The best of Bonnaroo 2010: Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder, Phoenix, Circa Survive and many more
Like Woodstock with better recycling, Bonnaroo (Creole slang for “good stuff”) is a massive (and mud-ridden) celebration of music and arts.
But just how massive? Well, a tiny Tennessee town called Manchester with a population of less than 10,000 gets 80,000 or so new neighbors overnight just for Bonnaroo.
The locals need not worry about being overrun by the young and sweaty, though. The festival grounds themselves are almost entirely self-sufficient, boasting ATMs, food, clothing, street signs, a hair salon, general store, medical services, volleyball courts and even yoga classes. Better still, Ben and Jerry’s offers a toffee bar-flecked ice cream called Bonnaroo Buzz.
But naturally, what’s biggest and best about this festival (now in its ninth year) are the performances by more than 100 acts. Here are some highlights.
BEST EXAMPLE OF BONNAROO’S EVOLUTION: THE XX
Considering Bonnaroo started in 2002 with a lineup full of diddling, long-winded jam acts, the presence of minimalist Brit band The xx Thursday demonstrated the festival’s expansion into new territory. Dressed in all black, the trio delivered excellent renditions of Islands, Heart Skipped a Beat and Basic Space, all with few chords, hushed vocals and simple sampler taps. Some said it was snoozy. I say unique and sexy. If indie-R&B catches on, you can thank The xx.
BEST HOMECOMING AND MOST POIGNANT MOMENT: KINGS OF LEON
If there was ever a poignant moment at Bonnaroo, it came near the close Kings of Leon’s main-stage set (which also included the unveiling of a few brand-new songs). “There are only a few times in your life when you feel really proud of what you’ve accomplished,” said singer Caleb Followill with tears in his eyes. “This is one of them.” Followill, who grew up with his brothers just minutes from the farm site, then thanked all the fans who had seen them on the smaller stages over the years before closing with festival-sized singalong Use Somebody. About 60,000 were on hand to provide those soaring “whoa ohh’s.”
BEST TIME TRAVELER: STEVIE WONDER
Shortly before Stevie Wonder took the stage, fans caught a glimpse of his setlist on the big screen and roared. Outfitted in flowing white, a bobbing and weaving Stevie traveled from his earliest days at Motown with Uptight (Everything’s Alright) to ’70s classics Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours and funk-soul hit Superstition to reggae-tinged ’80s jam (and my personal favorite) Master Blaster. As for the slow jams, I am now convinced that many of those in attendance were conceived because of songs like Ribbon in the Sky.
BEST CROWD SURFING: CIRCA SURVIVE
Besting The National’s Matt Berninger’s stage dive, Circa Survive singer Anthony Green crowd-surfed all the way from the front of the stage to the sound booth and back without missing a note. Needless to say, these proggy, Mars Volta-esque rockers were very much involved with their fans.
BEST CROWD ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: JAY-Z
A larger-than-life Jay-Z (above) proved why he’s the best in the biz with full-bodied renditions of Empire State of Mind, 99 Problems, Big Pimpin’ and Hard Knock Life. But he didn’t do it without stopping to chat with a few fans one-on-one along the way. “Hey you with the funny glow stick — I see you,” Jay-Z called out. “And you in the tye-dye,” he cheered. He also invited one very lucky “Maggie” to celebrate her birthday on stage. Most humbling, though: “Wait till I tell my mom Stevie Wonder stayed for my set,” Jay-Z said.
(After the jump: Much more on Bonnaroo 2010's hits and misses, including Dave Matthews Band, Jeff Beck, Phoenix, Regina Spektor, Zac Brown Band, Thievery Corporation, The National, Kid Cudi, Tenacious D, Tori Amos, the Dead Weather and more ... )
BEST TRIBUTE: TENACIOUS D
On the main stage, Tenacious D paid tribute to Jack Black’s favorite metal singer of all-time, Ronnie James Dio (who, before his death, made a cameo in The Pick of Destiny). And Tribute (The Greatest Song in the World ) was another great, um, tribute. (You’ve got to believe us.) Black also deserves the award for best solo on a plastic children’s saxophone. Really, it killed. Overall, Tenacious D proved that they’re more than just a devil-slaying joke act. Between Black’s impressive falsetto and Kyle Gass’ lightning-fast fingers, these guys are really something to see live.
