Bonnaroo remains well-oiled musical machine

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Big Freedia performs June 9, 2012, during the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn. (TMP Photo/W. Swann)
The sun has set on another year for the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, and it has left memories of a celebration entering its second decade with an ever-changing personality.

Taking place down the road in Manchester, Tenn., last weekend, this year’s festival boasted new improvements to the grounds, which included a larger area in Centeroo along with new trees and more water stations.

The festival again sold out by the weekend, exemplifying its staying power.

Headliners for this year’s festival included Phish, Radiohead and Red Hot Chili Peppers along with a stacked under card of rising artists and classic artists such as The Beach Boys and Alice Cooper.

Although headliners seem to receive the most attention among the general public, the lines are blurred at Bonnaroo. It has the “music is music” type of vibe, where people will see artists they want to see, regardless of their classification.

“The regular-going fans really take ownership of a band. And if you play more than one year, it’s the kind of thing where people are excited to see the relationship between the fan and the festival and what happens the next time they are here,” Taylor Goldsmith, of Dawes, said during an onsite press conference.

Each year, the festival seems to take on it’s own persona and uniqueness while holding true to its diversity in music by attracting all genres once again.

“Playing a festival is an opportunity to play in front of a lot more people than we would normally do in a club. You have an opportunity to convert people who may be on the fence to a true fan,” Mark Foster, of Foster the People, said in reference to playing festivals such as Bonnaroo.

Closing down the festival on Sunday night, Phish played several staples like “Tweezer” and “Wilson” but also surprised the audience with a guest appearance from Kenny Rogers to perform “The Gambler” with the group.

It’s only at Bonnaroo where you can get collaborations of this nature.

And it’s only Bonnaroo where these combinations seem to work perfectly.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers held down a headlining spot on Saturday night while Radiohead claimed Friday night’s top bill.

The Chili Peppers played a few cuts off their latest album but also spanned back across their more than 20-year, Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame career with tunes like “Under the Bridge,” “Suck my Kiss” and “Give it Away.”

Radiohead made their first return to the festival since 2006 and fans were anxiously waiting in the wings for their participation in the performance. Playing on their 2011 release, “King of Limbs,” the group also laid down “Karma Police” for a nice sing-along.

When first looking at the lineup, The Beach Boys and Alice Cooper may have went under the radar, but they proved to have large and attentive crowds for their sets.

The Beach Boys, who is on its 50th anniversary tour, played to a packed crowd on Sunday afternoon on What Stage.

Their set was a clear reminder of how an extensive catalog of radio-friendly, three-minute songs can stay in the back of the mind forever. If you can think of your favorite Beach Boys song, then there is a good chance it was played on this occasion as they shuffled through hit after hit.

Over the festival’s span, the late night specials have seemed to grow year after year and have their own place among fans. And at Bonnaroo, you never know what to expect under the cover of darkness.

None other than shock-rock legend Alice Cooper led Saturday night’s late night acts. When the old school Alice curtain dropped, Roonies were blown away by a roaring version of “The Black Widow” with “I’m Eighteen” following not far behind.

Within this same time frame, Questlove was gathering an all-star group of musicians for the Superjam, which included the return of ‘90s neo-soul icon D’Angelo.

And, not surprisingly, Skrillex had a huge late night set full of bass-dropping and visual treats that blasted past 3 o’clock Sunday morning.

Friday nights late night acts were not to be missed either.

The Word, a super-group of Robert Randolph, John Medeski and North Mississippi Allstars, were on hand and reminded the crowd of the early days of Bonnaroo when they were fixtures among the early artist lineups.

Black Star was one of the finest hip-hop shows the farm has witnessed with Mos Def and Talib Kweli performing several cuts off their 1998 release and solo work.

If this weren’t enough, Umphrey’s McGee and Big Freedia performed until early morning, both providing an alternate mix for fans.

Big Freedia was in full force with a bounce music, booty battle, performing after NOLA favorite’s Ivan Neville’s Dumpstphunk, while Umprhey’s was providing an all out, jam assault at This Tent.

From the jam bands who helped mold the festival in the introduction stage, styles run the gamut from roots music, electronic, hard rock, soul, hip-hop, and others, all the while providing many options for attendees.

Some of these options were found in groups like Glossary, The Avett Brothers, Feist, Moon Taxi, The Cave Singers or the massive crowd that funneled into This Tent on Thursday night for the buzz-worthy group, Alabama Shakes.

For every Grammy winner like Bon Iver or The Roots, there are rising artists like Dawes, Delta Spirit or Grouplove who are next in line to move up the ladder.

There is always a changing of guard where artists are willing to step up and perform at the next level when called. In the same regard, the festival is doing a great job of locking down talent from across the board as soon as they become the hot item on the scene.

So next year, when you see someone like Gary Clark Jr., who jumped from the smallest stage to the grandest stage in one year, remember that it was coming and it’s just a part of the well-oiled festival machine called Bonnaroo.
Tagged under  Arts, Bonnaroo, Entertainment, Event, Festival, Manchester, Music, Recording Industry, Tennessee

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