Photos And Review | Bonnnaroo | Manchester

Words & Images by: L. Paul Mann

Bonnaroo :: 6.12.14 -6.15.14 :: Manchester, TN

Head here for L. Paul’s images and review of Thursday at Bonnaroo.

Day Two of Bonnaroo began with a light drizzly rain and overcast skies. But thankfully the feared deluge never materialized and showers dissipated by the afternoon, offering nothing more than a cool mist. Combined with overcast skies it was one of the coolest and most pleasant days in Bonnaroo history. The weather certainly didn’t dampen the spirits of the massive crowd which swelled in numbers from the day before.

With the main outdoor stages now open this second day, the festival was running on all cylinders. A huge crowd had already gathered in front of the main stage by early afternoon, where jam band Umphrey’s McGee played. Their short set pleased the afternoon crowd. Meanwhile, over on the other outdoor stage, Devonshire crooner Ben Howard was exhibiting his impeccable vocal skills in a mellow melodic set that also seemed to please a sedate afternoon crowd. The tiny New Music On Tap Stage continued to be ground zero for the most hardcore aggressive bands. Chicago-based band the Orwells played a raucous set that had ecstatic fans crowd surfing and crowding the tiny stage. Security led a valiant effort to shore up the flimsy metal barricade while fans of this teen band, that has a good grasp on traditional punk roots, went into a chaotic slam dance mode. More on the metal side, Washington D.C.-based band Animals As Leaders played an equally frenzied set later in the evening, with more of a classic metal feel. The power trio mixed elements of Hendrix and old school rock with more modern metal sounds.

Janelle Monae played a triumphant late afternoon set on the main stage, arriving on a dolly in a straight jacket. After tearing herself free, the gorgeous young diva led a crack R&B band in an upbeat set reminiscent in style, substance, and even dance moves, of an early Janet Jackson. The set was pure pop fun. The other outside stage, meanwhile, featured Oregon Americana act The Head and The Heart. Their upbeat indie sound was a great fit for a sunset wake up call to a Bonnaroo crowd ready to dance and party late into the night. Likewise, back on the main stage, Vampire Weekend led a huge crowd in a feel good, upbeat, sunset wake up set. The band, who released their third album last year, has garnered a large following amongst those who identify with a modern day flower child movement. By this time crowds of partying concert goers mobbed the alleyway between the main stage and the other outdoor stage, moving back and forth between the main acts. The French rockers Phoenix were the first band on the outdoor stage to take advantage of the setting sun and launch a spectacular light show. The upbeat sound and multimedia spectacle launched Bonnaroo into its prime nighttime mode.

Most of the festivities on the festival grounds took a breather, while the biggest single audience of an estimated 80,000, massed for the main stage set of Kanye West. While many in the massive crowd were adamant fans of the feisty rapper, mimicking his every word, many others seemed to be just curious onlookers. These casual observers seemed to be more like people attracted to a train wreck, titilated by the possibility of some unknown pending disaster. When the rapper launched into a long disparate rant about why he was so infamously six hours late for his last Bonnaroo appearance, many in the crowd began to head for the beer and food stands. But, even as he blamed everyone for his former tardiness, from Pearl Jam who played that infamous days’ headline set for over three and a half hours, to the press who reported on the event, his universal pop appeal proved to be irresistible to the massive crowd.

While West’s set was winding down, a crowd had gathered in “This Tent”, across the festival grounds for a very different kind of musical experience. Fans of the Atlanta hard rock band Mastodon had their own chant for Kanye, while they waited to crowd surf their way towards this full power rock foursome. The intensity of Mastodon’s live perforce is not for the weak of heart, with a glorious, ear-shattering, thunderous sound. This band simply rocks.

As the magical midnight hour fell, the lucky Friday the 13th Bonnaroo crowd basked in the near full moonlight and prepared for the iconic Superjam. The Superjam was born as a festival experiment, unique to Bonnaroo. Much like the iconic jam room on Jam Cruise, which brings a wide range of musicians together to jam in experimental improvisation, the late night set is designed to allow musicians as much time as they like to play into the early morning hours. The Friday the 13th jam was orchestrated by guitarist extraordinaire and Allman Brothers Band member (at least until October), Derek Trucks. He was joined in a continuously morphing band, by his wife -singer guitarist Susan Tedeschi, guitarist David Hidalgo (Los Lobos) and guitarist Eric Krasno (Lettuce), as the powerhouse guitar base for the jam. A legendary rhythm section included bassist Willie Weeks and drummer James Gadson. Nigel Hall and Jon Batiste held down the duties as keyboardists. An army of horn players, including Ryan Zoidis (Lettuce) and Karl Denson were on hand. With these masterful players anchoring the jam, including a full quartet of background vocal singers, the guest players began to roll out.

