Together with approximately 80,000 other people we headed to Manchester, TN to witness this year’s edition of Bonnaroo. With great vibes and amazing music on display throughout the 4 days it is clear that Bonnaroo isn’t outdone by any of the other global festivals.
After two days of clouds and sporadic rain, Saturday brought the first truly hot summer Tennessee day of Roo. Seeking shade, I caught Royal Canoe cozied up on the small stage under the Cafe Where tent. Upon playing “Birthday,” I couldn’t help but compare their sound to Flight of the Conchords (sans comedic lyrics,) which was so bizarre to me since Flight is only two dudes. Royal Canoe has 2 drummers, a guy on synth/keyboards, a lead guitarist, a bass player who looks exactly like James Van Der Beek, and a lead singer who showcased an array of talents jumping from synth to tambourine to guitar throughout the set. “Hold Onto the Metal” was the most playful, but with it’s bouncy 80’s synth instrumentals, along with it’s staccato vocals and quick lyrics, all I could think of was Flight – and I mean that in the best way possible. They closed out their set with the slow grooves of “Summersweat,” and just as the lead singer said at the time, it was applicable.
Elegantly clad in a white dress with a deep V-neck that nearly reached her belly button, lead singer Nini Fabi graced the stage with her band HAERTS. With only an EP under their belt, many songs were new to the throng of devoted fans drawn out of the heat and into The Other Tent. Considering the depressing concept that it’s based on “Hemiplegia” was well received, strengthened by dream pop instrumentals and Fabi‘s legato crisp and pure vocals, it was difficult to not be mesmerized. They closed out with their first single “Wings” which is exceedingly more popular due to being the most upbeat of the set. Considering that single was released in 2012, I find that this band’s whole existence is based on the premise that slow and steady does, in fact, win the race.
Saturday was a great day for steering clear of the thousands flocking to the big acts, and checking out the smaller stages instead. Drawn in by the California vibes coming off the Solar Stage, I caught indie-pop band Cayucas. With catchy choruses such as “High School Lover,” this 4-piece act hosted an adorably small, sun-drenched dance party in the grass. Surf pop at its finest, complete with a song titled “Hella,” with had a chorus that merely repeated the ever-present SoCal slang word, with some hip shaking music behind it. Later in the day I overheard them playing the catchy chorus “hella, hella, hella” again, for a quick second chance to dance over to the next act I was heading for.
If there is one thing that makes Bonnaroo unique amongst all festivals, it is Superjam. The annual tradition of hosting a wide array of artists to jam together on a stage to make beautiful music, is still at its height after 13 years. This year, Bonnaroo went over the top with Superjam, by having not one, but three separate jams – and the one I chose to attend was easily the most hyped up, and the most talked about for the rest of the festival: Skrillex ‘s Superjam.
Similarly to the masses, I quickly assumed that this event would be a solid lineup of musicians playing their tunes with heavy EDM blaring behind them from Skrillex‘s laptop. We couldn’t have possibly been more wrong. To paint the picture, Skrillex was actually on electric guitar for the better part of f the 3-hour set, with Big Gigantic acting as house-band.
There’s no way for me to properly explain what I witnessed, other than to merely list all of the awesomeness as it happened. Warpaint opened up the night with Techtronic‘s “Pump Up The Jam,” which got the crowd going, only to have everyone let loose on “Let Me Clear My Throat.” When Janelle Monae joined on stage, she played her own “Tightrope,” then had the whole tent chanting “mamase mamasa mamakusa” as she rocked out on Michael Jackson‘s “Wanna Be Startin Something,” and segued into “I Feel Good” channeling her best James Brown. Robby Kreiger, now the only living member of The Doors, took over the stage to wail on guitar for “Break On Through,” something my father would have fainted at the sight of. Other highlights included stellar covers of Bill Withers‘ “Use Me” and Toto‘s “Africa,” but unfortunately due to my distance from the stage, I have absolutely no idea who performed these songs.
As the set came to a close and the crowd dissipated, a few of my friends and I stayed for what was hands down the greatest highlight of all of Bonnaroo: Ms. Lauryn Hill came out for a half hour encore. With Big Gigantic replacing her own new afro-fusion band (which I seriously disliked at her solo set) Hill took off rapping in double time to “Lost Ones” and “Oh La La La.” They closed out the whole night with Hill serenading the crowd Fugees‘ “Ready or Not.” It was absolutely fantastic.
Words by Jabes