At its core, Bonnaroo is about cathartic collective experience via live music. So at the risk of sounding egotistical, I’m starting this piece on a personal note: This year marked my 10th consecutive Roo, a truly personal milestone considering I can count the things I’ve done that many years in a row without fail on one hand. The benchmark felt particularly significant given that Bonnaroo celebrated its 15th anniversary this year. But plenty of people have me beat: a fairly large throng of folks have returned to Manchester, TN for every single one, essentially giving birth to a localized subculture unlike any other in the U.S.

So what makes it worth the annual pilgrimage? It’s difficult to narrow down the reasons, but for starters, there’s no sound ordinance with its rural location – on “the Farm,” as we Bonnaroovians call it – which means that headliners can play special, lengthier than normal late-night sets, including the insanely stacked Superjams of lore. There’s also the communal magic of the campgrounds, which often feature plenty of planned and unplanned pop-up parties and shows, and sprawl about four times the size the Centeroo (main fest grounds). And in general, there’s the attraction of what the fest calls the Bonnaroovian Code, a list of suggested ethics that existed long before they were written down several years ago. Chief among them: Radiate Positivity. People walk through the iconic arch – this year outfitted with Dr. John’s feathered cap, whose album Desitively Bonnaroo is the fest’s namesake – and shed their egos, often without even realizing. It creates the closest thing we have to the spirit of Woodstock, with a contemporary utopian twist where the jocks and the hippies get along, where the young and old can play together without ever getting caught up in preconceived opinions.

Bonnaroo 2016 // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Despite those reliably recurring elements, ticket sales for this year were reported by fest organizers to be “slightly lower.” Sounds like no biggie, but some were speculating attendance between 40,000-50,000, which, if true, would be a massive decrease from the past few years’ typical 90,000. How could that be, one might wonder, with Roo’s reputation for proliferating transformative experiences? I mean, shiiit, that Pearl Jam set was for the history books, and there were some undeniably special bookings, including a confetti-splattered, late-night set from Tame Impala, another incredible dance party from LCD Soundsystem, and two back-to-back, two-hour, fest-closing sets from the Dead & Company, the new incarnation of the seminal group featuring the ever-gifted John Mayer. And don’t forget the undercard stocked with surefire stunners like Haim, recently reunited Ween, Band of Horses, J. Cole, Big Grams (Big Boi + Phantogram), and Blood Orange.

But under the microscope, the lower turnout isn’t surprising: There are only so many fiercely dedicated PJ fans that would (and probably did) dish out the cash for the weekend pass just to see their favorite band, and LCD Soundsystem – though seriously badass in this magical setting – is booked virtually everywhere this year, effectively killing their “get” factor. As for the Dead & Company, they attract a limited demographic – mostly of an older generation that may not be as willing to endure four days of camping in crushing heat, the threat of dangerous lightning storms (fortunately, Saturday’s brief evacuation proved to be a false alarm), and minimal sleep across 96-plus hours. Sure, the fest featured EDM titans like Griz, Flosstradamus, and Chainsmokers (which boasted a guest showing by budding pop star Halsey), but there was nothing like Deadmau5’s main stage headlining spectacle of last year to convince tens of thousands more millennials to buy in. Perhaps Macklemore’s presence could be argued a sufficient draw, but the lingering buzz of his “Thrift Shop” blow-up has long since waned.

Bonnaroo 2016 // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Yet, to say that the decreased attendance caused problems for the fest would be contrary to the long weekend’s overarching, unmistakably Bonnaroovian vibe. It makes sense if you think about it: a smaller gathering means more intimacy, which proliferates more connection and shared, music-induced euphoria between everyone involved. The average Bonnaroovian wouldn’t have even noticed the difference, however, because the fest’s footprint was tightened to fit the adjusted attendance.

Even though these details are important for the fest’s history books, they likely matter very little to anyone who was actually there. That’s because it’s extremely probable the majority of this year’s ticketbuyers were the types who would’ve splurged for the experience no matter what lineup was attached. We were fortunate this time around to be surrounded by tons of those super-dedicated music fans that form the bedrock of the fest’s unshakable subculture.

Anyone that’s worried about Bonnaroo fading away for ticket sales-related reasons is sliding down the slippery slope of Mt. Assumption. If anything keeps the fest alive, it will be the event’s unwaveringly dedicated organizers and this year’s core fan group, the true Disciples of Roo.

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Eddie Vedder put it succinctly on Saturday night: “Bonnaroo was one of the first fests like this to take hold in the States. It’s not just the people who put it on, but the people that come here – you – who [create] the positivity it takes to take care of each other when it’s too hot, when lightning comes …”

Little did Vedder know just how meaningful his words were on this particular evening. As the band approached the conclusion of their exhilarating set, the deadliest mass shooting in United States history and worst terror attack since 9/11 was committed at a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL. The juxtaposition of events underscored just how important it is to promote a set of caring ethics like the one Bonnaroo upholds. The preservation of our humanity depends on it.

Inevitably, Bonnaroo will kick your ass – doesn’t matter if you’re working, just enjoying, staying in a hotel, or camping – we’re all-in, all together. With that attitude, there’s always a sunny side to any moment of adversity. It was these people and their optimistic outlooks that pulled Bonnaroo through one 15-year period – essentially a lifetime when you take stock of the fact that many of this year’s teen attendees were born on or around the same year as the fest. Idealism can be dangerous, but it’s also a fundamental facet of every great music festival. With that in mind, there’s every reason to believe that these same diehard Bonnaroovians will help propel the festival through another extraordinary epoch.

Click through to check out our reviews of this year’s notable artists, from worst to best, plus a massive exclusive photo gallery.