The dizzying number of singers and musicians that graced the stage over the next few hours were too numerous to keep track of, but there certainly were standout highlights. Susan Tedeschi took over the lead vocal roll early, leading the band into a guitar-drenched version of the Staples Sisters’ anthem “Respect Yourself.” The iconic Taj Mahal led an astounding segment of classics of the genre, including Allman Brothers live staple “Statesboro Blues” and the classic “I Can’t Turn You Loose.” Other great singers rotated in including Andrew Bird and a classic performance by Bonnaroo everyman Ben Folds, who sang and played keyboards on a captivating version of “Space Captain.” But it was the closing sequence by Chaka Khan that really wowed the large crowd that had gathered from other late night stages by this time. Khan fronted the ensemble on a host of covers including Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” Yet it was her jaw-dropping explosive vocals on the Led Zeppelin classic “What Is And What Should Never Be” that led the guitar quartet into an electric frenzy, and captured the true spirit of Bonnaroo in all of its glory. While the Superjam summed up all of what makes Bonnaroo the most interesting and unique of all music festivals, there were still other late night moments pushing the envelope in other directions.

The expectedly most outrageous moments came after 2 a.m. in the morning, when the South African hard core EDM and rap mashup duo Die Antwoord finally took the stage. The late start of the set prompted fears that the group, who canceled recent shows, due to the illness of vocalist Ninja, may not show. But it just added to the anarchy of the event with some fans leaving, then surging back into the tent when the pair finally showed, creating a moshing slam dance towards the front of the stage. Tall lanky Ninja, along with his tiny female partner in crime Yolandi Visser, appeared onstage in their trademark orange jumpsuits. Backed by their DJ in a Gorilla Mask, the white rappers are sometimes mistaken as racists, but their actual persona is that of the poor South African version of “trailer trash.” The duo actually embraces the massive cultural diversity of their country, but are a musical throwback to the pure anarchy of punk. Opening with their trademark ranting rap “Fok Julle Naaiers,” the band immediately assaulted the audience both literally and figuratively, and the resulting frenzy drove the band’s fans wild. Ninja immediately launched himself into the crowd, taking out press photographers and security with his giant boots as he lunged into the euphoric masses. Yolandi, in the meantime, pranced and danced with her middle finger in the air. The group’s schtick is to slowly disrobe through the set, revealing Ninja’s tattooed body head to toe, and Yolandi’s sexy little figure. The band looks a bit satanic with Yolandi sporting black contact lenses and a metal grill on her teeth, while anti religious symbols adorn their persona. But it is the fierce vocal juxtaposition of the gravel voiced Ninja and the squeaky little Yolandi that creates the true dynamic of this incredibly unique musical marvel.

Rap seemed to dominate the early hours as more traditional artist Chance The Rapper played an early morning set to nearly first light. This Chicago-based powerhouse rapper whipped the crowd into a frenzy with a riveting and rambunctious stage presence. Meanwhile Scream-o heavy metal fans were treated to a late show by Swedish rock veterans Meshuggah. Lead singer Jens Kidman wailed in the classic primordial scream that is the trademark of this genre, while the band played ear-shattering mosh pit music. Hardcore EDM master Skrillex meanwhile kept all the young dance fans happy on the outdoor stage, with a massive light show that delighted his hardcore fans. Dressed in all manner of costumes that have come to define the genre, the huge crowd came together for a classic EDM rave, dancing until near dawn. Even the silent disco was overflowing with EDM fans, buoyed by a lineup of famous DJs that played literally to dawn. There is nothing like late night Bonnaroo with all its diversity. It’s hard to believe that the hordes of young music fans will last through two more days and nights of music.

The weather finally turned bright and sunny on Day Three of Bonnaroo, although passing clouds kept temperatures relatively moderate for a June day in Manchester. By this Saturday afternoon crowds at the festival swelled from the previous two days. In the early afternoon, many festival novices were beginning to falter from two all-night ragers, full of overindulgent behavior. Exhausted festival goers collapsed in the many new shady zones provided by the festival or took advantage of the many ways to stay wet, including the familiar Centeroo fountain. But rising temperatures didn’t stop the majority of festival goers from swarming the stages with the most popular performers.

