The Bonnaroo experience is really like none other. It’s the perfect mix of music, comedy, cinema, and good vibes. For the average ‘Roo goer, the car ride to Manchester, Tennessee is a quite a lengthy trip itself. By the time you reach the line of cars awaiting entrance, anticipation is killing you. After waiting in line for miles, you are finally directed to your camping spot. When you park, seasoned Bonnaroo goers will warn you, there is mad rush to set up tents at camping sites. After finally getting comfortable it is time to meet your neighbors for the next few days. Then, you wait again. It’s a whole day before the music starts. That is when the Bonnaroo experience starts to fully kick in.
Throughout the four-day festival there are nearly 96 straight hours of music performed both in and outside of Centeroo – the cluster of tents and stages where all the music happens. However, Bonnaroo is not just limited to music. There is a comedy and cinema tent, as well as a bunch of other activities for Bonnaroo goers to keep entertained. With so much going on, it’s hard to see and experience everything you want to, unless you have mechanical legs and have no need for sleep that is. With that being said, each experience for a Bonnaroo goer is unique and special. Bonnaroo pulled out all the stops this year to entertain each festival goer. Headliners included the iconic Paul McCartney, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Wu-Tang Clan, R. Kelly, and the always welcomed Jim James (singer of My Morning Jacket).
As I said, with everything going on, picking and choosing what to see and what to miss is quite the tedious task. My experience at Bonnaroo 2013 was one like no other. This was my second Bonnaroo, so this time around I knew the tricks of the trade. I knew how to see every act I wanted to see and how to cram in a few hours of sleep. After seeing over 15 different bands, DJs, singers, and comedians, I compiled my Top 10 list of Bonnaroo moments.
10. ZZ Top
The beards were out in full-effect at This Tent on Friday night. The Texas-based blues-rock legends rocked out a two-hour long set beginning at 10:30pm. This Tent was filled beyond its capacity for their entire performance. The trio played their classic hits, “Legs”, “Sharped Dressed Man”, and “La Grange.” They also played a cover of “Foxy Lady” in honor of the late Jimi Hendrix, who had many odes in his honor at the farm this year. It didn’t matter that ZZ Top were playing the same time as The xx and the hip-hop Superjam Friday night. The crowd was fully engaged and energetic throughout their entire set, which further proves why the bearded trio from Texas has been around for nearly 45 years and is still rocking out.
9. Bob Saget
Not much needs to be said about Bob Saget, he’s just the man. Aside from his acting on Full House, Saget has gained a cult following for this stand-up comedy performances. To those unaware of Saget’s style of comedy, he’s very racy (not racist) and raunchy. Saget performed both stand-up and guitar during his set. Covering topics from his days on Full House, his name becoming a swear word via Tourette’s guy, his stint in the movie Half Baked, as well as many others, Bob Saget had the crowd howling during his entire set. At the end of his legendary performance, Saget was telling a joke about John Stamos (Uncle Jesse from Full House) during which Stamos came out behind him on stage and joined him. All in all, Bob Saget’s Bonnaroo performance was one for the ages.
8. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Now this might get me some flack, but number 8 is where Petty falls on my list. I’m not knocking or playing down the performance at all… Just getting that out of the way. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers brought out their full bag of tricks Sunday night. Their set included a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil”, a couple of Traveling Willbury’s tunes, as well as all of Petty’s hits and fan favorites, like my personal favorite, “I Should Have Known It.” Tom Petty was the perfect weekend closer. He jammed the entire show and closed with the song that everyone wanted to hear, “American Girl”. Although I wasn’t there for Petty’s last Bonnaroo performance in 2006, I’d say this one will go down in the record books.
7. A$AP Rocky
A$AP Rocky’s Sunday night performance was easily one of if not the most intense performances of the weekend. The Harlem native came out swinging when he took the stage at The Other Tent Sunday evening. A$AP Rocky screamed, “Are you stoked for one of the best shows you’re gonna see this festival?!!” He was met by a roaring applause from the 20,000 people huddled around and inside The Other Tent. The crowd was surging with mosh pits, crowd surfers, and dancing. There was literally no room to move if you were underneath the actual tent. It was the only performance where I feared losing my phone if I tried to use it to snap a picture. A$AP Rocky pulled out all of the stops for his show. He even brought out fellow A$AP Mob rappers, A$AP Ferg and A$AP Twelvy. A$AP Rocky played all of his hits including “Goldie”, “Peso”, and “Purple Swag” before closing the night out with the “Work (Remix)” and stating his thanks to the crowd.
