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Bonnaroo 2014: Top 35 Moments + Photos

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    Another year, another Bonnaroo. Each June, Manchester, TN, gains 80,000 temporary citizens who wish they could live there year-round. There are some who think about the festival and plan for it year-round, counting down the months until they pack up the car, head to Tennessee, and live on The Farm for four days. There are plenty of first timers, unsure of what they’re getting themselves into. There are also hundreds of volunteers, employees, artists, musicians, writers, and photographers in attendance. All of these people are coming together in a field in Tennessee for an experience like no other. There are plenty of great music festivals out there, but there’s nothing quite like Bonnaroo.

    Could this have been the best Bonnaroo ever? The folks at AC Entertainment and Superfly continue to make necessary tweaks to make the festival run like a smoothly oiled machine that just keeps getting better with time. The difference in the festival as a whole from the first time I attended eight years ago to today is immense, and all the changes have been for the better.

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    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    The traffic, like last year, was reduced significantly from the ridiculous waits of previous years. The grounds were more open and beautiful than ever. The infamous ditch between the What & Which Stages was finally fixed. The cinema tent felt like a real theatre. The stages and comedy theatre seemed to run smoothly, even while dealing with various schedule changes. The Kalliope Stage was perfectly situated next to the Food Truck Oasis and provided a great place to eat and catch World Cup, NHL, and NBA finals games — plus, it gave ravers an extra place to dance into the morning. Even the weather cooperated for most of the weekend. The rain stayed away, aside from a few light drizzles, and the temperature remained relatively low all weekend with plenty of cloud coverage most days.

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    That’s not even mentioning the lineup, which was once again stellar in both depth and quality. The various Superjams held lots of surprises; Jack White put on a memorable headlining set; Skrillex did Skrillexy things until dawn (well, almost) and played three times across the weekend; the late-night lineups proved to be epic; and Elton John closed it all down with a massive sing-along. How can you top huge sing-alongs from Paul McCartney and Elton John in consecutive years? We’re not sure, but we can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2015. But before we look ahead to next year, let’s take a look back at the weekend that was, shall we?

    –Carson O’Shoney
    Senior Staff Writer

    Wisest Life Lessons

    Hannibal Buress with Sasheer Zamata and Emily Heller

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Thursday, Comedy Theatre – 7:00 p.m.

    In my seven years attending festivals, I’d been to a comedy tent exactly once, and it was such an unsatisfying/frustrating experience I vowed never to attempt it again. But Hannibal Buress is really freaking funny, and a good laugh felt like the right way to start the weekend after 15 hours on the road. Thankfully, The Eric Andre Show star delivered, telling tales about how to live life his way. Whether letting his fly hang low (“I wear silver pants; I don’t care about pants rules.”), peeing his pants while on molly and dancing through it (“I’m wearing silver pants; what’d you expect?!”), or making large investments to avoid lending money, Buress shared his askew perspective on the norm to rollicking reactions from the packed tent. Still, his best bit had to be pointing out how many rap songs discuss morning erections. Seriously, everyone from Mystikal (“Woke up this morning/ Rocked up/ Dick hard like wolverine claws”) to Lil’ Wayne (“I woke up this morning, dick rock hard/ Dick harder than an armadilla”) has done it, and it’s a disturbing trend. Keep an ear out. –Ben Kaye

    Most Unexpectedly Awesome Collaboration

    Seasick Steve with John Paul Jones

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Saturday, What Stage – 1:30 p.m.

    I’m told Seasick Steve is rather famous over in England, but I hadn’t heard his name until Bonnaroo announced their lineup for the year. Attracted as much by the moniker as the boogie blues, it ended up being well worth rising early Saturday to catch the man’s mainstage-opening performance. He opened playing a single-string “diddley board” for “Diddley Bo” before bringing out “the bassist for the greatest rock n’ roll band of all time,” John Paul Jones. Apparently frequent collaborators, the strange pair make for a damn fine-sounding live show, with JPJ switching from bass to mandolin to lapsteel throughout the set. The former Led Zeppelin bassist remained humble on stage, continuously smiling at the joy of playing with his friend. Meanwhile, at 73 years old, Steve is a perfect subtle showman, strumming his homemade instruments and addressing the crowd in his soft drawl. He even pulled up a lady named Charlene from the crowd to sing her a love song (“Walkin’ Man”), and in a sweet way, not a creepy-old-man-hitting-on-me way. “This is how we do it in the South,” he told the crowd before wooing Charlene. “She’s from Canada, so she’s gonna learn a thing or two.” Consider me more educated, too. –Ben Kaye

    Classiest Set

    Haerts

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Saturday, The Other Tent – 3:30 p.m.

