[REVIEW + PHOTOS] Bonnaroo 2017 | Saturday & Sunday

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After a jam-packed first two days of Bonnaroo, capped off by U2’s epic, sprawling American festival debut and an unforgettable late night set from site faves Portugal. The Man, it was hard to believe we were only at the halfway mark, and hard to imagine how the rest of ‘Roo could top its start. Fortunately, the back half of the festival proved just as great, with cooperative, downright pleasant weather, an continued uptick in attendance, countless impressive sets, a SuperJam for the ages, and an abundance of good vibes! Be sure to read our review of Thursday and Friday, and check out the conclusion to our coverage of Bonnaroo 2017 below!

SATURDAY

BigFreedia-Bonnaroo17-Insert Big Freedia. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Twerk It Out with Big Freedia

We don’t spend nearly enough time discussing Bonnaroo’s non-music activities, which surpass any other fest I’ve attended in quantity and quality, from comedy to film to activism, lectures, parades, artisans, food and drink, yoga, and more. One unique addition this year was a twerking class every morning, led by the Queen of Bounce herself, Big Freedia, made all the more random by the fact that Freedia wasn’t even a performer at this year’s fest. With a little time to kill Saturday morning, we wandered over to watch as the Queen Diva, from the Solar Stage, demonstrated and instructed with her twerking expertise, to a pretty large group who seemed to be there more earnestly than ironically. She even hopped down to help the class perfect their craft, providing actual, knowledgable instruction as a dance teacher should; definitely a fun way to wake up!

BigJesus-Bonnaroo17-Insert Big Jesus. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Big Jesus

With a pretty light slate of punk and heavier rock and alternative this year, any band even remotely in that sphere felt like a must-see. A random but welcome addition, I had a blast kicking off Saturday with Big Jesus. The Atlanta group seem to be picking up buzz fast, and after impressing last summer at Wrecking Ball, and passing through Nashville at increasing frequency, I couldn’t wait to see their ’90s-inspired alt rock again on the big stage. Modest early afternoon crowd aside, they rocked hard, and brought bit of the spirit of some of my other favorite fests- Riot, the aforementioned Wrecking Ball- the the farm. [PO]

LucyDacus-Bonnaroo17-Insert Lucy Dacus. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Lucy Dacus

An artist I was absolutely intrigued to watch, not only for her parallels to another favorite up and comer, Julien Baker, but also because she hails from my one-time home of Richmond, VA (and even dropped out of the same film school program, ha), Lucy Dacus’ debut album No Burden is by far one of the strongest indie debut in recent memory. Despite a being pitted against two local acts (who I begrudgingly pried myself away to eventually watch), Dacus had a respectable audience for early afternoon, and with her laid back demeanor and honed style, she boldly kicked off her set with a cover of Prince’s “I Would Die for You,” before her backing back helped recreate some original faves. A couple years out from her debut, it was nice to hear a few new tunes as well, and with her earnest, raw, and resonant style, Lucy was every bit the engaging and unique talent I expected. Can’t wait to see her in a smaller setting! [PO]

ReubenBidez-Bonnaroo17-Insert Reuben Bidez. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Reuben Bidez

Adjacent to Lucy, Nashville’s own Reuben Bidez was kicking things off at the Who Stage, and I made a point to swing by to see him in action. With a sort of Beatles-eque, timeless, singer-songwriter sound and some great supporting players, Bidez sounded as great as I’d ever heard him, performing with a confidence and precision most artists can only dream of. [PO]

COIN

It was hard to skip most of COIN’s Which Stage set, as pretty huge deal for the breakout locals, but pitted against Lucy Dacus, who I’d never seen, I decided to catch them next time around (like the following month’s Forecastle Fest). I did, however, catch a song or two in passing, and quickly realized where all of the people were. Performing to a jaw-dropping crowd, the band sounded absolutely gigantic, eliciting sing-alongs with their anthemic, indie primed jams, which absolutely beg to be experienced on a festival stage. [PO]

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real

I’ve seen Lukas Nelson and his Promise of the Real band on a number of occasions at this point, though it has always been as an opener.  I’ve seen him open for his ultra-cool and uber-famous trailblazing father Willie, and then caught him when he opened for Neil Young in Nashville last spring, but his set at Bonnaroo was a different animal entirely.  Rather than playing to fans of his father or as a backing band to Young, this set really let Lukas and co let their hair down for an inspired set of music, largely from his most recent record, Something Real.  The set drew inspiration from famous forebearers including Duane Allman and even Jimi Hendrix.  Nelson is a master at the guitar and the high energy rock and roll was the perfect start to Saturday’s Bonnaroo.  [MH]

TheFrontBottoms-Bonnaroo17-Insert The Front Bottoms. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

The Front Bottoms

As someone who’s followed The Front Bottoms from their humble, emo scene beginnings, it’s still a little weird to see how they’ve transformed into an in-demand, seemingly well-known festival act, but with pop-primed crossover appeal and a killer live show, it shouldn’t be all too shocking. The start of a pretty hectic block of scheduling conflicts, I wandered over to find a surprisingly huge main stage crowd, as the band launched into a track from each of their best known albums. With their typical manic energy and huge, singalong ready hooks, it was mostly business as usual, if not a slightly more fine-tuned machine than ever, but the most strange and unique aspect had to the the stage decor. Apparently unacknowledged by the band, there was a big white couch behind them, where a random guy just sat, casually observing and working his way though a case of Miller Lite. At one point, someone else wandered out, who may or may not have been part of the performance art, and proceeded to take selfies, adding a weird house party vibe in the middle of a gigantic stage. [PO]

CreatureComfort-Bonnaroo17-Insert Creature Comfort. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Creature Comfort

Slotted against The Front Bottoms, locals Creature Comfort were this year’s Road to Roo winner, so I had to make a point to rush to the On Tap Lounge to see the end of their Bonnaroo debut. True to form, the spaced out, psych tinged, poppy, energetic, and eclectic indie rockers showed off just why they deserved to be there, drawing a huge crowd and sounding as great as I’ve ever heard them, the perfect midday boost to prepare for the mad dash ahead. [PO]

