The Top 42 Moments of Bonnaroo 2013


    Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival is used to having some of the biggest, most recognizable names in the music business topping its lineup – from Bruce Springsteen to Radiohead to Metallica. But the 2013 edition one-upped all of their previous incarnations by bringing in perhaps the most famous musician in the world: Sir Paul McCartney. Having a Beatle on The Farm brought together fans of all ages, races, and walks of life. With his set being the most anticipated in the history of Bonnaroo, the weekend was Macca’s right from the get-go. Even his sound check will go down in Bonnaroo lore, and plenty of bands payed homage to the legend with various covers and stories throughout the weekend.

    However, on Thursday night, a different headliner dominated the buzz around the farm. Early in the evening, rumors began to swirl that Mumford and Sons would have to cancel their headlining appearance due to the health of their bassist Ted Dwane after having emergency brain surgery to remove a blood clot. Later in the night, the UK collective confirmed the news on their Facebook page, and Bonnaroo went into scramble mode. By the power of Bonnaroo magic, a headliner-sized guest just so happened to be on the premises, as Jack Johnson was on his way to the farm for a surprise appearance with ALO when the news broke.

    Camp NoWhere

    Photo by Ben Kaye

    The organizers reached out to him, and even though he was unprepared to perform his new material live, hadn’t played a show in over a year, and didn’t know if the rest of his band could do it…he said yes. Luckily, his band was all in and made their way to Manchester immediately so they could begin their 24-hour preparations for a headlining show. Considering the last-minute circumstances, Johnson admirably stepped up and did the best he could to help out a festival that he holds dear to his heart. He even made a song about the situation that he performed on stage: “What the hell, it’s Bonnaroo!”.


    Even with the last minute headlining change, the weekend was a huge success once again for Bonnaroo, who seem prepared for anything and everything that comes their way. Having three Superjams – one for each full day – turned out to be a stroke of genius — especially the big ol’ dance party that was The Rock ‘n’ Soul Superjam.


    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Music aside, the weather was just about as perfect as could be, with only mild drizzles of rain here and there that helped make the infamous Bonnaroo dust a non-factor. It did get hot – when is it not hot during a Tennessee summer? – but temperatures stayed cooler than they have in years past. Sure, the lines were long and it may have been tad oversold. But as the festival keeps improving on its infrastructure and adding more and more shade, water fountains, and port-a-johns, the experience keeps getting better and better despite Mother Nature or the drudges of humanity.

    Chalk 2013 up as another win for Bonnaroo.

    Paul McCartney’s Thursday night sound check

    Paul Suit First Song

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    Hearing a headliner’s soundcheck ringing throughout the campground near Centeroo is not an unusual occurrence – the day’s headliner usually soundchecks early in the morning while everyone is still waking up and getting ready for the day. However, around 9:00 p.m. on Thursday night, a familiar sound echoed through the empty What Stage field – Sir Paul McCartney took the stage a full day early to get his soundcheck out of the way. Word spread quickly and soon there were pockets of hundreds of fans at every vantage point possible, trying to get a glimpse of Sir Paul while the What Stage venue was still blocked off and being guarded by mounted policemen.

    Macca was never one to do things the standard way, and instead of just sound checking a few songs and leaving, he ended up playing for over an hour, with some songs displaying their full visual punch –for example, “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite”. He even played songs that didn’t end up making the cut for his regular set the next night – most notably “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Penny Lane” – and made up a little ditty about Bonnaroo. It was an absolute treat for those who experienced it, and his songs instantly bonded the small crowds together – singing, clapping, and dancing all together to each classic hit.

    The sense of wonderment was palpable, as variations of “oh my god is this really happening?” could be overheard multiple times throughout. It was a great preview of what was to come on Friday night, which would prove to be one of the most memorable headlining sets ever at Bonnaroo. -Carson O’Shoney

    When Jack Johnson surprised everyone at a late night tent set with ALO

    Jack Johnson with ALO

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    A decent-sized crowd came out for ALO Thursday night, although it would pale in comparison to the crowds that would expand to mind-blowing proportions at certain points in the weekend. But on the first night, those that lasted long enough for a late night tent show were there because they knew Jack Johnson had flown in from Hawaii to join his Brushfire Records friends in a low-key setting. Little did those hanging out in the comfortably full tent know that Johnson would end up sliding in and serving as the perfect backdrop for Saturday.