BEST KANYE WEST IMPRESSION/WORST ENTRANCE: WALE
Fans still haven’t gotten over Kanye’s 2008 Bonnaroo behavior. So, Wale, if you’re reading this, I luh you (and your Seinfeld-sampling Mixtape About Nothing was one of the greatest of all time), but this wasn’t the best way to introduce yourself. The D.C. rapper showed up more than 30 minutes late then mumbled apathetically about falling asleep in his trailer. Still, his conga-banging, go-go influenced World Tour, and an amped, full-band version of Chillin’ showed he’s got lots of promise. Just get the guy an alarm clock and a Red Bull next time.
BEST SPIRIT: EDWARD SHARPE AND THE MAGNETIC ZEROS
From the sprawling oak tree backdrop to the frenzied jangle of the tambourine, this set resembled a rootsy, hippie-happy revival in the mud. Shirtless singer Alexander Ebert barked like a dog while ex-girlfriend Jade Castrinos (who we already adored, but now know is from right here in St. Pete) hit the high notes. After a roaring ovation, Ebert replied, “This makes me feel very nicely.” The spirited and soulful Home, a track about the joys of going home to the one you love, left no foot unmoved. At times, the 10-plus-piece ensemble resembled the Polyphonic Spree or The Decemberists with a contact high. Easily one of the best sets of the festival.
MOST IRONIC WEATHER MOMENT: JIMMY CLIFF
When 62-year-old Harder They Come reggae legend Jimmy Cliff started into his I Can See Clearly Now cover, lightning illuminated the sky and sent attendees fleeing the metal grandstands. But the fact that Cliff’s voice has held up so nicely made it a bright, sun-shining affair nonetheless.
MOST FITTING WEATHER MOMENT: THE DEAD WEATHER (above)
“Just remember who brought you the rain,” announced The Dead Weather’s Jack White as the sky opened up during their set. The aptly titled supergroup rocked Cut Like a Buffalo with the Kills’ wailer Alison Mosshart making squeally noises in a leopard-print top and White pounding the drums in trademark top hat. Soggily delicious.
BEST DAD ROCK: JEFF BECK
Legendary guitarist Jeff Beck packed “This Tent” with a slightly older audience. But the kind of riffing, plucking and shredding this Englishman laid down can and should span generations.
BEST COMEDIAN/ACTOR TAKEOVER: TOO MANY TO CHOOSE FROM
Actors, comedians and “Idols” (I am 99 percent sure I spotted Chris Daughtry in a golf cart) invaded Bonnaroo this year. Margaret Cho made an appearance with the Flaming Lips, “McLovin” from Superbad was seen at the LCD Soundsystem set and Zooey Deschanel left listeners just as drooly as Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 500 Days of Summer with sounds reminiscent of the great ’50s girl groups. Finally, Conan O’Brien proved to be an accomplished guitarist, and Steve Martin a wisecracking banjo wizard.
BEST SHOW TO DRAG YOUR BOYFRIEND OR HUSBAND TO: TORI AMOS
Amos’ shifting back and forth between two pianos, her powerful voice, heavy lyrics, pillowy white ensemble and humidity-resistant orange mane were altogether beautiful. Though, I doubt Amos had been camping for four days. The guys may have griped initially, but I think most left impressed.
BEST SHOW TO DRAG YOUR GIRLFRIEND OR WIFE TO: MEDESKI, MARTIN AND WOOD
If complex instrumentals and talks about vintage equipment get your blood pumping, you are a stronger woman than I. I didn’t really have the attention span for the trio’s tricky and windy jams, but the things we do for love, right?
BEST LETTING LOOSE: PHOENIX
I am not sure if these smart, saavy Frenchmen ever thought they’d be playing to thousands of smelly kids on a farm in Tennessee, but man, did they roll with it. From the Lisztomania kick-off to the grand finale of 1901, Phoenix had the “hippiesters” (a term Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill used to describe the new generation of Bonnaroo attendees) jumping up in unison, swatting multi-colored balloons and even crowd surfing. Then, a normally passive singer Thomas Mars, above, climbed the scaffolding and the place went nuts.