Alt-J put on one of the best performances during the opening night of Bonnaroo on Thursday, if not the whole festival. Coming out to roaring applause, singer Joe Newman emphatically stated, “Bonnaroo! It’s amazing to be here!” Alt-J played nearly the entire critically acclaimed album An Awesome Wave, including their hits “Breezeblocks”, “Tessellate”, and “Fitzpleasure”, as well a few older tunes during their hour long set Thursday night. The atmosphere during Alt-J’s performance was electric. I wasn’t surprised at the crowd size for their performance but what really stuck out was the familiarity the audience had with Alt-J’s music. Nearly every lyric to every song was being echoed by the crowd, during the song “Matilda” especially. Although this was Alt-J’s first Bonnaroo performance, I believe they have already set the stage for becoming a headliner at the farm in years to come.
5. Portugal. The Man (Which Stage and surprise fountain set)
Portugal. The Man is no stranger to Bonnaroo. Singer John Gourley stated to the crowd during their Saturday afternoon performance, “We love coming here to play. Bonnaroo was the first festival we ever performed at and we love coming back.” Portugal. The Man played the majority of their latest release Evil Friends as well some of their older hits including “People Say” and “The Devil”. What was great about Portugal. The Man’s performance was that they all seemed genuinely appreciative of the crowd during their set. Not limiting their setlist to their own music, Portugal. The Man covered the famous It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia song “Dayman.” When Portugal. The Man played their single “So American”, they were joined on stage by “Weird Al” Yankovic, who wailed on the accordion. They also played an ode to the Beatles covering “Helter Skelter” and closed out their set with “Sleep Forever” with a “Hey Jude” chant. The mid-afternoon gig was perfect for Portugal. The Man. After their set on the Which Stage was over, Portugal. The Man gave the crowd some more. The 5-piece played an impromptu performance at the famous Bonnaroo fountain which included more songs from their album Evil Friend and a rendition of “Strawberry Fields Forever” before closing out with “People Say”. All in all, I feel Portugal. The Man not only put on one of the greatest sets at Bonnaroo, but the band members understand the spirit of the festival and openly embrace it, they too will be back at the farm in years to come, hopefully as a headliner.
4. The Wu-Tang Clan
Throughout my entire stay at Bonnaroo thy one artist I saw the most of Roo goers sporting gear for was The Wu-Tang Clan. Needless to say, everyone was pumped to see The Wu and they didn’t disappoint. They came out on stage Friday like bats out of hell. From the beginning to the end of their set, it was full throttle, completely matching the energy that was being put out by the audience. The entire crowd was rapping every word with Wu-Tang on stage. It was almost like the entire crowd at the Which Stage was a part of the Wu-Tang Clan for the hour and a half that they graced the stage. Wu-Tang played classics from the iconic album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) like “C.R.E.A.M.”, “Shame on a Nigga”, and “Wu-Tang Ain’t Nuthin’ Ta Fuck Wit”. They also paid an ode to the late great Old Dirty Bastard. Their performance was solid from beginning to end. What was a pleasant surprise to me was how much of a solid MC Method Man was. I was honestly blown away by how Method Man controlled the crowd and got them pumped up; and on top of that all Method Man’s delivery was impeccable, he spit faster than an AK47. All in all, The Wu-Tang Clan lived up to the hype Let’s all hope it’s sooner than later that these guys tour again.
3. Jack Johnson
Usually when a major headlining act drops off a festival two days before their performance, it’s a bad thing. This was not the case at Bonnaroo this year. Ted Dwane, bassist for Mumford & Sons had to undergo surgery for a blood clot on the surface of his brain and the band had to cancel their performance. Fortunately for festival organizers (and goers), Jack Johnson was already playing a late-night gig with ALO as a special guest. So with less than 48 hours to prepare and nearly a year without a live performance, Jack Johnson answered the call. Johnson played Bonnaroo in 2002 and 2003. He also headlined in 2008. There was a mixed reaction to the news of Mumford & Sons’ cancellation. A lot of people were bummed about Mumford & Sons being out, but at the same time a lot of Roo goers were excited about Jack Johnson gracing the What Stage for a headlining performance.
Johnson more than made up for Mumford & Sons unfortunate cancellation. Johnson rocked a 28 song set, including a cover of Mumford & Sons’ hit “The Cave” in honor of their cancellation. He also covered my favorite band, Sublime with a performance of their song “Badfish”. Johnson’s headlining performance included an impromptu song appropriately titled “Bonnaroo” which told the story. "I had a late night gig with ALO... but then the phone rang, and things got strange / My low pro[file] was about to change. Can you get the band together to play a gig in two days and play a show up on the main stage? I don’t know it’s been a year or two since we’ve played these tunes but what the hell, its Bonnaroo!” Johnson showed no rust at all during his set, which is a further testament to him as a musician and live performer. Needless to say, Jack Johnson’s last minute fill-in for Mumford & Sons exceeded both my and nearly all of Bonnaroo’s expectations.
