Ever since moving to Tennessee four years ago, I have been told about the magical experience of the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. It is almost inescapable, especially on a college campus where many of my peers attend the festival regularly. I have never been to a major music festival, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect other than what I had heard about the Bonnaroo experience from my friends who had been to the festival before.
Upon arriving, I immediately felt the energy that I had heard about from so many different people. There was positivity in the air on Wednesday night as thousands of people set up their campsites, with frequent high-fives and welcoming shouts of “Happy Roo!”. The positivity was all around me from the minute I set foot upon the farm. The following four days were filled with the same good vibes from everyone I encountered.
With the first day of shows on Thursday, there weren’t very many big-name acts to see, but crowds were still very large for the performers of that day including Luke Combs, Hippo Campus, Welles, & The Lemon Twigs. Which and What Stage, the stages that held the majority of the big performances, wouldn’t open until Friday, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of good music to experience.
The Lemon Twigs were one of the early highlights of the festival, drawing a packed crowd and keeping them engaged the whole time by switching instruments between band members. They performed their songs such as “I Wanna Prove to You” along with performing a new song which they announced would be released on an EP this September. After The Lemon Twigs, Haywyre performed at the new EDM-focused Other Stage, followed by other big EDM acts such as Herobust, G Jones, & Ookay.
Friday was the day that things really started to get going. In the late afternoon, Francis and the Lights performed at What Stage, singing hits from his newest album Farewell Starlite! To end his set, he brought out Chance The Rapper to perform the dance from the recently released video for “May I Have This Dance”, much to the delight of the crowd in attendance. Chance The Rapper has been dubbed “Mayor of Bonnaroo” for his frequent visits to the festival, and this year it was clear as to why he holds this title, performing in several other sets along with his own main stage performance.
Later in the night, Gallant performed at This Tent around the same time as The xx’s headlining set, and I managed to catch some of both of their sets. The late night sets on the main stage, or What Stage, included The xx and U2, both of which brought out the masses. The xx performed a groovy set of songs from both their self-titled album and their new album I See You. U2 performed many of their hits, including the entirety of The Joshua Tree, along with fan-favorites such as “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, “Beautiful Day”, & “Vertigo”. Their set was very political and had a beautiful message of empowerment of the people in these trying times that we are in. It was nice to hear Bono speak on such heavy topics, giving the songs that much more of an emotional pull.
U2’s set was definitely one of the best sets of the entire weekend, and did not disappoint the audience in attendance. After U2’s set, Major Lazer and Portugal. The Man both put on energetic performances that captivated the audiences in attendance. Big Gigantic closed out the night with a performance at Other Stage, but the festivities continued until the early morning.
Saturday was the most action-packed day of the festival, with shows happening all day long. The first artist that I saw was Coin, a band from Nashville, TN who just recently released their sophomore album and also played Volapalooza just over a month ago. Their set did not disappoint as they had the crowd grooving from start to finish. It has been interesting to see this band grow with the release of their new album and success of their singles “I Don’t Wanna Dance” & “Talk Too Much”.
Next up, and perhaps my favorite set of the entire weekend, was The Front Bottoms on What Stage. The Front Bottoms played songs from their entire catalog to a slew of devoted fans singing back every word. After The Front Bottoms, I was able to catch the packed set of Jon Bellion, Tegan & Sara, Future Islands, and the calming music of The Head & The Heart as the sun began to set. Fans slowly began to file over to What Stage to prepare for the headlining acts of Saturday night.
The headliners of Saturday were the best one-two punch of the weekend, starting with Chance The Rapper putting on a spiritual performance featuring hits from Coloring Book, Acid Rap & Surf, along with fan-favorite features from songs by Kanye West and DJ Khaled. In between the two headliners, Cage The Elephant put on an outstanding performance to a massive audience on Which Stage. It was the perfect setup for what would be one of the best performances of the weekend; Red Hot Chili Peppers on the main stage.
Red Hot Chili Peppers headlining set included them performing nearly every one of their hits, including “Californication”, “Dani California”, “Snow”, & “Suck My Kiss”, before closing the set with the groove-heavy “Give It Away”. It was a jam-heavy performance the pleased everyone in attendance, as there was not a moment where the crowd lost interest. The wild antics of Flea, Chad Smith and Anthony Kiedis kept the crowd on their feet and entertained.
After Chili Peppers finished, Flume performed, but the real highlight of late Saturday night was the Superjam. The Superjam this year included members of Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Joseph, Cage The Elephant, Boyfriend, along with apperances from Lecrae, and at the end of the set, Chance The Rapper, who performed Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin But A G Thang” into Outkast’s “Hey Ya”. It was easily one of the biggest highlights of an amazing weekend.
Sunday was also packed with stuff to see, but was easily the hottest day of the four-day weekend. Throughout the day, Margo Price performed on Which Stage, while Aaron Lee Tasjan & Mandolin Orange played great sets at This Tent. In the evening on the main stage, Lorde performed several of her hits after dealing with technical difficulties which delayed her set.
After Lorde, Travis Scott played a energizing set at Which Stage, followed by the finale performance of The Weeknd on What Stage. I wasn’t sure what to expect of The Weeknd’s set, but it was outstanding, as he performed his extensive catalog of hits such as “Worth It”, “Starboy”, “Can’t Feel My Face”, “I Feel It Coming”, & “Wicked Games” to an immersive light display that could be seen from the farthest reaches of the thousands in attendance. It was an impressive performance on all fronts and on the same level as the headliners of the previous days.
The weekend was filled with fantastic performances from all artists. No matter what stage you were at, there was sure to be something that got you dancing and kept you listening. I will definitely be returning to the farm next year, to find more great music, to radiate positivity, and to have another weekend that I will never forget.
Written by Chris Mills