It all started in 2007, nearly a decade ago. I ventured onto the glorious grounds known as the farm, and for four long, substance expansive days I was in paradise. Since that inaugural year I’ve been four other times, including the festival that ended slightly more than seven days ago. Today we’ll be discussing the good, the bad, and all the rest of the 15th anniversary of Bonnaroo.
Now half the battle of Roo is getting there. For my group, this involved actually getting everything into the car (we had no room for bodies once everything was packed), dealing with car issues of the frustrating and perplexing type, and finally, actually avoiding those pesky Tennessee state troopers.
Finally though, we arrived, set up camp, and began our journey into the heart of music and freedom, although using the word freedom to describe Roo these days doesn’t mean anything close to what it used to mean. You see, since Live Nation took over the fest, more and more things have change every year. Sets started early or ended early, gone seems to be the tradition of letting the last bands on a particular day play way past their scheduled end times, and let’s not forget the over abundance of police everywhere. I mean seriously...tons of cops, just trying to ruin everyone’s good time.
Anyway, Roo is a marathon, not a sprint, and over the course of four long ass days you really do get the chance to make lifelong friends, short-term friends, and to see tons of bands you may not have been super interested in who end up being some of your top shows of the weekend. In the past I’ve written day by day reviews, but this year I’m trying something different, if only because there was so much awesome to go around. Here are the top ten sets from the Roo weekend:
10. Kamasi Washington
Friday was the big day for me, and an awe inspiring, powerful performance from avant garde jazz musician Kamasi certainly made the impending night shows step up their game. For an hour Washington more or less owned the stage, and demonstrated why his prominence in thinking man's music circles has grown over the last year or so.
9. Marian Hill
Coming near the end of the opening night, the members of Marian Hill covered the “Other Tent” with gorgeous layers of synth pop, amazing vocals, and a saxophone that only added to the sexual tension both onstage and off. The three members work really well off of each other, and the way lead vocalist Samantha Gongol is able to slither around the stage and make you feel as if she’s only paying attention to you added to the element of seduction that was highlighted throughout their set.
One of the more surprising and raucous sets of the weekend came from Nashville’s Bully. Somewhat serving as a homecoming show for the foursome, Alicia Bognanno and company ripped through a set full of more energy and crowd surfing than you’d expect from an audience trying to escape the unbearable heat. Thankfully though, the crowd and band seemed in sync and on similar energy levels, so the set went off marvelously well.
7. Father John Misty
Soulful, haunting, tongue-in-cheek, and sometimes full of shit, J. Tillman has quickly become one of the most fun and riveting performers in the indie world to watch over the last few years. The band’s sunday set was pleasing in many ways, and while the music was top notch and engaging, the between song banter elevated the performance to festival highlight quality, and I suspect more will keep pouring out from this vastly interesting band.
6. Lamb of God
Metal is always tricky at Roo, but after a brief festival shut down for a storm that didn’t do much at all, Richmond, Virginia metalheads descended upon the stage to provide one of the best sets of the entire weekend. They were heavy, in your face, and musically sound as they poured through ninety minutes of material. Song after song resonated with the crowd, and a sizable portion seemed to love every second of it. If you missed this show, I feel bad for you, simply because it proved how well metal can actually go over at big music festivals, and why more fests should give it a try.
5. Death Cab for Cutie
For the record, I will always think slightly overweight, dorky Ben Gibbard is the best at conveying the themes in Death Cab's music, but the thin, somewhat suddenly handsome Gibbard who showed up Sunday on the main stage will do just fine. Performing for just an hour (like seriously, what the fuck Bonnaroo), the band pushed as much into their ridiculously short time as they could, and well, it all worked out beautifully.
4. Tame Impala
So beyond the fact that Kevin Parker and company didn’t play the advertised two hours they were supposed to get, this set was face melting good. Over the course of three albums, Impala has managed to make progressively thought provoking music, as well as melding various styles. Friday night’s late night show showcased all of that, as well as more spectacles than nearly anyone else I saw at Roo. They delivered classic tracks like “Elephant,” as well as showcasing more of “Currents” than was initially present in the early days of their tour.
3. J. Cole
One of the great things about Roo is the research you get to do on acts you aren’t familiar with. J.Cole ended up being one of the ones I was most excited about once I got to the farm. From the moment Cole entered, the crowd was on his side. Hit after hit washed over the large What Stage field, and of course, DIY indie star Chance the Rapper showed up for a killer rendition of “No Problem.” All in all, not only one of the best shows of the weekend, but one of the most energetic, vibrant hip hop shows i’ve ever seen.
Day two, or Friday of Roo honestly might go down as one of the best days I’ve ever experienced at the farm. Cole, LCD, and Tame Impala all brought it on day 2, and the great vibes of the day were only made better by the presence of Glasgow natives CHVRCHES. For sixty minutes the trio, comprised of Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty brought their synth pop dynamic to a huge crowd and tons of volume to the Main Stage. Song after song delivered better than their records, and finally seeing this band in the flesh made everything feel right with the world. The show would have benefited greatly from being more showcased at night time, but it didn’t seem to deter the band one bit. Day or not, CHVRCHES delivered, and there didn’t seem to be any differing of opinions when it came to their live prowess.
1. LCD Soundsystem
Not surprisingly, my number one band to see also ended up being the best thing I witnessed at Roo. I was thinking the crowd would be small beforehand, but that wasn’t even remotely the case. People took a chance on someone they may not have thought was headliner worthy, and thankfully Murphy and company didn’t let them down. From the onslaught of opener “Us V Them,” to the chaos of “Movement,” LCD was spot on both in the precision of the tracks showcased and also the willingness of the band to get heavy and in your face when needed. Easily one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and the gift of watching the band close with “All My Friends” brought a gift into my life that I’m not likely to forget anytime soon, maybe ever.
Thanks for reading!
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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