Sundays are always bittersweet at Bonnaroo as it’s the last day of music of the man-made city. With reports of 65K in attendance, they bounced back from last year’s poorly attended festival, but it still didn’t feel like it was ridiculously crowded. With The Other being as far away as possible on the farm to all other stages, the crowd those acts didn’t really mingle with everyone else, and if that is what it takes to keep Bonnaroo going, then so be it. Another chance was the customary older rock or jam act to close out the weekend with the festival opting to go for the younger crowd to stick around, but that will come later.
A Sunday tradition for myself is checking out the Bluegrass Situation Tent, which saw almost no actual bluegrass on it this year. There was folk, rock, country, and more of a jam band style bluegrass, but no true bluegrass, and no one at the stage seemed to mind all day. Things kicked off with a great set by River Whyless, who eased everyone in to Sunday after a long night on Saturday. Following them was a rocking set by Aaron Lee Tasjan and his band. Aaron can really play the guitar and let loose multiple times during his set. It was far more indie-rock leaning that it was bluegrass or country and was a nice change of pace to what is usually happening for the curated stage.
Mandolin Orange were the third act of the day and the harmonies displayed were absolutely stunning. Their set leaned back towards the Americana and folk that is at That Tent on Sunday and it was great to listen to in the hot sun that bore down on Sunday. Greensky Bluegrass is a band that can just flat out play their instruments. Listening to the five members torch their instruments in and around one another is a beautiful thing to watch. They take bluegrass to a new level, constantly jamming out songs and rocking out while doing so. These guys must be seen to be believed.
Closing out That Tent every year for the last five festivals has been Ed Helms’ Bluegrass Situation Superjam. Ed is always so happy to be there and his smile could light up the sky. The Bryan Sutton Band anchored the entire set and as usual, everyone who played earlier in the day came out during the jam. Ed Helms began the night with a song referencing Tennessee and Bonnaroo and was followed by River Whyless and Mandolin Orange teaming together to do “Fortunate Son.” Their rendition wasn’t as rocking as CCR, but it was fantastic. Baskery took us to “Graceland” with beautiful harmonies and were followed by a beautiful song by Mandolin Orange. The first special guest of the evening was Martina McBride, who strode on the stage and sang a beautiful version of “Blackbird.” As the set wore on many others came on and off the stage and the extra special guest this year was Bobby Osborne, a legendary bluegrass mandolin player.
Throughout the rest of Sunday great music could be had all over the place. White Reaper kicked things off on the main stage rocking out as hard as they could. Unfortunately, despite the fun they were having, it seemed the main stage may not have been the best booking for them, but if they’re in a club, I would one hundred percent make it my business to be there. Royal Blood gave their usual blistering two-man performance, much to the crowd’s delight. With new songs in tow, Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher were more than delighted to be back at Bonnaroo after their amazing 2015 set. Graduating to the main stage was perfect for them and the rest of the year is looking bright for the English duo. Milky Chance had the crowd going wild for their reggae-infused rock music. Though they may have started off as a folk group, the band is nothing but rock and dance now. It was a solid set from four-piece act from Germany.
Unfortunately things happen with production at festivals and everyone becomes affected. The crowd for Lorde was easily one of the loudest and largest of the day up to that point, but 30 seconds into her set for the “Green Light” intro, she was having in ear monitor troubles, as were the rest of the band. She tried to start again, but ultimately had to tell the crowd sorry and we’ll be right back. The crowd sang for her and cheered as she came on once again to tell us it would be longer and that she was stunned how amazing they were being for her. After 30 minutes, she was able to do her entire set, with no more issues. She referenced the start and stop, making jokes about album campaigns and festival life during the rest of her set. Once she got started the music was great. She played everything you could have asked for and was loving being up on the main stage at Bonnaroo. Hopefully she’ll be able to come back to the farm at some point and not have any difficulties.
The running joke all weekend at Bonnaroo was The Weeknd would be closing the festival. Just puns upon puns, but with the delay from Lorde’s set, The Weeknd’s crowd swelled to an enormous amount from those who watched Travis Scott close down the Which Stage. It was amazing to witness how many of the younger audience stuck around for Sunday night when most leave during the day. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Bonnaroo decided to go with a younger more popular act to close the weekend out from now on. The Weeknd’s set was a total barn burner. His stage production is second-to -none and the live band he played with was tremendous. The Weeknd’s voice was spot on and crowd beckoned to every whim and call from him on the stage.
Walking away from the stage to the arch for one last look at Bonnaroo, it was really comforting to see how many people had stayed for his set and were enjoying the hell out of it. Bonnaroo might be changing how the line-up looks and the crowd it that is coming, but the vibes were all still there. Another Bonnaroo is in the books and the farm is already calling everyone back. Bonnaroo 2018 takes place from June 7-10.
Article: Bryan Lasky