Heart, Soul & Spirit: Bonnaroo SuperJam 2016 Photos & Review

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Words & Images by: L. Paul Mann

Heart, Soul & Spirit: A Tribute To Tennessee Bonnaroo SuperJam :: 6.11.16 :: Great Stage Park :: Manchester, TN

View a photo gallery from SuperJam below the recap.

After the relentlessly hot third day of Bonnaroo 2016 faded into a swelteringly humid evening, a surprise thunderstorm popped up on the horizon. As a few merciful drops of rain fell cooling the masses of sweaty fans, and lightning bolts cracked in the distance, a decision was made to stop the music and evacuate Centeroo. The storm passed to the north and the music resumed about two hours later. While campers frantically rushed back into the festival, Pearl Jam began their closing set on the main stage. But the real magic was being created over in This Tent, as the legendary Bonnaroo SuperJam unfolded.

This year’s jam was led by the extraordinary saxophone player Kamasi Washington. The well-established musician is on a roll this year, touring relentlessly in support of his latest album, The Epic. The progressive jazz veteran brings to mind the legendary Miles Davis with his ability to innovate in a live music setting. Much like the SuperJam at this year’s inaugural Okeechobee festival in Florida, Kamasi led a core band including members of Lettuce featuring Eric Krasno, members of his own band, and vocals by the enigmatic soul singer Miguel. But the Bonnaroo jam also mixed in a small army of other performers.

The theme of the night was the music of Tennessee, but that was a broad category covering most every genre, as evidenced during the marathon set that lasted until nearly 4 a.m. The covers included classics from an incredibly wide range of artists with ties to The Volunteer State, including Isaac Hayes, Johnny Cash and Justin Timberlake. Washington acted as the smiling and inspirational pied piper of the entire session, hyping up all of his collaborators between explosive blasts on his mighty saxophone, while sounding larger than life.

Highlights included, guitarist Allen Stone’s take on B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone,” offering up a soulful and funky tribute to the blues master. Washington said that he got “goosebumps” just thinking about the performance. Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child popped in to cover Maurice White’s “Getaway,” Chicano Batman played a funky jazz inspired version of Hayes’ iconic “Theme From Shaft.”

Nathaniel Rateliff turned in a blues-drenched vocal performance on “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, with members of his band The Night Sweats. Joining the ever expanding menagerie of musicians onstage, Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind joked “he had missed the rehearsal,” before singing a cover of the Cash classic “Ring Of Fire.” It was one of the only weak musical offerings of the night, with the uninspired singer leading the group in a shaky rendition of the song.

Overall most every other performance was inspiring: including GIVERS singer Tiffany Lamson on her version of “I Never Loved A Man,” EDM performer GRiZ playing a funky saxophone duel with Kamasi on “Morning,” Oh Wonder offering a great vocal assault on “Jolene,” and many other magical moments too numerous to mention. The charismatic soul singer Miguel bolted across Centeroo at the end of his show at That Tent to make it to the tail end of the SuperJam set. He offered up an inspiring dance-laden version of Timberlake’s hit “Sexyback.” At just after 3:00 a.m., the R&B star jumped onto the speaker stack, inspiring the exhausted and sweat drenched audience into a dance frenzy,.

But Washington wasn’t done yet. “Well that’s it,” he impishly quipped after Miguel departed the stage. “Do you want more?,” he shouted to the crowd. After several minutes of making the crowd scream their approval in an exhausted euphoria, the veteran musician acquiesced and played a funky jazz rock fusion finale that must have had Miles Davis smiling from heaven. If there were no other reasons to endure the sometimes torturous process of attending Bonnaroo, the SuperJam itself stands alone as a singular enough reason to endure.