–David Brendan Hall
Contributing Writer

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Tyler, the Creator

Tyler, the Creator // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

If you had a focus group sit in a room and watch the music videos for “Yonkers” and “IFHY” and then try to guess what a Tyler, the Creator festival set might be like, they would come up with Tyler, the Creator’s set on Friday evening. Sure, it was high energy and hectic, but that’s the brand he’s created for himself and this set seemed like a very boilerplate Tyler show. Throughout the show, Tyler and his onstage Odd Future cohorts Jasper and Taco threw up an insane quantity of middle fingers to the crowd and to each other. But honestly, the entire set felt like Tyler giving a middle finger to being interesting. That being said, “Bimmer” still slaps and the two Cherry Bomb tracks he played sounded great. –Pat Levy

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Steve Gunn

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Steve Gunn might have had a better show if his stage had not been sandwiched between two others. The thumping bass at Post Malone and piercing vocals at Two Door Cinema Club overshadowed Gunn’s mellow guitar, visibly frustrating him. Even a slew of new, more rock-heavy songs could not stop the show from fading into the background. The music was good enough to have been saved by some audience participation, but Gunn’s half-hearted efforts to engage with the crowd fell short, and the show suffered as a consequence. This one’s on Bonnaroo for messy scheduling, but Gunn himself should learn to roll with the punches. –Mandy Freebairn

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Tame Impala

Tame Impala // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

After floating over to the Which Stage on the heels of LCD Soundsystem’s jaw-dropping performance, a rambunctious crowd settled in for one of the most anticipated shows of the weekend: Tame Impala. The mood was right, the lighting was right, and all traces of the blistering heat that will likely have Bonnaroovians flaking dead skin for weeks had vanished (for a few hours, anyway). Yet, almost immediately after an entrancing introduction to “Let it Happen”, a wave of apathy rippled through the crowd.

The Which Stage, for its part, has always been on the low end of the totem poll stacked against Bonnaroo’s other performance spaces; the sight lines can be atrocious even at a reasonable distance from the stage, and the sound decomposes similarly. With such a heavily attended concert, Tame Impala was doomed from the start.

Their performance cast a few hundred foot net—within it, the confetti filled psychedelic dream world was in full force. “Elephant” hit hard and led beautifully into the introspective “Yes, I’m Changing” as its hypnotic melody rolled more than a few eyes back in their respective heads. For those trying to enjoy from a medium distance or beyond, however, it can only be compared to being served a flat beer after a long hot day. –Kevin McMahon

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Third Eye Blind

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Despite what may have been the worst SuperJam appearance in the last five years, I was really looking forward to Third Eye Blind‘s Sunday evening set. And so were many others as The Other Tent was more packed than I’d witnessed all weekend. Unfortunately, the band performed with such unearned ego that it was just another letdown. Stephan Jenkins, in some sort of half-dress apron, started the set essentially hidden at the back of the stage shrouded in fog and strobes, leaving the audience unsure if he’d even appeared. Hits were spread too thin and covers of Beyoncé and Prince felt flat. It would’ve been just as well had Jenkins walked off the stage when he dropped the mic during the second song, a move he was so proud of that he had to tell keyboardist Alex Kopp how cool he thought he was. Which just goes to show how uncool it really came off. –Ben Kaye

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Hundred Waters

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Photo by Ben Kaye

First day at The Other Tent is often dubious. It’s hard to place a finger on why, but no other stage has such a consistent issue with the live mix. Hundred Waters were not immune. The energy at the beginning of the show was lackluster at best, and with the bass rumbling over everything besides the peaking high end, we were not off to a good start. Luckily, as the crowd filled in, Hundred Waters seemed to as well. “Down With the Rafters” began the upswing with a thumping kick-drum much livelier than the studio rendition. The momentum carried as frontwoman Nicole Miglis breathed new life into her wispy vocals. By the end, the crowd was engaged, I was sweating, and Miglis appeared much more comfortable in her translucent pink saran-wrap ensemble. –Kevin McMahon

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Two Door Cinema Club

Two Door Cinema Club // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Two Door Cinema Club are a fine band on record, and live, they faithfully recreate their songs to a T. That said, there’s nothing surprising about the show they put on Saturday afternoon. They played a high-energy set of crowdpleasers like “I Can Talk”, “Something Good Can Work”, and set-closer “What You Know”, but some of that energy was lost on the massive Which Stage. Perhaps they would have been better served playing a prime slot in a tent, or maybe I just wasn’t feeling super high energy after dealing with the Tennessee sun for a day and a half. One way or another, they didn’t stick with me — a fine performance, just not too substantial. –Carson O’Shoney

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Bryson Tiller

Bryson Tiller // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Despite being new on the scene, Bryson Tiller knows what makes a hip-hop show. This is not necessarily a good thing. Tiller’s show was everything you’d expect and nothing you wouldn’t –mostly hits, some light joking, a short anecdote about starting at the bottom. Even Chance the Rapper’s cameo (his second of the night after coming onstage during J Cole) was unsurprising. Nevertheless, Tiller garnered a large and enthusiastic crowd. The good thing about starting off knowing the basics is that you have a leg up on those who are still figuring out stage presence. Tiller’s music is good, and he has potential to be a great performer; he just needs to find his own style rather than imitating others’. –Mandy Freebairn

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GoldLink

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Photo by Ben Kaye

All you can hope for during what passes for late night on a Thursday evening is a set that brings the highest energy possible to get your spirit up after the long trek to the Farm. Though it wasn’t the most enlightening performance ever delivered, GoldLink’s closing show over at The Other Tent at least met that requirement. Backed by a slowly forming three-piece band (two-piece, if you exclude the DJ), the rising DC rapper was full of fire as he bounded about the stage. An early cover of (I believe) Tyga’s “Bouncin’ on My Dick” was an interesting choice, but you couldn’t deny how hyped up it got the crowd. Certainly not my personal bag of hip-hop tea, but if it works, it works. –Ben Kaye

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Wet

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Dream pop creates a fragile medium in the live space. Maintaining a trance-like atmosphere without losing the crowd to conversation or an REM cycle is a genuine struggle. Wet toe this tight rope well, sure-footed and steadily improving their sound. Guitarist Marty Sulkow astutely borrows from the pages of The xx and Beach House over beats that pay more dues to the electro of artists like Emancipator and Odesza. While Kelly Zutrau’s lyrics leave something to be desired—think recently dumped teenager—her command of melody and ice cream sweet tone make it ultimately forgivable. To the unfamiliar, Wet offered what the Who Stage was built for, a promising band growing up right before our eyes. –Kevin McMahon

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CHVRCHES

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Photo by Ben Kaye

As the first bit of sun crested behind the What Stage, an ominous beat drew Lauren Mayberry and company onto the floor of Bonnaroo’s gleaming main attraction. For long time supporters of CHVRCHES, seeing them become the kind of act that can handle one of the largest venues in North America is supremely inspiring. One thing was immediately clear: Lauren Mayberry has spent some time meditating on what it is to be an entertainer. Her energy—jolting from side to side on the stage like a cross-country runner—pulled the crowd out of their late afternoon doldrums.

