MANCHESTER, TN—It was a muggy three days at the 14th annual Bonnaroo where an incredibly eclectic lineup of bands and babes offered up the ear and eye candy at the five stages that encircle the farmland located and hour-plus from Nashville. Everything from classic rock to bluegrass to electronica was offered up for the 85,000-plus crowd; noticeably absent were the jambands that made the fest famous in the first place.
Taking on Bonnaroo is like taking on a marathon of sights, sounds and smells. A sideshow of treats for the hearing impaired including Ferris wheel rides, drum-making stalls, a comedy tent and a film festival. Food stands beckon the hungry crowd offering up homemade food with a smile. Even the guys at the cigar box guitar booth got into the act playing a set of smoky instros.
Billy Joel, Robert Plant, My Morning Jacket, Alabama Shakes, Mumford & Sons and Florence And The Machine headlined. Acts like Twenty One Pilots, War On Drugs and Spooner added some snarky bite to the cause. Slayer hammered the crowd with some heavy metal thunder. A bluegrass tent took us back to the countrified roots of the state as Bela Fleck and Hurray For The Riff Raff laid down some Americana. Pokey LaFarge added their take on the genre taking us back to an era of juke joints and horn-rimmed glasses.
Robert Plant And The Sensational Space Shifters added some African rhythms, English-style folk and a funky haze to the Led Zep catalogue. Adding a swampy world beat to the mix over some acoustified thunder, they added maturity and depth to the Zep cannon. Midway through “Whole Lotta Love,” the African hand drums came out. On “How Many More Times” that’s “been bastardized a thousand times” per Plant, the band turned it into a boozy reel by song’s end.
On “Funny In My Mind (I Believe I’m Fixin’ To Die),” guitarist Justin Adams let it rip as Plant bobbed and weaved on stage as the players gloriously constructed a sonic stew of primal beats and aggressive guitars done up ’50s style. He dedicated the last one to “the milk maidens of Devon” before taking on the classic riffage of “Rock And Roll,” ending his set.
Florence pranced around the stage like a fairy princess as she dusted the crowd with the cosmically delicious. Opening with “What The Water Gave Me,” she leapt across the stage like Tinkerbelle as the Machine built the tunes into a climatic thunder of pop. Tears For Fears played an incredible set of their greatest hits. Mumford & Sons ended their set with The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” as My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith and War On Drugs’ saxophonist Jon Natzhez joined in.
At superjam, ’80s music ruled, as Metallica bassist Robert Trujelo (who was also there to discuss the film he produced on the life of Jaco Pastorius) and Cherub singer Jordan Kelley banged out powerful renditions of “Crazy Train” and “Enter Sandman.”
Billy Joel was the closer as he turned the site into a barroom of sing-alongs, ending the fest with “Only The Good Die Young,” then some sagely advice to “don’t drink and drive! Do what I do—drink and get a big limousine,” closing yet another awesome Bonnaroo.