Recap: Bonnaroo 2018
Bonnaroo 2018 Day 1
Despite some serious flight delays we managed to have camp all set by the time the music began Thursday afternoon. In the days leading up to the fest there was a fair bit of complaining about this lineup, but the crowds are here and they are not hanging out at camp until Muse comes on. Folks are at The Who and New Music on Taps stages and they’re not just there to see what’s up—they know the words.
The Dreamers and Jade Bird drew two of the largest crowds I have ever seen at The Who stage. For their part the Dreamers were excited and on point. Their punk-pop really kicked things off on the right note. Jade Bird was soulful and gracious. I think The Brummies might have been the show of the afternoon. Their sound is a great blend of rock and Americana that works well live. They have benefitted from their time on the road. Oregon based flor were aa revelatiat the New Music on Tap stage. I look forward to seeing where these indie rockers are headed. Check out their video for “heart” below.
We closed out the night with the outstanding gothic electropop of Elohim. Her stage presence is masterful. When she hit the stage she was shrouded by shadow and hair and covered in a flowing coat. Gradually the light came up and the veil went away. The crowd was helpless before her and the mystique became intimacy. It was amazing to behold.
Bonnaroo 2018 Day 2
The Friday and Saturday of Roo are always the heart of the event and they are a dead sprint with music running from noon until noon again. This year the late night Superjam was a tribute to Tom Petty which so far I have best described as nice. I’ll have some deeper thoughts on that when I’m back in the world. The real winners of the day were Zeshan B, Bayonne and Tash Sultana. I had heard Zeshan’s music before yesterday but the live set blew me away. His combination of Chicago blues and Indian soul is absolutely wild. It is completely contemporary and yet perfectly references its source material. His harmonium sits in where the horn line would be and creates these marvelous cross-cultural moments. I wish more people had been over at the New Music stage to catch this set but he was on against the second half of Tash Sultana and the first half of The Revivalists. It was fun to watch people crossing through from one stage to another get caught in the sway of his music. Tash Sultana’s music is a revelation and watching the Australian multi-instrumentalist live is frankly mind boggling. She took the stage in front of a small altar seemingly dedicated to the arcane magic she was about to invoke. She meticulously and effortlessly laid down loop after loop—instrument after instrument—building the foundation over which her guitar work would truly shine. The crowd was in literal awe of this performance. How Roger Seller’s Bayonne project ended up on stage at one in the afternoon is an absolute mystery to me. His latest work Primitives is a masterpiece and his style and sound fit the evolving nature of Roo perfectly. Despite the insane midday heat at the Which stage the small crowd still got into a serious groove. If the festival had given him an hour sometime after midnight it would have been a scene in the best sense of that word. For better or worse we have hit the halfway point and the festival marches on. Check out videos from the above bands below.
Embed Zeshan B:
Bonnaroo 2018 Day 3
Saturday on The Farm is always bittersweet. It’s usually the day that everyone has truly settled into the spirit of Roo—the positivity is truly radiating—but is also the last great gasp of party before everyone drifts into a lazy Sunday and the reality of heading home. This year Saturday was jammed with a tremendous amount of outstanding music. The standouts were The Regrettes, Sylvan Esso, First Aid Kit and Bon Iver (for two mind bending sets). Los Angeles based punks The Regrettes were absolutely perfect on The Who stage. They were the embodiment of punk—chiding the crowd for not moshing and leaving the stage twenty minutes early despite the crowds pleas for more. Their debut record Feel Your Feelings Fool came out last year and is well worth your time. Check out the video for “Seashore” below. The evening shows began with a one two combo of Sylvan Esso and First Aid Kit. Both of these groups return to Roo as stars after playing early sets here is 2015 and 2014 respectively. It is great to see groups that have had transformative moments at the festival return for a victory lap—the performances resonate with old and new fans alike. Sylvan Esso’s Amelia and Nick came to The Farm to work with Amelia performing in the Tom Petty Superjam and both of them playing with Bon Iver during his late night set. Their performance at That Tent was perfect. It seemed like most of the festival showed up to dance and their demands were obliged. First Aid Kit returned as superstars. Their set immediately followed Esso’s and was more intimate but no less impressive. They have honed their presence from a quiet folk show to a fully realized showcase for their remarkable talents. For his part Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon coordinated a remarkable cavalcade of performers to join him for his late night set. I love watching Vernon orchestrate a large stage of amazing talent. He is a truly outstanding bandleader and he knows how to warp things just enough to present new meanings and modes of understanding in the music. So far another magical weekend at The Farm.
Bonnaroo 2018 Day 4
Sundays at The Farm are generally a little slower. As everyone begins to pull themselves together from the night before, the music takes an ever so subtle turn to the multicultural and experimental. The early afternoon sets on Sunday often tend to break a bit from the usual and expected. This year saw performances from Noura Mint Seymali, Ikebe Shakedown, *repeat repeat and GoGo Penguin in addition to a live broadcast from the Grand Ole Opry. I think Ikebe Shakedown should be one of the official bands of Bonnaroo—their version of cinematic throwback funk creates instant movement in any crowd of people. The horn players are fierce and the music is instantly uplifting. I am relatively new to Ikebe Shakedown but they were easily one of the highlights of the fest. However, the Nashville based pop punks *repeat repeat may have stolen the weekend with a blistering set on The Who stage which included R.LUM.R on guitar. Fronted by the husband and wife duo of Jared and Kristyn Corder, their sound is breezily fun and shocking fierce.
We ended the day and the fest with the Grand Ole Opry broadcast from the That Tent (the Grand Ole Opraroo as it became styled). This show replaces the Bluegrass Superjam which has closed out the Bluegrass Situation curation of That Tent for the past several years. This is nearly a comparable substitute except that the polish of the radio show does not allow for the wild collaborative romps and left turns that the Superjam tended to foster. It’s still nice to see country and bluegrass keep their footing in the festival but this does feel a bit more forced than before. Hopefully the festival can find a balance between these two poles. That said the performances from the Opry were truly great and clearly tailored to appeal the Bonnaroo crowd. The Riders in the Sky performing their song from Woody’s Roundup from Toy Story was especially excellent and you can never go wrong when you have Bobby Bare and Del McCoury on the same stage. Old Crow Medicine Show did double duty as the house band and final performers. On the whole an excellent two hours that you should be able to find in the Opry archives soon.
I’ll be back later in the week with a full update on this year’s festival and tons more pictures.