“Keep You On My Side” saw Mayberry kneeling and punching at the ground with the kind of genuine emotion that doesn’t often come from synth-pop. Her newfound ability was even more evident when Martin Doherty took the stage to sing lead on the ballad “High Enough to Carry You Over”. Immediately, a great deal of momentum was lost. Doherty is a capable singer, but the drop off in presence both vocally and physically was just too much to overcome. Mayberry was able to bring the show back up quickly with the addition of Paramore’s Hayley Williams on “Bury It”, but hiccups, no matter how long they last, are incredibly frustrating. –Kevin McMahon

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Mothers

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Photo by Ben Kaye

As one of the opening acts on a steamy Friday afternoon, CoSigned quartet Mothers were fielding a roasting crowd and high expectations. Natives of Athens, Georgia, the band was born in the summer heat, and they handled an antsy crowd with poise. Sporting the big sibling, little sibling duo of Gibson Les Paul and Gibson SG, Mothers produced the kind of gritty surf rock that comes with growing up far from a real beach. Songs like “It Hurts Till It Doesn’t” and “Copper Mines” were especially well-received, highlighting primary songwriter Kristine Leschper’s vocals. They also gave a left-field rendition of Glenn Frey’s “The Heat is On”, which put an interesting twist on a song originally produced for Beverly Hills Cop. With Frey’s passing early this year, perhaps it was in tribute. I just thought of Axel. –Kevin McMahon

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Public Access T.V.

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Photo by Pat Levy

The Who Stage is a little side stage wedged between a donut stand and a fake church, and it played host to some of the weekend’s more exciting small font acts. New York City’s Public Access T.V. was probably the band I saw build the biggest crowd from start to finish. Their first couple songs were played to just a few dozen, but by the end of a set full of damn near album quality music and pretty stellar stage banter (including an “LSD” chant and a thanks to the constantly circling Trojan Groove plane for flying them in), the crowd had grown to almost fill the capacity of the Who Stage’s available space. They’re certainly a candidate for the “most fans gained” award. –Pat Levy

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Givers

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Photo by Ben Kaye

It takes a lot of energy to excite a crowd in 95-degree weather on the last day of a festival. But Givers came prepared, with enough pep to wake even the most hungover fans. Crowdpleasers like “Up Up Up” and “Noche Nada” got the audience moving, while vocalists Tiffany Lamson and Taylor Guarisco playfully joked around onstage. Still, the show felt lacking–perhaps because it came on the heels of Lamson’s performance at the SuperJam the night before. Her jaw-dropping cover of Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” proved she can do much more than harmonize to a drumbeat. Givers’ music is all the jumpy camaraderie of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes with none of the soul and substance. Now, we know that Lamson possesses that, too, but where is it in her music? –Mandy Freebairn

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Death Cab for Cutie

Death Cab For Cutie // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Few musicians are able to have two extremely successful musical projects. Fewer still are able to do so with an incredibly awkward haircut. Ben Gibbard is one of those musicians. As Bonnaroo filled the What Stage for one final descent into evening, Gibbard and his ‘do wielded incredible power. Live, Death Cab for Cutie’s music comes through forcefully with a rock and roll bite that doesn’t quite make the studio versions. From “Black Sun” into “I Will Possess Your Heart”, Death Cab led the crowd seamlessly, showing a mastery that only comes with time. Even Chance the Rapper made his way into their set, requesting Gibbard play “I Will Follow You Into The Dark”. Only at Bonnaroo. –Kevin McMahon

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Post Malone

Post Malone // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Post Malone’s show was exactly what you would expect his festival sets to be like. His DJ came out to spin a few Top 40 tracks before Post took the stage to “White Iverson”, starting the song but cutting it short and saving the rest for later, forcing everyone who just wanted to hear it in its entirety to stick around. Aside from “White Iverson“ and “Too Young”, none of Post’s other songs seem to have stuck much with the crowd. There was a carefree and loose energy to the set, though it was difficult to tell if that was coming from the stage or the crowd. One highlight was the fact that Chris Bosh was in attendance. –Pat Levy

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Ellie Goulding

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Leaving Ellie Goulding’s delayed set was a mixed bag. On one hand, her seriously strong vocal performance and her songs’ dance/pop accessibility made it easy to see why she’s so huge. On the other, her relative lack of stage prowess and originality made it hard to see why she’d commanded a closing Which Stage set. Much of her show was screens and lights, while her dancing involved mostly pacing the stage at a clip while spinning or twisting her body so that her hair made giant plumes around her. The fact that she was wearing a crisp white Pearl Jam 2016 tour shirt was cute, but its freshness also indicated she’d bought it from the festival’s own merch tent, which made it feel almost pandering. Goulding’s a fine pop star worth more than her weight in gold in that crowded field, but on the one stretching out from Bonnaroo’s second stage, she may have done better in a pre-HAIM slot. –Ben Kaye

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Judd Apatow & Friends

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Judd Apatow headlined the Bonnaroo Comedy Theatre after not doing stand-up in almost 20 years. Since then, all he did was become one of the biggest names in comedy as a writer, producer and director. Along the way, he’s picked up his fair share of connections, so he took the “& Friends” route for his headlining set, much like Dave Matthews does when he head Bonnaroo. This meant Apatow would come on stage for about 25 minutes of stand-up, before acting as MC the rest of the show. Apatow’s set revolved mostly around his family and sex. It was all well-trodden territory, and none of his jokes were too surprising, but he’s a likeable and self-deprecating guy who knows how to deliver a punchline, and he got plenty of laughs from the relatively small crowd. The biggest laughs of the night came from a story of his youngest daughter’s “vagtriliquism.”

The two other billed performers for the late show — Beth Stelling and Nate Bargatze — were up next, and they each delivered low-energy but effective 15-20 minute sets. Then came surprise guest Kevin Nealon, who leaned into some touchy subjects in his short 12-minute set, but didn’t step on any toes. His brief foray into transgender issues ended up just being a dick joke, but not at the expense of anyone but himself. Pete Davidson, billed on the first show but not scheduled for this one, rounded out the night by doing a short set while self-reportedly tripping on mushrooms. Like most Apatow productions, the show went a little long, and some people may have been disappointed after the first show got Eddie Vedder as a guest, but it was still a solid night of comedy. –Carson O’Shoney

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SuperJam

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Bonnaroo SuperJams are often the stuff of legend: D’Angelo, ?uestlove, Jim James, R. Kelly—it’s consistently the most unpredictable musical event of the year. This year’s revue was led by the incomparable Kamasi Washington, dressed in a luxurious red and gold full-length dashiki, who served as both musician and story teller. The entire performance recanted the proud story of Tennessee through the lens of its most celebrated music: Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, BB King, Issac Hayes, and countless others were represented.

