By: Joseph Kathmann
Oh hey it's a month later: time to talk about Bonnaroo right? This was my second Roo, and this time I came for the experience. I was definitely in the camp that felt that this year's lineup....left something to be desired, but I still wanted to go since I was living in Nashville and wanted a reason to be back in that atmosphere. Despite the lackluster lineup I found myself having a blast from start to finish, even during the low points of the weekend. If you only take one thing out of this post, let it be this: if you're a fan of festivals you owe it to yourself to go to Bonnaroo at some point in your life. You listening, Derek?
Easily the best performance of this year's festival, Eddie Vedder and Co. tore through their two hour Saturday night headlining set. Their 22 song setlist featured classics from Vitalogy and almost all of Ten, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and is, in my opinion, one of the best albums of the 90s. The set even came with some very Bonnaroo moments, like Eddie Vedder bringing his daughter out to celebrate her birthday and asking 75,000 people to light up their cellphones as candles for her to blow out. But in between singing her happy birthday and some of Vedder's political rants, Pearl Jam tore the figurative roof off Roo, jamming and shredding with experience and total ease. It was a sight to behold, and definitely the best moment of Roo 2016.
I love seeing an artist when they're at their prime. That's exactly where Kamasi Washington is after he turned the jazz world on its head with 2015's The Epic, which both Derek and myself had in our top ten favorite albums of 2015. (you can revisit that list here) Kamasi Washington and his band are masters of their craft, and this set was a freaking clinic of jazz. Not only that, but Kamasi did a wonderful job to showcase the members of his band, introducing each of them individually before a song that featured them. This was one of the rarer grabs for Roo 2016, and Kamasi single-handily made the trip to the farm worth it. Check out their performance of "Changing of the Guard" here.
So, I'm gonna be honest, I knew very little about Jason Isbell before this set. I had heard some of his music here and there, but for the most part going into Roo 2016 Isbell was not really on my radar. Just a chill set I was gonna check out the last day before Father John Misty. Well, Isbell quickly converted me to his music. One of the most passionate performances I have ever seen, Jason Isbell and his band took the unsuspecting crowd on an emotional journey through his quick 1 hour set. His performance of "Cover You Up" actually made me tear up a bit, which hasn't happened to me since I saw Neutral Milk Hotel. (check out the performance here) But it's clear that Isbell truly pours his heart and soul into everything, and while he might not be as energetic as someone like Jack White, he still entranced the crowd from start to finish.
This made me a little sad honestly. While Derek was not very high on BØRNS album Dopamine, (check out his review here) I found it at least kind of enjoyable. Not only that, but I absolutely love his singles "Electric Love," "10,000 Emerald Pools," and "American Money," even if that last one sounds eerily familiar. Unfortunately, BØRNS was unable to even remotely convey these singles and his other music in a live atmosphere. The audience was.....bored for the vast majority of this set, and that is definitely not a word you want to use at a live performance. Now I will give BØRNS some slack as his set was plagued by sound issues from start to finish, his biggest problem was that he was just....quiet. Super quiet. During "Electric Love" all you could hear was the crowd. Not even his band was audible. My buddy turned to me and was like, "Damn this crowd band is amazing." When you want to turn to the person next to you and tell them to be quiet, you probably do not have a very captivating performance to keep your attention.
Ok. I'll let most of you who might be shocked LCD Soundsystem is on this list dismiss everything I say by saying this first: I did not think these guys should've been headliners. Late night set? Absolutely. Headliners? No freaking way. And while other publications will say that it was the triumphant return Roo needed or something, they must have been in the front with the rest of the fans cause from where I was? Most of the crowd was bored. Now I made no effort to get there early since M83 played until the start of this set, so I wasn't with the fans, but there was simply no energy in the vast majority of the crowd. Not only that, but LCD Soundsystem was given a 2 hour set and only played for about 90 minutes. That really bothers me (and there's another band on this list that's on here for the same reason) but if you're given 2 hours to play and you have the material to play for 2 hours.....why don't you fill that space?? Only 3 artists get that coveted 2 hour time slot so....use it! Not only that, but James Murphy felt the need to countdown the final songs of his set, which kind of made me think he was trying to get out of there as fast as possible. I don't know what others saw here, but I know I have no intention of seeing LCD Soundsystem at Lollapalooza in a few weeks. Die Antwoord and Ellie Goulding, here I come!
The Bluegrass Situation Superjam
This one doesn't really deserve to be on the list. It's on here because of the sound crew. Now I get it. It's the end of the weekend and pretty much the entire festival has sprawled out with their drugs and alcohol to watch Dead and Co. for 4 hours, but the disaster that was the sound system at the Bluegrass Superjam cannot be ignored. Not only was the sound crew unable to keep up with who was playing at any given moment, several of the mics were busted and were giving feedback through the sound system on numerous occasions. Ed Helms did the best he could, and the rest of the Bluegrass legends on stage tried to have a good time, but you could tell everyone was frustrated. It was a rather disappointing way to end the performances outside the What Stage for 2016.