    Reflecting on how the singer came to Manchester, played with friends, hung out at Jack White’s Third Man Records, and headlined Bonnaroo the night after Paul McCartney only leads to one thought: Paul McCartney might have taken us on the ultimate emotions-meet-music journey but Jack Johnson was The King of Bonnaroo. He rolled into tracks like “Girl I Wanna Lay You Down”, “Better When We’re Together”, and “Mud Football”, much to the delight of the fan boys getting their Bonnaroo started with a person who very well could have gotten them into Bonnaroo in the first place. -Amanda Koellner

    Ariel Pink’s champagne shower


    Photo by Nate Slevin

    Ariel Pink is know for having a controversial image in the public eye, spanning from drunkenly stage diving into fans or stubbornly whispering lyrics into the microphone. As the outfit approached the Bonnaroo This Stage, minus the Haunted Graffiti moniker, Pink was on his A game. Three-fouths of the set was reached impeccable heights as the band embellished the highlights from Before Today and Mature Themes, ultimately turning the country farm into a retro- 80s playground. In reacting to such an energy, the big witted frontman drenched himself with champagne while the crowd reacted with sporadic crowd surfing.

    To say the least, Bonnaroo crowd completely trumped the typical stand-still hipster crowds that the artist normally faces. Heck, I was even fist-pumping my notebook and pen in the press pit and sung and danced along to nearly every track. This communal synergy even allotted for the outfit to debut a new song,”Hang On to Your Life”, which gently soothed the crowd in smooth head bopping. Pink’s performance proved a significant enhancement of their live performance and their overall impact on festival audiences from here on out. -Sam Willett

    Because Bonnaroo wasn’t hot enough, Solange had to play

    Solange 5

    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Solange delivered more than just smooth pop R&B to the Which Stage on Saturday. Even in the sweltering sun, the other Knowles sister brought extra heat. “I know it’s hot out there,” she said to the crowd before going into “Bad Girls”, “but if I could see you all grinding out there, it’d make me very happy.” Never say unshowered Bonnaroovians are afraid of a little bump and grind. And never say Solange isn’t ballsy enough to cover “Stillness in the Move” just three hours before Dirty Projectors played. -Ben Kaye

    The glowing bass drum and lanterns at Purity Ring


    Photo by Nate Slevin

    Thursday nights at Bonnaroo always provide newcomers the rare opportunity to play to uncharacteristically large crowds of overexcited attendees. Purity Ring’s set was the quintessential Thursday slot, with fans spilling out far and wide to bask in the glow of the Canadian duo’s Japanese lanterns, slow-jamming along to Megan James and Corin Roddock’s shimmering, fractured synth-pop. Lush swells oozed out, like sugar-coated magma. When James took to her ornamental (possibly functional) bass drum, it too glowed with the pulse of the mallet. Like moths in the night sky, we all hovered around and gazed wide-eyed like we’d never seen light before. -Drew Litowitz

    Wilco’s successful opening gig for Paul McCartney

    wilco best

    Photo by Ben Kaye

    When you sit down and think about, it’s really hard to assign a band to open for Paul McCartney. You want an act that carries a legacy of timeless tunes while exemplifying a staggering unity that expel a contagious live performance; something that shouldn’t be forgettable. When Wilco stepped on the What stage to the first strums of “Poor Places”, they cued the Americana tastes that the festival crowds love but delivered a startling shock with noisy dynamics that challenged the balance of their instruments. The set reveled with seamless transitions between a number of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot gems while incorporating highlights that spanned across their catalog.

    If I could pinpoint the first moment where I began to lose my voice, it was after the swoon-worthy transitions of “Impossible Germany”. That four-gutar soul jam reached an array of emotions as they navigated through gentle guitar harmonies to full-blast thrusts that spring-loaded another Nels Cline solo to staggering heights. If this finesse didn’t shock the crowd enough, Summerteeth gem “Via Chicago” surfaced a theatrical climax that made me jump out of my skull. The crowd was gently swaying through the achy acoustic gem until the band manifested a nightmare of noisy shredding while Jeff Tweedy stayed calm in delivering his gentle croon and acoustic strums. While it threw me off guard at first, I only wanted it to happen again and again.

    Wilco’s masterful demonstration elevated the legacy of their music to feel as timeless as the act that proceeded them. -Sam Willett




    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    Seemingly all 80,000 people on site at Bonnaroo ended up at the What Stage for McCartney’s Friday headlining set. The crowd was as diverse as you would expect from a Bonnaroo crowd of that size — from young children to folks who were around for the original British Invasion and everything in between. McCartney knows how to please a crowd, and he has an enormous cataloge of hits to work with. Unlike most Bonnaroo headliners, many of his works have been permanently engrained into the conciousness of just about every festivalgoer since they were children. Every Beatles song he played, from “Lovely Rita” to “Eleanor Rigby” to “Blackbird”, was met with rapturous applause, but none was more life-affirming or Bonnaroo-defining than “Hey Jude”.