More talent passed through that stage in two hours than most venues in an entire year. Tiffany Lamson of Givers offered a beautiful rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You” and Nathaniel Rateliff’s rendition of the Bobby Bland classic “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” was similarly flawless. A few questionable decisions were made—Third Eye Blind’s Stephen Jenson on “Ring of Fire” and everyone involved with the decision to play “Party in the USA”—but once again, the SuperJam proved to be a must-see occurrence. –Kevin McMahon

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Jason Isbell

Jasojn Isbell // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Sunday began on the most somber of notes. The horrible events in Orlando filled the air with more weight than all the heat and humidity of every Bonnaroo combined. Jason Isbell did his best to remind the crowd that music and the celebration of how it connects us all is what we must hold on to most during difficult times. Though he only mentioned Orlando once, with the optimistic sentiment that there’s more good than evil, his music spoke louder than words. “Cover Me Up”, an earnest love song written for his wife—who happens to be the violin player in his band—was a genuinely tender moment. The song culminated with the two, eye to eye, gliding the song to a halt. Being able to share that kind of intimacy with so many people is plenty of reason to keep the faith. –Kevin McMahon

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Dungen

Dungen // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Swedish four-piece Dungen kicked things off Friday with an eclectic set that hit all the notes of a great early-afternoon Bonnaroo show. Their psychedelic side arrived strong as they jammed their way through a mix of instrumental songs and jams in their native tongue, complete with plenty of soaring solos and improvisational moments. The highlight of the set was undoubtedly the flute jam as Gustav Ejstes twisted his solo flute tune into a clap-along that eventually boiled over into a full-blown song. While his claim that it might be the first flute played at Bonnaroo is probably false, he might just have a claim for best flute solo the Farm has ever seen. –Carson O’Shoney

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FIDLAR

Fidlar // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

A more apt band could not have been chosen for one of the hottest moments in my eight years at Bonnaroo. FIDLAR have always epitomized the “fuck it” lifestyle—in song, in action, and in essence. Lead singer Zac Carper’s troubles are well documented, but you wouldn’t know it from his on-stage demeanor. In his irreproachable Cali-surf-dude voice, Carper led the crowd through an excruciatingly energetic set with jokes to boot. After playing a painfully dissonant “Star Spangled Banner” interlude, FIDLAR launched into “Generation Why”—a tastefully whiny song lamenting the plight of the modern millennial. The crowd then slurped up FIDLAR’s energy and the heat was forgotten … sort of. –Kevin McMahon

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Hinds

Hinds // By David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Hinds are definitely a band that should be seen in close quarters. Vocalist Carlotta Cosials is a ball of energy, delivering punchy lyrics with just the right amount of attitude. Her playful commentary, coupled with some serious headbanging from the rest of the band, adds character to the music. Though it’s the smallest stage on the Farm, Bonnaroo’s Who stage lacked the intimacy that Hinds’ show demands. The echo shortage in the outdoor stage made the band’s lofty harmonies sound more unrehearsed than innovative. Still, Hinds were able to draw a significant crowd and hit their stride with a sped up version of “Chili Town” late in their set. –Mandy Freebairn

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Lucius

Lucius // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

All music aside, Lucius knows how to perform. Standing in front of a neon pink sign bearing the band’s name, vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig took the stage in matching all-white outfits, identical down to the eyeliner and wigs. Unfortunately, much like their outfits, their songs became difficult to distinguish by the end. Constant harmonizing is great for a senior voice project, but it fails to impress at a music festival. Notable exceptions were “Born Again Teen” and “Genevieve”. At these points, Laessig and Wolfe used their impressive harmonies to complement their songs, not to anchor them. For Lucius to really shine, they should focus on amplifying this–performing more like a rock band and less like a vocal duo with background instruments. –Mandy Freebairn

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Band of Horses

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Photo by Ben Kaye

There are many things you see at Bonnaroo that will surprise you. Watching Ben Bridwell nervously blow down four cigarettes before stepping on stage was one of them. It was a humanizing moment, and one that characterizes the honesty that Band of Horses‘ music brings across. Their performance of “No One’s Gonna Love You” showcased Bridwell’s ability to consistently sing in a higher register without adding a trace of ’90s whine to his tone. This ability gives Band of Horses a sense of purity, which they nimbly supplemented throughout the performance with emotional textures that could’ve come straight from Explosions in the Sky. The moments Band of Horses stray from this sweet spot to more heavy sounding rock land soft, but they never stay too long. With Bridwell’s crooked smile and penchant for flannel, the band’s friendly vibes fit in very well. —Kevin McMahon

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Vulfpeck

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Photo by Kevin McMahon

Seeing Vulfpeck in concert is a bit like visiting your goofy older brother—if he was a classically trained musician. Following a line of dorky humor and playful on-stage antics, Vulfpeck made the audience feel right at home. Their form of unassuming yet thickly spread funk has amassed a cultish following in the five years they’ve been together. Known by many for their Spotify gag, Vulfpeck similarly bring a clever live performance that can’t help but be met with a smile. Band members engaged in a literal version of musical chairs and retained an undeniably familial banter with the crowd. After bringing out BØRNS for the harmonies on “Back Pocket” and later Vocalist Atwaun Stanley, a brotherly motif was set in stone for the weekend. –Kevin McMahon

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Vince Staples

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Photo by Ben Kaye

For a relatively low energy dude, Vince Staples can get a crowd hyped. It doesn’t hurt that his catalog, though not enormous, is full of absolute fucking hits. Smashing through cuts from Summertime ’06 and Hell Can Wait, Staples commanded the crowd with ease. The stage banter between songs was sparse, save for one bit about not being able to do drugs because of asthma, which was a bit of a bummer considering how Staples is incredibly funny. But without too much chatter, there was more room for music and Staples filled his set with energy and put on arguably the best rap show of the weekend. –Pat Levy

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Chris Stapleton

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Country has always had a nice niche at Bonnaroo, even if it’s not a main draw every year. You don’t get much bigger in country than Chris Stapleton right now, so his booking for this year’s festival was both obvious and welcomed. His mellow mid-afternoon set was a perfect cooldown in the sticky heat. Stapleton and his wife, Morgane Stapleton, stood essentially face to face the entire performance, a loving pair of harmonizers turning the large What Stage field into a surprisingly intimate setting. Even though the rumored Justin Timberlake appearance never happened, the set was paradigmatic of what a main stage country act can do on the Farm. –Ben Kaye