DeapVally-Bonnaroo17-Insert Deap Vally. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Deap Vally

These LA babes are two of the most badass artists of rock music right now. They have a Thelma & Louise sort of madness and unpredictability to their dynamic where they trade off vocals while creating grungy, smeared lipstick rock in a perfume of cigarettes and gun powder. Julie Edwards is one of my favorite drummers to watch because she throws her body into every hit and stomps like she’s putting out a fire while guitarist and lead singer Lindsey Troy whips around like a panther. Known favorites “Bad For My Body”  and “Walk Of Shame” from their debut album had the crowd in high energy while new songs from their sophomore album Femijism (a brilliant post-punk rebellion against sexism, expectations and critique), garnered a more heady response. Deap Vally’s live show is just as merciless as their recorded music. It’s a performance not to be missed. [LT]

My first experience with Deap Valley was at Bonnaroo 2013, so it felt only fitting to see the gals back on the farm, excellent new album Femijism in tow. Sounding more bombastic and ferocious than ever, the feminist indie rock duo absolutely slayed from note one, kicking into “Heart Is An Animal” and navigating through bangers like “Smile More” and “Walk of Shame,” concluding with one of my personal favorites, “Royal Jelly.” The chemistry of Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards is absolutely electrifying, and together on stage, they couldn’t be more badass and raw. Hope to see them at Bonnaro again soon (and the next time they’re in Nashville too)! [PO]

Rainbow Kitten Surprise

After a quick shade break, we made our way over for the last few songs of Rainbow Kitten Surprise, a band that we have covered a bit during their couple of runs through Nashville over the past year, but I hadn’t had the chance to see them live.  So, I made it a point to catch at least a little of their afternoon Which Stage set.  Their recorded music has a radio friendly alt-rock vibe that is immediately catchy, but their live show is something to behold.  Frontman Sam Melo’s unique timbre is mesmerizing, and watching him captivate the crowd with certified smash “Devil Like Me” was a highlight of my Bonnaroo.  But, his captivating storytelling between songs was equally entertaining, like when he went full preacher mode to talk about how special the Bonnaroo vibe is in recanting the story of listening to a jazz band playing in his campground the night before.  If you haven’t seen Rainbow Kitten Surprise, you should put them on your radar, as this is an up and coming band that you are certainly going to be hearing more about in the coming years. [MH]

TeganAndSara-Bonnaroo17-Insert Tegan and Sara. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Tegan and Sara

With June being LGBTQ Pride Month, Tegan and Sara’s performance was ultra-exploding with rainbows and glitter. The queer popstar twins put on a perfect performance for letting out all of the feels they summon from a myriad of songs dealing with unrequited love (openers “Back In Your Head”, “How Come You Don’t Want Me”) to saying f*ck off and blaming the person causing you pain (“Goodbye, Goodbye”), to talking yourself out of being in an unhealthy relationship (“Shock To Your System”) and the masochism that comes with desiring a toxic love (“The Con”, “Call It Off”). The duo broke down the set to just the two of them with an acoustic guitar to play longtime fan favorites, a glimpse of what is to come for the post-Bonnaroo announced The Con X: Tour, an acoustic solo tour of T and S to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their famed album, The Con. What makes Tegan and Sara’s music special is the heart put into every song with baring their unashamed feelings that we all experience as we go through life. Anyone that was a part of this Bonnaroo sing along set had to have felt the spirit.   [LT]

I’d recently seen Tegan and Sara’s latest headlining stop in Nashville, but as their first Bonnaroo appearance in a decade, on the Which Stage no less, I knew their ‘Roo outing would be something special, and made it a priority as well. Backed by a totally different stage than a few months ago, the Canadian sister group looked like they were taking some cues from The Flaming Lips’ visual playback, washed in trippy, bright colors, rainbows, and surrealist imagery. Not messing around, they launched into infectiously catching single “Back in Your Head,” before navigating a fan-geared set featuring hits old and new like “The Con,” “Nineteen,” “U-Turn,” and epic closer “Boyfriend.” Absolute pop stars (with rock cred) at this point, their performance was every bit the huge spectacle deserving of a main stage slot, and their dynamic, urgent, fun show and resonant message was a highlight not just of the day, but of the whole weekend. [PO]

Waker

I’ve been wanting to catch the new incarnation of Nashville band Koa, who are now operating under the moniker Waker.  They were set up on the Who Stage which has the unfortunate position of blinding hot mid afternoon sun pummeling the artists on stage.  It didn’t slow down Waker for their Bonnaroo debut though.  Their mellow rock perfectly complimented the afternoon sunshine, and they captured more than a few new fans that were enticed by their sunny set. [MH]

Joseph

A few beers after Rainbow Kitten Surprise we made our way across Centeroo to catch up with an old friend who was watching Joseph.  Over the years, this trio of sisters has been in my periphery, and I had heard rave reviews about their live set, but again, they aren’t a band that I had seen live.  They’re perfectly harmonized vocals are more beautiful that I expected, but the musical base was far less folky than I would have imagined, and it created a haunting experience to listen to this talented troupe perform. [MH]

MichaelKiwanuka-Bonnaroo17-Insert Michael Kiwanuka. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Michael Kiwanuka

After taking most of the day to nap in the shade, shaking off the Bonnaroo hangover blues, I took a long, and much needed shower. Feeling refreshed, I put on clean cloths, made a bologna sandwich, chugged a beer, and prepared myself for my marathon Saturday night run. First on my long list of shows for the evening was the incomparable Michael Kiwanuka. When you hear this man sing, chills spread across your skin. With a voice smoother than silk emanating from such an unassuming form (Michael could have bended in with the crowd perfectly in his band t-shirt and worn jeans), one almost has to see him to believe him. Combined with effortlessly polished guitar work from Kiwanuka and his back-up guitarist, the show left me an official fan, and had me down loading both his records as soon as I got back to Nashville. Very humble, and obviously delighted to be play Roo, MK’s music also has a socially conscientious edge that can often be lacking in poplar music of today. It hints at a musician with a vast intellect, and an even more promising career to come. [JR]

