Top 10 Moments from Bonnaroo 2015
Story, photos and video by: Anthony Spak | @spakdaddy
Music Director and Bonnaroo rookie Anthony Spak traveled ten hours down I-75 to Manchester, Tennessee for a weekend of music and arts. Here are his ten best moments from Bonnaroo 2015.
1. My Morning Jacket at What Stage
I remember being introduced to My Morning Jacket late one summer night in my grandma’s living room. I was in eighth grade and was prone to staying up until four a.m. every night watching videos on MTV 2. The demon disco feel of they’re song, “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2” and its creepy, corresponding video hooked me in and I’ve been a fan ever since.
But this Kentucky band’s sound can’t be summarized with just one song. Their two-hour set Saturday night on the main stage showed off the band’s many faces: the hippie-dippie sway of “Wordless Chorus”; the pleasant Americana harmonies of “I’m Amazed” and “Evil Urges”; the hillbilly head bangers of “One Big Holiday” and a few of the best tracks from their new album, “The Waterfall.”
Singer/guitarist Jim James was in rare form, hitting his signature oddball falsettos on “Wordless Chorus” and “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2.” In between songs James, with his long hair tucked back behind a black towel like a hooded monk, would raise his fist up into the air to give the crowd a thumbs up, doing his part to “radiate positivity” as was printed on many a tie-dyed Bonnaroo t-shirt.
Though My Morning Jacket has played Bonnaroo a half-dozen times since their first appearance in 2003, they still performed with the vigor of a new band trying to make a name for themselves at a big festival.
2. Kendrick Lamar at What Stage
“Last time I was here, y’all was at an eight. Tonight, we gonna turn up to 20,” Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar told an excited Friday night crowd.
Right out of the gate, Lamar threw the hungry crowd a bone with “Money Trees” and “Backseat Freestyle,” two bangers off of 2012’s “good kid, m.A.A.d. city.” Most knew the beats and bobbed in time. Most knew the words and sang along, pointing fingers guns towards the stage at the point in “Money Trees” when a deep, ominous voice from the recording proclaims, “The one in front of the gun lives forever.”
On “m.A.A.d. city,” Lamar kept repeating the line, “If Pirus and Crips all got along/They’d probably gun me down by the end of the song,” hammering it into the crowd’s head in an extended version of the song that last at least ten minutes, with break in between. From the end of the set to the end of the festival, you could usually hear someone nearby in the line for the bathroom or the water station singing that line to themself quietly.
A few songs from “King Kunta,” Lamar’s sonically and socially complicated new album, made the set list, but not many. The title track, “Alright”, “I” and a beautifully stripped-down vocal duet of “These Walls” with Anna Moon, who sings on the album version, were performed. I was hoping to hear more from “King Kunta”, but perhaps a huge headlining festival appearance was not the place to perform those less digestible songs, compared to the radio-ready rap of his previous material.
3. Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale
Sweetwater 420 was the best beer on tap at Bonnaroo.
Bonnaroo offered many food options for guests, but the drink selection was slim for festivalgoers. Miller Lite and Coors Light were the main domestics available, with tents dedicated to each beer. As for craft beer, a few were offered at the beer tents but one in particular stood out.
Listed as an American Pale Ale (APA), Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale was my favorite beer that was found cold and on-tap on the farm. At 5.7 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), this brew had a bite to it but also carried an enjoyable, sweet flavor. Dark, but not too dark, this was the perfect beer to grab in between sets or before the long trek back to camp for the night.
Compared to the domestics at $7 for a 16 oz. cup, this beer was also reasonably priced. At $7 for a short 12 oz. and $8 for a tall 16 oz., I didn’t mind paying a little extra for a tasty beer on the go.
4. Mac DeMarco at This Tent
Thursday night was a rough night. Our van left OU at 11 p.m. on Wednesday night and ended up at our campsite in Pod 10 twelve hours later. After some rest during the day, I stumbled my way out to a few shows at night that I was impressed with.
Canada’s favorite gap-toothed goofball Mac DeMarco has been a favorite of mine since I first heard those woozy jazz chords at the beginning of “Ode to Viceroy” two summers ago. I had seen him and his band, with Pete Sagar still on guitar, once before shortly after “Salad Days” was released and was eager to see my favorite current melody maker again.
After a lengthy sound check, the band began, but their sound was still off. The bass was non-existent and then overwhelmingly loud after a change. The drums were muffled and turned down so low in the mix that the proper snap and crack of Mac’s songs wasn’t properly felt. That being said, DeMarco’s voice rang out well across the crowded tent, mostly full of teenagers smoking weed.
DeMarco recently announced a new mini-album, “Another One,” that will be released in August. I was hoping to hear songs off of the new album, at least “The Way You Love Her” which is the first single, but Mac and co. didn’t play anything past 2014’s “Salad Days.”
The set was great for a DeMarco show, but that’s what bothered me as I left the tent following the usual “Still Together” closer that ended with a ten-minute crowd surfing session: Mac DeMarco has become a one tricky pony. Most go to a show expecting him to play his hummable, three minute slacker rock tracks, make bad-mannered small talk in between songs, close the show with his signature ballad, “Still Together” and come back out for an encore, usually a vulgarized version of “Enter Sandman” or “Taking Care of Business.”
Mac DeMarco is a one tricky pony. The set felt formulaic and I left wondering whether or not Mac and his band are tired of playing the same set everywhere they go.
