Bonnaroo 2019: Highlights & Photos

By Bryan Lasky Jun 20, 2019 10:00 am PDT

As Bonnaroo approaches its 20th anniversary, it has had to keep finding ways to reinvent itself, and for the first time in a number of years, tickets sold out before the festival started. Yes, while there were a few jam bands in the midst of the lineup, the crowds came in force for the EDM and hip-hop acts, with those crowds stretching endlessly from the stages. While the type of music the attendees came for has changed over the years, the feeling of love and positivity that Bonnaroo preaches was ever present.

Before getting into the best of what was seen over the weekend, something Bonnaroo has done the last few years has put plazas in the campgrounds for people to see movies, bands, comedy, art and various other programming. While I didn’t get out to them as much as I had wanted to, it separates Bonnaroo from many other U.S. festivals. Beyond Centeroo having much to see and do, the whole farm is worth exploring while there for four days.

The addition of Where In The Woods this year, a shaded place with art from past festivals, hammocks, pinball and other games, and music, was a respite from the heat for many over the weekend. It’s pretty stunning how Bonnaroo continues to evolve to make the festival better for everyone who attends.

The Comet Is Coming — This Tent — Thursday, 11 pm

Talk about a perfect slot for a band that is in complete control of everything they play. Thursday has been a discovery night for many coming in and I’m hoping plenty of people stopped by The Comet Is Coming to witness them because the U.K. trio put on a stunning hour-long set.

King Shabaka, Danalogue and Betamax weaved in and out of one another with such ease it was jaw-dropping. Having them at such a late hour was the right move for everyone looking to party late into the first night of the festival. While it’s a marathon and not a sprint, they went full throttle and used every second to their advantage.

Some songs went on for close to 20 minutes, and while many attendees might roll their eyes and call them a jam band, they are anything but that. The music was a mix of acid jazz, punk rock, funk and psychedelia, and after it was over those in attendance were left smiling and shaking their heads at the clinic that was just put on.

Gojira — This Tent — Friday, 8 pm

Even frontman Joe Duplantier joked that Gojira felt weird about being at the farm in front of all of the colorful attire the crowd was wearing, instead of the traditional all black they were used to seeing, but was amazed at how many people showed up to headbang along to their music. It truly was a sight to behold as the foursome, who have been together for over 20 years now, played the heaviest music of the weekend by far.

The double kick pedaling of Mario Duplantier mixed with the quickness of Jean-Michael Labadie’s bass playing felt like it was going to go right through your chest. Christian Andreu seemed like the fastest gun-slinger on the farm with his guitar playing. Like other metal acts at past Bonnaroos, Gojira made sure that the farm knew metal is always welcome.

Childish Gambino — What Stage — Friday, 8:45 pm

Easily the most packed show of the entire weekend, with people barely able to move anywhere at the main stage, Childish Gambino brought his show to the farm in grand style. While it wasn’t quite the Coachella-level of production, he still came out rising over the crowd and capped it all off with fireworks, but in between his dance moves were infectious and the visuals were stunning.

Gambino is like no other act right now, barely playing shows but still looking like he is in mid-tour mode the entire time. It’s honestly too bad that Donald Glover doesn’t seem to want to perform too many more shows as Childish Gambino because this one of the best shows happening in live music right now.

Sego — Who Stage — Saturday 2:30 pm/Liily — Who Stage Saturday, 8:30 pm

The Who stage all weekend lets you see bands up and close that could very well be at big stages a year or two from now. I’ve seen Grace Potter, Twiddle and many others over the years who have gone on to bigger and better things and Sego‘s daytime set was glorious.

The foursome came out rocking hard and never let their foot off of the gas pedal. Spencer Petersen and crew barely took breaths between songs and the crowd continued to grow during their set.

Getting back to the Who Stage later that day for Liily saw another young group absolutely blast through their music with no abandonment. The five-piece threw their bodies all over the stage and those in attendance loved every second of it. Seeing these young bands hone their skills on such a small stage at such a big festival seems like cheating, but when going to a festival of this size you have to remember to check out the small fonts too.

The First Annual Pride Parade — Saturday, 5:30 pm

June is Pride month and it feels weird that this year saw the first annual pride parade. For a festival that always preaches inclusion, happiness, and positive vibes, it is surprising it had not happened before, but 2019 saw Bonnaroo make up for that.

With a couple of hundred people, and the Big Red art car blast music, marching and far more lining the parade route from Where In The Woods to Plaza 3: The House of Yes to the new Arch and finally to the fountain in Centeroo and the Which Stage, the over two-hour parade saw nothing but smiles along the way. The New Breed Brass Band helped lead the way second line style the whole time. It was truly a parade that will never be forgotten and hopefully a new yearly tradition.

Jim James — This Tent — Saturday, 8:30 pm

Jim James and Bonnaroo go together like peanut butter and jelly. There is just a vibe between the two that oozes cool.