    Three-thirty in the afternoon might not typically fall into the “early” category of life, but on day three of Bonnaroo with the cloud coverage breaking and heat pouring down, it really is. That’s what made Haerts a good fit for the time slot, despite having only one EP out. Their dreamy synthpop played coolly over the fairly sparse crowd, with frontwoman Nini Fabi a near embodiment of the sound. Dressed in an elegant white dress that would’ve been as appropriate on a red carpet as a stage in Manchester, TN, her soft confidence gave her the presence of a ’70s pop balladeer, which does seem to be what the band is going for. Alongside favorites like “All the Days” and “Call My Name”, the Brooklyn quartet proved a welcome blast of cool with a few new slow jams. Though they probably would have been more successful and drawn a larger crowd had they been given a Thursday set, Haerts provided a touch of class to get the second-to-last day going in the right direction. –Ben Kaye

    Best Life Soundtrack

    Down N’ Dirt Hosted by Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson & Ilana Glazer

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    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    Sunday, Comedy Theatre – 2:00 p.m.

    Wouldn’t you know it, Hannibal Buress put on such a good show that it encouraged me to go back in for another comedy performance. Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer were full of energy, coming out bumping and twerking as they danced through the crowd. After sharing the adventure they had getting to the fest (“It was like Mother Nature had her first period in 42 years”), the girls shared their personal soundtrack to life’s little moments. With Abbi occasionally hitting the notes and Ilana more about scatting to lyrics she didn’t really know, the applauding audience was given great tunes to play “in your head or IRL” during your daily inappropriate activities. Abbi, for example, would suggest the Forest Gump suite for makeout sessions or “River of Dreams” for “fuck jams,” while Ilana apparently listens to “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” while jerking off and heard “Against All Odds (Take a Look At Me Now)” during her first lesbian experience. I just hope they get to hear “Circle of Life” when they die in their sleep after a long, successful career as comedy’s raunchiest, most lovable female duo. –Ben Kaye

    Best Way to Open a New Stage

    High and Mighty Brass Band and the Big Red Beetle Second Line to the Kalliope Stage

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Friday, Centeroo and the Kalliope Stage – approx. 12:15 a.m.

    As Bonnaroo continues to get bigger, more features find their way onto The Farm. One of the fresh additions this year was the Kalliope Stage, a glowing neon haven for dance and World Cup fans alike. I was heading to go catch the tail end of J. Roddy Waltson’s set when I heard the sounds of a brass marching band blowing in the evening air. Looking to my left, I saw a moko jumbie, frilly umbrellas pumping into the air, and a big ol’ sousaphone with the words “High and Mighty Brass Band” painted on the inside all bopping through Centeroo. Driving alongside was a giant VW Beetle all lit up with LEDs and sitting high on giant wheels. Of course I had to follow! The crowd following the procession was led to an oasis between The Other and This tents where the Kalliope Stage sprung to life with lasers and lights as the first DJ ever to play the stage threw the weekend’s first sneak-attack dance party. Surprise second lines are a trademark presence on The Farm, and having one open the festival’s newest stage on the first night was an excellent way to enjoy the weekend’s first late-night experience. –Ben Kaye

    Most Earplug-Appropriate Set

    Ty Segall

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Thursday, This Tent – 1:00 a.m.