    As he led the crowd in an endless wave of “Na-na-na-na-na-na-na”s, there was a euphoria that swept across the farm that I had never experienced before. Everyone was connected, singing in harmony, and being led by the most wonderful ringleader in the world. It was the single most defining moment that exemplified the Bonnaroo spirit in the seven years I’ve been coming to the farm. It brought me to tears, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one. When people look back at Bonnaroo in the future, this will be the moment that defines the entire experience. Long live Macca. -Carson O’Shoney

    When all the dudes came out for Deap Valley


    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Excitement for the ensuing three days had been mounting, as it does on the magical night that is Thursday at Bonnaroo, when Deap Valley sauntered onto This Tent at 8:30 p.m.. The band, really best described as chicks-do-the-Black- Keys, attracted a decent sized crowd primarily made up of excited males chugging and swigging beers. Said males certainly came out because, well, it’s two smokin’ hot gals, one with long Stevie-Nicks-like hair and the other a fire-redhead, but also because these ladies trump The Black Keys in grit and adrenaline. When the sign donning their name jerked up to the left of the stage two songs in, a low-octave sea of cheers erupted, and the weekend of a lifetime was officially underway. -Amanda Koellner

    The Androgynous Synth player at Reptar, or a teenage Talking Heads


    Photo by Nate Slevin

    With all its pop-culture references and silly charm, what better place than Bonnaroo for a band whose namesake is a Rugrats character? Easily the most fun to be had on Friday morning, these teenagers played a delightful blend of art-rock, dance, funk, and post-punk. While lead singer Graham Ulicny snarled and yelped with erratic fury, his backing band of horns, synths, and angular guitars made for a fun and rewarding party. Replace David Byrne and Tina Wymouth with a bunch of Atlantan Teenagers, and you’ll get something like Reptar. Throw in a long-haired, androgynous dude in a leotard and have him dance like nobody’s watching, and you’ll get the most fun you have before lunchtime. Can you feel it? Yes I can feel it. -Drew Litowitz

    When you couldn’t see J. Tillman, but you realized it didn’t matter.


    Photo by Ben Kaye

    J. Tillman’s Father John Misty project, act, religious experience, whatever you’ve made it for yourself, is best known for the combination of hip-shaking, joke telling, and soul-rattling vocals. When the former Fleet Foxes drummer took That Tent Thursday night, the crowd was so thick that the majority could barely get a glimpse of Tillman’s luscious locks and hips that do everything but lie. The sound wasn’t loud enough for anyone to hear his always-delightful banter, either. But when the band played his undeniable songs like “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” and “Only Son of the Ladiesman”, watching, dancing, and hearing jokes fell from everyone’s concerns and the musician yet again proved he’s found his niche, away from somber solo releases and time spent in Robin Pecknold’s shadow. Even more impressive? He can do it sans bells and whistles. -Amanda Koellner

    When DIIV’s set got cancelled, then Earl Sweatshirt’s, then DIIV played instead of Earl Sweatshirt

    Diiv 3

    Photo by Ben Kaye

    “Hi, we’re called Earl Sweatshirt,” DIIV’s Zachary Cole Smith announced before following-up matter-of-factly that the band’s keyboardist had quit the band earlier that morning. (Still not sure if this was also a joke.) Of course, this all followed the strange word-of-mouth news that Earl Sweatshirt was sick and that DIIV’s Thursday cancellation would be moved to cover for him and make up for their Thursday cancellation. Weirdly, lots of things were happening between DIIV and Earl Sweatshirt surrounding Bonnaroo, and it was all perfectly strange.

    So DIIV ultimately performed and Earl ultimately did not. Nonetheless, DIIV’s impromptu new slot was a gorgeous display of interlocking, languid guitars and horribly oversized grunge-wear. The trio’s dreamy guitar-rock shimmered, doused in the delay of their shoegaze forefathers. The tiny Cole swam around the stage (and his clothing), falling into his guitar lines like he was being thrown around. It rocked. -Drew Litowitz


    Storytime with Sir Paul


    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    Over the course of nearly three hours, McCartney developed a warm and loving relationship with the crowd. He acknowledged a number of homemade signs and introduced each song by sharing bits of wisdom from his incredible life. He told a story about his late friend Jimi Hendrix, who learned “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and opened a show with it two days after it was released, which was extra special since McCartney had been in the audience to hear it.

