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.
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
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
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
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
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