Michael Kiwanuka is no stranger to Bonnaroo, but this set may have been his best on the farm yet.  He dug into some soulful rock tunes, but the afro-cuban inspired gem “Black Man In A White World” was a fucking moment of victory for talented songwriter.  As I walked away from his set to find some food and beverage, I couldn’t help but wonder what Jimi Hendrix would have through about Kiwanuka, and how the two would have shared some inspired guitar talk together. [MH]

Michael Kiwanuka wasn’t on my radar when he debuted at Bonnaroo in 2012, so the Ugandan-English soulful folk singer was a must-see on my Saturday slate. He was absolutely mind-blowing, cooling down the midday heat with his Dylan meets Marvin Gaye sound and unbelievable guitar work. Though I haven’t spend a ton of time with his records, I found myself enamored throughout the performance, and I’m eager to see him headline the next time he hits Nashville. [PO]

HannibalBuress-Bonnaroo17-InsertHannibal Buress. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Hannibal Buress

Consolidating the long-running Cinema Tent into the Comedy Theatre this year was a bit of a bummer, as it meant a bit less of each. However, Bonnaroo didn’t skimp on the quality of its comedian slate, and though scheduling conflicts prohibited us from indulging much, we took a break to sneak off for a few minutes of the hilarious Hannibal Buress between bands. His laid back affect and hilarious observational style didn’t disappoint.

Future Islands

Future Islands’ lead singer Samuel T. Herring is enigmatic. Known for crying during his performances when his own lyrics hit him, he puts on an impassioned performance that is a pendulum of repressed emotions and throat singing in frustration one direction and uplifting synthpop in the other. He navigated the What Stage, reaching out to the crowd as if he begged for their touch while giving an artistic performance of dance and the interpretive unveiling of a mask that appeared to reveal his emotional self under an exterior of rough masculinity. That is part of what makes Future Islands so beautiful and haunting. Herring can sing one of the most heartbreaking songs in current times (“Time On Her Side”) one moment, from their devastatingly beautiful new album The Far Field and break into the sassy “Seasons Change (Waiting On You)” next, that lyrically feels like it could have been an Aretha Franklin song, yet instead is an indiepop ethereal dream. The dichotomy is bewitching. Future Islands’ exquisite artistry deserved no other stage but Bonnaroo’s largest. [LT]

 

 

 

Cloves-Bonnaroo17-Insert Cloves. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Cloves

Heading a little late to Chance the Rapper, I stopped for a minute to scope out Cloves. Despite being slotted against one of the festival’s biggest acts, the young Aussie singer held her own, bringing a powerful voice and polished presence, and fueled by her recent blogosphere buzz. I definitely made a mental note to see her again soon. [PO]

 

Chance the Rapper

Though his one and only official Bonnaroo outing was in 2014, Chicago native Chance the Rapper has developed a real affinity for the fest, returning each year to make guest appearances, host surprise listening parties, and generally enjoy it as a fan. Parallel to that, he’s also ascended to the heights of one of hip hop’s most celebrated and important young figures, so his Bonnaroo return, this time with a main stage, second headliner slot, felt not only well-deserved but completely fitting. Known for his socially conscious, personal, and uplifting presence, Chance is just as likely to share his passionate stance on the economics of the music industry (he’s been breaking records and winning Grammys as a fully independent artist), racial and social inequality, educational reform, drug policy, and his relationship with religion, all of which and more inform his unique and heady live show.

Employing huge production value, pyrotechnics, dazzling visuals, and an impressive but modest array of backing players, Chance’s biggest asset was his own delivery and charisma, sounding absolutely huge and inspired, clearly elated (and beyond comfortable) to be there. Aside from his usual and expected originals, the MC incorporated tracks by other artists where he shared prominent features, including a medley of standout numbers he appeared on from Kanye’s latest. Similarly, song of the summer “I’m the One” by DJ Khlaed, a bit of a surprising inclusion, elicited a huge singalong from the crowd, and, of course, Francis and the Lights came out to help tackle “May I Have This Dance” once again for an even more massive crowd. Never shy about his faith, Chance brought a generally uplifting gospel vibe without ever getting overly preachy (though the uninitiated might have been caught off guard), and managed to critique the music industry as well, with a number of parody label logos flashed through “No Problem.”

By the home stretch of “All Night,” “Finish Line,” “Same Drugs,” and “Blessings (Reprise),” the de facto “Mayor of Bonnaroo” had the enormous crowd, perhaps one of the weekend’s largest, sufficiently wild, fulfilled, uplifted, and turnt, locked into every note and rapping along to every hook. A truly perfect Bonnaroo headliner for the festival’s move towards the future, I have no doubt we have many more epic Chance the Rapper Bonnaroo appearances to look forward to. [PO]

With appearances at the last several Bonnaroos, despite not being officially on the bill, Chance the Rapper has already become a bit of a Roo icon. Over the course of his adventures on The Farm, the sometimes gospel singer, sometimes acid rapper, has popped up many, many times as a surprise guest performer with anyone from Kendrick Lamar to Earth Wind And Fire, and earned the unofficial title “Mayor of Bonnaroo.” With all this in mind, it only seemed fitting that Chance finally took his turn in the spotlight of the main stage as a headliner. He would not disappoint, with the largest pyrotechnic and firework displays this seven year veteran has ever seen. Even better than his visuals and showmanship, was his truly gifted live backing band, that seemed to give almost all of the young emcee’s songs a beautiful jazz lean. Diehard fans all around me sang/rappped every bar, to every song, and, despite being a casual fan of his work myself, it was obvious I was witnessing a truly singular event, akin to a megachurch sermon, with a congregation 30,000 strong. God bless Chance the Rapper, and God bless Bonnaroo! [JR]

CageTheElephant-Bonnaroo17-Insert Cage the Elephant. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Cage the Elephant

