The Bonnaroo Report: Saturday, June 9
On Saturday, both attendees and festival workers seemed to be feeling the effects of 72-hours of non-stop Bonnaroo. Arriving at the side road that on Friday led me directly to the West Bushy Branch Tollbooth, I discovered it had been shut down. A harried security guard explained that it had become a problem, particularly with T-shirt bootleggers.
Rolling in through the general admission entrance in a long line of cars, I was greeted by an affable older man at the security checkpoint who bore a striking resemblance to the actor Wilfred Brimley (ask your parents). He calmly asked me if I had any drugs, weapons, alcohol or fireworks. When I said no, he then asked if I had anything in the car that shouldn’t have in the car. The only thing I could produce was a religious tract given to me by some guy as my car idled in line. The guard just laughed.
“Well, I guess you’re not going to have any fun today, huh?”
It’s hard to not to discuss Bonnaroo without at least mentioning illicit substances. The scent of marijuana permeates the festival grounds, and seeing people exchanging various items for money is a common occurrence. Walking up the gate, I saw two undercover officers on top of a gray-haired guy wearing a tie-dyed shirt, cuffing him for selling drugs on the site. The check-in was even more elaborate than the day before. Bonnaroo, it seemed, had enough.
Inside, the mood throughout the grounds was slightly subdued, like everyone was recovering from a collective hangover. It was off to a slow start, but Saturday would end up bearing witness to some amazing highlights, some of the weekend’s finest.
Santigold brought her panoramic party tunes to the main stage, setting off a Major Lazer-like frenzy when she brought a big gaggle of fans onstage to dance along to her early single “Creator.” But it’s Santigold’s official dancers who steal the show, with quirky, robotic routines that match their spacey outfits.
Across the way on the Which Stage, Childish Gambino (AKA actor Donald Glover, one of the stars of NBC sitcom Community) galvanized an impressively large crowd with his brainy chuckle-hop. For the hardcore set, Glenn Danzig and Danzig Legacy revived lots of his classics, including a grip of Misfits tunes.
The Roots once again proved themselves to be one of the finest and most versatile bands on the planet, owning the main stage with a crowd-pleasing set loaded with their own tracks (like ‘90s fan favorite “Proceed”) and covers like Guns ‘N Roses (“Sweet Child O’ Mine”) and Kool & the Gang (“Jungle Boogie”).
When the time the Red Hot Chili Peppers took the main stage for their headlining set, their rock legacy combined with a slew of hits through the ‘00s amassed the largest crowd of the festival yet, and by a country mile. Sticking mostly to radio hits like “Californication” and “Scar Tissue,” the band’s set was marred by sound issues that rendered the music much quieter than it needed to be for full impact. Fans still sang along to every word, when they weren’t chanting, “Turn it up!”
Over at That Tent, streams of people grabbed spots for the highly anticipated midnight set from rock legend Alice Cooper, and he delivered mightily. Appearing onstage at the top of a tall staircase dressed as human spider, Cooper entertained his multi-generational fans (like the 8-year-old girl in full Cooper make-up, complete with top hat and cane perched on her dad’s shoulders) with hits from across his vast career. Ranging from classic rock staples like “No More Mr. Nice Guy” to more modern hits like “Feed My Frankenstein,” the high-level of showmanship was like a clinic for new artists. His crack band was just as impressive, with a thunderous drummer and a shredding blond female guitarist.
At the same time, ?uestlove’s “Superjam” would prove to be the highlight of the day, and possibly the festival. The crowd was both stunned and elated when the special guest proved to be embattled soul sensation, D’Angelo. For hardcore R&B fans, D’Angelo has become a legendary and controversial figure. Looking buff and healthy, he led the assembled band through a litany of unexpected covers, like the Beatles (“She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”) and Led Zeppelin (“What Is And What Should Never Be”). He didn’t tackle too many of his own tunes, but a funky version of “Chicken Grease” was a nice reminder of his two stellar albums.
Every great festival has that moment of transcendence that makes it special, and for this humble scribe, witnessing D’Angelo sounding better than ever and actually enjoying himself onstage was mine.
With the hour creeping towards 2 AM, EDM superstar Skrillex pulverized the Which Stage with his bottom-heavy set that veered from dubstep wobbles to bombastic hip-hop to a nice tribute to the Beastie Boys and MCA.
As Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA joined with Grupo Fantasma to perform his “Liquid Swords” album, it was sadly time to take my leave and prepare for the festival’s last day.
Beach Boys, here we come!