One for the history books
We finally had the chance to put the expectations to bed and settle if Bonnaroo really has the best lineup this summer season (READ THESE: Bonnaroo Lineup Release Review and 2014 Music Festival Lineup Rankings and 2014 Music Festival Calculator)
This was our first trip to the 'farm' and it has started off as a memorable one. Friday consisted of a jam packed schedule with no lulls or significant gaps for us. We moved from stage to stage with little time to digest the Bonnaroo grounds. That's not to say we didn't digest the Bonnaroo environment though. With as much to watch in the crowd as there was the stage, it was pop culture overload. From girls wearing body paint and sitting on dudes' shoulders to dudes wearing sunglasses well passed the sun going down to not wearing shirts and sporting horrific sun burns and even worse BO....it was a unforgettable experience. The Bonnaroo experience is something out of Rolling Stone magazine. You don't realize how closely it matches what your expectations are of the event. Let's break down the festival day by day to go through top performers and memorable moments....
Dr. Dog - Which Stage - 2:30-3:30PM (READ THIS: Concert Review #2 - Dr. Dog - Riviera Theatre, Chicago, Saturday, 2/8/14)
We arrived around 2pm with dark clouds rolling in and comfortable temperatures. I started out my Lollapalooza 2012 weekend almost exactly the same way when we arrived on Friday to see Dr. Dog afternoon. Dr. Dog is a band that should have a later slot and could possibly be the next 'Phish' with its funky style and dedicated following. They rattled through hits mostly from their latest two albums, 'Be The Void' and 'B-Room'. They went through tracks 'Heavy Light', 'Do the Trick', 'Jackie Wants a Black Eye', 'Vampire', 'Distant Light', and 'Broken Heart'. It was an impressive but shortened performance that lasted an hour. Not nearly enough time to enjoy a Dr. Dog set, but in a festival setting just perfect to start the day.
Jake Bugg - This Tent - 4:00-5:15PM
We had about a half hour to kill before we headed over to Jake Bugg at a smaller tent stage. Not as large of a crowd as Dr. Dog, but an impressive turnout nonetheless. This 20 year old, British 'little Bob Dylan' took to the stage with a vengeance showing off his folk style and heavy rock guitar licks. The sun came out mid-set as we were watching right on the fringe of the the tent. With the setting just right, Bugg delivered a sing-a-long set that rivaled some of the best sets of the weekend. Without being a huge fan of Bugg's before the set, he wowed us with hits that we knew such as 'Lightning Bolt', 'Slumville Sunrise' and 'Two Fingers' along with filling the set with other crowd pleasers.
The Naked and Famous - The Other Tent - 5:45-6:45PM (READ THIS: Concert Review #7 - The Naked and Famous @ House of Blues, Cleveland - 3.10.14)
We headed over to the The Other Tent to catch The Naked and Famous next. It was packed with people spread out and without a space under the tent. We had a reasonable view, but the set was largely plain without any charm that a festival set deserved. The crowd was somewhat lethargic during the hour long set. After popular 'In Rolling Waves' and 'Young Blood' there was a lot left to be desired.
Vampire Weekend - What Stage - 7:30-8:45PM (READ THESE: Concert Review #10 - Vampire Weekend @ The Fillmore, Miami Beach - 5.1.14 and Concert Review #12 - Vampire Weekend @ Meadow Brook Music Festival, Rochester Hills, Michigan - 06.06.14)
As the night went on the action continued. We headed over to the main stage to see one of our favorite acts today, Vampire Weekend. Seeing as how we saw them one week earlier in Rochester Hills, MI we knew were in for reliably great show. Ezra and the boys took to the stage with a healthy crowd that were ramped up to see the heavy touring machine. They played an equally great set to their performance at Lollapalooza last year as it had a similar energy. They came out storming with their most recent hit, 'Diane Young' that put the crowd in a frenzy. From there they continued rolling through their hits, 'Cousins', 'Horchata', 'Everlasting Arms', 'Giving up the Gun', 'Oxford Comma', 'Step' among others they were fantastic as usual and it definitely was treat to see them in a the festival setting in which they truly excel.
Phoenix - Which Stage - 8:45-10:00PM
Another one of our favorite acts that always put on a reliable show, we rushed across to the other side of the park to catch Phoenix. It's interesting how Vampire Weekend and Phoenix are similarly scheduled and play so close to each other. Last year at Lollapalooza, they played back to back on the last night with Phoenix headlining. Although the most recent Phoenix album, 'Bankrupt!' was not as critically and globally loved as their previous, 'Wolfgang Amadeus', it still provided fantastic live setting tracks. Phoenix came on as the sun was setting, just in time for the spectacular back drop and light show that accents their set so perfectly. Weaving between hits from their career, they had the impressively large crowd stirred up quickly with 'Entertainment'. From there lead singer Thomas Mars, put on a festival performance that has come to be expected by the French power group. Hit after hit kept coming as they went through 'Lasso', 'Liztomania', '1901', 'Long Distance Call' among other bass heavy, chilling tracks. They ended the night as the usually do with Mars, crowd surfing from about 300 yards into the crowd back to the stage to the 'end' of 'Entertainment'. He give it all and it saddens me I probably won't have another chance at seeing them until their new album a couple years from now.