    Following his performance of “Back in the USSR.” – which included a quick flash of “FREE PUSSY RIOT” on the video screens – he told a story about meeting members of the Russian Government after a show he played in Red Square years ago. In his best Russian accent, he mimiced the Russian Minister of Defense, who greeted McCartney and said, “The first album I ever bought was ‘Love Me Do’,” explaining that they learned English through Beatles records.

    Macca also waxed poetic about his dearly departed friends and Beatles bandmates John Lennon and George Harrison. He played “Here Today” as a tribute to the former, and for the latter he brought out a ukelele during a special version of “Something”. If only elementary school’s storytime had been this exciting. -Carson O’Shoney

    The Wu-Tang set being an obvious clusterfuck


    Photo by Nate Slevin

    Since you can’t really soundcheck nine mics spread across nine MC’s all too well, the sound was suffered tremendously during Wu-Tang Clan’s Friday evening set. But, would a Wu-Tang set make sense if it were smooth sailing? Something tells me that harsh technical difficulties are simply an element of their live experience. Each microphone seemed to be at a decidedly different dB level, but that didn’t stop the crowd from tossing up the W’s and singing along to a string of classic 36 Chambers cuts.

    “Bring the Ruckus”, “Roar”, “C.R.E.A.M.”, “Method Man”, and a slew of other tracks made for a delightful and fun-spirited nostalgia act with only a hint of irrelevancy. RZA and Meth lead the set, anchoring each song while one of the guys chimed in at what seemed like arbitrary increments, finishing each other’s sentences in top Wu Form. With so many members, its always fun to watch a group of rappers whose rhymes serve as both the content and the hype simultaneously. The Ruckus was brought. -Drew Litowitz

    Impromptu acrobatics outside of Four Tet


    Photo by Ben Kaye

    While Four Tet held down the beats at the Other Stage, members Katie and Kaci from Raleigh, NC had the crowd at the back entertained with their acrobatic balancing acts. “We just came as GA to hang,” Kaci told me, but said they also had two shows scheduled everyday. One was in the Brewer’s Tent, and the other was a “surprise show” that would appear outside a random Tent show. Completely improvised, that kind of on the spot art is part of what makes keeping your eyes open worth it on the Farm. -Ben Kaye

    “Live and Let Die”


    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    McCartney’s stage setup was simple yet elaborate, with screens that covered the backdrop, the floor, and the sides of the stage. The light show suited the music perfectly, and the visuals ranged from trippy to silly to heartfelt. Smoke screens and lasers came into play for a few songs. The stage even rose up and lifted Macca far above the crowd for a few solo acoustic songs. It was an excellent production, but I don’t think anyone was expecting Metallica-type fireballs bursting from the stage from the former Beatle. Then, near the end of the original set, came “Live and Let Die”: an overwhelming spectacle of fireballs, fast cuts, and fireworks jettisoning from above the stage, on the stage, and even from the back of the crowd. It was bright, loud, and outrageous, making it one of the biggest and best moments the What stage has ever seen, even if only for one song. -Carson O’Shoney

    When Jack Johnson played Mumford and Sons’ “The Cave”


    Photo by Nate Slevin

    Enough said. Aside from Paul and the super jam, it was The Moment. -Amanda Koellner

    Double crowd surfers and Michael Winslow at Animal Collective’s uncharacteristically coherent late night set


    Photo by FilmMagic

    Animal Collective have loosened up a bit since the beginning of their Centipede Hz tour last fall, trying to please audience members a little more, and (counter-intuitively) tightening up their performances to a level of coherence rarely seen at their concerts. Their epic late night, two hour This Tent set was one of the best AnCo experiences in recent memory. Touching upon highlights from Centipede, a string of exerpts off Fall Be Kind (“What Would I Want Sky” and “I Think I Can”), Merriweather Post Pavilion (“My Girls”, “Brother Sport”), Feels (“Did You See The Words”, “The Purple Bottle”), and a rousing “Peacebone”, Animal Collective were crowd-pleasers for once, and it was great.

    Emerging with Michael Winslow from Police Academy — you know, this guy — with no introduction or explanation, obviously (I honestly thought it was an overzealous MC who they were to nice to tell to GTFO), the band jumped into “Moonjock” as Winslow made a bunch of weird sound effects and repeated the band’s name like a robotic radio transmission, before leaving with no explanation or acknowledgement from Avey and co. Why would they ever explain anything?