Damon Albarn played his new solo material with a band of talented musicians in front of a large audience on the Main Stage in the afternoon sun. His new, mellow moody material is unlike his earlier work with Blur or Gorillaz, but his characteristic soothing vocals seem to fit the sunny afternoon mood, keeping the audience fairly transfixed during his set. De La Soul spiced things up as special guests on “Feel Good Inc.” Albarn did delve into Gorillaz material during his set, when he was joined by former band member Del the Funky Homosapien onstage for a rendition of their hit song “Clint Eastwood.” The mood was decidedly different over at That Tent, where Slightly Stoopid was offering up their own band of California reggae fusion music. Their upbeat sound seemed a perfect fit for a late afternoon performance in the sweltering tent and as their set progressed, music fans began to fill the venue to capacity to participate in a sweaty reggae dance party. Meanwhile, the Montreal-based electronic duo Chromeo played their own unique blend of EDM music on the outdoor stage, to a very large crowd. The band’s trademark chrome instruments reflected the setting sun as the crowd, bathed in orange sunlight, swayed to the music.

Twilight fell over the main stage for the legendary Commodore, himself, Lionel Richie, who immediately endeared himself to the large crowd. “Welcome we are going to cover everything,” he first blurted out to the screaming audience. With self deprecating humor and some good history lessons, he seemed to make mass personal connections with nearly everyone close enough to see his face. The pop icon seemed larger than life in every way. From laughing and chatting with a fan in the front with a giant afro wig, to countless calls to get up and dance, he indeed had an adulate audience gyrating to his every song. After his two opening songs, he again bantered with the crowd. “There are two groups in the audience, make no mistake,” he said, “Some of you were here from the beginning. The other group, they say these words: my mama, my daddy, my brother, my sister played your records.” He then proceeded to give a history-laden set for all the Bonnaroo fans, young and old. Richie saved some of his most well-known funky dance hits for the end, including the Commodores classic “Brick House” and morphed in and out of Ohio Players’ “Fire.” Lionel ended his set with a sing-along anthem that he said “takes no language, no politics, no country” to appreciate: “Hello.” The crowd loved it with cell phones held up as lighters in the now darkened sky. His encore of the classic charity recording “We Are The World” continued the hand-holding, feel-good spirit in the crowd. Speaking of the crowds spirit, it was one of the most friendliest, well-behaved gatherings in the festival’s entire history. While many were partying hardy and some were beginning to fall, there were universal smiles across most of the festival grounds with a real meet-and-greet attitude prevailing. High-fiving among passing music fans almost became mandatory and sharing was the order of the day for most.

As night fell, a large crowd filled the Other Tent for an evening set by former Fugee, Ms. Lauryn Hill. Notoriously late for many of her concerts, some fans in the audience worried that she might be a no show when her set ran a half-hour late. But it was not her fault this time, as a last minute venue change had moved her to the Other Tent, requiring an extended set change. Yet for the dedicated crowd who waited out the technical difficulties, the hip-hop queen delivered one of her most engaging concerts of her career. Backed by an incredibly powerful and animated band, she proceeded to blow the roof off the tent. Hill culled songs from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and Fugees classics, interspersed with infusions of rock, reggae and hip hop jam sessions. It was an utterly jaw-dropping performance. One can only wonder when this musical genius will finally return to the recording studio.

As midnight approached the second SuperJam was also running about a half-hour late, this time due to the sheer volume of microphones that had to be sound checked. It was hard to imagine any jam matching the intensity of the one the night before, led by Derek Trucks. But jam leader Skrillex took the stage, anchored by Big Gigantic’s Dominic Lalli on saxophone and Jeremy Salken on drums, and joined by a small army of rotating singers and musicians, and proceeded to lead a three-plus-hour, non-stop musical melding of historic proportions. Vacillating from his trademark computer-generated electronica to electric guitar, Skrillex was at the helm of an unparalleled musical experiment. Thundercat, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Zedd led the lineup of rotating drummers. Umphrey’s McGee’s Joel Cummins was among those manning the keys. It was a night of complete experimentation. The girls from Warpaint led the band in covers of “Pump Up The Jam” and Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Rapper ASAP Ferg brought the crowd to a frenzy, with a cover of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy.” Janelle Monae, with much of her own rock-oriented band in tow to supplement the other musicians onstage, played Michael Jackson’s ‘Wanna Be Startin Somethin” and James Brown’s “I Feel Good”. Mystical led a cover of “Shake Ya Ass” and Frank Ocean sang the Bill Withers classic “Use Me.” Sometimes singer and actor Craig Robinson took a turn as lead singer. Mike Einziger, lead guitarist of Incubus, took over much of the electric guitar duties. But even his incredible performance was eclipsed when he was joined onstage by legendary Doors guitarist Robby Krieger.