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Cage The Elephant at this point.  The Bowling Green bred, Nashville based band has seen a meteoric rise over the past few years with the commercial success of Melophobia and Tell Me I’m Pretty, which have garnered a Grammy nod for the former and a well deserved win for the latter.  One of the reasons for the band’s success has to be their incredible live show, which is the definition of high energy, and really sets the bar for how rock bands should perform.  Their third Bonnaroo performance featured a heavy setlist of hits from their latest two albums, but, of course, also catered to older fans with tracks like “In One Ear,” “Spiderhead,” and “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked.”  Personal highlights from the set were seeing some of their newer material performed live for the first time, and, of course the energy of the Schultz brothers stage antics, which begs the question of how they can keep it up with a tour schedule packed with  nightly performances.  After the set wrapped, we ran into the band, who told us they were really excited to be performing the following day during the Stanley Cup game, and I think we’ll get the chance to catch them this summer in Spain.  In short, the sky appears to be the limit for Cage right now, and we couldn’t be prouder. [MH]

This was the third time the rowdy bunch from Bowling Green, KY completely blew my mind. I saw them in my hometown very early in their careers, and was so impressed, I’ve been following them closely ever since. From the very start, it’s been obvious that frontman Matt Shultz is a unique talent/personality, backed by a vastly powerful rock ‘n’ roll band, that seems to be able to crank out hit after hit. I watched their legend grow, watched them play a day set at Which Stage in 2014, but neither of my previous experiences comes close to what I witnessed in 2017. Rocketing through hit after hit in their ever expanding catalog, Cage took their energy up yet another level in comparison to years past, which I never thought possible. The crowd was feeding off of them from the start, and giving the vibes right back to the band, and so it went until their blistering set came to an end in a monsoon of confetti and trippy stage lights. They 100% deserve the chance at main stage set whenever they return, and I’ll just go ahead and say it now, because it doesn’t seem like these guys are slowing down at all; Shultz is our generations Mick Jagger. Just when you think he could never top himself, he demolishes expectations, swinging his mic stand like a sledge hammer. [JR]

I name this band “The Kings of Bonnaroo 2017”. Their phenomenal set was beyond incredible. Lead singer Matt Shultz opened up about the performance from the stage, calling the set “One of the best experiences of my life,” adding, “I’m not sure I’ve ever felt this free before.” It showed. [LT]

I’ve probably seen a dozen or so Cage shows at this point, everywhere from tiny clubs to huge amphitheaters, and though I love catching them up close and personal, they’re always a fantastic festival addition, able to carry their uncontainable and unpredictable wild stage presence and punk spirit to a crowd and setting of any size. I don’t have much to add beyond what was said above about this particular Bonnaroo outing (one of many, many festivals the boys are set to play this summer), other than it was one of their best, with a well-balanced setlist and an energy and live presence firing at all cylinders. Cage steal the show anywhere they play, and once again, they were one of Bonnroo’s best moments. [PO]

RedHotChiliPeppers-Bonnaroo17-Insert Red Hot Chili Peppers. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Red Hot Chili Peppers

RHCP are another legacy (or approaching legacy status) rock band I’m familiar with but never been fully immersed in. For the Chilies, I have several records I really, really like and the rest I never paid much attention to. It’s no coincidence that John Frusciante was the guitarist on most, if not all of the albums I have from the band, but despite him no longer being with them, the Chili Peppers proved they’re as deserving as anyone to rock the main stage at the greatest festival in world. I arrived a little late, staying until the very end of Cage’s set, and then fight through the crush of people as fast as I could. As I hippie skipped through the manageable crowd at What Stage, singing along with everyone else to beautiful gems like “Dani California” and “Scar Tissue,” I found a spot I liked and settled in. For me, Flea stole the show, far and away. The insane levels of funk he slapped out of that bass nearly brought a tear to my eye. Everyone knows he’s good, but when you see him slipping into a perfect pocket for yourself, leading the massive crowd into a funk-tastic dance party with a bass solo, you finally appreciate his true genius. [JR]

Presumably like a lot of late twenty-somethings, I first got SUPER in Red Hot Chili Peppers around 1999’s Californication and followup By the Way, casually familiar with big hits like “Under the Bridge” and “Give It Away,” before going back and really appreciating early records Mother’s Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Also, like a lot of people I know, I sort of grew out of them in my late teens and early 20s, as their work kept sounding more generic and stadium pander-y, and their fans increasing looking more like tribal tattoo sporting fratty bro dudes. In more recent years, I’ve come to appreciate RHCP for what they do best, and have learned to separate where they are now (you can’t choose your fans, and their fanbase is obviously more diverse than I briefly perceived) with their generally cool, punk/funk early days and still admirable radio-primed later career. I saw their first Bonnaroo headliner in 2012, and I actually had more fun this time with their return. Singer Anthony Kiedis seemed more uninhibited than ever, and the intensity of Flea locked in with Chad Smith’s dependable groove was on fire. New(ish) guitarist Josh Klinghoffer seemed to have really assimilated into the group as well, blending in and feeling at place as if he’d been there all along. An unexpected Stooges’ cover of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” was a cool surprise, and even with a set that mostly played it safe, “Scar Tissue,” “Californication,” “Suck My Kiss,” “Aeroplane,” and the like were all a blast to hear live, with dazzling lights and cool visuals there to enhance. By closer “Give It Away,” I was reminded of why I loved the Chili Peppers so much in the first place. [PO]

SuperJam-Bonnaroo17-Insert Joseph @ SuperJam. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

