Bonnaroo 2013 recap, best and worst: Paul McCartney, Jack Johnson, the Lumineers, Alt-J, Solange and more
It was a whirlwind of weird and wonderful at this weekend’s sold-out edition of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. An estimated 80,000 people endured mud, sweat and tears (the good kind) to see musical legends and rookies play the multi-acre farm in Manchester, Tenn. If you didn’t catch our live Tweets and photos from the weekend, you can find them at @tbtsoundcheck. In the meantime, check out our favorite Roo moments here. (We attempted to throw in some “worst moments” too, but we were at a loss, honestly.)
Best noisy, fuzzy rock: Jeff the Brotherhood and Japandroids
Vancouver garage rock duo Japandroids and bare-bones bashers Jeff the Brotherhood (also a two-piece) stretched what few tools they owned (pretty certain their only guitar had just three strings) to create epic sonic moments. Their tracks landed somewhere between the Ramones and Queens of the Stone, which was just fine by us. Japandroids’ The House that Heaven Built, a tune that beat out Nickelback’s something-or-other to become the Vancouver Canucks’ entrance song, went over like a chant-rock smash. Other tracks from aptly-titled album Celebration Rock packed a wallop of fuzzed-out positivity: “Don’t we have anything to live for? Well of course we do!”
Best side project becoming main project: Father John Misty
Fleet Foxes’ former drummer Father John Misty was a bearded tornado of mischievous folk-rock and witty one-liners. “We’re going to play some more mp3s for you now,” he quipped. Every Man Needs a Companion and Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings were perfect. The only thing better would have been if the apathetic Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Rec had showed up to run around like a lunatic (just as she does in Misty’s music video).
Best debut: Alt-J
In 2012, Alt-J (named for the triangle that appears when pressing Alt and J on a Mac) won the esteemed British Mercury Prize. Stateside, though, it took a bit longer to pick up steam ... that is until the oddly infectious Breezeblocks lodged itself into our craniums. Mind you, singer Joe Newman’s cartoonish voice drives some people insane. Just not the people of Bonnaroo, who mashed into an overflowing tent to get a glimpse. Tessellate had just the right layering of weird, but we can totally understand why there’s a Web page devoted to misheard Alt-J lyrics.
Best ’90s hip-hop throwbacks: Nas, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Wu-Tang Clan
These cats delivered the Saved by the Bell-era goods with sets at the “silent disco,” the headphone-only dance party (Jeff), classic hip-hop anthems, C.R.E.A.M. and Bring da Ruckus (Wu-Tang Clam, sans a rumored ODB hologram) and If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) by Nas and L-Boogie. Just wish the jams came with Pogs or a Tamagotchi.
Best bay-area representation at Bonnaroo: Zen Glass, Bucs fans
Zen Glass of St. Pete’s Wearhouse Arts District had an official vendor booth in the campgrounds with a ton of unique hand-blown glass items. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, rowdy Bucs fans with a giant pirate flag in tow could be spotted all over the festival.
Best early set surprise: Bernhoft
Norway’s Bernhoft had minor parts as a child in the Norwegian Opera. At Bonnaroo, he cranked falsetto-fueled soul-pop like the Scandinavian Timberlake (and threw in a Tears for Fears cover to boot).
Best transatlantic trip: Fatoumata Diawara and Amadou & Mariam
Back-to-back Malian vibes came courtesy of Fatoumata Diawara and Amadou & Mariam. The sweet, gracious Diawara was incredibly spunky, leaping in the air and coordinating crowd hand gestures. And an all-smiles, blind husband and wife team Amadou & Marian shredded and sang with zeal. It was like a quick trip to Africa, or for us Florida kids, maybe Busch Gardens.
Best stateside trip: Calexico
Desert noir specialists and Breaking Bad soundtrack contributors (see Banderilla) melded mariachi, jazz, folk, and surf sounds for a southwestern or Tex-Mex-style affair. Tunes about border crossers and restless wanderers were so well-executed, even this Gringo could be transported.
Biggest Bonnaroo move-up: Local Natives
Local Natives is one of a dozen or so bands that grew with the festival itself. After playing a smaller Bonnaroo tent in 2010, the sunny psych-rock act filled the fest’s largest stage with tribal beats and soaring harmonies on cuts like Breakers and Wide Eyes.