Kanye West - What Stage - 10:00PM-12:00AM
The most anticipated performance of the weekend (by others, not me) had to have been Kanye West's headlining performance Friday night. After his last appearance at Bonnaroo in 2008 he went on to attack the festival organizers by accusing them of sabotaging his set after he took to the stage many hours after he was originally scheduled to perform. It left many fans and frequent Bonnaroo goers upset and many thought a return back ever would be unlikely. The stage was completely surrounded for what seemed to be a mile deep for his set on Friday, so they either forgave him for 2008 or they wanted to see what he was going to say about it which is what I was looking forward to. Kanye didn't disappoint when it came to the latter. Taking the stage furiously to 'Black Skinhead', he actually had me intrigued and I thought it was going to be an impressive set. It was downhill from that first song. He went on to rant multiple times in between tracks, during tracks and cutting the music to do so. He stated, "Last time before I got here they had "fuck Kanye" on the port-a-potties. This time we're going to piss on them!" Throughout the set he yelled "Where the press at!" responding to the press being critical after the 2008 performance. Additionally, he accused Pearl Jam of causing him to go on stage late as well. After ranting relentlessly, he managed to find time to fit in some of his hits and finally ending with 'Jesus Walks' and 'All Falls Down'. The performance will go down as being a historic breakdown of one of pop culture's most influential artists. We won't forget how awfully, self involved human Kanye was on Friday night and apparently neither will most Bonnaroo as they let Kanye know their displeasure on Saturday morning by taking to the same grafitti walls that were used to judge him in 2008. I'm so glad I'm not crazy for thinking he is a complete a-hole.
We started the day a bit later on Saturday, as we didn't see any really draws (except King Khan and the Shrines which I'm ticked I missed). It was plenty of time to relax a bit in preparation for another long day and save energy for the one and only Jack White at the end of the day. For the first few hours we bounced around from stage to stage and tried to take in some Bonnaroo experience by checking out the vendors and activities the farm had to offer. I'm always impressed of the level effort festival organizers go to in order to bring together a gigantic event like this as it's nothing short of amazing.
Tedeschi Trucks Band - What Stage - 3:30-4:45PM
Not much to say here other than we watched them for a few songs just because I've heard so much about them over the years. True musicians and a well put together band that you could tell had a solid, dedicated following. People were jamming out in the heat enjoying what seemed to be a band that makes Bonnaroo what it is.
Cake - Which Stage - 4:00-5:00PM
I know Cake has been around for awhile and has a huge following, but I had no idea it was this large. It seemed as though they belonged on the main, What Stage as they had fans deep enough that it congested the central shopping area. We couldn't get close enough to really enjoy the set, but we did get to hear their hits, 'Short Skirt/Long Jacket' and 'The Distance'. People were loving the performance in the smoltering heat, even if it was from a distance.
Grouplove - That Tent - 5:00-6:00PM
This was another band, much like The Naked and Famous, that just didn't do it for me live. They either just couldn't play to the size of a festival setting or they just don't have the catalog of songs to hold an audience. The party in the crowd was more entertaining than the party on stage. A golf cart with a trailor was left unattended in the middle of the crowd for a group of people to begin dancing crazily on it. Grouplove played what you would expect such as 'Itching on a Photograph' and 'Tongue Tied'. All in all, a weak performance.
Damon Albarn - What Stage - 5:45-7:00PM
Damon Albarn might be one of the most underrated performers in pop music today. His following in Europe might be stronger than it is stateside, but I think that could change if he gains consistent exposure with festivals such as this. His setlist spanned material from his new solo album, to Blur to Gorillaz. Two Gorillaz songs provided added a fantastic surprise to Saturday as Albarn brought out De La Soul for 'Feel Good Inc.' and Del the Funky Homosapien for 'Clint Eastwood', both gigantic hits of the early 2000s. Awesome and refreshing set.
Slightly Stoopid - That Tent - 6:45-8:00PM
The fun loving, easy going Slightly Stoopid played a side tent that garnered a large crowd that was oversized for the venue. As night started to creep in, you could see a collective of smoke clouds throughout the audience. Playing such crowd pleasers as '2am' and 'Wiseman', they had the faithful singing along and grooving to every tune.
Lionel Richie - What Stage - 8:00-9:30PM
I'll be honest, the main reason we were at Richie's set was because we were trying to get as close as possible for Jack White. Our plan worked and we got an awesome view just right of the stage, but we also got to see a fantastic, entertaining performance by Richie. Spanning his extensive career, his set was filled with enthusiastic and joyful dialogue that had me wanting to get more into The Commodores and his solo work. After ending with the classic 'Brick House' it had us primed and ready for the man of the weekend....
Jack White - What Stage - 10:45PM-1:15ish AM
I had never seen White live up to this point and I could barely stand the wait after Richie performed. Standing their in anticipation was like torture because I just knew that White would be bringing his A game to the table for a massive venue such as Bonnaroo. Frankly, I'm disappointed in myself for never seeing White with the White Stripes, Raconteurs, Dead Weather or solo. It's something I find astonishing considering how much of a fan I am of his work. As the anticipation built, I realized I was about to witness something legendary and historic. It turns out I wasn't wrong. White came out so heavy, I got chills from his first chord. Starting out with my favorite White Stripes track, 'Ickythump' he just struck every nerve I had in my body. The monsterous performance spanned across what seemed to be every album he has been a part of. From 'Ickythump' to 'Top Yourself' to 'Lazaretto' to 'Astro', he just went off the charts. He played for nearly three hours, continuously asking the crowd if they wanted more and questioning "You're not bored, are you?" The crowd fed White as they went nuts. At one point, he called out Rolling Stone magazine in response to his cover story a few weeks ago that quoted White saying somewhat negative comments towards Meg White and The Black Keys. He yelled 'Who makes music happen? Does a tabloid like Rolling Stone make music happen? Or do you and I make it exist?" It seemed as though the volume was turned up slightly higher than any other performance during White's set as he just continued to play for what seemed like forever. In fact after leaving the stage he came out to play a 10 song encore....10 friggin songs! He kept asking the crowd if they wanted more and we did and he just kept feeding the beast. It was a good forever that will never be forgotten. It lasted well past his 12:30AM scheduled end time. I have to say, this was the best live performance I have ever seen. It was hit after hit and relentless raw sound. Unbelievable.
After an unbelievable Saturday night we woke up a bit late and chilled and drank talking about how incredible Jack White was. We got on the grounds around 3:30PM and missed all of Lake Street Dive and Yonder Mountain String Band and Capital Cities. All of which I'm bummed about but especially Lake Street Dive which I've been wanting to see for awhile.
Fitz & The Tantrums - Which Stage - 4:15-5:30PM
This was another band that we couldn't get near the stage at. It must have had to do with the way the Which Stage was set up. We lingered for about 25-30 minutes to hear the set. There were just so many people we sort of retreated to the back of the crowd. They had the crowd grooving a bit and it seems like they have a big enough following to stick around for awhile. Playing their hits, 'The Walker' and 'Out of League', they kept everyone dancing in the 90 degree heat for the portion of the set we saw.
Arctic Monkeys - What Stage - 4:45-6:00PM
After seeing a bit of Fitz & The Tantrums we headed over to see the frequently hyped Arctic Monkeys. The band had an impressive crowd that went pretty deep and deeper than any other band that had been in this timeslot. Many people have been saying this is a band that will undoubtably the next big headlining rock act. I just don't see it and didn't see it on Saturday. This was the second time I saw them, first opening for the Black Keys on the 'El Camino' tour two years ago. It was an arena show and I had given them the benefit of the doubt that they might have just been over playing to fill the spacious venue. However on Sunday, they simply played too slow. So, it was almost the complete opposite of what I had expected playing a fun loving festival. They still just didn't do it for me. They played their hits which we stayed for most of. I tried to give them another chance after getting heat for knocking their Lollapalooza headline spot a few months ago. But, again they kind of sucked and I stand by my previous assessment.
The Avett Brothers - What Stage - 7:00-8:30PM (READ THIS: Concert Review #4 - Avett Brothers @ Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh - 3.1.2014)
This was one of the main bands I wanted to see. I have seen The Avett Brothers three times prior and each time they have played a unique and interesting set. Each of their sets are different and since they have so much content, they have quite a decision to make each show. Bonnaroo was no different and they put on a performance that made Arctic Monkeys look pathetic. Playing on the same stage, we stuck around to get close enough to see Scott and Seth Avett absolutely own Manchester, TN. A few country boys were exactly what Bonnaroo needed at this point and their folk-country-rock sound was perfect for the setting. They killed their set by playing hit after hit putting the crowd back into it. They went after it and played a selection that spanned across most of their albums. As they played 'Murder in the City' to 'Shame' to 'I And Love And You' it truly capped off the weekend for me. It didn't feel like enough time for them, but I don't even think they'd have enough time if the headlined due to the massive catalog they have.
Elton John - What Stage - 9:30-11:30PM
We stayed put in front of the main What Stage to keep our spots for the weekend closer, Elton John. I have to say I didn't know what to expect from this show. I understand the man is a true legend, but you never know if you'll be into someone that's a bit older. I didn't know if he'd still have the entertainment draw he had from the 70s. It turns out he did, spending most the set behind his famous red piano. He created a perfect sing-a-long setting in which even kids as young as 18 knew the lyrics to. At one point the legend even brought Ben Folds out to duel with on piano. A great addition to the set that didn't need much help. As expected Elton played every hit from his collection. 'Tiny Dancer', 'Rocket Man' and closing with 'Crocodile Rock' with plenty in between. This show much like this festival will be what I explain to my kids as the best weekend of my life 40 years from now. I love Bonnaroo.