We love Bonnaroo, and after another successful festival, we’ve decided to hand out awards to some of our favorite bands, moments, and other assorted awesomeness from The Farm this year. After 15 years of magic, the festival has truly separated itself as a home for major artists to comfortably stretch out their material with intricate improvisations, wild solos, and surprises around every corner.
Check out this year’s winners below!
Best Club Stage Band – Lawrence
Lawrence is a ridiculously high energy band. With a hot debut album produced by Lettuce and Soulive‘s Eric Krasno, the band is rising quickly through the festival circuit. Brother and sister duo Clyde and Gracie Lawrence have serious vocal chops, and the funky band nails the soulful-yet-uptemo vibe they are going for. Playing on the festival’s smallest stage during a blistering heat wave, Lawrence packed out the Miller Lite Stage and beyond with a large crowd that drew in more and more fans in as the set went along. It was impossible to ignore them if you were walking by, and the band finished their set with a horde of new fans. Featuring a duo of excellent covers in “Sexy Ladies” by Sean Paul and “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child was perfectly placed nostalgia, and their song “Oh No” turned into a huge sing-a-long with the crowd, inspiring Vulfpeck singer Antwaun Stanley to jump on stage for some harmonic explosiveness. The set cemented the band as one to watch moving forward.
Best Bonnaroo Debut – Vulfpeck
It’s Vulfpeck’s world, and we’re just living in it. The reclusive funk stars have been busting out of their shell as of late, after two incredible performances at Fool’s Paradise in April and with two highly anticipated sets at LOCKN’ Festival in August. However, there may be no place more perfectly designed for Vulfpeck’s many talents than Bonnaroo, and it showed when they took The Other Tent by storm on Thursday night. They simply crushed their first ever large festival setting to a packed crowd that screamed along to all of their songs. Most of Vulfpeck rotated instruments throughout the set, with bassist extraordinaire Joe Dart holding it down with a giant smile on his face. The band acted more like they were in the privacy of their own studio than in front of 10,000 people, and perhaps that’s what makes Vulfpeck so endearing. Of course, Vulfpeck got into the Bonnaroo spirit with some special guests, tapping Antwaun Stanley for a rare appearance, as well as an out-of-left-field sit-in by Børns on “Back Pocket.”
Best Solo Eric “Benny” Bloom – Superjam – “T’aint Nobody’s Business” by Bessie Smith
With Bonnaroo legends like Les Claypool and Eric Krasno on site, bands like Dead & Company and Pearl Jam topping the bill, and an impressive array of performers like GRiZ and The Floozies across the lineup, this award could go to many musicians at Bonnaroo. However, the best solo of the weekend clearly belonged to Eric “Benny” Bloom of The Shady Horns during the Kamasi Washington-led “Tribute to Tennessee” Superjam. Bloom has been making his mark on the festival for years now, having participated in the past four Superjams, and he let it rip during his feature on the re-imagined Bessie Smith classic “T’Aint Nobody’s Business.” Bonnaroo is filled with magical moments, but this explosive solo sent the crowd into a frenzy during a song they most likely didn’t know and after 3am in the morning. The horn section at the Superjam was the highlight of the show, and Bloom led the way with his impressive playing throughout. Congrats to Benny Bloom for blowing Bonnaroo’s collective mind!
Best Improv – John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, & Jeff Chimenti of Dead & Company
These three look like they are having the time of their lives right now. Acting as the “Company” to Weir/Kreutzmann/Hart’s “Dead”, this extremely talented, energetic trio could be spotted making eyes at each other all night, clearly connected in their playing and moving through the show as a unit. Their excitement was palpable as they led their way through two sets of epic Grateful Dead classics. Improv highlights of the show were the set two opening combo of “Help On The Way-> Slipknot -> Scarlet Begonias -> Fire on the Mountain,” and an intricate “Terrapin Station” suite that left the audience in awe of their musical prowess.