    Having seemingly won the lottery with his Thursday night headlining set, Ty Segall was met with some semi-drowsy faces when he walked out onto the That Stage at 1 a.m. He savagely beat them awake, thrashing out a brutal set backed by a four-piece lineup that included Mikal Cronin. “I Bought My Eyes” into “Slaughterhouse” was an expected standout moment, but right on par with that was a string of brand-new cuts that he broke out – or more accurately, broke over people’s ears – presumably set to appear on his forthcoming album, Manipulator. –Steven Arroyo

    Best Reunion Set

    Neutral Milk Hotel

    footage Bonnaroo 2014: Top 35 Moments + Photos

    Friday, This Tent – 8:00 p.m.

    It’s a question every reunited act faces, but one that especially confronts Jeff Mangum this year: Are we only here for the reunion? Would Neutral Milk Hotel, known almost completely for one folk-oriented album, stand a chance at translating their stuff well enough to clear the high bar set by the late festival slot? And then you remember that this band peaked at a time when there essentially was no succeeding on recordings alone in indie rock. Clubs were the Internet. You needed live game. Neutral Milk Hotel has live game. Mangum, multi-instrumentalist garden gnome Scott Spillane, multi-instrumentalist-who-plays-everything-short-of-the-accordion-with-a-bow Julian Koster, and drummer/accordionist Jeremy Barnes spanned the vast majority of the NMH catalog with aggressive, dead-serious theatricality. Mangum’s lowered cap bill and full-on mane couldn’t hide the amazement on his face from the huge reception; this show, he concluded aloud, was his favorite of the reunion so far, while Spillane was reduced to a single, hard “wow.” –Steven Arroyo

    Sharpest Mustache of the Weekend

    Lionel Richie

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Saturday, What Stage – 8:00 p.m.

    With the main stage’s field filled, it’s not like there was a problematic chunk of attendees doubting what the slow ballads of Lionel Richie could realistically offer this festival, but the 64-year-old Richie still came out swinging directly at them. Richie’s crowd dialogue Saturday evening was sharper than anyone’s on The Farm this year, funny and old-school assertive with perfect awareness of his relationships with his “two groups” of fans (young and old people, in short). After imploring everyone to “pick up your cassette or your eight-track” and “call Lionel Richie” when in romantic crisis, trolling them by dangling a Diana Ross cameo (that she apparently turned down), and “covering everything” (he did, wisely ending on “All Night Long” and encoring with “We Are the World”), Richie punctuated the case he never had to make with a single question: “So, who you gonna call?” Everybody answered. “You’re damn right,” Lionel Richie’s mustache growled back. –Steven Arroyo

    Most Solid Scheduling

    Washed Out

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Sunday, The Other Tent – 5:45 p.m.

    Washed Out is the aural equivalent of sitting down in the shade after a long day directly under the sun. Washed Out played in a tent just as Sunday’s peak temperatures were subsiding. We, and Bonnaroo, fully approved. –Steven Arroyo

    Most Professional Set

    Real Estate

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    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    Thursday, That Tent – 7:30 p.m.

    Real Estate kicked off the weekend with a heavy dose of professionalism, showcasing their complete grasp on their material and an understanding of what is expected of their live shows. Sounding almost exactly like they do on record, the band ripped through their set as the sun began to set on the first day of the festival. I won’t go as far as to say it was one of the better sets of the weekend, let alone the day, but goddamn if that wasn’t some agreeable music. Very little else comes to mind when I think of the perfect thing to pair with a seven-dollar beer on a sunny day. –Pat Levy

    Best Melting Pot of the Weekend

    Omar Souleyman

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    Photo by Chris Jorgensen

    Thursday, That Tent – 10:30 p.m.

    Acting as his own hypeman, Omar Souleyman traversed the stage several times during his set on Thursday evening. Performing to a larger audience than one might expect and in a perfect time slot for those looking to get their rave on early in the weekend, Souleyman controlled the crowd with his music. At a certain point, tracks started to blend together, with some standouts like “Wenu Wenu”, but it really didn’t matter because everyone was having such a damn good time. It was a unifying experience so early in the weekend, sweaty dancing fools from all corners of the country coming together to jam with the coolest Middle Eastern musician alive. –Pat Levy

    The “If You Don’t Know, Now You Know” Show

    James Blake

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Saturday, That Tent – 8:45 p.m.