Music that translated best to live setting: Grizzly Bear and Beach House
We didn’t think it was possible, but Grizzly Bear’s retro-harmonies seemed more chilling live than on-album, particularly on The Knife and While You Wait for the Others. If we have one word of advice regarding the band’s Tampa show on Wednesday, it’s GO. As for Beach House, the Baltimore crew tackled blissed-out pop with precision. Other People packed the same serenity you’ll find in your headphones rendition. Not easy to do on a stage of this scale.
Best celebrity contributions: Bob Saget and Daniel Tosh
Not surprisingly, former Full House dad Bob Saget and Tosh.0 host and UCF alum Daniel Tosh were completely filthy. No topic was off limits and drugs were a hot item. “They told me people would urinate ecstasy on me at Bonnaroo. That’s why I came,” Saget said. Most of Tosh’s material would be difficult for me to repeat here, so I won’t walk that line. What I will say about Tosh is the he’s a refreshingly candid guy — he explained just how cheap it is to produce his Web video-fueled Comedy Central show and that it’s a gold mine for the network. He also talked about the number of death threats he receives each day (1,200 at last count). Best of all, in a moment of total humility, Tosh thanked fans for their unwavering support and for an opportunity to perform at something of Bonnaroo’s magnitude. Lastly, we spotted Man v. Food host Adam Richman taping at the Centeroo fountain but couldn’t decipher the content. We assume it’s food-related. Large-quantities-of-food-related.
Biggest comeback: The 1890s/the hootenanny with The Lumineers
It’s no secret that old-timey string and jug-style bands are huge right now. Just grab your vest, suspenders and a stand-up bass and you’re on your way. Had Mumford and Sons not cancelled their headlining set due to bass player Ted Dwane’s emergency surgery, Bonnaroo would have felt this doubly. But country-folk chart toppers The Lumineers represented the genre well in front of an oversized crowd, one of the biggest of the festival, in fact. Ho Hey played out like a pep rally from the late 1800s. And a cast of excellent pickers and players joined in along the way, including legit banjo man Ed Helms of The Office and The Hangover.
Best of the best: Paul McCartney
Maybe this is a no-brainer, but you see a Beatle when given the chance. Sir Paul McCartney opened his Bonnaroo headlining set with Eight Days a Week, a song he’s never played live, even with the Beatles, until this tour. Hard to believe, right? Blackbird, Eleanor Rigby and Let it Be were perfect, the latter bringing tears to the eyes of fans on the jumbotron. McCartney was a lot of things on Saturday night — an expert band leader, song-crafter, a damn good guitarist and an all-around personable, witty guy. When he shed his suit jacked for a more casual button-up, he cracked jokes. “That’s the big wardrobe change for the whole evening,” he said. The pyro for Live and Let Die was impressive, but nothing ever overshadowed the man of the hour.
Best performance by less-famous siblings or offspring: Solange and James McCartney
If Beyonce is the sassy, independent woman, we’ve decided that little sister Solange Knowles is the funky fashion queen. Maybe the pipes weren’t as powerful as B’s, but Solange delivered pop and R&B that was more imaginative and occasionally foul-mouthed. Seeing the sheepishly lovely singer-songwriter James McCartney (son of Paul) had us thinking that Beatles offspring — McCartney, Sean Lennon, Zak Starkey and Dhani Harrison — could put together a pretty cool supergroup.
Best Boonaroovian culture: So much to chose from
There were plenty of times during the weekend where we couldn’t help but use the phrase, “only at Bonnaroo.” Folks had creative ways to find one another inside the festival — cardboard cutouts of Nicholas Cage and Jeff Goldblum on tentpoles were among our favorites. Then there were great ideas for festival downtime — create a campsite with a ton of lawn ornaments, an entrance with a real wooden door and plenty of drinking games. Or, break into Eddie Murphy parody song Potty All the Time when waiting in line for the Porta Potties. Made perfect sense to an Axel Foley fan like me. Oh, and if we weren’t sweaty enough already, the Roo held its first-ever 5K run around the farm. The Abbott and Costello-type routine you’d do with fellow fest-goers when reciting the stage names — “What,” “Which,” “This,” “That” and “The Other” — never seemed to get old, either.
Best rustic romance: Lord Huron
We dug the aforementioned sweethearts’ song Ho Hey, but it was indie-folk act Lord Huron’s Time to Run that really got our juices flowing. “I wanted everybody else in the world to know you’re the girl for me,” they sang during a stripped-back set on one of Bonnaroo’s smallest stages.
