The Bonnaroo Report: Sunday, June 10
In the wee hours of Sunday morning, a Tennessee rainstorm drenched the area, leaving the Bonnaroo grounds soggy, gray and overcast for the final day of the festival. But a little wet weather hardly diminished the palpable excitement for the day’s eclectic and wide-ranging line-up, topped of by a four-hour closing set from headliners Phish.
Being the last day, Sunday saw a slow but steady stream of concertgoers pulling up their camping stakes and heading out. But for the thousands of diehard music fans who stuck it out (and the waves of new arrivals coming in specifically for Phish), Sunday played host to some of the weekend’s most exciting musical moments.
The reunited Beach Boys attracted one of the largest crowds of the fest, even rivaling the hordes that crammed in front of the main stage for the Red Hot Chili Peppers the previous evening. Rolling their seemingly endless catalog of iconic West Coast Americana classics like “Be True To Your School” and “Surfer Girl,” Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love and the crew can still create magic with their vocal harmonies. But it was their laidback 1988 smash “Kokomo” that proved to be the loudest and most enthusiastic sing-a-long of the afternoon.
A trek all the way across the festival grounds to the Other Tent to see Kenny Rogers (yes, that Kenny Rogers) immediately following the Beach Boys was a wise decision. Announcing that it was his 50th year of making records, Rogers was the consummate showman, working the crowd effortlessly between such culturally indelible songs as “Lucille” and of course, “The Gambler,” after which a noticeable chunk of younger and more casual fans made their exit. It’s a move many would regret. After stopping the show to humbly accept the key to the city of Manchester, TN from the mayor and a host of local officials, Rogers would bring out none less that Lionel Richie to join him onstage, sending the audience into a frenzy. After an unrehearsed but fun version of the duet “Lady,” Rogers would cede the stage to Richie, who set it off with a rousing rendition of “All Night Long (All Night)” that had the crowd excitedly screaming along to every word. If Richie hasn’t performed a set of his own at Bonnaroo yet, that booking really needs to happen.
Back on the main stage, recent Best New Artist winner at the Grammys Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon plied his quiet and earnest indie-folk falsetto shuffles while the Shins commanded the Which stage with songs from their enthusiastically received new album, “Port of Morrow,” and seasoned favorites like “New Slang” to a large crowd of diehard fans.
The Civil Wars delicate country harmonies struggled to be heard over the big, chorus-driven alt-rockings of Young the Giant, who were playing in the nearby This tent, but still shone through the closer you got to the stage.
New York band fun. reveled in what is obviously their moment in the pop sun, drawing a huge crowd to close out That tent for the weekend. Tearing through piano-powered songs that seem to aspire to the enduring catchiness of early Elton John singles, of course it was the smash single “We Are Young” that brought it all together, the sing-along anthem playing like an ad hoc anthem for the entire weekend.
Cruising some of the smaller stages, I ran across band the Flavor Savers. Like an awesomely unholy cross between Flight of the Conchords and Chromeo, these intergalactic party rockers were absolutely hysterical. With a super-fun stage show that features an anal-probing alien from outer space and lots of gold spandex, these guys are definitely ready for their close-up. If they had t-shirts, I would’ve bought one for sure.
By the time Phish took the main stage just past 8 PM, all of the other stages and tents had been shut down, sending everyone streaming in that direction. Early in their set, Trey Anastasio and the band welcomed none other than the unrivaled star of the day, Kenny Rogers to the stage. There was no better way to end my first (and so amazing) Bonnaroo experience than to witness an ocean of tie-dyed Phish fans in a beach ball bouncing frenzy as Kenny Rogers led their heroes through a rousing rendition of “The Gambler.”
That juxtaposition is an apt metaphor for what makes Bonnaroo great. To quote Mike Love of the Beach Boys onstage, it’s a festival for true music lovers. And for those that love music in a wide myriad of sounds and genres, Bonnaroo salutes you.
I’m already looking forward to next year.