The Best of Bonnaroo 2015.
It’s impossible to see everything at Bonnaroo. Further, it’s impossible to see everything that you want to see at Bonnaroo. The lineup is expansive and the grounds are sprawling. At some point in my five years of attending the festival, I realized that, and I made peace with selecting performances that I couldn’t often see, smaller stages and with absorbing more complete representations of a performance, rather than bouncing around, stage to stage, and catching 15 minutes of many different acts.
So I didn’t watch Alabama Shakes. Or My Morning Jacket. Because I have gotten and will likely get plenty of Alabama Shakes and My Morning Jacket. Both just released terrific new records that I love, but there were opportunities to see new and interesting things while their sets were going on, and I took advantage.
It’s objective, and no two experiences at this or any other festival can be the same. I repeat that every year, but there are music “critics” out there that seem to believe that their opinion is subjective and authoritative, so I feel like I have to keep repeating myself. I think I have pretty good taste, and if I have given you a track record to back that up, maybe you’ll continue to agree with my opinions and trust that my taste won’t steer yours wrong.
1. Tears for Fears – Tears for Fears was the thing I was most excited about seeing at Bonnaroo, and they didn’t let me down. Tears for Fears seems like a band that you might predict wouldn’t age well, but I feel like they’ve aged remarkably well.
Tears for Fears is the first band I have ever seen walk onstage to a cover of the song that they were about to open with (“Everybody Wants to Rule the World”). Tears for Fears covered “Creep” by Radiohead, and they played any hit that you can think of, including “Shout,” “Mad World,” “Sowing the Seeds of Love” and “Break it Down.” Hearing the crowd join in the chorus of “Shout” was chilling.
It was nostalgia, but I feel like Tears for Fears showed that they’ve not lost a step, and if they wanted to start cranking out hits again tomorrow, it’s within their grasp.
2. Kacey Musgraves – This was one of those spots I chose the thing I hadn’t seen over familiarity. Kacey Musgraves was going against Alabama Shakes, and I’ve become a big fan of what she is doing lately. If Sturgill Simpson nor Chris Stapleton can “save” country music, I’m hoping it’s Kacey, who has a look that can invite the pedestrian fan into her sincerity. And songs about pot. She has a lot of songs about pot.
Her band was decked in vintage Western garb which were lit from head-to-toe. Neon cacti were the backdrop, and she executed covers of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” and TLC’s “No Scrubs” to perfection. Her message is uniform, and it’s a positive one. I’m really excited for the new record.
3. Rhiannon Giddens – What T. Bone Burnett did with the new Giddens solo project is formulaic Burnett – he found a bunch of obscure country and bluegrass songs that no one knows and paired them with a beautiful voice and voila! I get that no new ground is being broken, and I get that she’s been around for a while. But it’s just good. Again one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing before I arrived, it didn’t disappoint. Her cover of “Hit ‘Em Up Style” by Blu Cantrell was terrific. I was unaware Carolina Chocolate Drops had recorded it before seeing it live.
4.Belle & Sebastian – Jon Hamm came onstage to throw gummy bears at the band after making a surprise appearance in the Comedy Tent with Zach Galifianakis doing the same. This show was just fun, man. Stuart Murdoch did a fabulous job of removing any barrier between himself and his audience, including his invitation of the entire crowd to dance onstage during “The Boy With the Arab Strap” (above). Definitely a show I may have overlooked in my early days of festival-going, I’m glad I didn’t miss it.
5. The Very Best – I was completely unfamiliar with The Very Best before the festival, but Joey was going to check them out, and their only competition I had prepared to see was Jerry Douglas’s project (which I still managed to see). I told him these guys remind me a little bit of Michael Franti and Spearhead – it’s an island feel, it’s happy, it’s positive. And I think that may have kind of been a theme all weekend, positivity. While the lineup wasn’t as mindblowing, on paper, as it has been in the past, the festival still proved it’s the best anywhere, and its mantra, “Radiate Positivity,” never felt more appropriate than it did during sets like this one, Kacey’s, Tears for Fears, Belle & Sebastian, Brandi Carlile, Bleachers, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn and Atomic Bomb! Who is William Onyeabor?
So maybe The Very Best is a placeholder for that emotion and all of the bands that gave us that feeling this year. There were moments this year, especially before our arrival, when I really felt like it may be the last hurrah, but every time I walk away on a Sunday, I miss the farm before I’m in the car. I’ve surrounded myself with some great folks and sharing this each year with them is what makes Bonnaroo special.