Motorcycle Drive-By”. During their intense, massive sing-along rendition of “Jumper” (which they dedicated to the victims in Orlando), I got the feels all over, and even noticed a few warm tears forming in my eyes. There was little doubt what they would close with, and I was shocked to see the youngest fans in the crowd sing every word of the frenetic cadenced “Semi-Charmed Life” in time. It nearly brought the house down, and it was obvious they wanted to keep going, but I was already powering my way towards Dead & Company before I could tell if they’d play an encore or not.  [JR]

SwimDeep_Roo16-Insert Swim Deep. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Swim Deep

Following Third Eye Blind, I had really only to see some of Dead and Company on my agenda, but made a few pit stops on the way, squeezing in what last music I could as the reality of Bonnaroo’s looming end hit hard. Checking them out for only a moment in passing, British indie rockers Swim Deep caught my ear with their layered, psychedelic, dreamy, and almost shoegaze-inspried sound, performing on the Who Stage for a modest crowd as most of the fest began migrating to the What Stage. [PO]

Ween

As their performance neared its end, I still made a point to walk by Ween, a band I largely had to forego in favor of Third Eye Blind (my toughest Sunday scheduling conflict for sure). I’m not the world’s biggest Ween fan, but I also admit I haven’t given them a fair, attentive chance, aside from a phase where I used to rock Chocolate and Cheese on the semi-regular. The reunited rockers sounded great, every bit as weird, eclectic, and offbeat as I expected, but what impressed me the most was just how attentive and excited the gigantic mass of fans were to see the band back in action. I’m not even sure if I can name any of the songs I saw them play, but the experience was cool enough to leave me wanting to see a proper Ween show in the future, and to finally get more acquainted with their catalogue first. [PO]

A huge year for reunions, before lineup even arrived, there seemed to be no doubt that the recently reassembled Ween were going to make an appearance. The great thing about Ween is how hard they are to classify. Yes, they may have the love of many jam-band fans, but that doesn’t limit their style. The band traverse through the realms of rock, funk, soul, and progressive with a goofy outlook that has assimilated a massive cult following. They disbanded in 2012, and Ween fans everywhere were unsure if they would ever get to see their heroes again, but sure enough, Gene and Deaner were here in the flesh on the Which Stage. My friends and I were lucky enough to make it into the pit for their show, and I wouldn’t have wanted my second Ween show to go down any other way. The band played some of my favorites such as their bouncy groover “Roses are Free,” a track often covered by my favorite band Phish. Ween also played such classic rockers as “The Grobe” and some of their humorous goof-offs like “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down).” Gene and Deaner were on fire and their devoted fanbase seemed happy to welcome them back. I truly hope that this reunion is permanent, and not just some sort of publicity stunt where they do a few festivals then go away again. Because this band always has been, and always will be the real freaking deal. [JC]

DeadAndCompany_Roo16-Insert Dead & Company. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Dead and Company

I just don’t get The Grateful Dead. I mean intellectually sure, I do, and I know even uttering that opinion probably damages my ‘true’ Bonnaroo cred irreparably, but that band, and the jam band scene they spawned, is one that I never connected with. Even as I briefly circled a pseudo-hippie phase, I think the pull of punk rock and the love of hearing songs played in the way I know and expect them pulled me squarely to the other side of the fence. That said, I appreciate their legacy and contributions to music and culture, and, perhaps chiefly, festival culture, so a chance to see Dead and Company still felt like one I’d be silly to skip. Sticking mostly to bigger hits like “Truckin'” and “Shakedown Street,” I actually found myself more familiar with the set than expected, and, unsurprisingly very impressed by the level of musicianship, controlled improvisation, and synchronicity on display. I’m not sure how his cred stands with real Deadheads, but I like John Mayer just fine, and would argue that he’s one of the best guitar players of his generation, opinions on his music aside (I generally like it too). Reminiscent of when I saw Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong fill in with the Replacements, Mayer did a great job of assimilating with the group, tossing aside his celebrity to function as a piece of a greater whole, and seemingly holding his own in helping recreate the classic tunes, trading off lead vocal duties with Bob Weir. Hearing stories of less than stellar ticket sales throughout the band’s ongoing U.S. tour, I worried that their pull might not be enough for Bonnaroo’s coveted Sunday night slot, but, as I should have known, you don’t bet against The Grateful Dead at Bonnaroo. The crowd came out strong, ready to end their weekend, and celebrate Bonanroo’s 15th year, with one of the most important fixtures in its long and still-evolving history, and, my personal tastes aside, in that moment it felt like they couldn’t have been more suited to the task. [PO]