Weirdest women: Chan Marshall (Cat Power) and Bjork
This might be another fairly obvious one. There wasn’t a lot we understood about sets by Cat Power or Bjork, but generally, we loved them both. Cat Power, a.k.a. Chan Marshall, tugged at her clothing, made noises and wandered around the stage early and often. But when she focused and sang, all was right. We could have done without the super-slowed rendition of The Greatest, but you win some, you lose some. The pride of Iceland (a stretch?) Bjork didn’t disappoint. She was every bit as kooky as we dreamed, sporting a face full of pointy things like an avant-pop version of Hellraiser, and uttered only a few words to the crowd during the 90-minute set — “Thank you, Tennessee,” and “It’s getting dark!” among them. Biophilia is Björk’s latest burst of creativity, and the set was heavy on tunes from the album (although she spliced in old classic Pagan Poetry, thankfully). Trippy, interplanetary visuals and Bjork’s shrieking complemented already nutso song structures.
Best pinch hitter/saver of the day: Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson hadn’t played a full-band show in more than two years. But when he was called on to replace Mumford and Sons Saturday night, he swooped in like a champ. Johnson casually strummed through You and Your Heart, Taylor and Sitting, Waiting, Wishing like he was back at a beach bonfire, not in front of a crowd of 50,000 plus. He even segued from his track Go On into a cover of Mumford’s The Cave, much to Bonnaroo’s delight.
Best entrance: R. Kelly
R. Kelly wasted no time getting to the goods, performing Ignition (Remix) from high atop a cherry picker while a Gospel choir sang below him. And between spot-on renditions of You Remind Me of Something and Fiesta, he’d improvise. “Can I get a towel ... to wipe my face ... because I am sweaty,” he sang a cappella. We’ve decided Kelly might just be the most unintentionally hilarious performer of our generation.
Best superjam: The RZA, Lettuce, Chad Hugo of the Neptunes, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Solange Knowles and Schoolboy Q
Truth be told, we missed the “super-duper jam” with Jim James, John Oates, R. Kelly, Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, Billy Idol, Lee Fields, Larry Graham, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Michael Winslow and Bilal, so this isn’t entirely fair. Still, Friday’s superjam was a guns-blazing affair with The RZA, Lettuce, Chad Hugo of the Neptunes, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Solange Knowles and Schoolboy Q, whose full-bodied rendition of There He Go was a set highlight.
Best way to remember an icon: Lee Fields and the Expressions
On Sunday, we found the spirit of James Brown alive and well. Vintage soul courtesy of Lee Fields, his lungs, and the Expressions got the hips swaying. We just can’t believe this elder statesman with the scratchy wail never had a hit.
Best crowd interactions: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
Seattle hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis made one lucky Bonnaroovian’s decade when they borrowed his fur coat (a Tennessee bobcat, Macklemore described), for an 88-degree rendition of Thrift Shop. From the looks of it, these cold-ass honkies with the biggest-selling download of 2013 already know how to work a major live crowd.
Most uncomfortable moment with older folks: Kendrick Lamar
When Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar launched into “Pussy and Patron”, an older couple in the lawn chairs behind us looked absolutely terrified. Think I was blushing, too.
Best psychedelia: Tame Impala
Kevin Parker and co. of the Aussie psych-rock act filled a packed tent with swirly synthesizers and reverb-pumped guitars. Parker has obviously spent some time with Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles. Don’t take the brown acid.
Best out of character moments: The National
Who says The National are too dark, melancholy or hard to decode? Singer Matt Berninger looked like he was having the time of his life during his band’s mainstage set. He screamed emphatically on a horn-fueled Squalor Victoria. And he surfed the crowd and hoisted a fan’s homemade scepter to the sky on pumped-up closer Mr. November.
Best full band participation: St. Vincent, David Byrne and ensemble
During a spirited rendition of the Talking Heads’ Wild, Wild Life, Annie Clark and David Byrne’s backing band formed a Conga line around the microphones, with each member contributing a lyric or two as they circled.
Best tracks to drive home with: Tom Petty
Anyone who has ever driven I-75 north should have rolled with Tom Petty a time or two. The Florida-born rocker closed out the festival with classic cuts American Girl and Free Fallin’. With Petty, it was like getting a bit of the Stones, Byrds, Dylan and Young in one sitting. Better still, it was like getting prime Tom Petty. He even told Bonnaroo it smelled good. Thanks, Tom. After four days on the farm, we were feeling a bit self-conscious.
— Carole Liparoto, tbt*