Jim was in fine form for his set, playing 15 songs and wasting little time between them. From the opening punch of “Over And Over” into “No Use for Waiting” his guitar wailed and his voice sounded rested. Before “I’m Amazed,” the lone My Morning Jacket song of the set, he noted how he wished he and John Prine hadn’t been scheduled for the same time frame, but how he was amazed he could share the time slot with the legend.

Jim’s current band was able to compliment him perfectly during the set. A roaring “State of Art (A.E.I.O.U)” closed his slot at the festival down with the crowd wanting more, but it wasn’t meant to be.

The National — Which Stage — 9:45 pm

There are few bands touring right now that have the catalog or rabid fan base that The National has. The National often starts shows off fairly slowly, getting wilder and louder as the set goes on, and their Bonnaroo set was no different.

The band is currently touring behind their latest great record, I Am Easy To Find, and about half of the set came from it. Matt Berninger of course dove into the crowd, where the faithful sang and jumped along right with him. The next time The National are down on the farm, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were on the main stage, with possibly even being a co-headliner as Childish Gambino and Phish were this year on Friday.

The Lonely Island — Which Stage — Saturday, 12:30 am

In the post-Post Malone slot of the festival, hat tip to Andy Samberg for the line, The Lonely Island went through 22 songs and a few skits and had the crowd laughing and singing right along for what turned out to be their hour-plus late-night slot.

Many costume changes occurred with Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer putting on various characters from their videos and skits. The bonus of the night during their set was having Chris Parnell in person to help sing “Lazy Sunday,” which sent the crowd to another level.

For their last song, “I’m on a Boat,” one crowd surfer got into an inflatable boat and went over the crowd as the trio were laughing in amazement and pointing him out for the audience to see. As the ongoing joke of the set was finding them in Pod 2 for various sexual acts, maybe some concert goers went right there after to see if they kept their word.

That Tent — Sunday, All Day

Whoever booked That Tent on Sunday should honestly get a bonus from the festival. The tent went five-for-five in terms of quality and crowds. We went from the Japanese psychedelic rock band Kikagaku Moyo to rock and blues-infused Nigerian singer-guitarist Bombino. Those two acts being back to back alone were enough to celebrate as they both played non-stop causing plenty of jaws to literally drop as the music went further and further down their respective rabbit holes of music.

The third act was Princess, the duo of Maya Rudolph and Gretchen Lieberum who do their best to keep the spirit of Prince on this planet. The crowd was one of the larger ones of the day and watching them go through “Let’s Go Crazy” to “Controversy” to “Cool” and finishing it off with a blistering “1999,” the Bonnaroo faithful were just in a sea of joy and emotion. The Purple One never made it to the farm, but his spirit was there for Sunday.

Unfortunately, I missed The Wood Brothers next as I needed some food and water, but I was told they were fantastic. From there Mac DeMarco closed down That Tent with a 16 song set that covered his entire catalog. Mac is such a great performer and a perfect end to such an amazing day at the tent. Seriously the curation on That Tent was one of the best I can remember in my various Bonnaroo memories where a specific artist wasn’t curating the stage as David Byrne did in 2009.

Phish — What Stage — Sunday, 8:30 pm

If Phish is at a festival, it will always come back to them, but especially Bonnaroo. There was a lot of hype surrounding their return to the farm, the first time in seven years, and while Friday’s show was fun and had some excellent playing, there was something special about Sunday and closing the festival down.

No, we didn’t get a Cardi B guest appearance, though I was told there was one last ditch effort to make it happen, but the band didn’t really need someone to help them out. I know the review is up already here so I just want to highlight a few moments.

Trey coming out and jamming on the front amps during “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long” was such a rock-star move, one of many he pulled all weekend, and I would like to think he was just trying to match the energy of the festival. It worked for those in the crowd as they went wild for it.

The “Mike’s Song” into “Fluffhead” sent goosebumps all over and stunned the faces of everyone I looked at the moment those first notes rang out. Audible laughs of utter joy could be heard from the audience as the band seamlessly went “Twist” > “Weekapaug” > “No Man’s” > “Weekapaug” > “Twist.” It was astonishing to see the band in such fine form so early in the tour. Phish definitely had the mindset of burning the farm down and they did just that, proving that while jam bands and rock music might not be the most popular thing at Bonnaroo anymore, they still belong.

The weekend’s weather was nearly perfect, with only Sunday having scorching temperatures. The crowds were definitely thickest for not only Childish Gambino, but Post Malone, Solange, and Cardi B, who other than Gambino might have had the biggest one. The Other Stage, the EDM focused one, was busy all weekend, while Kalliope had it’s own corner and went past sunrise every morning.

If Bonnaroo was worried about becoming irrelevant after a few down years, I think the course correction happened this past weekend. The festival is still one of the top four in the country and truly is a beast unto itself. Hopefully, the momentum continues next year for their 19th edition.

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