SuperJam

Some have spoken about Bonnaroo losing steam over the past few years, and attendance may have spoken to that, but I feel like the past few SuperJams have been off the mark, at least for me personally, over the past few years as well.  The 2017 version of Bonnaroo was notably on the upswing, and the SuperJam was one of the best that I can remember seeing in my eight Roos.  Preservation Hall Jazz Band held down house band duties along with a little help from Jon Batiste, whom you may recognize as the band leader from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. and Meters bassist George Porter Jr. We arrived just as the first special guests, Boyfriend, were wrapping up a costumed and amazing cover of Rick James’ “Superfreak,” and got a little hometown love from local songwriter Rayland Baxter’s insane cover of “Little Red Corvette” with help from Cage guitarist Nick Bockrath and Joseph.  The fun kept coming with a Pres Hall cover of The Meters’ “Hand Clapping Song,” followed by Lecrae giving a shout out to A Tribe Called Quest by covering “Can I Kick It?” with full crowd participation.  Another local, Margo Price, joined Lukas Nelson, who continued his strong Roo run with a gorgeous cover of Al Green’s “Love And Happiness,” before we were treated to Nicole Atkins’ reworking of “Time Is On My Side,” and Joseph brought the house down with the TLC mega-hit “Waterfalls.”  Again keeping it local, Cherub’s Jason Huber set up a melodica on the stage for his crazy as hell take on Bruno Mars’ “24k Magic,” ahead of NPR Tiny Desk success story Tank And The Bangas “Keep That Same Old Feeling.”  The SuperJam wrapped with, a surprise to really no one, the “Mayor of Bonnaroo,” Chance the Rapper coming out to wrap up the early morning party with some absolutely insane versions of Dre’s “Nothing But a G Thang,” and Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” with full pretty much everyone on the bill joining in for a giant singalong with the crowd.  If anyone thought that the SuperJam was dead, they weren’t at this absolute gem of a show. [MH]

The SuperJam this year was Nashville AF. Miss Margo Price graced us with her presence and left us wanting more, eager for her set the next day. Jason Huber (co-creator of Cherub) was my favorite musical moment of the night as he slayed with his “24k Magic” cover that turned the crowd up. I believe the best part of the SuperJam each year is the chaos and improv of it. The on-the-spot pressure to join a team of musical peers with very little rehearsal time in putting on a once in a lifetime performance. With that comes once in a lifetime moments of the unexpected. Rayland Baxter mixed up some of the words to “Little Red Corvette” and Chance the Rapper accidentally screwed up the call and response on “Hey Ya” by asking “What’s being cooler than ice cold?” Those moments remind us that artists are humans, not just the perfect gods and goddesses we idolize them as and that’s what keeps them humble and hungry.  [LT]

After a long day, I was starting to fade, but the jam-packed SuperJam definitely kept me awake. Probably my favorite since the legendary (and perhaps greatest of all time) hip hop SuperJam of 2013, this year’s Preservation Hall Jazz Band led affair had less of a specific theme, and more of a theme in spirit, leaning heavy on hip hop and r&b, and including a lot of local favorites like Margo Price, Rayland Baxter, and Jason Huber. Highlights for me were Boyfriend’s inspired “Superfreak,” Jospeh’s fantastic TLC impression for “Waterfalls,” and, of course, the moment I kept myself awake for, Chance the Rapper’s emergence to tackle Snoop and Outkast classics. Only at Bonnaroo. [PO]

Marshmello

After completely loosing my shit in the best ways possible at the Superjam- figuratively and literally; the notebook I was using went MIA- my energy levels were at an all time high. It was without a doubt the best SuperJam I had ever seen, even if it coast me three days worth of notes, which I’d be forced to rewrite. Stopping for the night wasn’t even a passing thought, I was full steam ahead to the newly christened EDM/hip hop stage known as The Other. Marshmello, another “anonymous” mascot head wearing DJ, was already into what would be his spectacularly long, and quite epic set. Standing a good ways back to get the full effects of the amazing light/graphic show, I could still feel the bass vibrating the hairs in my nose and ears.  I couldn’t tell you how long I danced. I have no idea how many songs he did, but dawn was certainly cresting the horizon when he finally cut his speakers. Some how, I still had the urge to “get it in,” so after an ill-advised slice of spicy pie, I got in line for the ’90s rave at Snake & Jake’s Christmas Barn, becoming one of the lucky ones to make it in, keeping the party going for as long as they’d let us. When It was all said and done, I laid my head down to rest at camp around 7:30 a.m., beating my previous record for longest night out at Bonnaroo by one full hour. [JR]

Photos by Mary-Beth Blankenship.

SUNDAY

AubreyPlaza-Bonnaroo17-Insert Aubrey Plaza. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Ingrid Goes West

Consolidated from having a standalone venue to sharing a space with comedy, Bonnaroo’s cinema slate still looked cool as ever this year, and, per usual, featured a host of special guests, a mixture of people connected with legacy projects as well as up and coming ones. We popped in Sunday morning for the latter, catching actor/producer Aubrey Plaza, actor Billy Magnussen, writer/director Matt Spicer, and co-writer David Smith introduce a special early screening of their new film, Ingrid Goes West, due out in August. The bit we saw looked pretty stellar, and having the people involved there to speak about it make for an extra special touch.

TankAndTheBangas-Bonnaroo17-Insert Tank and The Bangas. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Tank and The Bangas

After getting a bit of a preview in the previous night’s SuperJam, I was excited to kick off my last day at ‘Roo with funky New Orleans outfit Tank and The Bangas. Propelled by the incredible presence of lively, soulful vocalist Tarriona “Tank” Ball, the group were exactly the injection of energy and fun spirit I needed to get me primed and ready for one more day of great music. [PO]

FlintEastwood-Bonnaroo17-Insert Flint Eastwood. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Flint Eastwood

Wandering from Tank to the Who Stage, I made a point to see another artist I’d first experienced 12 hours earlier at SuperJam, Flint Eastwood. From her style to her image to commanding presence at SuperJam, I knew she’d be a wild force to behold, but her headlining set was even more intense and fun than I expected. Beyond just call and response, she singled out audience members not appropriately participating, eliciting screams and fueled by a sort of feral, in your face rock and roll force. Playing like the stage was 10 times its size, the Detroit native kept the momentum going for what would be perhaps the most unexpectedly awesome day of the whole weekend. [PO]

WhiteReaper-Bonnaroo17-Insert White Reaper. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