2. Jim James and John Oates Rock N’Soul Dance Party Superjam
What is there to say about Jim James? The man practically is Bonnaroo. Aside from Sir Paul McCartney’s set, the Superjam was one I was not going to miss. Unfortunately with festivals the size of Bonnaroo, there are sometimes overlaps for performances and tough decisions need to be made. I had to pass on R. Kelly, Billy Idol, and Weird Al Yankovic to catch the Superjam. Jim James brought the funk. The setlist had a magnitude of classics including “Use Me” by Bill Withers, “Dance to the Music” by Sly & The Family Stone, and “1999” by Prince. What’s so great about the Superjam is that you never know what to expect, especially when Bonnaroo icon Jim James is putting it together with John Oates. The lineup included an all-star cast which had Larry Graham of Sly & The Family Stone, Zigaboo Modeliste of The Meters, and fellow My Morning Jacket bandmate Carl Broemel to name a few. However, Jim James had a few more tricks up his sleeve for the Bonnaroo crowd. The first surprise was Brittany Howard, singer of the band Alabama Shakes. Shortly after Howard’s appearance, R. Kelly joined the Superjam on stage. The crowd was roaring at this point. Brittany Howard was one thing, but R. Kelly?! Really?!
Jim James really pulled all the stops out tonight. R. Kelly sang lead vocals on two Sam Cooke songs, “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Bring It On Home”. Shortly after R. Kelly left the stage, Jim James unveiled his final surprise of the Superjam. “We not going to even introduce our next guest. You know him and what he’s about.” Like a bat out of hell, Billy Idol came running out to center stage, again the crowd goes wild. Idol sang lead on a cover of “Get It On” by T. Rex. Idol would stay on stage and join everyone in backing up Brittany Howard who sang lead vocals for “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones. At this point in the set I was just in pure awe as two of the artists I chose to skip just came on stage for one of the most epic Superjams Bonnaroo has witnessed. Again….the night was not over, Larry Graham came on stage one more time for the final encore, a group rendition of the Sly & The Family Stone hit “I Want to Take You Higher.” This was a performance I will never forget and a memory I will always cherish.
1. Paul McCartney
I grew up in a house where the Beatles were always being played. They are my father’s favorite so, needless to say, they have become one of mine, too. There are no words in the English language that can describe the greatness that occurred at the What Stage Friday night. Paul McCartney played a nearly three hour long set which included over 25 Beatles tunes, a cover of Leadbelly’s “Midnight Special”, a handful of Wings songs, and a snippet of Jimmy Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady.” I am still in awe of the setlist McCartney played. McCartney opened with the Beatles’ classic “8 Days a Week” then jumped right into some Wings and played “Junior’s Farm.” 28 songs later, McCartney hopped on the piano and started to play the opening to “Hey Jude”. The crowd roared with applause. There were over 80,000 people singing along with McCartney and it was beautiful. Bonnaroo created another moment in my life that I’ll never forget. After “Hey Jude” McCartney left the stage. The crowd knew it wasn’t over yet. Immediately after McCartney’s departure, the “ENCORE, ENCORE, ENCORE!” chants started. McCartney came back on stage after a minute or two, “So you guys want us to play some more?” The crowd immeadiatley reponds in unison “YES!” to which he replied “Well ok then” and went right into “Day Tripper.” McCartney did not just play a song or two for an encore, he played eight. McCartney would continue to play almost a half hour after his allotted set list time. It’s not like anyone is going to give him the yank anyway, it’s Paul freaking McCartney. McCartney would close his set out with the song “The End,” which was just perfectly appropriate; if you don’t know, Abbey Road was the last recorded, but not released album and minus the rerelease of Abbey Road where the secret track “Her Magesty” is the last track, “The End” was the final song recorded by the Beatles. For McCartney to end close out an iconic performance with “The End” was just the icing on the cake. Although I’ve said it before with the Superjam and “Hey Jude,” McCartney’s set at Bonnaroo is something I will never forget. Paul McCartney had the crowd in the palm of his hands from the moment he came on stage till when he left and his performance will go down as one of the greatest ever.
All in all, my Bonnaroo 2013 experience was amazing, I thought it was impossible to top my first Roo (in 2011) but it happened. It was hard just to narrow down the nearly 25 performances I witnessed into a top ten list, so any of you who are even considering attending Bonnaroo in the near future, I have one word of advice for you, GO!
A$AP Rocky Alt-J Bob Saget Bonnaroo 2013 Jack Johnson Jim James Paul McCartney Portugal. The Man Tom Petty Wu-Tang Clan ZZ Top