    After a last-minute stage switch left a lot of Fugees fans in the front row for the UK crooner’s set, James Blake set out to make everyone who didn’t already know his name familiar with him. Boy did he succeed, drawing in a huge crowd with his dulcet tones and bass-y synths matching perfectly with the new dusk. Maybe there isn’t much in common between James Blake and Jack White, but after Blake’s delicate but powerful set, there were thousands of fans perfectly set up for Jack White to knock down with his power chords. –Pat Levy

    Most Inebriated Moderator

    Drunk History w/ Derek Waters

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Saturday, Cinema Tent – 3:45 p.m.

    Showcasing a few clips from the upcoming season of the Comedy Central show and acting out bizarre onstage antics with several guests, Derek Waters showed that sometimes the most fun you can have getting inebriated at Bonnaroo is by just getting flat-out wasted. Based on the volume of the audible laughter filling the cinema tent, it was clear that no one was there just for the free A/C. The tent was full of fans of the show and the web series, so when Waters previewed a clip of two drunk grown men bathing together, the audience burst into laughter because they understood that through a certain lens, anything is funny. –Pat Levy

    Ultimate Greatest Non-Band Legacy

    Wet Hot American Summer w/ David Wain

    Sunday, Cinema Tent – 5:00 p.m.

    With a foreword by director David Wain, his seminal classic screened in the afternoon on the festival’s closing day, and I cannot tell you how much better that film is on a big screen, surrounded by huge fans all quoting the lines along with you. We all wept and laughed with Coop and Gene, cheered for the Bunk 3 kids after they saved the camp from the falling satellite, and celebrated in the happy union of Beth and Henry, but most of all, we felt united as a close-knit group of fans of the best summer camp, nay, summer movie of all time. –Pat Levy

    A Perfect Jammy Start to the Weekend

    Jonathan Wilson

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Thursday, This Tent – 4:00 p.m.

    Striking a nice balance between Southern rock and ’60s soul, Jonathan Wilson was quick to whip out some impressive jams and epic guitar solos to satisfy Bonnaroo’s roots and kick off Thursday right. Their opening song spanned over nine minutes and felt like it couldn’t get old. The band’s chilled-out stage demeanor turned the focus onto how their instruments communicated with the audience, especially with bassist Dan Horne’s adventurous licks and Jason Borger’s intense keyboard work. With such an enthusiastic response from the audience, Jonathan Wilson’s jamming and slow jams should be gaining much more attention in the near future. –Sam Willett

    Surrogate My Morning Jacket Act

    Caveman

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    Photo by Chris Jorgensen

    Thursday, The Other Tent – 6:15 p.m.

    Since My Morning Jacket played their first Bonnaroo in 2003, Jim James and Co. have been an essential part of carrying forth the Bonnaroovian spirit, fusing some genuine soul into star-packed SuperJams and multiple-hour sets. Caveman, an up-and-coming indie folk outfit from New York City, brought their contagious hooks to the table and garnered a similar feeling with their set, which was packed with highlights from their acclaimed sophomore album and endless enthusiasm. Frontman Matthew Iwanusa commanded attendees to find a partner to slow dance with, as he transitioned between beating a bass drum and kicking out simple-but-sweet guitar work, tickling our funny bones and conjuring sweet memories of that other special Bonnaroo band. –Sam Willett

    The Relentless Outliers of Thursday

    Cloud Nothings

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Thursday, This Tent – 8:30 p.m.

    The Thursday schedule was stacked with chilled-out, summer-appropriate artists, nothing too stressful or taxing. Cloud Nothings don’t fit that bill, obviously, and pulverized the This Tent’s speakers with their unnerving distortion. Kicking off with the deathly aggressive “Quieter Today”, the three-piece outfit pummeled whatever calmness was in the air and transformed it into rightful aggression while furiously working their way through much of Attack on Memory and their fantastic new album, Here and Nowhere Else. While some of the lead guitar parts were missed in “Stay Useless” and “Falling In”, the band made up for it with sporadic noise experimentation, while Dylan Baldi roared every lyric in competition with their collective intensity. To say the least, it was a perfect warm-up for what Ty Segall would bring to That Tent later in the evening. –Sam Willett

    Greatest Source of Nostalgia

    Banks

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Thursday, This Tent – 10:00 p.m.