Somewhat of a controversial headliner, as Deadheads weren’t thrilled with the addition of John Mayer to the band, and most Bonnarovians today are becoming too young to bd as into The Dead, Dead & Company’s two sets to close out Bonnaroo 2016 ended up being my favorite Sunday night of music on the Farm ever. Just before they started, I began to trip, ending up on the most intense, spiritual journey I’ve ever had in my life, thanks in no small part to the amazing music. Their first set was very hit friendly, featuring “Truckin’,” “Casey Jones,” and the inevitable “Tennessee Jed” to name a few. All the while, John Mayer’s blues heavy noodling led the extended jams, until it was founding member Bob Weir’s turn to sing or shine on guitar, during which Mayer graciously took a step back, knowing that despite his talent, his role was just beginning to form in the institution that is The Grateful Dead. I think he more than held his own, and he never once tried to be Jerry, even if he sang Jerry’s songs, and played Jerry’s arrangements (all be it in Mayer’s unique guitar style). Fanboys will surely bitch about him, but I loved what he added. During the break between sets, I lost myself laying on my back, looking up at the stars. I felt like I was seeing them all for the first time, traveling out of my body, and into the astral plane, speeding towards new galaxies a million miles away at the speed of light. Falling back to earth, I felt my mind open up, and I began to process things I’d been reluctant to really think about for months, like the recent passing of my father. After deep introspection, I found some sort of closure, because as a pot smoking, peyote eating hippie himself, I’m certain he would approve of my adventures and even encourage them. Heavy shit indeed.

When they came back out, it was back to the nearly non-stop rhythmic dancing, culminating in Bill Kreutzmann’s and Mickey Hart’s pitched dual drumming sequence, on a massive array of percussion instruments. Then it was just Mickey, performing the space in the infamous “Drums/Space” portion of a Dead show. The spooky, ambient sounds reminded me of sci-fi film score, and the incredible psychedelic graphics playing on the four-story jumbotron behind him had me totally fixated. I don’t think I moved once during that portion of the show; I was standing completely still, captivated, lost in the moment and lost in another spectacular peak. I knew that if I ever tripped for a show again, it could never compare. The rest of the band came back to carry on with more popular hits like “Fire On the Mountain” and the perfect encore, my favorite Dead song of all-time, “Touch of Grey.” Although I never thought it would happen, I can finally say I saw (an incarnation of) The Dead perform live, feeling out of my body all the whole. I ‘get it’ now. I’ve been ‘turned on’ to them officially, even though I’ve been a life ong fan. Some griped about the lineup this year, and many stayed home, but I’d take 50,000 people over 90,000 any day. With smaller crowds and more veteran Roo’ers in attendance than I’d ever come across, 2016 will forever hold the best vibes award for any Bonnaroo I’ve experienced so far, and it has all but ensured that I’ll continue to return every year. Because no matter the lineup, you will always have serval life changing experiences on The Farm, and this year was no different for me. Hope to see you all again next year! [JR]

I saved my Dead & Company review until last because it’s hard to muster up the words to describe how magical it was to see these legends yet again. I have been a Grateful Dead fan since high school. I was even a Deadhead before I got turned onto Phish, who I later went on to follow in college. The music of The Grateful Dead has helped me through some of the toughest times in my life so far. Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter remain one of the best songwriting teams ever to grace this planet, and what is so great about that is that it has lived on long after Garcia’s death. The tradition continues through various incarnations that honor the band’s legacy, but when I went to Chicago last year for the “Fare Thee Well” shows, I thought it might be the last time. However Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzman, and Mickey Hart decided to keep going and enlisted the help of pop icon and guitar master John Mayer, along with Jeff Chimenti, and Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbridge. I caught their Bridgestone Arena show last fall, but I have to say that this was ten times better. The band came on with a set full of classics. They opened with “Truckin” a Deadhead favorite. After a cover of “Smokestack Lightnin” by Howlin Wolf, they proceeded to go into a killer rendition of one of my favorites “Bertha.” This was the first song of the night that featured former Grateful Dead vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux. Other highlights from the first set included a jammed out “Playin in the Band,” that saw all of the members diving into uncharted waters with their improvisation. John Mayer proved that he wasn’t going to try and take any stance as frontman with all the attention. He was there to play well, but more importantly listen. He did a fantastic job at taking on the complicated Garcia licks found on songs such as “Shakedown Street,” but he also listened to the rest of his band and left space where space was needed. When the group launched into “Casey Jones,” I knew that this was the end of the first set. Part of me wondered if those in attendance that weren’t familiar with The Dead’s tendency to perform two sets per show would leave.

