At Bonnaroo‘s tenth anniversary, three things stood out: triple digit heat, a permeating dust, and an eclectic mix of music topped by hip-hop. If you wondered the 700-acre campground, you were bound to run into all kinds of music — even Mongolian folk. We saw, for instance, a pretty-as-expected set by Americana star Justin Townes Earles, hip-hop by Big Boi that unfortunately came off like it had Attention Deficit Disorder (why not play some full songs instead of 30-second samples of Outkast and Sir Luscious?), a promising set by indie/country newcomers Futureheads, the metal of The Sword, and the reggae of Black Uhuru. See Bonnaroo photos and video, then continue reading after the jump.
On Friday afternoon, we caught VH1 fave Grace Potter & the Nocturnals taking over the massive main stage in advance of Bonnaroo headliners My Morning Jacket and Arcade Fire. “You have no idea how good it feels to be on the main stage at Bonnaroo,” Grace said. “How the f*ck did a little band from Vermont get here.” But the Nocturnals didn’t sound little on stage.
Their confident blend of vintage rock and pop with some heavy guitar soloing was powerful enough to keep from being lost in translation in an arena-sized space. Alternating between guitar and Hammond organ, Grace yelped, shrieked and head-banged her way through songs like “Ah Mary,” “Only Love,” “Goodby Kiss,” and “Hot Summer Night.”
On Saturday afternoon, we decided to look for more clues as to why Man Man topped our list of Bonnaroo bands with the fastest growing social media fan base. Answer: They rock live. Because the majority of Bonnaroo was watching Wiz Khalifa on the main stage, we were able to get inside “This Tent” to see the show. It’s hard to describe an experimental act like Man Man without throwing out possible influences that may or may not be accurate.
We’ll try anyway. The band has Ween‘s sense of humor. The lead singer Honus Honus (real name: Ryan Kattner) channels the spirit of Tom Waits. The band studies indie rock, funk, jazz and Gypsy music. Regardless, there’s no doubt Man Man’s music is cinematic (hear them on Showtime’s “Weeds”) and their live shows are part theater. Wearing war paint, the members of the quartet cycled through at least a dozen instruments while playing some of the songs from their new album, Life Fantastic. Many in the audience sang word for word — and nearly everyone danced.
After Man Man, we were able to catch a few songs by soon-to-be VH1 Unplugged artist Mumford & Sons — although it was hard to push our way through the crowd at the “Which Stage.” Last year, Mumford played Bonnaroo as a little-known act. This year, they’re nearly headliners. The audience certainly went gaga for their brand of folk-on-steroids, especially the monster hit “Little Lion Man.” But since we couldn’t really see the stage, we decided to check out legendary country star Loretta Lynn in “That Tent” — and we were happy we did.
Loretta played heartbreak hits from her 60s repertoire — “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” and “They Don’t Make Make ‘Em Like My Daddy Anymore.” At 79 years old, the woman still has plenty of soul in her voice. Wit, too. “Whatever you want to hear, holler it out,” she said. “If I don’t know it, you can get up and sing it yourself.”
Sadly, the reunion of the surviving members of Buffalo Springfield lacked oomph due to sound problems. From our position at the side of the stage, we could hear the crowd yelling “turn it up” just as loudly as well as we could hear the music. So we said goodbye to the 60’s before they even sang “For What It’s Worth” and set out to land a good spot for Eminem.
Eminem, of course, topped the bill on the year that hip-hop fully dominated the granola-fueled fest with sets by Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa, Big Boi and Atmosphere. Nearly 80,000 attended Shady’s set, most dancing and many rapping along word for word. And he delivered endless hits — opening with “Won’t Back Down” off last year’s Recovery album and closing with an encore of “Lose Yourself” from 8 Mile. Eminem was angry and on point, more than just Recovered.