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Bully

Bully // By David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

The ferocity with which Bully ripped through their set was admirable, but looking back on their last two tracks, maybe they were just excited to get to the covers they chose to end the set with. Trotting out Mclusky’s “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues” and “No New Wave No Fun” were such fun choices, and while it might not be the most obvious cover, it was definitely the right one. To hear frontwoman Alicia Bognanno take on “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues” was a treat, and would’ve made Mclusky’s Falco Falkous proud. And for those wondering, the entirety of Feels Like also sounded incredible live, especially “Too Tough” and “Milkman”. Anytime you have a chance to see Bully live, take it. –Pat Levy

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Haim

Haim // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

California pop rock quartet Haim have blown up astronomically since their debut album, Days Are Gone, in 2013 (good music and making friends with T. Swift will do that). The Haim sisters bring as much energy as one would expect from Fleetwood Mac-inspired pop rock and then some. Their movements are so synchronized, at times they can feel like extremely talented clones, thrusting their fists into the air and swinging their guitars in perfect harmony. As a treat, Haim displayed a few tunes from their new album tentatively slated for the fall; “Nothing’s Wrong” stood out with a slow burning verse depicting a crumbling relationship and the type of peppy chorus they’ve built their name on. Even as Saturday’s storm began to threaten, the sisters finished strong, doing their part to keep the crowd in good spirits for the impeding delay. –Kevin McMahon

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Big Grams

Big Grams // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

A collaboration between Outkast legend Big Boi and indie-electronica group Phantogram doesn’t sound like it should work on paper, but Big Grams’ late night set at 2 a.m. Saturday night proved that they’re legit, and have real chemistry. Running through all seven tracks from their debut EP, they also sprinkled in some Big Boi solo tracks. But the real highlights, to no one’s surprise, were the Outkast songs. Since Bonnaroo wasn’t able to snag them during their reunion tour a couple years ago, this is the closest we’ll get to seeing the ATLiens on the Farm. The crowd went nuts when they dropped “Mrs. Jackson” and “The Way You Move”, the perfect way to end many people’s final late night set of the weekend. –Carson O’Shoney

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Kurt Vile

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Direct sunlight on an overbearingly hot day didn’t make things easy at the shade-deprived Which Stage, but Kurt Vile and the Violators chugged on with a jangly, laid-back Sunday afternoon set. Vile sandwiched his biggest hits “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day” and “Pretty Pimpin’” right into the middle of the set, sprinkling the rest of the set with gems like “KV Crimes” and “Jesus Fever”. The slacker vibe of the set was perfect for the last day of the festival, where most people are sluggish at best. If it weren’t for the insane heat, it would have been the perfect Sunday afternoon, lay-down-in-a-field-and-forget-about-life set. It still was, provided you were one of the lucky few with some shade cover. –Carson O’Shoney

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Leon Bridges

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Photo by Ben Kaye

On the first full day of Bonnaroo, in the blistering, oppressive heat, it felt like the sun would never set. That was, until Leon Bridges hit the stage. The coolest guy on the Farm soothed the sun down and took the enormous Other Stage crowd on a throwback ride of songs both new and old. From upbeat soul jams to classic gospel hymns, Bridges proved to be one of the few acts on the lineup that attendees of all generations could enjoy. His band was pitch perfect and his charm and dance moves were infectious. The cherry on top was a silky-smooth rendition of Ginuwine’s “Pony”. Yes, really. I assume he played it just to prove he could make any song work in his classic style. Trust me when I say he won’t be playing in Tents much longer. Next time he comes back to the Farm, I expect it to be on a much larger stage. –Carson O’Shoney

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Lizzo

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Hip-hop was pretty hit or miss at Roo this year, with Chance the Rapper spinning Coloring Book in the Silent Disco likely being the biggest rap experience to be had. But at least there was Lizzo, whose live presence is so strong it’s as can’t miss as the genre got on the Farm. It was one of those rare sets where the DJ (the incomparable Sophia Eris) and dancers really feel like they were truly part of the act, not mere set dressings. They felt like they were a team — not hired guns — with the multi-talented Lizzo at the lead. She danced, sung, spit, and postured with the kind of natural talent and gusto many mainstream artists would pay to imitate. Add in the positive lean of much of her music, and you have a Thursday evening show worth arriving early for.
–Ben Kaye

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Purple Rain Screening and Dance-Along

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Photo by Pat Levy

Sparsely attended but thoroughly enjoyed by everyone present was the post-LCD Soundsystem screening of Prince’s visual masterpiece, Purple Rain. The passing of a legend is never easy to contend with, but it’s made much easier by surrounding yourself with like-minded people who can commiserate with you, fondly recall with you, and move on with you. It’s like seeing a great comedy; it’s much better with a crowd of people who are laughing at all the jokes in tandem. Seeing Purple Rain with a room (half) full of Prince fans felt like purifying myself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, at least emotionally. –Pat Levy

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Waxahatchee

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Photo by Ben Kaye

“Brock Turner is a rapist, and it doesn’t matter what else he’s done,” said Katie Crutchfield as Waxahatchee took the stage and dedicated their set to the victim of the recent case, a poignant moment that kicked off Day 1’s best sets. To inject some reality into the positivity-soaked frivolity of Bonnaroo is a tightrope to walk for sure, but in a way, Crutchfield’s dedication mirrored her set — succinct, essential, and not a single note missed. Opener “Under a Rock” and “Air”, both off Ivy Tripp, were highlights of the overwhelmingly great set. –Pat Levy

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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Not everyone was thrilled to see Macklemore & Ryan Lewis as the second-highest listed hip-hop act on the bill — I know I wasn’t. But anyone who managed to suck up their pretension and go check out the megastar duo’s set likely left more than pleasantly surprised. Their set design made some of the best use of the main stage’s size as any act of the weekend, loading it with props, dancers, and lights. They also brought out some of the best surprise guests, including Chance the Rapper for the This Unruly Mess I’ve Made track “Need to Know”.