    Photo by FilmMagic


    A momentous energy filled the air, which motivated plenty of crowd surfers and elicited a series of screams. It was a bizarre sight: two crowd surfers tangled in one another, expecting festivalgoers to separate them and send them off on their separate waves. We eventually untangled them and set them free. When they both set sail, I looked back to the stage and Animal Collective were gone. I wouldn’t have it any other way. – Drew Litowitz

    Paul McCartney is the Walrus


    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    After the penultimate song of his last encore, an intrepid audience member threw a stuffed walrus at McCartney — a perfect choice in the grand scheme of things. McCartney, of course, has a history with Walruses, especially amongst Beatles conspiracy theorists who think that Macca died in 1966, leading to the book Paul was the Walrus: The Great Beatle Death Clues. Sir Paul took it in stride and treated the Walrus as a pet, setting it on top of his grand piano, where he sang directly to it for the “On Golden Slumbers” opening portion of the Abbey Road medley/grand finale. After a night filled with Macca silliness — from little funny dances between songs to admissions of “smell[ing] some good weed out there” — the walrus was the perfect, silly cherry on top. -Carson O’Shoney

    Lt. Dangle and Deputy Junior performing Bath Salts: An Opera of Nightmares


    Drugs are obviously a big part of the Bonnaroo experience, so the festival brought in some top-notch officers of the law to teach the drug-addled masses a thing or two about drug safety: Lt. Dangle (Thomas Lennon) and Deputy Junior (Ben Garant) from Comedy Central’s now-defunct Reno 911!. The two main points they wanted to get across was that 1.) whip-its are totally legal, and that 2.) there are only two kinds of handcuff keys and they’re both easy to buy online. Dangle also serenaded the crowd with an anti-meth song that just so happened to describe all of the ingredients and methods for making crystal meth.

    The real highlight came when the pair were set to perform the apex of their presentation: a huge $200,000 production called Bath Salts: An Opera of Nightmares. However, after presenting the budget to Bonnaroo, they were told they actually had a budget of $0. They soldiered on anyways, describing what the audience would have been seeing whilst performing: from floating drugs of every kind to an army of Goblins trying to eat your face. It was a powerhouse performance, especially given Dangle’s famous short shorts. -Carson O’Shoney

    That time Sunday got 200% more METAL for five hours with JEFF the Brotherhood, Baroness, and SWANS

    Baroness 3Okay, so maybe “metal” isn’t the right word, but on Sunday, This Tent was essentially just a testosterone filled anger fest. JEFF the Brotherhood kicked things off with their gritty, bare bones rock n’ roll. It was just straight up fun, with lots of sludgy solos and cigarette smokin’ tunes. Initially a two-piece, then a three-piece (adding in a bassist) for the second half, the group’s heavy rock was doused in bass feedback, melting in the sweltering son.

    Then Baroness arrived and just tore the place to shreds. The mosh pit was expansive, threatening to pull the innocents in. The crowd delighted in every minute of the band’s progressive metal. Baroness are interesting in that they toe the line between cliché M E T A L and self-aware artistry. Their tunes never go full-on into either camp; instead, they vary from slow-burning, atmospheric build-ups, to all-out metal sludge fests. The band is impeccably tight, good-spirited, and overtly cheerful. Singer John Baizley made sure to comment on how appreciative they were for all the support following the horrific bus accident the band suffered last August. They genuinely seemed ecstatic to be back doing what they “sought out to do.” You could see it on their faces and hear it in their arpeggios.

    Swans 3

    Following this, Michael Gira unleashed Hell on Earth for all of us to witness. Swans’ brutal, all-consuming masochism was like watching a burning at the stake. Cymbals crashed and toms hammered like machine guns. In some instances, one chord played for 30 minutes as Gira yelled with pain, conducting an orchestra of anguish around him, yelling for more from each band member, who also winced with physical pain from each playing their instruments so feverishly without pause. Gira raised his arms with direction, indicating to his arsenal that the chaos must be pushed further, teetering on the absurd. None of it looked fun for anybody, and that’s exactly what made it so hard to look away. -Drew Litowitz


    Photos by Ben Kaye.

    Amish Baking Company and the best hand-rolled pretzel on earth


    Photo by Amish Baking Co.