BEST SYNCHRONIZED SHIMMYING: OZOMATLI
The Spanglish big band glided across the stage on tracks like Gallina and Can’t Stop. It was the Latin flavor and hip-swiveling Bonnaroo deserved.
BEST EFFORT TO MAKE IT TO BONNAROO: KID CUDI
Twenty-six-year-old Day 'n’ Night rapper Kid Cudi was arrested for criminal mischief and possession of a controlled substance in New York shortly before his Bonnaroo set. He said he “really wanted to be here,” and did. The crowd loved him for it.
BEST BEARDED BARITONE: MATT BERNINGER
A wine-swilling, vest-sporting Matt Berninger of The National delivered spot-on renditions of Start a War and Mistaken for Strangers in a voice that may have inadvertently signaled whales. The brass accompaniment may have been unexpected, but it was the perfect complement to Berninger’s booming vocals.
HOTTEST SET: REGINA SPEKTOR
With the heat index at around 100 at 3 p.m., people piled up against trees and underneath grandstands to take in the sounds of Regina Spektor, above. “How do you do it?” she marveled. “You guys are like heat superheroes.” The frock-wearing free spirit then sang about tangerines and the bitchy qualities of a chick named Maryanne. On Us, she sounded like Bonnaroo’s hippie-leaning answer to Fiona Apple.
BEST GUNS-A-BLAZING ENTRANCE: DROPKICK MURHPYS
Like horses out of the starting gate, Dropkick Murphys hit the stage (on time to the minute) with a no-holds-barred version of The State of Massachusetts. Little time was wasted on hellos, tuning or between-song banter during this set. It was more than an hour of body-clashing, whiskey-downing Irish punk. Unfortunately, some left the pit teary-eyed.
BIGGEST MOVE UP: ZAC BROWN BAND
Last year the Zac Brown Band was playing opening night in a tent. This year they helped close out the festival on the main stage with the infectious Chicken Fried and the reggae-leaning country jam Who Knows.
BEST SURPRISE: WARPAINT
I downloaded Warpaint’s beautifully sedated Billie Holiday a few months back, but that’s all I knew about the all-girl L.A. act. These ladies nearly blew the roof of a small, tucked-away lounge stage with raw, dreamy rock riffage and lyrics about witches.
COOLEST SIGHT DURING AN INTRODUCTION: DAVE MATTHEWS BAND
Just as Dave Matthews Band was launching into Don’t Drink the Water, dozens of paper lanterns were released overhead. Quite the sight. Calling themselves “the cheese after the dessert,” the group also delivered a passionate rendition of the quirky, danceable Shake Me Like a Monkey, the best DMB song since #41 (in my humble opinion).
BEST SHOW I WISH I WAS CLOSER FOR: THE BLACK KEYS
We were so far from the stage, we may have entered the Chattanooga city limits. Even from afar, though, the Black Keys, above, sounded straight nasty on blues rockers Strange Times and Tighten Up.
BIGGEST LETDOWN: NO COLLABORATIONS
There wasn’t really a big duet like in year’s prior (like the Springsteen/Phish jam from last year, for instance). I think we were all secretly hoping for a GWAR/Miranda Lambert collab.
BEST RADIOHEAD COVER (AND THERE WERE QUITE A FEW): BLUES TRAVELER
With leftover GWAR “blood” still dripping from the railings of “The Other Tent,” Blues Traveler added a little ’90s nostalgia with blues-rock tracks like Run Around. Then they covered Radiohead’s Creep and things got interesting — perhaps more interesting than when string band The Punch Brothers covered Radiohead’s Morning Bell across the farm.
BEST MOMENT IN PASSING: THIEVERY CORPORATION
Electronica with a sitar. It looked and sounded great.
-- Carole Liparoto, tbt*. Photos: Getty Images (Jay-Z, The Dead Weather), AP (Tenacious D, Regina Spektor, Phoenix, The Black Keys)
Were you at Bonnaroo 2010? Who do you think had the best set of the weekend? Leave your thoughts in the comments!