Unfortunately, their set was bisected by the storm delay, and I couldn’t catch the second half. When you’re bummed you missed most of a set (which also saw Eric Nally appear for “Downtown”) for which you weren’t even excited, you know your expectations have been shattered. As Macklemore himself espoused during a speech early in the set, Bonnaroo is all about dropping your ego; do yourself a favor and follow his advice next time you have a chance to catch him live. –Ben Kaye

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Miguel

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Photo by Ben Kaye

If there was ever a time to get down and dirty at Bonnaroo — and not just by dust — it was during Miguel’s late night set on Saturday. Due to the storm delay, the R&B singer hit the stage as Pearl Jam was still in the middle of their headlining set, but he still pulled a crowd that extended well beyond the confines of That Tent. He and his full band had coordinated dance moves for days, and Miguel’s voice was smooth as ever. He played some of his hits like “Waves”, what could be a Bonnaroo anthem in “Do You”, and even brought out this year’s Bonnaroo MVP Chance the Rapper to cover Biggie’s “Juicy”. It was everything you could want out of a late night R&B show. –Carson O’Shoney

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Father John Misty

Father John Misty // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

“This giant question sign doesn’t do much to help the existential quandary of getting in front of thousands of college students on mushrooms and talking about your feelings,” Father John Misty, aka Josh Tillman, quipped, referring to the question mark that used to adorn the Which Stage, and that now resides next to the sound booth. Later, during “Bored in the USA”, the folksy Lothario took a moment to comment on a naked inflatable man who was being tossed around the pit: “There could not be a more apt visual for this song — you may think it’s just subversive but it is actually getting me quite off.”

Despite these gems, Tillman didn’t talk much, but then again, he didn’t have to as the music was the main attraction. “I’m Writing a Novel” got everyone grooving, “Holy Shit” started as a solo acoustic tune before exploding with noise for a full band close, “I Love You Honeybear” and “Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins)” were the biggest singalongs, and “The Ideal Husband” capped off the set in loud and furious fashion. It was a big step up from his 2013 Bonnaroo appearance, both in status and performance, and he proved he belongs on the festival’s main stages for good. –Carson O’Shoney

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Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks // By David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Twin Peaks have such a crazy, enviable chemistry. These guys fucking love playing together, and it showed at Bonnaroo. Smashing through hits from Sunken, Wild Onion, and their newest album, Down in Heaven, there was a chaotic majesty to their set. Things get wild on stage when the Midwestern boys are playing, but the music never suffers for it. Speaking of Twin Peaks’ energy, is there a festival it’s better suited for than Bonnaroo? Unlikely. Their brand of we’re-always-three-beers-and-a-joint-deep meshed all too well with festivalgoers settling into their first day of carefree hedonistic-ish pleasures. “Stand in the Sand” and “Making Breakfast” were highlights of a set that was essentially one long highlight. –Pat Levy

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Dawn

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Dawn provided a necessary respite from the throngs of Dead and co. wookies on Sunday evening, offering a great show with high energy throughout. She bounced alongside her backup dancers as they breezed through her catalog, even finding time for a Kanye dance party in the middle of the set. Playing at the relatively small Who Stage, Dawn garnered the location’s largest crowd of the weekend. While most shows at Who could’ve filled a mid-sized venue, Dawn threw a block party and everyone in attendance was having a blast. –Pat Levy

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Sunflower Bean

Sunflower Bean // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Brooklyn psych rock trio Sunflower Bean couldn’t have picked a better slot to play this weekend, fitting perfectly into the mid-afternoon of Sunday’s scorcher. Their brand of hazy, fuzzed out psych rock/pop suited the day’s high temperatures and the attendee’s not-entirely-unpleasant exhaustion. Fresh off their debut album, Human Ceremony, the group flew through their Who stage set with precision and vigor, ready to make an impression. The sun was beating down pretty damn hard, but the band was powerful enough to lure festivalgoers out of the nearby donut tent and into the deadly rays outside. –Pat Levy

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Ibeyi

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Four o’clock in the afternoon was the perfect time for Afro-Cuban duo Ibeyi’s soulful set. The onstage connection between twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz was palpable, as was the enthusiasm of the crowd. With the former on keyboard and the latter on percussion, the two weaved crystal clear harmonies in both English and Yoruban. The show’s best moment was the duo’s rendition of “Exhibit Diaz”, a melodic track that was punched up with live sampling and the sisters’ dance moves. The crowd, which started out modest, grew steadily as the show went on, and it’s safe to say that Ibeyi has gained plenty of fans stateside. –Mandy Freebairn

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J.Cole

J. Cole // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Backed by a flawless band, Jermaine Cole delivered one of the best shows of the weekend bar-none. Live hip-hop is an incredible spectacle when done right: it gives surreal depth to the original production, and shows just how musical the genre truly is. On “Lights Please”, duplicate acoustic percussive layers and a full-bodied piano coupled with numerous other instrumental textures for a transcendental symphonic display. Then, suddenly, Chance the Rapper made his way on stage.

Chance himself seems to be very fond of making guest appearances at Bonnaroo, fooling around for the past two years during various performances. The duo performed Chancelor’s hit “No Problem” and the crowd responded with a roar. Cole’s band brought the crowd back to Earth with the sultry grove from “Hello”, and we “returned to [our] regularly scheduled programming.” The concert ended in epic fashion with Cole convincing the entire audience to embrace each other—strangers and friends alike—for “Note to Self”. Not a large ask for the winsome crowds at Bonnaroo. –Kevin McMahon

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Sausage Party

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Flanked by men in dark suits and Google Glasses, a packed Cinema Tent crowd glimpsed a sneak peek of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s upcoming film, Sausage Party. While certainly not the first animated film garnering a hard R rating, I can’t quite think of another in the category that leans so heavily into the inherent silliness of using a format for children’s entertainment to tell an adult story. Sausage Party looks like it was made by the guys who created Shrek 2 and Thomas the Tank Engine and that’s because it was. Actual animators of children’s films directed this, and as such, it looks like a kids’ movie in a way that R-rated cartoons like Heavy Metal or A Scanner Darkly don’t.

That silliness extends to the plot and dialogue of the movie, which is cloaked in double entendre and wordplay much like the cartoons we all loved as kids that now make so much more sense as adults. The vocal performances are all incredible, with co-MVP honors going to Nick Kroll (as a literal Douche) and Michael Cera. While 80% of the movie flies by with a fun, if not slightly predictable plot, the ending is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. When I say cartoon food orgy, know that the image that pops into your head is not even close to the depravity on screen. It’s brilliant, obscene, and goddamn delightful. –Pat Levy

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The Lennon Claypool Delirium

The Claypool Lennon Delirium // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

After a brief lightning delay, Bonnaroo legend Les Claypool hit the stage with Sean Lennon as their new collaborative project The Claypool Lennon Delirium. The duo played most of their debut album Monolith of Phobos, dripped in psych with spacey visuals backing them up. “Boomerang Baby” was the highlight of the originals, but the best moments came in the form of covers. They touched on Primus and Frog Brigade songs as could be expected, but they also played supremely trippy versions of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine” and the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”, the latter of which featured Lennon doing a pitch-perfect imitation of his father.