    Seriously, amidst all the GIANT BURRITOS and “just okay” food trucks at the Food Truck Oasis, I found myself going back again and again to one vendor in particular. That was the Amish Baking Co.’s pretzel/doughnuts stands sprinkled around Centeroo. Each pretzel was rolled right before your eyes, then baked to a buttery goodness and handed right to you like the keys to the city of warm goodness. Hot to the touch and bursting with flavor, these guys upped the ante.

    Plus, if you went to the right stand, you could even get a chicken salad sandwich on a freshly baked, glistening pretzel roll with a heaping pile of potato chips. I’m not joking, I ordered this sandwich twice and couldn’t contain my excitement either time. Remove the whole Bonnaroo aspect, and you’ve got incredible artisan baking. Add Bonnaroo back into the equation and you have the best damn food at the entire festival. You go, pretzel people! -Drew Litowitz

    That time Trombone Shorty completely destroyed the Sonic Stage (and Orleans Avenue)

    Trombone Shorty 3 (1 of 1)

    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Anabella, the MC at the Sonic Stage, didn’t even attempt to hide her pleasure at having Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue play the tiny side stage. But the New Orleans act didn’t just play the stage, they destroyed it. Shorty led his troupe through everything from “Saints Go Marching In” to “American Woman” to “I Got a Woman” to “Everybody Needs Somebody”. Throughout the show, the band blasted through blue in the face solos, outros, and battles, before switching instruments on the end for one last blow out. There’s a lot of major stuff on the big stages, but sometimes catching one of those bigger acts on a side stage can be an even more impressive performance. -Ben Kaye

    “Weird Al” Yankovic’s ensuing penchant for goofy Hawaiian shirts

    Weird Al best

    Photo by Ben Kaye

    By the end of Saturday night, “Weird Al” Yankovic solidified his seat on the throne as king of parodies. He remains a master of the medley, and he hasn’t lost his knack for staying relevant. Throughout his hour-long set, Yankovic shook up Top 40 hits like Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” and Justin Bieber’s “Baby” with fun-loving laughter and endless energy. He’s an old fella, but he managed to stretch his vocal chords to accommodate lip-blurring scat verses and a variety of vocal personalities while dancing and running all over the stage without losing his breath.

    After nearly every song, Yankovic and his crew would run off stage and cue Al-TV, a variety program featuring celebrity appearances by Megan Fox and clips from 30 Rock and television interviews. After chuckles surfaced from the crowd during the break, hysterical laughter exploded after the band returned with an array of zany costumes. From rock icons Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain to an elegant blue peacock, a fat Michael Jackson, and a nerdy gangster rolling in on a Vespa. He showed no shame in flapping his wings as a peacock in “Everyday is Halloween” or throwing himself into rock spasms in “Smells like Nirvana”. It was the best way to get weird in a strange weekend. -Sam Willett

    When The Lumineers were given too big of a slot and stage

    Lumineers 3 (1 of 1)

    Photo by Chris Jorgensen

    In 2011, Mumford and Sons drew one of the largest crowds The Which stage has ever seen, especially in daylight. It wasn’t a great set for most. Those who snagged a spot in the fan pit probably had their worlds rocked. If you arrived after their set had begun, the crowd was too thick to weave through and the performance might have been lost on those who weren’t already familiar with their tunes, often described as back-porch or as a band that has ridden on the tails of Mumford and Sons (but hey, fun time to just hang out).

    In defense of The Lumineers, although their undeniable single “Ho Hey” has roped people in through mass media, they have the album and the talent to back it up. Say what you will about Mumford’s assscention to the top, but through their nostalgia, their allusions, their energy, and their delicate moments, they grab hold of people and don’t let them go until they’re finished performing. The Lumineers have a similar gift, they just need to give it on a smaller platform. -Amanda Koellner

    Killer Mike bringing the dirty south to the dirty south

    killermikeKiller Mike has been out of control following the release of last year’s R.A.P. Music. From touring with Big Boi to making an album with El-P, he’s bigger and better than he’s ever has been. Bonnaroo is something of a homecoming for him after touring all over the country and playing festivals like Sasquatch!, Paid Dues, and Mission Creek. Needless to say, the Atlanta rapper was happy to be back in the dirty south.

    As he tore through selections from throughout his career — including “Reagan”, “Southern Fried”, and Outkast’s “The Whole World” — he noticed the sign language interpreter, who was “going harder the harder I rap,” according to the man himself. He decided to have a little fun with her, making her sign “This shit is cool as a motherfucker”, followed by a stream of various profanities.