Later Matt Shultz, the charismatic lead singer of Cage The Elephant, came out to lead the group in the Doors classic “Break On Through.” Channeling the spirit of Jim Morrison and dressed in classic sixties rock garb, he crowd surfed, sang in a tranced-out feverish wail and finally collapsed on the floor. Meanwhile Krieger and Skrillex traded lead guitar riffs and created the defining jam band moment of the night. But the show was far from over and the jam took over a decidedly reggae tone when Damian “Junior Gong” Marley and his entourage took over. The crowd surged towards the stage as the offspring of reggae royalty played an intense extended set, complete with a Bob Marley cover. The lights went out and it appeared the near three-hour jam was over. But then a few minutes later, the lights came back on and the stage was now full to the brim with musicians including Ms. Lauryn Hill, herself, along with much of her amazing band bolstering the already brimming back up jam band. Her near thirty-minute set was a fitting end to one of the most diverse musical experiments ever offered up at any music festival. It was certainly another one for the history books. Young EDM fans were just hitting their stride at 3:30 a.m. as the SuperJam was wrapping up and were swarming the outdoor stage for a marathon set by DJ Kaskade. Playing literally to first light, his show featured a multimedia extravaganza that had EDM fans dancing in euphoria.

The final day of Bonnaroo 2014 began early with bright summer sunshine bathing the Manchester farm lands. While many festival goers were up early to take full advantage of this last shortened day of music, three days of non-stop partying was beginning to take its toll on others. Some young EDM fans began packing up and heading for the exits. Others passed out in any shady area where a prone position was possible. But there was still a mass of music fans ready for a full day of music.

More traditional music was the order of the day, with a strong showing by bluegrass in all its incantations and ending with an historic classic rock finale featuring Elton John playing his first-ever American music festival. Special moments began early the day before when the legendary bass player of Led Zeppelin, John Paul Jones, sat in during a 1:30 set by Seasick Steve. Jones is a veteran of Bonnaroo having played one of the most memorable SuperJams in one of the first of these special sessions. Social media was buzzing with the event so many were exploring the music possibilities early on Sunday. By early afternoon, a large crowd had formed in front of the main stage for Colorado’s Yonder Mountain String Band, who offered up their own progressive brand of bluegrass music with special guest Sam Bush. On the other outside stage, an even bigger crowd gathered for the dance-friendly beats of Los Angeles duo Capital Cities and their funky electronica dance band. Later in the afternoon the Arctic Monkeys brought their signature brand of fiery English rock to the main stage. The band evoked a huge response from the large crowd, with many people coming alive from their fourth day of Bonnaroo hangover. The band that was largely launched by social media has always been a fierce favorite for many hard rock fans. Meanwhile, Fitz and The Tantrums were keeping the funky dance beat going on the other outside stage. This band, always a festival crowd favorite, has also endeared itself to a fierce fan following.

The mood on the same stage turned decidedly mellow with the much-anticipated set by indie-rock super duo Broken Bells. As the sun began to set, the duo led their band in a mood-drenched set that pleased many in the crowd. Pot-loving rapper Wiz Khalifa closed the other outside stage with a well-received set that included his biggest hits. The rapper appeared to smoke pot non-stop during his entire set, in keeping with his stoner image to the delight of the crowd.

As the sun set a huge crowd of diehard Bonnaroo attendees began to swarm the main stage hours before the scheduled set time of Elton John. Music fans of many generations, but especially young music fans packed together tightly, bubbling with excitement and anticipation and appreciative of the chance to witness the concert of a legendary performer. It was hard to imagine a headliner rivaling the rock royalty of Sir Paul McCartney’s previous year’s massive spectacle. But Sir Elton John certainly came close. What most in the crowd didn’t realize was the historic significance of the event. Not only was it the iconic piano man’s first American festival, but the concert also included two of the three English rockers that were members of his original band formed back in 1969. Drummer Nigel Olsen and guitarist Davey Johnstone gave the concert a whole new dimension, that an Elton John concert has not had in decades. These veteran rockers brought a vibe similar to Rod Stewart’s Faces band or even the Rolling Stones themselves.

The heavy rock and well-amplified sound helped launch John into the superstardom that he enjoys to this day. But the piano man had no problem dominating his group of loud and impeccable musicians, with strong crisp vocals and incredible piano playing, during his marathon string of hit songs that lasted well over two hours. The humble musician stopped repeatedly to thank the fans for allowing him to participate in Bonnaroo. A massive multimedia presentation for each of his greatest hit songs added to the euphoria in the crowd. The 67-year-old master of the piano even enlisted Bonnaroo veteran Ben Folds to join him for a song during the long set. It may have been one of the largest crowds to stay to the very end of the Bonnaroo festival. I have never seen so many smiling faces at the end of a concert, especially after a marathon four days of nearly non-stop music. A fitting finish to the best Bonnaroo yet? Festival goers will have to make that call.

JamBase | Centeroo
Go See Live Music!