Outside of the Dead and possibly the SuperJam, this was the most quintessentially Bonnaroo performance of the weekend. Plus, it added another band to Les Claypool’s already stellar Bonnaroo resume, which includes sets with Primus, Oysterhead, Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade, Les Claypool’s Fancy Band, Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, Gabby La La, a solo set, and a SuperJam. He’s got a strong case for Mayor of Centeroo, and this set just made it that much stronger. –Carson O’Shoney

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Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires

Charles Bradley // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Charles Bradley sums up everything that makes Bonnaroo so great. His positivity is boundless, his joy is limitless, his individuality is unparalleled, and the love he has for what he’s doing is not even quantifiable. His Sunday afternoon set showcased all of these qualities in abundance, and I can’t think of another show all weekend where the connection between artist and audience was so tangible. Everyone at the show, whether new to Bradley or longtime fans, was 100% on board for everything he was putting down. Every time he reached deep within himself to unleash the mighty wail that earned him his “screaming eagle of soul” nickname, the crowd broke into rapturous applause. There was love in the air at Charles Bradley, and everyone was getting some. –Pat Levy

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Con Brio

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Con Brio lived up to their namesake (Italian for “with spirit”) at their 4:30 p.m. set on Thursday. One of the first acts of the festival, Con Brio carried an already excited crowd through a show full of teasing breakdowns, audience interaction, and plenty of funk. Vocalist Ziek McCarter was clearly the focal point of the show, floating over startling high notes while displaying some serious dance moves. McCarter is at home onstage; perhaps, even, a little too at home–his zebra-printed outfit was mostly gone by the end of the set. The show hit its mark with its closing number, new release “Free and Brave”, a political anthem that is both musically and lyrically stunning. Con Brio has certainly earned its spot at Bonnaroo, and we can expect big things for them as they embark on their first tour this summer. –Mandy Freebairn

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Dead and Company

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Photo by Ben Kaye

On the list of things I never thought I would see, The Grateful Dead playing with John Mayer was definitely up there. Yet, when push came to shove, it felt like a natural fit. Mayer’s prowess on the guitar is often understated, and he did well to match the classic noodle-like tone of Jerry Garcia. Another pleasant surprise from the set was the setlist itself. Virtually every well-known Dead song was represented. Watching “Shakedown Street” flow into “Passenger” back into a reprise of “Bird Song” was exactly what the crowd needed. First set closer “Franklin’s Tower” popped with vitality—perhaps because there was at least one musician under 60 on stage.

As Dead and co. walked off stage for the set break, Bob Weir warned the crowd not to “get lost.” It was good advice. Set breaks during jam band shows can be either comical or a dark spiral of mental damnation—fortunately, Bonnaroo was able to hold it together and the Dead returned. Set two featured the incredible instrumental “Drums and Space”, a surprisingly modern sounding percussive composition. The movement began with tribal tom drum play, then moved to an electronic break-beat, and ended somewhere incredibly ambient. It was easily the most interesting moment of the concert. The show ended with a version of “Touch of Grey” that was long enough for me to grab a slice of pizza, take a piss, drink a beer, and weep uncontrollably that Roo had come to an end. –Kevin McMahon

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Lamb of God

Lamb of God

Photo via Film Magic

Only at Bonnaroo can one venture from a Haim concert to Lamb of God. There’s probably a metaphor for how opposite the two are, but words just don’t seem enough. Strolling up to the Other Tent, Genesis’ “No Reply at All” was playing with images of satanic symbols and fire flickering on stage. It felt as though I was living in a 4 a.m. Adult Swim program. Then a hegemonic voice from above told the crowd of the impending storm delay…

A little under two hours later, an extremely disorientated crowd returned and Lamb of God dominated. From the instant the band stepped out, frontman Randy Blythe had total control. “This is a little bit different from the rest of your weekend I imagine,” he said with the shit-eating grin of a man hunting for easy prey. What followed was a punishing onslaught of deftly orchestrated metal, from the chest-bursting drum breaks of “Hourglass” to the all-too-real “512”.

Bonnaroo shows time and time again its capacity for diversity, and Lamb of God’s performance was a crystalline example. Going into the show, I can say with complete confidence that many in the crowd were not familiar with the music outside of its genre. I can also say with complete confidence that every man, woman, and child (well, hopefully not children) took an enjoyable piece of Lamb of God’s world back with them. -—Kevin McMahon

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Kamasi Washington

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Before taking over as ringleader of this year’s Tennessee-themed SuperJam, Kamasi Washington hit the stage and proved why he was chosen for that honor with a triumphant Friday afternoon set. Backed by his supremely impressive band The Next Step, Washington tore the roof off This Tent with the funkiest and jazziest set Bonnaroo has seen in years. Every member of the Next Step got their own share of the spotlight; instead of introducing them at the end of the show, he introduced them one by one as the show went on and gave each of them room to prove their skills. This included the best homemade keytar shredding I’ve ever seen, a drum “conversation” between the band’s two drummers, a few righteous trombone solos, a scratching exhibition by DJ Battlecat, and the backup singer and upright bassist each taking lead vocal turns.