    It should be noted he went harder with just a DJ than most rap groups do with full bands. He also didn’t have a hype man, explaining, “Who needs a hype man when you’ve got an audience?” With that, he won over any passersby and reignited the flames of fans already in the palm of his hand. It was the strongest hip-hop performance of the weekend and it happened opening day. -Carson O’Shoney

    Photo by FilmMagic.

    Death Grips being, without question, the darkest set at Bonnaroo


    Photo by FilmMagic

    Death Grips were the ultimate anomaly at this year’s Bonnaroo, a midday set of some of the angriest, most downright frightening music that the festival had to offer, and easily the festival’s darkest. MC Ride emerged with a look of insanity, a death stare that could pierce through a sheet of metal. Immediately, the crowd turned into a pack of maniacs. Ride showed absolutely no remorse, standing stoically, ice-cold, refusing to acknowledge any of the crowd’s energy. He contorted himself backwards, arched up towards the ceiling. Then, like a captive beast unleashed onto its prey, he attacked everything in his sights.

    Without Zach Hill (who has been missing for some time), the austere ferocity of the set was maximized. Just the cut-throat production and raw vocal anger; nothing else. Andy “Flatlander” Morin heaved and thwarted himself at his knobs and laptop, a look of unbridled anger plastered on his face for the set’s entirety, as his fractured, battered beats blared. “I got some shit to say, just for the fuck of it” seemed to be the set’s M.O., Ride barking and shrieking as sweat dripped from his emaciated frame. When all was yelled and done, Flatlander picked up his laptop and shoved the rest of his equipment to the stage-floor, a middle finger to a crowd of sweating, bruised souls. -Drew Litowitz

    When the Hip-Hop Superjam became another Wu-Tang show


    Photo by Morgan G. Harris

    Billed as a hip-hop superjam hosted by RZA and backed by the funk supergroup Lettuce, the first superjam of the weekend basically turned into another Wu-Tang Clan show. Just hours after their main set on the Which Stage, most of the Wu ended up at That Tent playing more of their classic songs. While the show started with short but impressive sets from Schoolboy Q and Solange, plus some jamming from Lettuce, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Chad Hugo, the set really took off when RZA, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Redman, and Inspectah Deck took the stage.

    Solange came back out to sing on the Ghostface classic “Cherchez la Ghost”, Method and Redman played into the crowds state with their How High collaboration “Part II”, and RZA pulled out their ultimate classic “C.R.E.A.M.” with the rest of his Wu crew. Lettuce was on point all night, undoubtedly serving as the set’s MVP. And if any fans were disappointed that Wu simply used a DJ in their main set, seeing them do some of those songs with one of the best funk bands on the planet surely made up for it. -Carson O’Shoney

    Those gnarly beards of ZZ Top amidst the wicked heat

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    Photo by Chris Jorgensen

    Before I walked into the festival, a number of people were bowing down to the presence of ZZ Top on the Bonnaroo lineup. In fact, one guy told me he was literally crying after he saw the legendary beards of southern rock jam in celebration of the South. To that effect, they truly delivered. Their set carried the same ZZ Top signatures that any casual listener might expect: bluesy guitars, bristly vocals, and statuesque rock ‘n’ roll poses to close nearly every song. A throwback vibe coursed through This Tent, where the outfit highlighted an array of rustle-hustle rock songs, including an impressive cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady”, all behind muffler-simulated microphones and a drum kit adorned with skull and cross bone designs.

    While some acts truly benefit from accompanying visuals for their performance, ZZ Top were a bit in the blue. Confusing visuals ranged from people writing letters, to apples falling in milk, to beach dwellers reflecting in a pair of sunglasses. It was almost as if they compiled all of the video clip art in Microsoft Works circa 1997. Don’t they know their beards are enough? -Sam Willett

    The Tallest Man on Earth actually being The Shortest Man on Earth

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    The irony of Kristian Matsson’s stage name has always been endearing to me. I love how the name ties into “The Gardner” song lyrics, making sure you understand that, though he’s poking fun at his small size, he’s also speaking to the concept of being somebody’s beacon of hope, someone’s landmark (or wanting to mean that much to somebody, anyhow). But Matsson’s size did not please me on Saturday, when a bustling This Tent virtually engulfed the tiny guy, making it damn near impossible to even catch a glimpse. But, as always, just by listening, it was plain to hear and see that Matsson is one of the best “guy with a guitar” performers around.