White Reaper

After three days of some of the most pleasant Bonnaroo weather I’ve seen in more than a decade of attendance, Sunday finally started to heat up, and as I wandered to the What Stage for White Reaper, I was feeling it. It was kind of surreal to see the Louisville indie punks on such a gargantuan stage, especially since they once played our own showcase on the rooftop of Acme, but they approached it like pros, embracing their most anthemic and hook-driven tendencies while maintaining their raw, punk, DIY show sensibilities. I made it half a dozen songs, stoked to hear some familiar favorites and proud of the midday crowd, before seeking an A/C break and chance to hydrate. [PO]

Baskery

After a quick break and with some time to kill before Margo Price, I snuck to the On Tap Lounge to see a bit of Baskery, a Swedish born “banjo punk” trio of sisters who briefly called Nashville home, before moving out west. With perfect harmonies, raucous energy, a whole array of instruments (being played two or even three at a time), and an enchanting stage presence, the gals had amassed quite an impressive crowd, and sounded absolutely flawless. Explaining that Sweden looks down on country music, making them always something of an alternative act, they professed their unabashed love for traditional, American music, but also shared an old Swedish drinking song a cappella, a unique surprise. [PO]

MargoPrice-Bonnaroo17-Insert Margo Price. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Margo Price

Margo Price’s “Four Years Of Chances” is the greatest modern female empowerment anthem in country music. What is so intoxicating about her music is the fact that she can write a damn good classic country song and her band leans on the rock / soul side so it ends up with perfect authenticity that has no desire to be in the same sentence as slick nasty country. An artist’s choice of cover songs is always telling and Price took her opportunity with the Which Stage audience eating out of her palm to cover her friend Kris Kristofferson’s “Me & Bobby McGee” (made popular by Janis Joplin) and Rodney Crowell’s “I Ain’t Living Long Like This”, an ode to living the hard life. One of the many elements that justify Margo being a true queen is that she is a drummer and so when she busted out a tambourine, we swooned. This woman can do it all. Not to mention she looked fresh off the runway in an outfit that gave Lorde a run for her money. The always grounded Price took a moment to introduce her co-writer, Jeremy Ivey who plays with the band as often as he can between caring for their son. If country fans are looking for a new Tim & Faith to fall in love with, you have arrived. Price’s last original song of the set was her most raw with “Hurtin’ On The Bottle.” She has the gift of taking her voice to a place of pain to let out a beautiful agony that is the epitome of soulful. It was Sunday and Margo Price’s set was The Church of Bonnaroo. [LT]

Bar none one of the most exciting artists to spring out of Nashville in recent memory, Margo Price is the real deal- an authentic, nonconformist, badass country traditionalist who’s made a career out of doing it her own way. Though hardly a “new” performer, her newfound, swift solo success couldn’t have come to a more deserving talent, and she manages to blow me away at each and every show, no matter the size. Bonnaroo saw her sounding as inspired as ever, looking the part and backed by her phenomenal band, beating the heat with her timeless tunes, which even included a couple of new songs I hadn’t yet heard. It’s been wonderful to see Margo’s rise, and I have a feeling she’s only getting warmed up. [PO]

DuaLipa-Bonnaroo17-Insert Dua Lipa. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Dua Lipa

Dua Lipa is one of those singers I’d often seen blogged about or playlisted, but never really spent much time with other than a stray single here or there. In prepping for Bonnaroo, I really found myself digging her, and with her debut out just a week before the fest, it seemed like a cool time to see her in action. In the heat of the day, Dua brought an unbelievably cool vibe to the This Tent, reminding me a bit of Charili XCX from a few years ago, really owning the stage like a certifiable, stadium ready pop star. Her model looks are stunning (as in, she’s an actual working model, that’s not just a superficial observation), but her musical skill is just as formidable, making Dua perhaps the next trendy, English pop singer to keep an eye on, and certainly a singer I can’t wait to revisit in concert soon. [PO]

Royal Blood

After the longest late-night run in my illustrious Bonnaroo career, recuperating at camp was essential. No more beer was drunk by yours truly for the duration of my ‘Roo. After many, many waters, and some good and greasy vender food, I slowly began to feel like my normal self again. The weather had been absolutely perfect. Easily the most manageable three day run on The Farm I have ever experienced. However, on Sunday the oppressive heat finally came. No matter, there was still a sizable crowd for the massively impressive English duo Royal Blood. Through the magic of effects peddles, or possibly through a deal with the devil, vocalist and bass guitarist Mike Kerr makes his instrument shred like a guitar while simultaneously picking out the bass line. Watching his playing hand on the big screen was mystifying; how in the hell can he do that? Absolute powerhouse drummer Ben Thatcher is a force of nature as well, and with his NFL linebacker build, he’s certainly someone I’d want on my side in a fight. Together they gave a truly incredible and robust performance, the best I’ve ever seen from just two people. Imagine Black Sabbath spliced with early Black Keys and you’re coming close to what Royal Blood is all about. Easily in my top three of the entire fest. [JR]

Umphrey’s McGee

A group that any fan of jam bands has at least heard of, Umphrey’s McGee was the perfect change of pace from the full throttle rock of Royal Blood. My more hippie-ish friends have been trying to jam Umph down my throat for years, but I must say, when comes it to comes jam bands, I’ll only partake in person. With exception of the Grateful Dead, I don’t listen to anything recorded by a such bands on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love to groove in person.  McGee has a knack for hitting all their marks, and following a very clear, possibly preconceived, vision of where any given song will go. Extremely technical players with genius level precision. I throughly enjoyed dancing my face off to their set, and when the giant, multi-colored parachute took it’s turn incasing my area of the crowd, we all kicked our energy up yet another level, bounding around our temporary psychedelic enclosure, lost in a state of manic joy. [JR]

Aminé

After a refresher at camp, I returned to scope out Ethan Gruska, but found myself with a little time to kill, so I wandered to nearby This Tent for some Aminé (but not before helping an incredibly lost middle aged woman attempt to find her family – oh, Bonnaroo). Though perhaps not a name in hip hop most people are familiar with yet, I have a feeling he’ll be a big fixture in the very near future, with a refreshingly alternative style and a buzzy string of early singles ahead of his debut. I got there just in time to hear break out jam “Caroline,” which sounded absolutely cranked up to 10. Seriously, keep an eye on Aminé. [PO]