Washington turned his set into a family affair by inviting his father Rickey Washington to play with the band for the majority of the time. Mixing elements of hip-hop, electronica, noise, and funk, Washington does jazz like no one else today and during his set, he demonstrated why he’s such an in-demand saxophonist. He also dropped an exciting nugget on the Bonnaroo crowd: During the recording sessions for his massive three-disc debut album, The Epic , Washington and the Next Step recorded eight (!) albums. During his set, he played a new jam from those sessions called “Abraham”, and if the rest of the records are as good as that song, get ready for a boatload of great new Kamasi Washington music coming down the pipeline. –Carson O’Shoney

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Whitney

Whitney // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Taking the stage at perhaps the hottest point of the day, Chicago septet Whitney only exacerbated things by being incredibly on fire themselves. In a gentle, almost meek tone, frontman/drummer Julian Ehrlich announced to the crowd that it was their first festival, but these guys played like veterans with decades of experience behind them. There’s a visible sense of fun watching Whitney play; they smiled at each other when someone would solo for a bit, they interacted with the crowd between just about every song, and the whole set was just a delight. Fresh off their incredible debut record, Light Upon the Lake, this is a band that could headline this whole festival in the next five to 10 years. Mark my words. –Pat Levy

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Ween

Ween // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

LCD Soundsystem may have been the more publicized reunion after a short-term hiatus, but Ween getting back together after a four-year break was the more feel-good story of the weekend. After nearly 30 years as a band, Aaron Freeman, aka Gene Ween, left the band in 2012 to focus on getting sober after a highly publicized on-stage “meltdown” in Vancouver the previous year. The time off seems to have worked, as he was all-smiles and looking much healthier when he took the stage as the sun set Sunday evening over a sea of Boognish t-shirts and totems. Opening with “Transdermal Celebration”, Dean, Gene, and co. tore through some crowd pleasers like “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)”, “Ocean Man”, “Roses are Free”, and “The Mollusk” during their all-too-brief hour and 15 minute, 12 song set.

Ween embodies the Bonnaroo spirit like few others. They’ve been playing the festival since the very beginning in 2002 (this being their fifth appearance on the Farm), and they play so many styles of music at once, that almost any Bonnaroovian can find something to groove to at their sets. Plus, the Creator himself, Ashley Capps, was in the pit, with a Ween hat on, jamming out the entire set — so you know they’re in good standing with the higher-ups. The only downside to this show was the length; all four of Ween’s previous appearances on the Farm featured at least 20 songs (in fact, their classic 2004 set stretched to 33). It’s a disservice to not even give them an hour and a half when their normal sets usually surpass two hours, but that’s no fault of their own. They worked with what they had and shut down the Which Stage for the weekend in style. –Carson O’Shoney

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Blood Orange

Blood Orange // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

On Saturday morning, I got extremely strong Prince and Steph Curry vibes from Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange. (Blame it on Purple Rain and game four of the NBA Finals the night before, perhaps.) But really, Hynes is a consummate performer with a total mastery of the stage, moving through any space like a sensual jellyfish. His artistry is a sight to behold, a man totally in control of his craft and his persona. The way he inhabits the soul of New York City, floating from the tropical influences of his heritage to the grittier influences of the concrete jungle he calls home, is a treat to witness.

At Bonnaroo, he and his backing group were firing on all available cylinders. I mean, damn, they can play. Like Curry, Hynes runs the whole system like the world’s best point guard, always a part of the action but wisely dishing off to his backup singers or horns at just the right moment. Personally speaking, this was the best set of the weekend, and while the big crowds were over at Tame Impala and Zed’s Dead, everyone else I’ve run into who caught Blood Orange heaped on similar praises of their own. –Pat Levy

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Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

In 2006, the Chicago Bears staged a comeback win against the Arizona Cardinals, overcoming a 20-point deficit in the final moments of the game. Cardinal’s head coach Dennis Green, rightfully incensed at his post-game press conference, let out one of the all-time greatest quotes: “They are who we thought they were!” Pearl Jam’s headlining performance Saturday night reminded me of that quote. The culture of Bonnaroo, the track record of Eddie Vedder’s outfit, the headlining slot — we knew this would be a show to remember before it even hit us. And boy did it hit us.

Pushed back after a brief weather scare, Pearl Jam rocked Bonnaroo with the type of set you expect to see in a highlight reel in the years to come. The Seattle outfit thrashed through their catalog with Springsteen-esque showmanship, and while some might argue and whine that their best music is behind them, most will contend that they’re forever in the sweet spot for live performances. The firework display, though a Bonnaroo tradition at this point, was magnificent as ever in tandem with the glow of Pearl Jam’s brilliance — a finely tuned machine if there ever was one. –Pat Levy

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LCD Soundsystem

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Photo by Ben Kaye

“The time has come, the time has come, the time has come today”

That time finally came after five long years of waiting on Friday night — LCD Soundsystem was back. Returning to the Farm as a headliner after their late night tent set back in 2010, James Murphy and his band of multi-talented misfits were prepared with a perfectly constructed setlist for an enormous headlining show. Opener “Us v Them” set the tempo for the rest of the show as a giant disco ball slowly ascended from the stage, and once they got to the main meat of the show, they rarely took a moment to breathe before blasting straight into the next song. “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” got people moving, then the triple-punch of “Tribulations” / “Movement” / “Yeah” all in a row made the crowd go berserk. The locked-in, non-stop grooves put everyone in a trance, then the pure excitement and elation during the peaks of those songs was almost too much to handle.

Throughout the set, the live mix was stellar, especially for a stage not exactly known for the best sound quality. Everyone in the band was on-point and looked happy to be all crammed together into a small section of the massive stage, even Murphy, whose stellar vocal performance outmatched his wicked hung over. “We had too much fun last night,” Murphy admitted, no doubt leveling with everyone else in the crowd. “So I feel a little stupid. But I have a feeling I’m not alone.”

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Their light show was top notch too, especially when the huge disco ball was front and center, but the best display came unexpectedly from within the crowd. Near the end of the show, after an emotionally charged portion featuring “Someone Great”, “Home”, and “New York I Love You”, LCD kicked things to another level with “Dance Yrself Clean”. In the build-up to the song’s climax, fireworks came out of nowhere from the audience stage right, exploding just above the heads of the thousands of people in the field. “That’s not our gear,” Murphy quipped as the whole band and audience turned their attention to the explosions in the sky. Just as Murphy hit his big, booming long note, the fiery spectacle kicked into another gear and made for an instant-classic Bonnaroo moment. Then, to follow it up, the band shut things down with a stellar and rousing performance of “All My Friends”.

Sure, there has been much discussion of whether or not LCD Soundsystem was truly worthy of their headliner-status after coming out of a five-year hibernation. They’re an intensely beloved band by many, but also relatively unknown to the general public. The size of the crowd was, indeed, sparse for a Bonnaroo headliner, but you wouldn’t know it just going by the performance. Murphy and the gang gave it their all and nailed it on every level. It was an all-timer, proving that you don’t need 80,000 people in the crowd to throw down one of the best headlining performances in Bonnaroo history. –Carson O’Shoney

Click ahead to see our complete exhaustive photo gallery.

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Gallery

Photographers: Ben Kaye, David Brendan Hall