That being said, he is still my favorite one trick pony.
5. Courtney Barnett at This Tent
Before Mac DeMarco, Australia’s Courtney Barnett warmed up This Tent with songs from her excellent new album, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit.” A smash hit at college radio, Barnett’s album is one of most solid pop rock albums made in recent memory and the songs transitioned well on stage.
Courtney Barnett at Bonnaroo 2015.
Charismatic and energetic, Barnett could be seen head banging and shredding her guitar parts at center stage for most of the show. A delicate version of “Depreston” gave way to a crowd sing along; a beautiful, communal moment that you would expect from a festival like Bonnaroo.
There wasn’t any glitter or glowsticks, but what Barnett’s set did have was soul and energy. Keep an eye on her in the future.
6. D’Angelo at This Tent
D’Angelo was one of my few “must-see” shows at this year’s festival. After finding fame in the 90’s R&B scene with his song “Brown Sugar” and then more than 10 years without a release, “Black Messiah” was released in the very last few days of 2014. The album’s perfect mix of soul, funk, rock, hip-hop and moments of political commentary made for one of my favorites of last year.
The singer’s appearance at the legendary Bonnaroo Superjam in 2012 alongside The Roots’ ?uestlove was his last time at the festival. This year, D’Angelo came to the stage at 2 a.m. with a new band and a new batch of original songs.
What transpired was one of the tightest, funkiest sets of music I’ve ever seen.
D’Angelo started off the night slow with “Ain’t That Easy,” “Really” and a few other more relaxed numbers. The pace quickly picked up with “The Charade,” a dance-y song that deals with racial and social unrest, and didn’t stop until the show ended an hour later.
At this point in the set, the band started to extend the songs into funky, stop-and-start explorations that shifted moods and tempos at the drop of a dime. D’Angelo, smiling and clapping his hands above his head, was the conductor, calling out for hits from the rhythm section like a modern day Otis Redding.
After such a long lapse from recording and performing music, it was good to see one of the all-time great soul singers on stage and enjoying himself along with a crowd full of Bonnaroo night owls.
7. Random old man singing on a truck top stage during Florence and the Machine
During Florence and the Machine’s set on Sunday evening, an older man was seen singing obscure glam-rock/hip-hop songs on a roof stage of a truck outside of the Centeroo entrance.
One angry volunteer at a nearby General Store threatened to throw a ripe orange at the singer in an attempt to make him stop singing so she could hear Florence and the Machine.
At the time of my departure the man was still singing and no oranges had been thrown.
8. Flying Lotus at The Other Tent
While most of Bonnaroo was preoccupied with EDM sensation DeadMau5’s set on the main stage, an equally gifted electronic act was playing across Centeroo in one of the smaller tents.
Cosmic and complicated, Flying Lotus is known for his psychedelic hip-hop instrumentals that have appeared everywhere from Kendrick Lamar songs to the black screen bumpers on Adult Swim. His most recent album, “You’re Dead” from 2014, was a smash at college radio and contained some of his most experimental music yet.
Fly-Lo’s set was more psychedelic than I expected. A backdrop of swirling colors and subtle lights added a mystique to the DJ, who also raps under the Alias Captain Murphy. There were times in the set when the DJ came out from behind his mixing station and did some rapping, but the highlights of show were old Flying Lotus classics like “Do The Astral Plane” as well as appearance of Dr. Dre’s “Let Me Ride” and Kenrick Lamar’s “Wesley’s Theory.”
9. Golf cart cab rides for $5
After an exhausting day of walking from stage to stage, dancing and drinking barely enough water to maintain consciousness, I was tired. There was nothing more grueling than making the mile and a half journey back to camp at three a.m. from Centeroo. A few nights, I caved an went to my wallet for help.
“Premium Tip is the Dope” reads our driver Ivan’s cart signage.
Golf cart cab services are an actual enterprise that exists and they were on the farm for the festival. For $5 up front, one of the cab drivers could drive you through the weirdness that is Bonnaroo at three in the morning (shirtless women offering you drugs, overflowing porta potties, wandering young men offering you texts for religions you’ve never heard of, to name a few).
My cab driver Ivan from Russia was polite and talkative. Here is a picture of a sign on the passenger side of his six seated cart.
10. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib at The Other Tent
A friend of mine told me my sophomore year of college that I had to listen to Freddie Gibbs because he was one of the best in the game at the time. Like a snob I ignored him and missed out on one of the most critically acclaimed rap albums of 2014, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s “Piñata.”
By Sunday, most of the festival attendees were tired from 2-3 days of partying and seeing music. But Sunday, June 14, 2015 was Gibbs’ 33rd birthday and the Garry, Indiana rapper was down to party. “I’m high and drunk as hell,” Gibbs said on stage while drinking from a bottle of Patron to Madlib, his DJ counterpart. “Play whatever you want, I know all the songs.”
Madlib’s beats were atypical, using sparse rhythmic blasts of gun shot and police siren samples to drive songs, rather than fully-fleshed out instrumentals.
Gibbs’ flow was extremely vulgar but always in time, despite his birthday celebrations before and during the show.
While most were getting a spot secured for Florence and the Machine, one of hip-hop’s most charismatic rappers performed a very vulgar, very enjoyable set as the sun began to set on Bonnaroo.