EthanGruska-Bonnaroo17-Insert Ethan Gruska. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Ethan Gruska

I pour through the entire lineup before every Bonnaroo, and LA’s Ethan Gruska was a name I starred to squeeze in on the Club Stages, with a personal, melancholy sound that channels Elliot Smith. Armed with just a keyboard and acoustic guitar (he explained that some of his gear got lost at the airport), Ethan delivered an intimate one-man show, even more raw and personal than I’d expected from his recordings. He seemed a little deterred by his equipment situation, but powered through with a really enjoyable, engaging show that felt more impromptu and up close than anything else all weekend. [PO]

CrystalCastles-Bonnaroo17-Insert Crystal Castles. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Crystal Castles

I was obsessed with Crystal Castles when they first sprang to prominence with their eponymous debut almost a decade ago, and have admittedly probably spent a little less time with each subsequent release, despite enjoying them all. Last year’s Amnesty (I), perhaps, snuck by the most, and I’d sort of forgotten that Alice Glass had departed the group before it, making this my first time catching new lead singer Edith Frances. Glass left big shoes to fill, and holy shit did Frances step up to the plate. The most intense, jaw-dropping, rowdy CC show I’d ever seen, Edith and bandmate and mastermind Ethan Kath emerged draped in pantyhose, creating a sort of BDSM bunny effect, made more punk and weird by smoking cigarettes, dousing themselves in water, and more antics. I was worried there’d hardly be any old stuff, and while the set was certainly new album heavy (in this instance, it’s justifiable with the singer change), opening with “Intimate” and “Crimewave” reassured me that they’d still play fan service, and biggies like “Empathy” and “Not in Love” found their way in as well. I don’t know if they’re experiencing a general second wind, I caught them on a good day, or some combination of the two, but with furious punk intensity, electronic flourish, and raucous crowd work, Crystal Castles were absolutely dazzling, and unexpectedly stole the show, providing the best performance of the day to that point, at without a doubt a top five for the whole weekend. [PO]

EllaVos-Bonnaroo17-Insert Ella Vos. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Ella Vos

It was hard to bail early on Crystal Castles, but Ella Vos was another up and comer, and in fact the last Club Stage performer of the weekend, on my list, so I ran back to the Who Stage mid-set to watch a few songs. She was sandwiched in a really tough block, but Vos, looking and sounding the indie pop star part, delivered a pleasant and captivating set, encouraging singalongs and generally coming across and seasoned and primed for broader success. Of course, “You Don’t Know About Me” and “White Noise,” two tracks I’ve been rocking hard on my summer playlist were standouts, but I really enjoyed every thing I hear and I’m eager to see more from Ella soon! [PO]

Flatbush Zombies

Without a doubt, my best find of the entire fest was Flatbush Zombies’ set, a show I picked based solely on on curiosity about their name. In succession, three emcees, led by their DJ, exploded onto stage, and I have never seen any rapper with more energy, or any rapper get more hyped than these three. Bounding around from one end of the stage to the other, nonstop, all the while inciting the crowd into a mosh pitted frenzy. By the end of their time, the entire tent had become the pit, and we were all a hot, mangled mess. It was obvious two tracks in, a legendary Bonnaroo performance was happening. The only thing I can imagine even comes close to the level of power these guys generated as they spit flawless bar after bar at rapid speed, would be Rage Against The Machine, who I’ve never been lucky enough to see live. Just like Rage, Flatbush meld element of rock and definitely punk music into their interpretation of uptempo hip hop, but they are more pure beats; no backing band. However, illustrating their true love for the alternative rock that has obviously influenced their work, the emcees stepped back for a minute at one point in their show, and let their DJ spin Nirvana’s “Smell’s Like Teen Spirt,” almost in its entirety, much to the raucous delight of everyone in the crowd. Throughout the set, trippy images of the zombified group members filed the large screen behind them. All the while, onward they pressed, unstoppable like their undead alter-egos, seeming to tap into a limitless supply of energy, as they made fans of us all, and diehards of the already familiar. [JR]

Lorde-Bonnaroo17-Insert Lorde. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

Lorde

I laugh at the conspiracy theories surrounding Lorde’s true age. The 20 year old indeed looks 20 in the flesh, which was something I was committed to make my own observation of.  However, she handled the technical issues like an artist well beyond her years that set the tone for her first Bonnaroo performance. A true pro, she immediately let the audience know she was experiencing technical difficulties in not being able to hear in her in-ear monitors seconds into the show which resulted in a positive response from the ever-happy Roo crowd that inevitably allowed the Pop Star to make her Bonnaroo debut to an even bigger audience than before when the show originally was supposed to start. Fans were gifted a theatrical artpop performance days before the release of her new album Melodrama, the best pop record of 2017. Anyone going through a breakup in the world is going through it with Lorde on this album. It’s ferocious and a must listen from start to end. This is not an album made for hits. It has a transparency that can feel intrusive at times which is an exceptional feat in pop music. It is evident that Lorde wrote the album as Ella. She was overwhelmed by the positive energy of Bonnaroo that she claimed to have been pleasantly warned about. Her continued expression of gratitude throughout the set made it a one of a kind connection between artist and crowd and it was clear as the crowd sang her new songs back to her that she is healing herself through the power of music under the gaze of the world. As Lorde dominated one of the biggest stages in her career while blowing up the charts worldwide (Melodrama debuted at #1), she said it all best herself on her new single “Perfect Places”, “I’m 19 and I’m on fire.” DO NOT miss your chance to see her when she returns to Nashville. [LT]

I previously saw Lorde at the Grand Ole Opry, and though that show, nearly three years ago, was at the peak of her early wave of success, she felt like she was still getting a sense of her artistic identity- understandable for any new artist thrust suddenly into the spotlight, and doubly for a 17-year-old- despite coming across and talented and wise beyond her years. The Lorde I saw at Bonnaroo had clearly been through some shit, and through all of that growing up and new life experiences and heartbreak and success, came out better for it; a more fully-rounded, profound, and world-class artist. Lorde doesn’t seem concerned with fame, and, in fact, would seemingly prefer to have less of it, and her self-imposed isolation between record cycles and the intimate process to her new pop masterpiece, Melodrama, seemingly allowed the young singer to gain a broader sense of self and learn to balance the duality of her professional and personal life. Approachable and grounded, she barely flenched when technical issues interrupted and then briefly derailed her performance, and nearly half an hour later, tried again undeterred, more apologetic than angry about what could have been a contentious moment for a less level-headed artist.