    His live shows add a hard-edged dimension to his already complex, conflicted stories. An emphatic, elongated croak sounds like a constricted neck; you can hear him turning red in the face with his yelps. His guitar work is so nuanced and powerful, too, that you often forget how complex his playing is. Matsson’s control over all aspects of his bare bones songs make for a riveting experience each and every time: a guy with a guitar and a voice making the very most of each of his tools. Gorgeous vocal melodies ride aboard even prettier guitar melodies. In a very wise move, Mattson closed his set with his cover of Paul Simon’s “Graceland”, saying hello and goodbye to the state of Tennessee with a song about the place. – Drew Litowitz

    Naptime on the bean bags with William Tyler


    Photo by Nate Slevin

    While most people at Bonnaroo were chilling with the laid back sounds of Jack Johnson on the main stage, a small but substantial number packed out the New Music On Tap Lounge to relax in a different way. The On Tap Lounge is set up with two areas of bean bags for Bonnaroovians to seek shelter and take a load off. So when William Tyler took the stage armed with just a guitar, his gorgeous instrumental songs provided a lovely backdrop to many bean bag naps. For some, this could be seen as an insult, but Tyler’s sound is so pure and soothing that it should really be seen as a compliment.

    That’s not to say there weren’t fans fully attentive; in fact, they were filling the tent and then some. After a few solo songs, Tyler brought out a full band complete with a steel guitar and a drummer. Tyler was in high spirits throughout the night, even acknowledging the bean bag nappers. The band was tight and played mostly songs from his excellent new album, Impossible Truth. The songs ranged from lush and expansive to pointed and driving, but they were all beautifully done. -Carson O’Shoney

    Billy Idol still performing in a leather, studded vest


    Photo by Nate Slevin

    Yes, Billy Idol was at Bonnaroo. Yes, I saw him. Yes, it was after midnight. Yes, it was sleazy. Yes, I enjoyed seeing his guitarist shred on a pink nylon stringed guitar with a cigarette hanging from his hair-metal head. Yes, when he played “Rebel Yell”, a screen displayed stock imagery of flames. Yes, “White Wedding” was performed both acoustic and electric. Yes, for some reason I was reminded of David Hasselhoff. Yes, Billy Idol thanked us for making his life “so fucking amazing.” Yes, the crowd was a mix of ironic witnesses and earnest Idolterers. No, there were not nearly enough motorcycles on stage (there were none). No, I am not proud of any of this. -Drew Litowitz

    When the guest list at the superjam didn’t even matter anymore. But that set list.


    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Jim James and John Oates’ stellar line up was only the beginning. The temporary supergroup consisting of My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel, Sly and the Family Stone’s Larry Graham, The Meters’ Zigaboo Modeliste, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and backup singers Bekka Bramlett and Wendy Moten all kept up the good vibes, but it was the setlist (and, admittedly, the surprise guests) that itched our memory banks.

    Favorites of the supergroup’s respective repertoires rolled on by, including an early rendition of The Meters’ “Hey, Pocky Way” and an initial closing medley of Sly’s hits a la “Dance to the Music”, “Hot Fun in the Summertime”, “Family Affair”, “Everyday People”, and “Thank You”. The latter two offered a rare, choice moment that made one really appreciate a place like Bonnaroo.


    As for the encore, the guests were dynamite — Billy Idol on T.Rex’s “Get It On”, Brittany Howard on Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”, and R. Kelly on two Sam Cooke cuts, “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Bring it on Home to Me” — but only because the choice of songs left our vocal chords sore and our heads ringing for hours on end. -Amanda Koellner

    R. Kelly finding his inner angel


    Photo by FilmMagic

    After counting down to the start of the set with “R-minus” minutes, R. Kelly brought out a gospel choir to open his first ever set at Bonnaroo. They led the crowd in claps as we waited for Kells to come to the stage. All of a sudden everything stopped, and we could hear R. singing “Ignition (Remix)”, only we still couldn’t see him on the stage. Once the cameras found him, the crowd figured it out, too: He was high above the Which Stage, lifted by a crane, with light radiating off of his white jacket.

    It was as if he were an angel, bequeathing his greatest gift unto the farm. However, the image was shortlived, as he only performed a small portion of the song above the stage before being lowered down by the slowest crane ever. It was awkward for a few minutes as nothing happened while we waited for him to descend. Eventually, the music, wait for it, reignited and he went right back into “Ignition (Remix)” again. From that moment on, the set was a grooving dance party, and Kells played all the hits — from “Bump n’ Grind” to “I’m A Flirt”. -Carson O’Shoney