Looking back at my experience at this year’s Bonnaroo, there was a lot more that I could have seen, and wish that I would have seen. Generally I do a lot of bouncing back in forth from stage to stage. This year, I found myself planting at stages for a few acts in a row, staying for a lot of the full length of sets. But when I would bounce, the abundance of scheduling conflicts only allowed me to really see a few songs by some of my more favorite acts. For instance, had I seen the entire Flaming Lips or Nick Cave shows, or ANY of Frank Ocean, CHVRCHES, The Orwells, or Diarrhea Planet in all their glory, I am sure that some of them could have easily made this list. Unfortunately though, there just isn’t enough hours in the day. So instead I decided to include only acts in which I saw the entire set, from opener to closer. So apologies to all the more deserving bands whom I did not see in their entirety, but here is a list my favorite full sets that I saw at Bonnaroo this year.
10. Elton John
After playing “Bennie and the Jets”, “Levon”, “Tiny Dancer”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “Rocket Man” all within the first 7 songs of his set, it’s hard to care too much about what else you get from the man. I had always heard great things about Elton live, and despite the extremely dated visual show he used on his backdrop, the man still knows how to perform.
8. Danny Brown
Danny Brown blew up a mid-day tent with a ton of energy and absurdity. Seeing him here for the first time three years ago was my first really exposure to him. He is still the same Old Danny Brown even after he has blown up since then, and I love him for it.
7. Arctic Monkeys
Coming strong off of their newest album AM, these guys put on quite a high energy show for a Sunday afternoon. I used to be unnecessarily put off by these guys, but am now have totally been won over.
Policas dual drummers paved the way through a perfectly structured set into a steady build up until it all finally climaxed as one head explosion. Perfect way to start off the weekend on Thursday night.
4. Janelle Monae
The Godmother of Soul rocked the main stage in ways I did not expect. Entering the stage in a straight jacket and exiting by sprinting off into and beyond the crowd, everything in between was lively, bouncy, and soulful.
3. Vampire Weekend
Every time I see them I am continually blown away at how amazing these fellas sound live. It is also fun how Vampire Weekend has become a group that everyone can sing along to in concert now.
1. Jack White
When I have seen Jack White in the past, he is normally rather quiet on stage. Not this year. He had some serious bones to pick with the media, and he used Bonnaroo as his platform to do so. In some instances, he even seemed more mad than Kanye. His set spanned every outfit he is known for including White Stripes, Dead Weather, The Raconteurs, his solo work, and a few covers. He also played a 3+ hour set, going well over his allotted set time. As always, his fierce guitar stylings and eccentric vocals made for not only one of the best shows of the weekend, but among the better shows I have ever seen. Period.
The “Just Missed My List” List:
This show literally was missed by me, and I am furious about it. Here is a play by play account from Nashvillescene.com of exactly why I should have been there, aside from the fact that I already love these guys:
Earlier that day, barely 10 minutes had passed during The Orwells’ set at the New Music On Tap Lounge — the latest name for the Miller Lite-sponsored micro-tent at the center of the festival — before the crowd started to destroy it. Booked at a stage way too small with a crowd of fans predisposed for rowdiness on a scale that security was utterly unprepared for, The Orwells put on the most memorable, anarchistic show in recent Bonnaroo memory. As the Chicago roots punks raged through tunes off Disgraceland, the crowd jockeyed for position by freeing up space occupied by furniture. First they crowd-surfed out the beanbag chairs. Then came the massive Miller-branded wooden chairs. And then, fans climbed the lighting scaffolding to get a better view.
“I don’t think this stage can handle all you motherf**kers,” screamed singer (not the former governor of New York) Mario Cuomo, wild-eyed and stating the obvious. “We’re gonna need a bigger stage. I think we should have Jake Bugg’s stage!” Oh, how right he was. Not long after the first stage-dive from the lighting scaffolding, the band’s power was cut, allowing a squadron of security guards to disperse the fans perched atop the lighting rig and reinforce the barricades with brute strength. After 10 minutes radio silence — and a chant that cycled between “Orwells,” “Sound Guy,” “F**k Miller Lite” and finally, “Coors Lite” — their power was turned back on. Three songs later, including a rad cover of “Cheap Beer” by FIDLAR, they were done for good, shut down by the man.
The ones who suffered perhaps the most due to The Orwells’ carnage were locals Fly Golden Eagle, who were scheduled to play next on the On Tap stage. Forced to start nearly 20 minutes late, FGE rocked best they could through their catchy, dance-along psych-soul as a crew of nearly a dozen guys erected a second barricade in front of the stage, using noisy power tools to fasten together clanging aluminum panels.