    Being Banks’s first festival and late-night performance of her career, she confessed that nerves were racing through her vocal chords. Nobody in the audience would’ve ever guessed, though, given her sensual body movement and vocal hues, which infused some R&B magic into This Tent. Especially crowd-pleasing was her confident strut through an amazing cover of Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody”. Her bass-heavy production transformed the track into a dark but equally funky performance. She even displayed some impressive rapping skills when she laid down Timbaland’s verse. One thing’s for sure: Banks became an instant highlight on Thursday by offering her audience a moment of nostalgia that echoed through our minds all night long. –Sam Willett

    The Fourth Slightly SuperJam

    Disclosure and Sam Smith

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    Photo by Ben Kaye

    Friday, This Tent – 4:00 p.m.

    During Disclosure’s set at last year’s Lollapalooza, I put a few bets down that Jessie Ware, also on that lineup, would make an appearance to rock “Confess to Me” with the London duo. Unfortunately, I left disappointed, but their performance at Bonnaroo revived my spirits. After enrapturing the audience with Settle closer “Help Me Lose My Mind”, they opened the stage with the most celebrated collaborator on their debut, Sam Smith. Even though Smith included a stripped-down, piano-led version in his earlier solo set, his live addition to “Latch” was absolutely seamless. His falsetto coasted perfectly over its exhilarating chorus hook, while the duo provided its backbone with booming electronics and live instrumentation. Even though hearing “New Slaves” twice during Kanye’s set seemed repetitive, singing along with Smith only got better as the day continued. –Sam Willett

    Loudest Festival Firecracker

    Janelle Monáe

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    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    Friday, What Stage – 5:30 p.m.

    Restrained by a straightjacket strapped to a dolly, Janelle Monáe approached the What Stage in full maniac costume. She nudged and wiggled to break each strap free, and when she did, a continuous, animated energy was unleashed. She and her band instantly broke out into choreographed dance that exemplified both the robotic and human qualities behind her music. Even the horn players twisted their bodies in unlikely positions to match their intensity. The performance even included a few theatrical moments, especially her faux knee injury, which initially had me fooled. Thankfully, her male dancers, dressed as doctors, revived her with a human AED, using their hands like electrified shocking pads.

    What really brought the stage to life, though, was Monáe’s effortless balance between dancing and singing. While her vocals capitalized every impressive note on R&B ballads like “Primetime” and fun-loving “Electric Lady”, she whipped her body across the stage and tangled herself in stage props, like her majestic black cape, during her dance solos. To say the least, Monáe owned the large and intimidating What Stage, where Vampire Weekend and Kanye West would later do the same. –Sam Willett

    Best Mission Statement

    Chance the Rapper

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    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    Friday, That Tent – 2:30 a.m.

    Chance the Rapper and the Social Experiment have been working together for the past year or so to not only transform Chance’s celebrated mixtape, Acid Rap, into a electrified live performance but also to inspire attendees to think differently. Even though he felt it wasn’t festival appropriate, “Paranoia” opened the audience’s eyes to the most serious side of Chance, someone who is scared by the violence and negligence of his hometown. The band’s reinterpretation of Nosaj Thing’s production was cast in horns and solemn strumming while Chance proclaimed the need to take the problem of Chicago’s gun violence into our own hands with vivid passion. With the strong communal element embedded in Bonnaroo, he was loud and clear and, hopefully, inspired everyone in attendance.

    Immediately afterwards, he drew from the budding jukestep scene and adapted its pumped-up percussion and rapid heartbeat to “Everything’s Good (Good Ass Outro)”. With the passing of DJ Rashad still in mind, it was an appropriate reminder, and Chance’s dancing skills highlighted the joy behind his performance. Despite being a young gun and a Bonnaroo first timer, Chance instantly connected with the vibe of the whole festival: to be a good neighbor and radiate positivity. He played both roles perfectly in his performance on Friday. –Sam Willett

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