Macklemore + Ryan Lewis
Putting Macklemore + Ryan Lewis on the What Stage right before Pearl Jam's headlining set was a fascinating show of two VERY different styles. One is known the world over for having one of the most authentic and jaw dropping live performances out there, and the other is Macklemore. But holy crap was this performance still awesome, because its in-authenticity was its strength. From a ridiculous build in to "Thrift Shop" to having a staged dance-off during "Dance Off" Macklemore + Ryan Lewis (who, sadly, did little more than jump up and down and tell the audience to clap their hands) had one goal in mind: entertain the crowd. And entertain they did. As crazy and staged as this set was, (if someone told me that it was confirmed that Macklemore lip synced the entire time, I'd believe them) I had a shockingly good time. Oh and seeing Eric Nally from our beloved Foxy Shazam was probably my favorite moment of the entire festival. So there's that.
Tame Impala made this list here because I didn't know where else to put them. But this was, for me, by FAR the most disappointing set of Roo 2016. It wasn't bad, so to say, it was just.....well....disappointing. When I saw Tame Impala, after releasing one of the best psychedelic records of recent memory, (and an album which also made our top 10 albums from 2015) was being given a late night set at Roo I nearly lost my mind. Dreams of Skrillex's incredible late night set from Roo 2014 filled my brain as I envisioned Tame Impala going nuts and playing until first light Saturday morning. I guess my expectations were just too high, because when the band left the stage at 2:30, only 90 minutes in, I (and the rest of the crowd) thought, "They're just taking a break, right?" Most of the crowd sat and waited for Tame Impala to come back out and say that was just part 1 of their set or something, but it never happened. As the minutes ticked by, despair set in and I watched my Tame Impala bubble burst. The set itself was great, albeit a bit more chilled than I was expecting, but man....what an incredible opportunity wasted.
The "Bonnaroo" Moments
Chance the Rapper tours the festival and ultimately becomes a DJ
Every year, things happen at Bonnaroo that you don't see anywhere else. In 2014 it was Ben Folds touring the festival. This year was no different. Easily the most "Bonnaroo" moment this time around was Chance the Rapper touring the festival, despite not having a set himself. At least initially. While I myself wasn't able to see it, on Sunday Bonnaroo surprised everyone by announcing a unique "listening party" to close the Silent Disco and Chance the Rapper filled the tent with fans as they listened to him play his latest album, Coloring Book, in full. I did at least get to see Chance during Macklemore's set when he brought out Chance to perform "Need to Know," but Chance's presence as the Mayor of Bonnaroo was felt all throughout the festival.
CHVRCHES Brings Out Hayley Williams
There were several special guest appearances, especially since Bonnaroo is just a hop skip and a jump from Nashville, but none were hyped up like the "surprise" appearance from Hayley Williams during CHVRCHES set. I guess it was a surprise for everyone who didn't see CHVRCHES when they came through Nashville last September. But this appearance came on the heels of CHVRCHES releasing "Bury It" featuring a verse from the Paramore star, so I think pretty much everyone saw it coming. But I cannot deny that there is a vibe between Hayley and Lauren Mayberry that made watching them dance together on stage just....awesome. I hope in their next album CHVRCHES features Hayley Williams a lot so she actually goes on tour with them.
The Final Recap
Once again Bonnaroo pleasantly reminds us why they are as great a festival as they are. The entire experience seemed to run very smoothly, and even the weather delay Saturday night was handled as well as it could have been. Never was there a point where I asked myself why such and such was done this way and never did I feel Bonnaroo (and Live Nation) was trying to take my money simply for the sake of, well, taking my money. (Glares at Bunbury) With the obvious exception of the parking passes of course. But if that's the only change Live Nation blatantly implements, I'd be happy. While some are not happy with Live Nation's acquisition of Bonnaroo (someone wrote F*** Live Nation on the graffiti wall Saturday night) I was impressed at how invisible their presence ultimately was. Well done everyone. Can't wait for Bonnaroo 2017!
Thursday: Vulfpeck, Borns
Friday: Kamasi Washington, CHVRCHES, M83, LCD Soundsystem, Tame Impala
Saturday: Grace Potter, Chris Stapleton, Two Door Cinema Club, Macklemorre & Ryan Lewis, Pearl Jam, Superjam Featuring Kamasi Washington & Friends
Sunday: Civil Twilight, Charles Bradley, The Wood Brothers, Jason Isbell, Father John Misty, Third Eye Blind, The Bluegrass Situation Superjam featuring Ed Helms and Friends, Dead & Co.
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary (debatable) guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here: