Day 3

Saturday, June 9th, the third day of Bonnaroo 2018, dawned warm and sunny. As the morning sunshine transformed into sweltering afternoon concertgoers flocked to shady spots and the Centeroo fountain to cool down any way they could. The hottest day of the festival was also the most crowded, with cars full of new festival goers pouring in all day long. Despite two days of non-stop partying many in the crowd were still in an eager and festive mood and most of the entertainment venues began to fill up by the afternoon.

There were so many activities to choose from including music on five main stages and three smaller ones. There were no less than four other dance music venues and then, of course, all sorts of entertainment in the nine plazas out in the camp grounds. In the heat of the afternoon sun, tree-lined areas became some of the most popular areas to light. Many other festival goers just stayed wet anyway they could to cope with the 90-degree peak temperatures. The biggest surprise of the afternoon was a much-rumored unannounced performance by Chance The Rapper. Since his debut, late night performance in 2014, the much adored hip hop star has appeared at ever Bonnaroo since, mostly as an announced pop up guest performer. This year was no exception, with a mid-afternoon appearance during the set by fellow Chicagoan Knox Fortune. The duo performed the hit ‘All Night’ much to the delight of the audience. His arrival sparked an entire day of rumpus that he may appear again. He was spotted all around the festival for the rest of the day but opted to be a fan instead of a performer. Perhaps the only downer on Saturday was the cancellation of the late night set by Texas group Brockhampton. The cancellation, the only one at this year’s festival, led to a rumour that Chance would take over the late night slot. Despite repeated denials by the stage manager, hundreds of oblivious fans waited in vain for hours for the non-existent set.

Many other hip-hop fans were hoping that Chance would join headliner, Mr. Slim Shady himself, Eminem. That, sadly also did not happen, but there were a few minor surprise guests for Eminem's set, including Skylar Gray and a succinct appearance by Royce da 5’ 9’.’ It was the veteran rapper’s second appearance at Bonnaroo. The set list was much the same as his 2011 headline set but somehow didn’t have quite the same energy. It was obvious that the revered hip-hop star was the biggest draw of this year's festival, with a massive crowd forming in front of the main stage. The show was a multimedia extravaganza, including loud explosions that rattled some in the crowd in this modern age of gun terror. A full band and a small orchestra kept the live music fresh and original. But the mystique of the performance wasn’t the same as the 2011 show. That appearance was a rare one for the rapper at a festival. But, this year Eminem has appeared or will appear at multiple festivals with pretty much the same twenty-nine song set list. It was amazing that he could get through so many songs in an hour and forty-five minutes. Just like his Coachella performance in April, the rapper appeared covered in a hoodie during the set which seemed to insulate him from the crowd a bit. He also looked like he was enjoying himself much less than his smiley set back in 2011. Unlike the much-publicised set at Coachella and an appearance the week before at the Governors Ball in New York, he was not joined by 50 Cent and the legendary Dr. Dre. While droves of music fans stood mesmerized by the performance that included a fireworks show, it just felt a bit hollow and reinforced the idea that Bonnaroo is no longer defined by its headline acts.

The music as a whole on Day 3 was phenomenal, and just as in the previous days the majority of the crowd really seemed to be grasping the spirit of Bonnaroo. The music truly spanned multiple genres and generations. From the main stage appearance by 16-year-old Billie Eilish to the third appearance by civil rights icon and R&B master vocalist Mavis Staples. The main stage also saw sets by the young Los Angeles pop group Lany, as well as a brilliant afternoon dance, crazed set by musical genius Nile Rodgers and Chic. Rodgers educated the young audience first with his infectious disco hits and then the unprecedented string of hits he wrote for some of the world’s biggest pop stars, right up to today's EDM stars Daft Punk. The entire crowd was dancing furiously by the end of the set.

The local country music scene was well-represented by the animated Nashville band, Old Crow Medicine Show. The group appeared at the very first Bonnaroo in 2002 and is considered a significant torchbearer of the traditional Nashville sound. Drummer and hip hop singer, Anderson Paak brought his own high energy set to the main stage with his impressive group of musicians, the Free Nationals. The Other stage offered up twelve hours of sets by some of the most well-known names in EDM, including Kaskade and The Glitch Mob. Many young EDM fans never left this area and danced furiously during each of the 8 performances.

Santa Barbara’s Rebelution brought one of the only reggae sets to the festival, much to the delight of a large crowd of reggae music fans gathered for their evening set. Columbian American R&B singer Kali Uchis turned in an afternoon set steamy in every way possible. It was so hot the sensual performer had fans to cool her onstage. Much to the delight of the crowd, the fans kept blowing her short skirt into the air. The excited crowd was literally drenched with sweat in the tight confines of the tented venue in the searing midday sun. Although the Friday Superjam was technically the only set to last more than two hours, The Folktronica act Bon Iver actually performed for two and a half hours over two sets. Both sets drew a massive crowd in the cooling late night temperatures. The first, before Eminem's set, featured five trombonists joining the band. The hour-long concert included old and new songs from the band's extensive library. The second set after Eminem drew an even bigger crowd, and the hour and the forty-five-minute show was a perfect late night break from the more intense music offered out throughout the day. Justin Vernon, who appeared at the Superjam the night before in a duet with Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath, held his own mini jam during the set. He invited both members of Sylvan Esso, members of Francis and The Lights and Spank Rock to jam with the band. Parkland survivor Aalayah Eastmond appeared onstage to give a brief speech to encourage gun control. There was a bit of irony that the address came after the controversial explosions in the Eminem performance interpreted by some as gunshots.

For those still looking to dance furiously, there were late night sets by EDM star DJ Kaskade and the Livetronica sounds of the experimental rock group STS9. For those with the energy to keep going DJ,s counted playing at the Kalliope, The Christmas Barn, and The Silent Disco until dawn. It was another fantastic day of entertainment at Bonnaroo defined more by the unique experience than the actual performances, with a lot of smiling but exhausted festival goers heading to their tents in high spirits.

Day 4

The final day of Bonnaroo 2018 began with an intense morning thunderstorm. Loud thunder booms and cracking lightning strikes gave way to short, intense downpours over several hours. Nervous concertgoers took shelter anywhere they could find, many in their cars. Exhausted by three non-stop days of intense partying many others began heading home. But by afternoon the sun came out painting the high clouds in multiple colours, and the festival resumed almost entirely on schedule.

While there is always an expected crowd depreciation by the final shortened day of Bonnaroo, an enthusiastic majority of concert goers stuck it out to the end of this year's festival. Some of the endurance could be attributed to the upgraded facilities and entertainment options in the plazas around the campgrounds. But a surprisingly diverse final day of music in Centeroo also helped keep the attention of exhausted music fans. By late afternoon most of the main stages were packed with excited young fans eager to dance their way out of the last day of Roo.

The English neo-soul dance band Jungle was the perfect catalyst for a crowd eager to get in one last dance in the Tennessee sunshine. The band sounded a bit like a cross between Nile Rodgers’ Chic (who wowed the young main stage crowd with their infectious dance grooves the day before), and the Bee Gees featuring the high pitched vocals of lead players, Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson. Meanwhile, Alabama’s St. Paul and The Broken Bones brought a different kind of soul music, a southern version, to the other side of the festival. The tent venue felt a little bit like an old time Sunday revival, led by animated singer Paul Janeway. The lead vocalist pranced about like a Baptist preacher, while the band complete with a horn section played their energetic version of southern soul. The large crowd danced in a sweaty frenzy throughout the set.

Shortly before sunset, young English neo R&B pop singer (and professional model), Dua Lipa brought a polished set to the MainStage. The fast-rising star was part of the new music showcase at last year’s Bonnaroo. The gorgeous singer led a great band and troupe of sexy dancers through a steamy and sultry set complete with spot-on choreography.

Across Centeroo at the other outdoor MainStage, the Nashville based Moon Taxi kept the jam band vibe alive with a brilliant sunset set that had a large crowd of neo-hippies blissfully dancing.

As twilight gave way to a beautiful starry sky, Atlanta native Future brought his hit-making hip-hop skills to bear on the biggest and most excited crowd on the final day of the 17th annual Bonnaroo festival. Like Dua Lipa’s show before him, the set was a polished multimedia extravaganza complete with a crack back up band and eloquent dancers in precise choreography. The rapper wowed the crowd with his many hit songs that are so popular in most any American dance club, like’Bugatti’, ‘Low Life’ and ‘Jumpman’ Even Bonnaroos’s favourite rapper, Chance, could be seen dancing backstage. The crowd danced wildly through the entire set.

While the rest of Bonnaroo was infected with dance fever all across Centeroo young EDM fans continued their own dance trance for a fourth straight day with six consecutive sets of veteran DJs at The Other stage.

A very different but no less intense dance jam closed out That tent venue across from the EDM stage. The annual Blue Grass jam led by Ed Helms was replaced, for the first time this year, by a historic live broadcast of a country music superjam on the legendary Grand Ole Opry radio broadcast. Opry members Old Crow Medicine Show, (whose set the day before included receiving the keys to the city of Manchester), opened the show. Their frontman Ketch Secor co-hosted the jam with veteran announcer Bill Cody. They were followed by bluegrass master Del McCoury, pop-country singer Maggie Rose, and country-rock band Lanco. Special moments included Country Music Hall of Fame Member Bobby Bare, whose classic ‘Marie Laveaux’ put the crowd into a euphoric dance mood, and vintage singer Joshua Hedley, paying tribute to Glen Campbell with the classic ‘Wichita Lineman’ During the closing set by Old Crow, Cody exclaimed, “Yesterday we got the keys to the city, and today we are on the Grand Ole Opry live from Bonnaroo. What could be better?” The show was an important lesson in true Americana music and ended with a traditional cast sing-along of ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’.

A surprisingly large crowd of millennials stuck around for the closing set of the Killers. The mainstream pop band delighted the crowd by opening with their biggest hit ‘Mr. Brightside’. But the succinct set seemed anticlimactic, especially compared to the marathon jams of many of the past legacy acts that closed Bonnaroo over the years. Despite being a millennial group formed in 2001, the band has more of a pop sound harkening back to the 1980s. While the band produces plenty of pure pop hits, there is little that is original in their throwback sound. But the group did keep the dance fever alive, which seemed to be the underlying theme that held the many tribes united on this final day of Roo. Dance fever ruled the entire day.

It is apparent that the headline acts at Bonnaroo like at many of the plethora of new music festivals across the country are becoming increasingly irrelevant. The relevancy of Bonnaroo as a gathering of eager young festival goers is defined by the unique experience it offers its participants. Much like the Burning Man festival in Nevada, Bonnaroo has become a right of passage for many seeking a communal experience unlike any other, and in this pursuit, the Bonnaroo festival has surpassed even its own wildest expectations. Judging by the exuberance and commitment to complete participation by this year's Roo audience, the tribes will be gathering on the Tennessee farm for many years to come.


Photos by L. Paul Mann
www.lpaulmann.com

















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