6/14-16/19, Manchester TN
At the 18th annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, an eclectic mix of jam bands, electronica, alt-country, plus the usual assortment of rockers and rappers joined forces for an incredible weekend of fun in the sun where “Happy ‘Roo!” high fives ruled the 700-acre farm, an hour’s drive south of Nashville. From funkster Griz, to rapper Childish Gambino, jamsters Phish, country legend John Prine ,and acts like the Avett Brothers, who barnstomped their countrified bop unto a hoedown of banjoes and guitars, there was something for everyone.
At night EDM and Phish (who played two 2-and-a-half-hour sets) ruled the evening hours.
The spirit of Dr. John, who recently passed and gave the festival its name after his 1973 Destively Bonnaroo album, was honored with his song “Right Place, Wrong Time” at the super jam with Griz hosting.
John Prine’s 15-song set of homespun tales of life in rural America come straight out of a seventies version of a Norman Rockwell painting. Newly inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the 72-year-old folkie played songs off his latest no-frills album The Tree of Forgiveness and ended his set with “Paradise.” Brandi Carlisle, who also sat in on Hozier’s set as well as headlining her own, joined Prine on “Summer’s End.”
The National’s dark takes of hipster love built up slowly into a mashup of dueling guitars, as vocalist Kate Stables played the soothing foil to singer Matt Berninger’s brooding romanticism on Friday night. My Morning Jacket’s Jim James (who is certainly no stranger to the fest) brought warbling psychedelia that built into fast and furious bolts of edgy rock and some acoustic thunder on his hour long set.
Hozier was a unit of gospel infused alt-rock with leader Andrew Hozier-Byrne taking on the world order. They played with an urgency that bridged the spirit of Pete Seeger and U2 as images of solidarity flashed onscreen. Courtney Barnett’s jangly rockers combined the precious and suave swing of The Pretenders with some confessional punk that she knocked out the ballpark—or farm, I should say—with some nice guitar work.
Phish, who last performed at the fest in 2012, played a two hour set of favorites that went down like one long jammie as they barely stopped to change gears, rhythms, or keys between songs. They opened up with “Carini,” which set the pace for an incredible set of meandering beats and modes to guitarist Trey Anastasio’s slinky playing that weaved then exploded upon his band mate’s rocksteady roll.
Raw and jagged one second, then smooth and silky the next, Anastasio plays the fretboard like a tool, boldly shaping tones that ebb and flow to the cosmos. His calm vocals added a laid back vibe to the fest that has been missing the past few years. No covers this time around, except for the moody and brilliant long-time set-staple “Also Sprach Zarathustra” that left more than a few stoned fans in its wake. Phish played crowd favorites like “Harry Hood” and “Tweezer” in their third appearance at Bonnaroo, marking a boogiethon amidst the flung glow sticks and other assorted projectiles.
They ended their regular set with the funky fusion of “Character Zero” and reprised “Tweezer” for the encore-ending the Friday night headlining set and bringing Bonnaroo back to its roots for the sold out 80,000 crowd.