Best Surprise Performance(s) – Chance The Rapper
Chance the Rapper is on a roll right now. After his the release of his excellent new mixtape Coloring Book, Chance is currently taking over hip hop. While he wasn’t officially on the Bonnaroo lineup this year, Chance managed to perform on all four days of the festival, coming out as a surprise guest with J. Cole, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Miguel, and Bryson Tiller over the course of the weekend. Chance even hosted a listening party for Coloring Book in the silent disco for 500 lucky fans. He dubbed himself the “Mayor of Bonnaroo” this weekend, and it’s hard to disagree with him after his non-stop weekend of collaborations.
Best Guest Spot – Donna Jean Godchaux w/ Dead & Company
Dead & Company opened their set with an awesome “Truckin'” -> “Smokestack Lightning”, but the real fireworks started when John Mayer played the opening notes of “Bertha”. After a quick introduction from Bob Weir, Donna Jean emerged and provided backup vocals for the rest of the song, and, impressively, ended up performing nine songs throughout the night. Lending her famous howling vocals to classics from her era, such as songs like “Playin’ in the Band”, “Shakedown Street”, and “Terrapin Station”, Donna Jean fit right back in during her first full performance with Dead & Company.
[Photo by Emilio Roberts / Dead & Co Facebook]
Best Food – Hamageddon
Have you ever seen a pig spit roasted inside of a much larger, steampunk-esque metal pig? That’s what you got if you visited the Hamageddon installation at Bonnaroo. A veteran of the defunct Great GoogaMooga food festival that Bonnaroo producers Superfly used to run in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Hamageddon has found a new home at Bonnaroo, and the food is absurdly delicious, with freshly roasted pulled pork and all the fixin’s.
Best Art – Return of the Bobbleheads
Once a hallmark of Bonnaroo’s earlier years, the Bobbleheads disappeared from The Farm for the past few years. To the delight of loyal Bonnaroovians, the Bobbleheads made their grand return this year, moving to a new location closer to the heart of Centeroo. Iconic art like this is what separates Bonnaroo from other festivals, and everyone was glad to see these relics make a return. After 15 years on The Farm, a little nostalgia never hurt anyone!
Bonnaroo Legend Award – Les Claypool
This award couldn’t go to anyone else. Les Claypool is Bonnaroo. Claypool has performed at the festival a ton of times, with appearances from Primus, Oysterhead, the High Flying Frog Brigade and more over the years. While other one-time Bonnaroo legends like Warren Haynes and Galactic have stopped appearing at the festival on a yearly basis, Claypool remains one of the essential musical arrows in Bonnaroo’s quiver. His performance with Sean Lennon and their new Claypool Lennon Delirium was nothing short of fantastic, as the bass wizard brought his unique vibes to the That Tent for what turned out to be a can’t-miss performance of songs from their new album Monolith of Phobos. One thing is clear: when Les Claypool performs at Bonnaroo, it’s essential viewing.
Bonnaroo MVP – Kamasi Washington
Simply put, this rising saxophone star put on a jaw dropping, hip hop tinged jazz fusion showcase at the This Tent on Friday. Featuring incredible improv and a funky vibe for his set with his band, Washington organized Saturday’s Superjam, nailing the Superjam’s energy and sound, even as a previously unproven entity. Kamasi put his mark on the festival in a huge way, smiling widely the entire time he was on stage and clearly soaking in the positive energy of the festival.
Best Performance – LCD Soundsystem
While Dead & Company and Pearl Jam turned in legendary performances, bands like Claypool Lennon Delirium and Lettuce turned in epic sets, and new-to-Bonnaroo acts like The London Souls and Allen Stone impressed to packed crowds, the set everyone was talking about was LCD Soundsystem, who brought an excellent headlining dance party to the What Stage on Friday night. James Murphy and co. brought their firey indie/dance/punk energy to Bonnaroo, and the crowd ate it up. Their set built gradually towards the high energy set-closing duo of “Dance Yrself Clean” and “All My Friends”, which doubled as glowstick-laden celebration from the massive What Stage audience. The band stretched their songs out with analog electronic synthesizers and improvised their butts off while dusting off material from throughout their career. LCD’s ridiculous positive energy was a perfect fit for Bonnaroo, and they won over scores of younger fans who were seeing them for the first time following their five year breakup. Long live LCD Soundsystem, and we hope to see you back at Bonnaroo soon.
Check out a full gallery of images below, courtesy of photographer Rex Thomson.