I’ve heard “Bonnaroo braindead” thrown around a lot the past couple of days (and one I’ve used myself with my hero of an editor here when I’ve filed my coverage). I went to Bonnaroo thinking I’d be sunburned, exhausted, bludgeoned by aimlessly wandering people munching on MDMA for breakfast, and generally too distracted by the lack of places to shower or pee without catching diseases to enjoy the music. I came back sunburned and exhausted, sure, but running on a fierce contact high from the inimitable, infectious positivity this festival creates.
The one constant throughout the weekend was that guy or girl who couldn’t contain their joy, be it at Father John Misty’s or R. Kelly’s or Solange’s set, or the epics twangs of Ed Helms’ bluegrass superjam. That giddy person bursting with orgasmic euphoria greeted every fellow show-goer with a “ISN’T THIS SONG THE GREATEST?!” or “BEST SHOW OF MY LIFE!,” and the fact that they meant it—and that they honestly wanted you to get on their level, with pharmaceutical help or not—reflected the fact that we were all in this together, and that we could be just as happy with where we were at if we chose to be. Here are some notable moments from our time at Bonnaroo—with plenty more highs than lows—and even if we made it through the festival without a single romp with Molly, we’re looking forward to topping it all in 2014.
Most Effortlessly Enjoyable Performer: Solange
I fell for her back in February when the girl absolutely destroyed Webster Hall, but Solange’s afternoon set in the blazing sun on Saturday solidified her place on my Favorite Singers list for serious. Her band is incredible, her buttery voice leaps octaves better than a Romanian gymnast at the Olympics, and she spends half her set checking in with the audience to make sure they’re dancing, grinding, singing along and enjoying their time as much as she is. That’s a considerate performer at the core, one who banks on the enthusiasm of the crowd to reach her highest peaks of perfection, and Solange did just that with aplomb after her cameos with Grizzly Bear and the Wu-Tang Clan the night before.
Greatest Middle School Dance Reenactment Evarrrrr: R. Kelly
The man released an infinite flock of paper birds into the sky at the climax of “I Believe I Can Fly.” Though I shouldn’t have to say more than that, I will, because that was one of the most unexpected, jaw-dropping moments I’ve ever witnessed, and the barrage of beats and flawless vocals before that made it an untoppable Bonnaroo moment.
Bull-Shittiest Disappointment: Japandroids
Celebration Rock was one of those records that everyone clamored to out-praise last year, and I can’t for the life of me see a) why everyone didn’t mention that these guys are cashing in on the frenetic enthusiasm brought forth by Less Than Jake, New Found Glory and the rest of the ska-punk clan of the ‘90s and b) why people liked this record if the live show isn’t a decent foil of it. Maybe it was shitty sound, maybe it was a shitty “Enter Sandman” cover, maybe it was an off-night for this duo that’s graced every major festival stage over the course of this album’s touring cycle—I don’t know what the hell was going on for Japandroids’ set, but the distracting-to-the-point-of-sense-paralysis light show that went on behind them wasn’t enough to make me forget how god-awful that was.
A Regrettable Regret: Skipping Capital Cities
Capital Cities’ “Safe and Sound” has been on perpetual repeat in LA, courtesy of both KCRW and the iPod of every Angeleno I’ve ever met. A bit on the poppier side of my preference spectrum, Capital Cities isn’t a band I’d necessarily seek out if they were coming through my city anytime soon—and that’s precisely why they’re an ideal festival pick, because you’re getting the chance to see a potential new favorite band in a perfect setting (as in on a stage set-up and run by some of the best sound engineers in the country). Given that traffic getting back to Nashville is nuts and we had three more nights of this insanity to go, we sacrificed what was sure to be an hour straight of pop rock with legitimate substance—a rarity these days—for responsibility. Responsibility never hurt so bad or sounded so empty.
That Minute Where I Thought I Was Going To Deck Someone: The Lumineers Cover “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
If you’re going to cover Dylan, don’t destroy my favorite song of his. Stick to your pained facial expressions and your rudimentary chord progressions and your over-acting and twee singing and leave the one song that nobody seems to cover well alone! Get sick/get well/hang around the inkwell, indeed. Harumph.
Favorite Discovery: Django Django
For Django Django, London’s latest import and reigning dance-rock titans, the tent flowed with infinite waves of raised hands, soaring cheers and furious dancing as their fan base visibly grew at an exponential rate before our very eyes. “Don’t you just love this song?! It’s like we’re DANCING IN A MYSTICAL LAND!” is maybe the most heartwarming sentiment I’ve received from a wasted/rolling concert buddy ever, and the sentiment expressed by the balls-out dancing dude next to me seemed to be the overall mood of the festival from Django Django’s set onward.
Weirdest Utterance Ever: Björk saying “Thank You”
It’s meme-able and when I find a YouTube clip of her saying “e-Thahnk Yewwww!” after every song, I’m plastering it here to treasure for all eternity. Yes, everything about Björk’s music is delightfully surreal, unpredictable and from the nether reaches of a creative, eccentric mind. That doesn’t mean I won’t giggle when even her gratitude is expressed in a way that wouldn’t feel foreign in the middle of a drunken nightmare landscape.
Biggest WTF Moment: The fireworks during Paul McCartney’s set
Could you imagine being the guy responsible for unintentionally deafening one of the most iconic rock stars of the past century with a poorly executed pyrotechnic display? For a good 30 seconds or so, the crowd at Paul McCartney’s set thought, horrified, that that was exactly what had just happened, as McCartney lay with his hands covering his ears as though something had gone very wrong when all of the fireworks in Tennessee presumably exploded on his stage. He was just taking the piss out of us, so to speak, and continued with a series of incredible encores I’ll tell my kids about, but fuck that was scary for a minute.
Biggest Case o’ the #FEELINGZ: Grizzly Bear’s “Knife;” The National’s “This Is The Last Time” (Tie)
This was the second time I’ve seen The National in a month or so and “This Is The Last Time” remains my favorite track on Trouble Will Find Me because it’s just so devastatingly, heartbreakingly pure in its romantic resignation. The crowds had substantially dissipated by Sunday, but The National’s performance of this—complimented by the backing vocals of Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent—made for a lovely sunset moment on the concluding day of the festival. Grizzly Bear’s heady, hazy “Knife” gets a proverbial high-five as well, as that’s my favorite song of theirs and it was fantastic to hear it live and in the flesh, all while soaring above and beyond my expectations.
Bonnaroo 2013 MVP: Paul McCartney
Don’t really know how to gush more than I already did here, but I maintain that McCartney’s performance at Bonnaroo is quite possibly the most gratifying, restorative live show experience I’ve ever encountered. I’ve spent the past three days listening to nothing but The Beatles (and even some Wings tracks, too), and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. Maybe until next June, who knows.