Bonnaroo: a 4-day heaven on earth where music meets love and over 90,000 people are brought together to share it all. This year marked the 13th annual festival, taking place June 12-15 in Manchester, Tennessee. Each day was packed with activities from dusk till dawn. With sunshine, positive vibes, endless creativity and gargantuan amounts of music coming from all angles, Bonnaroo succeeded yet again in bringing forth a life-changing experience for all that attended.
The Garage by Ford tent featured this year’s winner of the Escape to Bonnaroo contest allowing for a private, charming and intimate acoustic set. I would consider Meghan Tonjes one of the festivals sweetest, hidden gems. Tonjes’ unique, elegant voice contained an energy of lullaby proportions.
J. Roddy Walston and The Business were ready to inspire the embrace of all things weird and real in their performance. Emphasizing the community love of Bonnaroo’s attendees, the band’s southern roots meshed effortlessly with their rock and roll, punk essence, giving the audience a fun-filled way to appreciate them through non-stop dancing and singing.
Reppin' the west coast, O’Shea Jackson, better known as Ice Cube, played his part in the wildly eclectic Bonnaroo line-up, throwing in his old-school hip hop rhythms. Accompanied by some heavy beats, Ice Cube's performance on Friday moved his audience through his raw, original flow and throwback jams. With his immense success as a rapper in the bands C.I.A. (Cru' in Action!) and N.W.A (Niggaz Wit Attitudes), Ice has since ventured out into other mediums and is currently producing a movie with Universal Studios about N.W.A. titled, "Straight Outta Compton," where his son will be playing Cube himself.
Hailing from New York City, Vampire Weekend opened their set with the hit “Diane Young” off their Grammy winning album “Vampires of the City.” The band also played into their love for African sounds with the introduction of “Warm Heart of Africa,” a collaboration between lead singer Ezra Koenig and Malawi-born singer Esau Mwamwaya, that spiced up the evening and sent everyone’s dancing shoes into a jumping frenzy. Closing out their show to a scenic sunset, Vampire Weekend’s fans had every reason to bounce to “A-Punk” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” with massive smiles on their faces and arms waving in the air.
It was clear that Phoenix’s devotees were pumped and ready to begin the dance party with the band’s renowned French flair and alternative rock beats. Throughout the show the fans and the band alike were entranced in a huge bubble of excitement with fans singing in perfect unison during “Lisztomania”, “Girlfriend”, and “Chloroform” to name a few.
“I promise, you won’t hear any rants-- just music” is how Cage The Elephant started their set and they weren’t joking. Delivering nothing short of an electrifying performance, Cage band members rocked out with a contagious energy. These guys were unapologetic of their style and it made the crowd rage even more so. Cage’s loving relationship with their supporters most assuredly stems from their connection with Bonnaroo; this year marking their 10 year anniversary of attending the festival themselves as music lovers. In the midst of their set, Matt Shultz repeated a story he never forgot of how a random guy once passed them at the fest years ago while jamming out on a guitar, and told them they should play Bonnaroo one day. Fast forward to the present and listen to the screaming audience singing along to hit songs such as “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”, “Take It or Leave it”, and “It’s Just Forever” and you can marvel at their journey, dance moves and down-to-earth swagger.
A combination of reggae, rock, hip-hop and punk was brought to the stage when Slightly Stoopid took over the party. As a band that’s been around for almost 20 years, they grooved through their tunes with a love that never lets it get old. The band has recently announced their “Closer to the Sun” concert tour in the Mayan Peninsula for December later this year setting the tone as a tropical adventure with other reggae legends like Steele Pulse.
Chromeo, the electro-funk duo hailing from Canada, returned for another year of disco tech dancing at Bonnaroo. As professional dance inducers, these guys have a certain flair for standing out with their one-of-a-kind style. Much of this contributes to their “talkbox” that transforms voices instantly to create their unique sounds. The silver lining was not just confined to their chrome-tastic, eye-catching set design. Chromeo was another band blessed to have the sun set as they funked out on the stage creating a mood and energy of epic proportions. The band’s fun attitude and dynamic was loved by an audience of bouncing bodies and very serious hula hoopers.
Miss Lauryn Hill was yet another legendary act that took her fans by storm. Hitting all her neo-soul, reggae, hip hop notes she entered the stage singing a Bob Marley song in homage to her late father-in-law, looking fabulous and exuding confidence in her bright red shirt and straw hat. Hill also participated with a surprise four-song set in the renowned Skrillex SuperJam, Saturday night, featuring a revolving cast of guest stars including Damian Marley.
If you were at The Flaming Lips set then you were either blown away by the visuals or (if you were one of the many festival goers on hallucinogenic drugs) you were completely tripping out as they put on the most fantastical performance of the festival. Picture this: lots of flashy silver costume spectacles accompanied with large blow-up dancing creatures ranging from mushrooms to aliens to large, round, smiling suns. Throw in some colorful explosions of confetti being shot into the audience during the opening number and again throughout the rest of the hour and a half set, and you can tell that The Flaming Lips clearly requires that their audience is pleased through the eyes just as much as the ears. Lead singer Wayne Coyne fed off of the audience’s energy, often asking for everyone to “c’mon, c’mon, c’mon”, full of personality as he would occasionally yell “AHHH!” into the mic. Playing “Do You Realize?” in the encore was a perfect way to exit the stage at the end of their set with the fans reeling, trying to awaken out of the dreamy state of what they just lived through.
By 2:15am the party was just getting started: many Bonnaroovians had just danced their faces off for the aforementioned Skrillex and friends SuperJam (which also included special guests Doors’ guitar player Robby Krieger, Janelle Monáe, A$AP Ferg, Warpaint, Cage the Elephant’s Matt Shultz, New Orleans rapper Mystikal, Big Gigantic, Zedd, Thundercat) and were hyped and ready for more. The Glitch Mob, hailing from Los Angeles, was the perfect choice, as they are well known for running an empire as a 3-piece electronic music group touching on synthpop and glitchy undertones. Widely known as festival vets, they debuted their Bonnaroo show with an overcrowded tent of eager fans waiting to feel the beats through their veins. With a set design filled with industrial themes and funky keyboards, it was easy for the crowd to share the dance vibes until the wee hours of the morning.
WarPaint, also from Los Angeles, brought a different level of groovin’ sensations to the table as their psychedelic rock music had the crowd swaying. Often playing with their eyes closed, these girls offered a transmittable confidence that everyone in the audience simply could not take their eyes off of.
Fitz and The Tantrums were excited to bring their fun, vivacious energy back to the fest once again this year with their neo soul, alternative music pulsing through everyone watching and passersby alike. Arms were flailing and voices were screaming as Fitz and the Tantrums danced with their followers playing hits such as “Moneygrabber” and “More Than Just a Dream.” At times forcing the crowd to “get low” and pointing out those of the festival goers who wouldn’t, they provided just the kind of entertaining energy that had their viewers forget they were melting under the hot sun and dance as if they couldn’t feel the sweat.
Yet another dance-generating musician, Ernest Greene’s story as frontrunner of Washed Out is that he happened upon creating his music as a plan B in life... and clearly struck gold. His music has been described as “chillwave” but has an electronic, synthy-pop feel to it. Either way, it was definitely worth a listen!
Less about making his fans dance and more about touching their souls with his words and melodies, Dallas Green, formerly of the post-hardcore band Alexisonfire, gave Roovians a heartfelt performance under his solo acoustic project City and Colour. With his folky sounds and rock laden background, this Canadian provided a show that entranced his listeners, leaving them with more food for thought than tired limbs.
Broken Bells were very similar in their performance atmosphere to Mr. Green as they were less into bringing out that hyped up energy and more into giving the fans their captivating, hypnotizing music. They lived up to their experimental vibes talking less and playing more, forcing their audience to feel the sound waves as they exploded off the stage. With a full crowd flogging the Which Stage, they certainly gave their fans enough of their spacey sounds to keep those arms up, eyes closed and bodies vibrating to their beats.
The Avett Brothers, who were no strangers to the atmosphere of Roo, brought their 7-member band’s rock, honky tonk, country-punk bluegrass vibes to the What Stage and blew away their audience for their 5th appearance at the 13 year-old festival. Between the number of instruments from banjos to cellos, all of the Avett Brothers’ performers delivered an infectious array of diversity from song to song and from member to member, singing together and rocking out like there will be no tomorrow. Fans weren’t just chanting along, they were belting their hearts out to songs like “I and Love and You” with the same bouncing fervor as the band themselves.
Little Dragon started their set just before Wiz Kalifa got the entire festival baked. The Swedish band’s beautiful and fashionable lead singer Yukimi Nagano’s voice brought that neo-soul spin to their trip hop pop. Their performance as a whole was like a dream and had an element of passion feeding between the performers and their fans. Definitely was a must-squeeze in the jam-packed final day of the fest.
In an “uplifting” and inspirational set, Wiz Khalifa spread the love as he made his entrance to a Snoop song in white-framed sunglasses (even though it was night) and a safari-like hat. His adoration for weed was no secret as he walked the stage smoking a phat blunt and was thrilled that everyone was “getting high with Wiz Khalifa.” As hard as it was to tell if the thick cloud of smoke over the entire area was coming from the fog machine or otherwise, it was most definitely clear that his words of encouragement and inspiration were giving everyone that feel-good energy to end the weekend ready to chase their dreams. This is an artist who wanted to share his happiness with everyone promoting that kind of “be yourself” attitude that Bonaroo is all about.
Text by Lauren Ospala
Photos by Paula Tripodi
The words in this review do not reflect those of Music Connection magazine. This is a blog corner where photographers and writers are encouraged to share their opinions with various facets of the touring industry.