In my experience, a second set at a Dead or Phish show is always the better one, and this was just the case at Dead & Company that Sunday night. The band came out and proceeded to start a segment of my all time Dead songs: “Help On The Way”>”Slipknot”>”Scarlet Begonias”>”Fire On The Mountain”>”Terrapin Station,” featuring some stellar playing from all of the members. Billy and Mickey did a great job of keeping the groove solid to propel the rest of the band, and, as is customary, the two drummers got their moment in the spotlight when the band left the stage to let the two rhythm devils have their own solo. They traded fours and experimented with building a groove together. Bonnaroo was dancing its booty off, going out in style. When Dead & Co brought it down to play the Jerry ballad “Wharf Rat,” everyone took a break before the inevitable “Franklins Tower” hit, finishing of the segment from the beginning of the set. An encore was necessary after a scorcher of a show, the band came out to play the only song by the Dead that every made a splash on the Billboard charts, “Touch Of Grey.” Deadheads and newbies alike were rejoicing in the magic this band was bringing. It was homage to the inception of Bonnaroo on its 15th year, something that everyone could come together over. My friends said they were thrilled to see their first Dead show with me, and to me that is what Bonnaroo is all about; the love and positivity you can experience over four days on a farm in the sweltering Tennessee heat. Bonnaroo’s response to the hateful crimes of that morning in Orlando was an all-out declaration of appreciation and endearment for one another. And that is what I love about this festival. I can’t wait for next year. [JC]

The Bluegrass Situation Superjam

I caught the Bluegrass Situation Superjam for the first time a couple of years ago, and was blown away by the magical atmosphere the event captures.  Helmed by a truly humble (and talented) Ed Helms, the event features some of the best and brightest in Americana performing some of the coolest collaborations and covers that you could imagine, and, as it began, it also brought relief from the crazy heat of the morning.  Helms and his backing band, The Watkins Family Band, opened the whole event with a heartfelt remembrance for the tragedy in Orlando, that many in attendance sadly learned about for the first time, before they introduced mandolin virtuoso Sam Bush and launched into a reggaefied version of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” and a very cool version of Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freighliner Blues.”  After the crowd was properly lubricated, Helms invited Amanda Shires to the stage to help perform Roger Miller’s “Dang Me,” and Ed and Amanda sang a near perfect duet of John Prine’s “In Spite Of Ourselves.”  Bush and Helms then honored Tennessee with a cover of “Lovesick Blues” by Hank Williams, before another special guest, Langhorn Slim, was invited to the stage to perform a spot on cover Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, & Money.”  As per SuperJam standard, the next special guest, Leanne Womack, snuck away from the nearby CMA Fest in Nashville to lend her voice to Don Williams “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good,” and would later return to the stage to perform Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies.” One of my true surprises of the entire SuperJam was The Secret Sisters, and their chill bump inducing harmonies when performing Johnny Cash’s “Big River.”  In a nod to another recently fallen hero, Steep Canyon Rangers paid homage to Merle Haggard with his classic “Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink.”  Per SuperJam protocol, they wrapped their 90 minute set with a full cast sing along of the Neil Young-Stephen Stills classic “Long May You Run.”  And, with that, I wandered through the Dead and Co. crowd for a little while before winding up my Roo, returning home to air conditioning and bed, and beginning to reminisce of all the great memories of Bonnaroo 2016. Until next year. [MH]

Photos by Mary-Beth Blankenship.

_

[AS] Adrien Saporiti
[JR] Jacob Ryan
[JC] Julian Ciany
[MH] Matt Hall
[PO] Philip Obenschain

Have your say