LIVE REVIEW & PHOTOS: Bonnaroo – Manchester, TN – 6/16/14

With no time to shake off the malaise of a week’s long backpacking excursion through the old world, I packed myself into an old Subaru Outback—somewhere between a cooler and a questionable pillow—and headed to what would become the sixth-largest city in Tennessee—Bonnaroo.

Before I made my way under the Bonnaroo Arch (main entrance) for the eighth time I carved out my own little swath of land from the 700+ acre farm and set up camp. Maybe it was the haze of jetlag or the lingering fetor of the questionable pillow, but something about this Roo seemed almost instantaneously different from previous years. The stages and tents were still confusingly named (What Stage, Which Stage, This Tent, That Tent etc.), the mushroom fountain’s water still flowed a beautiful shade of brown and the giant bobble heads were still just as creepy as the first time I saw them. If the farm was the same, then what was different? Then it became apparent with each step I took through Centeroo. The neo-hippies had been replaced by EDM kids. And even more apartment with every stage I visited—Kaskade, Zedd, Skrillex—that guitars were being replaced with Hot Topic employees with MacBooks full of computer noises. If that stuff is for you, get off my porch you young rapscallion. This isn’t the Bonnaroo review for you.

Top Five Bonnaroo Sets That Didn’t Go “Wuuuuuub wub wub”

First Aid Kit
This female Swedish folk duo has been gaining popularity since the release of 2012’s Lion’s Roar, and their mid-afternoon set Saturday certainly didn’t hurt the sibling duo’s cause. The Sisters Soderberg’s set melted into the hot evening sun mixing new tunes like “Waitress Song” and “Silver Lining” with covers of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” and Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)” with more familiar jams. Klara and Johanna’s harmonies oozed Fleetwood Mac as they closed their set with a rhapsodic rendition of—their best known song and a mixed tape staple—“Emmylou.”

Jack White

If our generation has a guitar god his name is Jack White. He proved that much during his nearly three-hour long headlining set Saturday night. White’s set began with an eruption of sound that dissolved into a furious version of “Icky Thump,” and then transitioned into his newest single “High Ball Stripper.” White and his dynamic backing band borrowed heavily from his back catalogue. Rattling off White Stripes tunes like “Hotel  Yorba” and “Ball and Biscuit,” as well as The Raconteurs’ “Steady, As She Goes” and “ Top Yourself” and The Dead Weather’s “Blue Blood Blues.”  In between classic tracks and solo tunes like “Alone In My Home” and “Sixteen Saltines” the ghostly frontman took shots at Rolling Stone for taking recent quotes about other artists out of context. This kind of display got Kanye West booed the night before. Then again White never took to the stage hours late at for any Bonnaroo set. Nevertheless the Detroit native’s set was electric, power packed, super charged. Bonnaroo 2014 was Jack White at his best.

Arctic Monkeys

After a slow start to the fourth and final day of Bonnaroo, the Arctic Monkeys strolled onto the main stage riding their biggest hit single to date, and have become a force as a live act. The Sheffield act relied heavily on AM playing nine of the LP’s 12 tracks. The band didn’t forget old fans either as they stormed through modern indie-rock classics “Dancing Shoes,” “I Bet You Look Good On the Dance Floor” and “Fluorescent Adolescent.”  Frontman Alex Turner and company seemed right at home performing before the throng of Bonnorovians sprinkling in a few bars of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” into “Arabella.”

The Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers are known for putting on one of the most energetic shows around, and these wile Bonnaroo veterans didn’t disappoint. As per usual, their folk rock jams incited dancing, sing-a-longs, a few swoons and an all around good time. The Avetts sampled from their older tracks liberally kicking off the set with an electric version of “Colorshow.” Mix in a George Jones cover and a raucous jam on “Kick Drum Heart” that conjured the sonic spirit of Led Zeppelin and you have the very best Bonnaroo set of the North Carolinians have ever put together.

Elton John

“This is my first ever festival in America,” Sir Elton John told the Bonnaroo crowd. “… I know it’s the best one.”
John made the best of every minute of his first festival stateside. From the moment he walked onto the stage to the final note of “Crocodile Rock” the bedazzled Rocket Man was nothing short of spectacular. Perched behind his bright red piano John ran through hits from a Hall of Fame career that spans more than 50 years. The crowd sing-a-long to “Tiny Dancer” was undeniably one of the best Bonnaroo moments from 2014.  In the spirit of Bonnaroo—fellow ivory tickler—Ben Folds even made a surprise appearance for “Gray Seal.” In a somber moment John dedicated “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down” to the late Casey Kasem before closing Bonnaroo out with “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” “Your Song” and the aforementioned “Crocodile Rock.”

Review by Eddie Jenkins. Photos by David Modzelewski