Once the show did finally get going, it was other-worldly; more epic, honed, confident, and engaging than her last in every way. I loved Pure Heroine, and it’s doubly impressive that it has so much substance to have been crafted by a young teenager, but Melodrama is emotionally and artistically superior, navigating the feelings, growth, and angst of young womanhood. Playing mostly songs I knew and a few I didn’t, Lorde reconciled her stadium pop tendencies (clearly taking a cue or two from pal Taylor Swift) with dancers, props, and meticulous visuals, backed by an extraordinary band. But there’s a more deconstructed, rock and roll spirit to her too (she once subbed for Kurt Cobain with the remainder of Nirvana, and worked extensively with Jack Antonoff on her latest), which brings a dynamic of edge and authenticity many of her peers lack. Professing her adoration for Bonnaroo and Tennessee, Lorde came across down to earth and humble (she even apparently made good on a claim she’d be hitting Sonic after the show), transforming from ordinary and approachable in banter, to extraordinary and other-wordly when tackling songs like “Sober,” “Royals,” and “Team.” Part epic pop show and part intimate confessional, Lorde’s Bonnaroo debut was nothing short of incredible, and a contender for best of the year. [PO]

 

Bluegrass Situation SuperJam

A Bonnaroo tradition that has always fallen into conflict with another performance on my various “must see” lists over the years, this was the first year I caught the Bluegrass Situation SuperJam with the amazingly talented Ed Helms. After handling what appeared to be some mic issues, they finally got down to work, and started strummin’ some swinging bluegrass tunes . After a few songs, Ed came out to thunderous applause, and started the cavalcade of big name guest stars. Highlights included Greensky Bluegrass, Mandolin Orange, River Whyless, and blog favorite Aaron Lee Tasjan. However, the biggest and best big-name was the marvelous Martina McBride who cam out for two songs, proudly announcing she had been to The Farm before, but it was her first time performing. It’s never too late to be part of something great, and that is exactly what the Bluegrass Situation is. My only issue was that after the bombastic performance I’d just come from, this set was just a little too tame, so I took off a little early to make sure I got to see all of The Weeknd. [JR]

TheWeeknd-Bonnaroo17-Insert The Weeknd. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship

The Weeknd

Though I admit I was hoping for Lana Del Rey to appear and duet their “Lust For Life” (one of my favorite summer jams) and I spent an ok amount of time peering side stage for the chance to spot Selena Gomez, The Mother F*ckin Starboy needed no one but his damn self as he closed out Bonnaroo 2017, the most modern Sunday night headliner of the festival’s history. The crowd gave the entire set a Soul Train feel with non-stop grooving to The Weeknd’s sexy electropop as he made his way through an effortlessly flawless set. I have convinced myself with a theory that somewhere within earshot of the set, some Bonnaroo baby was conceived during this very performance. That’s how sexy and feel good vibes it was! He was feeling the energy too and let the crowd know he’d have to come back to The Farm again. Lucky for us, we won’t have to wait that long, he’ll be back in Nashville this fall! [LT]

When I first heard that The Weeknd would be closing things out this year, I had my doubts. The showcase piece, final Sunday night performance of Bonnaroo broke from the tradition of legacy acts like Elton John, Bill Joel, and Dead and Company, in favor of the more current r&b superstar. He crushed it. Much of the younger crowd, which almost always leaves Sunday morning, had stayed, and gave the performance an extra lift, and most there knew every word to every song. I ended up running into my camp neighbors by chance, and jammed out the rest of the show together, brining everything full circle, as I closed out another successful trip to The Farm. [JR]

Historically, Bonnaroo’s Sunday slot has been reserved for a legacy act, filled in recent years by the likes of Elton John, Billy Joel, Dead & Co, Tom Petty, and Phish. The choice to put The Weeknd there was probably equal parts an indication of Bonnaroo’s recent willingness to embrace change and tweak their own formula, and also a symptom of working around U2’s schedule, as they would’ve been the only other headliner to fit the traditional Sunday mold (albeit not perfectly, as the buzziest bands usually get Friday or Saturday regardless, like McCartney or The Beach Boys). The experiment in scheduling seemed to work, as the remaining crowd was absolutely huge; generally not the case, as many people tend to leave early. I fought my way in to the side to catch a glimpse of the breakout young star, whose sad boy alt r&b jams have helped propel him from a subserve, blog and critical favorite to a certifiable superstar over the last several years, impressively ascending to top line act at huge festivals such as this in what feels like overnight (but was actually the product of many years of underground growth).

Kicking off with “Starboy,” and backed by a crazy ring of glowing lights, the singer showcased his incredible voice and cool, brooding presence, mostly navigating tracks from his two most recent, most commercially successful albums and singles he’s appeared on (call me a hipster, but I would’ve loved to hear some Trilogy jams), of course finishing with mega hits “Can’t Feel My Face” and “I Feel It Coming,” and returning for “The Hills,” all and all an impressive set, and one that seemingly managed to hype up the younger crowd Bonnaroo has been aggressively courting, while not alienating the older festival goers who might’ve come in uninitiated. While I still had a great time last year, I recognized that 2017 needed to be a win to quell doubts about Bonnaroo’s future, and this year, between the uptick in attendance, the well-balanced lineup, and the continued consistency in quality and ambience, Bonnaroo felt wholly back to normal, yet willing to look forward in all the right ways. Here’s to 2018. [PO]

Photos by Mary-Beth Blankenship.

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[JR] Jacob Ryan
[LT] Lindsey Thompson
[MH] Matt Hall
[PO] Philip Obenschain

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