– The Headliners All Delivered. Between Radiohead, Phish, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, there was a little something for everyone this year. Fans raved all weekend about Radiohead’s visual show. It was brought up in nearly every conversation about Friday night. The Red Hot Chili Peppers quelled all worries about new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer fitting in with the band. After nearly a year as the official lead guitarist, The Red Hot Chili Peppers found theire groove and put on one of the best shows of the weekend. Flea seemed to love Bonnaroo, constantly praising the festival in-between slapping his bass like a mad man and running around the stage. For those who prefer the jams over the sing-a-longs, Phish gave all attendees who chose not to beat the traffic a lesson in rock and roll, showing them why the band has such a devoted following.
– SBTRKT performed one of his live sets along with frequent collaborator Sampha, introducing many in the crowd to his unique stage presence. Overlaying live synth samples with fast passed drumming, alternating between drum set and keys, SBTRKT kept the energy high, sampling lyrics when Sampha chose not to sing. He led the crowd in a giant sing-a-long to his Drake approved hit ‘Wildfire‘ while the entire tent bounced along. The only complaint? This would have been a perfect late night act, instead of early evening.
– The Roots are one of the most consistent live acts out there, but they seemed to have outdone themselves yet again. Announced by JB Smoove they opened with a cover of the Beastie Boys song ‘Paul Revere‘ in honor of the recently passed Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch set the tone for the rest of the set, allowing fans to celebrate the life of a true musical star while simultaneously dancing and shouting out lyrics. They continued on with renditions of ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’ and ‘Jungle Boogie’ and kept the crowd warmed up for the night’s headliner.
– Saturday Late Night Sets. It wouldn’t be Bonnaroo without some late night snacks. No real music fan is ready to sleep at midnight. This year’s Saturday late night had tons to choose from. Starting immediately after the headliners, heavy metal legend Alice Cooper took fans on a musical tour throughout his career, pulling out all the theatrics that he’s known for – I’m talking spider arms, robots, life sized dolls, light up shirts, you name it – while mixing in some songs that even the youngest attendee could sing to. His medley of Cooper’s classic ‘Schools Out For The Summer’ into ‘Another Brick In The Wall pt. 2‘ by Pink Floyd was a crowd pleaser. Immediately after, dubstep king Skrillex took to the Which Stage in the middle of a light up star fighter, dropping signature beats and expertly mixed remixes for two hours while kids literally tore the field apart, making it one of the crazier crowds of the whole weekend. Spectrum Road, a super group combining Cream’s Jack Bruce, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid, John Medeski and Cindy Blackman Santana, jammed for longer than their allotted time. To close down the night, Wu Tang Clan’s own GZA performed his legendary album Liquid Swords backed by Grupo Fantasmo, best known for their association with Prince. There was so much music to listen to between 12-4!
– Ben Folds Five made a return after over a decade. Early on in his set, Ben Folds addressed the crowd, saying “The last time I played with my band was….seven days ago. But before that it was 12 years” – teasing his fans about the group’s long hiatus. While Folds has stayed busy touring solo, it was great to see him finally back with the full band, bringing many of his most well known classics back to life. The band ripped through an hour and a half set playing only Ben Folds Five songs, including classics like ‘Brick‘, ‘Army’, ‘Uncle Walter‘, and ‘One Angry Dwarf & 200 Solemn Faces‘. During ‘Song For The Dumped’, bassist Robert Sledge jammed by using the feedback created from the amplifier’s cord touching his hand, while Folds mashed the microphone onto his piano creating one of the more unique moments of the weekend.
– The Adult Swim Ragbag of Jollification. The guys from Adult Swim brought their mini carnival to Bonnaroo creating some of the most hilarious moments of the weekend. Weirdly awesome carnival games filled the area giving away t-shirts and stuffed animals to the winners. Some were fairly standard, but the ‘Baloonicorn’ made the whole thing worthwhile. As you watch as drunken girls (and some boys) bounce around with a unicorn helmet on, trying to pop balloons that are held above them in a net. Probably one of the funniest sights you will ever see.
– The Vending. I never went thirsty or hungry. There was beer, water, and food literally all over the venue to the point where there were nearly no lines at all. What a welcome change of pace, especially at the reasonable $6 beer prices. The only lines all weekend were at the rush for posters at the main merch stand.
– The Weather. One thing Bonnaroo organizers can’t control is Mother Nature and it definitely showed. It rained on and off for most of the weekend, with a couple of large showers. The biggest casualty was the Beach Boys daytime set in our opinion. While it wasn’t really pouring at all, the prospect of seeing the original Beach Boys singing those California songs in the hot sun sounded amazing, and instead we got a slight drizzle and with a cloudy sky. The campgrounds ended up a little muddier than most would have liked as well.
– The Stage Names. It’s a really cool concept, and I guess at this point it’s a signature aspect of Bonnaroo that is never going away, but they sure do get annoying. If you’re not familiar, the two main stages are titled The Which Stage and The What Stage, and the main tents are This Tent and That Tent. This creates some hilarious Abbot and Costello like conversations (Is it This Tent or That Tent? Which Stage is the What Stage?), but also makes getting around the festival a little more complicated. Maybe you end up exploring a little more and finding something cool, maybe you laugh more, but what if I just want to get to the main stage in time for Phish?
– The Superjam. While it seemed like the general consensus around Bonnaroo was excitement that D’Angelo had returned for the first time in a decade, I just didn’t get it. The Grammy Award winning singer is surely talented, and from all accounts it was a fun set full of classic covers, but compared to Superjams of the past, this was more “SuperSoul”. Last year’s Superjam featured Dan Auerback from The Black Keys and Dr. John, 2008 had Les Claypool and Kirk Hammet of Metallica, 2007 had John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Ben Harper, and Questlove, while 2006 featured Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon of Phish, Joe Russo, Marco Benevento, and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead. For serious rock and jam fans, this year’s was a bit of a let down.
– The Silent Disco. This year’s Silent Disco seemed awesome. Unfortunately, most fans couldn’t score a pair of headphones unless they waited on long lines. The only time the line seemed short was during the day, when there is other, real, loud music to be heard. Hopefully for next year the Silent Disco expands at nighttime and increases headphone allotment to allow for more attendees to experience it.