Home Culture Culture Lists

25 Best Things We Saw at Bonnaroo 2016

Pearl Jam, Dead & Company, multiple Prince tributes and some Trump bashing made the music festival memorable

Bonnaroo, 2016, Festival, Rolling Stone, Lolawolf, Kamasi Washington, Prince, Hayley Williams, Pearl Jam, Dead & Company, Chance The Rapper

Pearl Jam and Dead & Company headlined Bonnaroo's 15th year.

Amy Harris/Invision/AP (2)

For 15 years, Bonnaroo has lured festival-goers from all corners of the country with a unique mix of positive vibes, good food and great music. From Pearl Jam's monster headlining set and Chance the Rapper's many surprise appearances to Dead & Company's festival-closing bonanza and — finally! — flushable toilets, here are the 25 best things we saw, heard and tasted at the 15th anniversary of Bonnaroo.

Bonnaroo, 2016, Festival, Rolling Stone

Bonnaroo2016_Day2

Alysse Gafkjen for Rolling Stone

Best Hip-Hop Set: Vince Staples

"I've never been here before. There's a lemonade stand and a water slide for white people," Long Beach rapper Vince Staples quipped during his energetic This Tent performance Friday afternoon. Staples, backed simply by minimal, throbbing bass, expertly commanded the mic, wading through the difficult Summertime '06 wordplay with ease. At a festival starring marquee hip-hop acts like J. Cole, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Tyler, the Creator, it was Staples who shined the brightest, even if his personal mentality conflicted from that of his Bonnaroo audience: As plumes of weed smoke darted out of the crowd, Staples advised kids not to do drugs because their "bodies are a temple."

Bonnaroo, 2016, Festival, Rolling Stone

Bonnaroo2016_Day2_Alysse Gafkjen

Alysse Gafkjen for Rolling Stone

Best Jazz Ambassador: Kamasi Washington

Kamasi Washington staged perhaps Bonnaroo's most high profile jazz set since free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman collapsed mid-set due to heat stroke in 2007. The critically acclaimed saxophonist squeezed his three-hour powerhouse The Epic into a truncated behemoth during his Friday afternoon set. With the crowd on the verge of melting in heat that pushed 99 degrees, the Los Angeles jazz wunderkind presented a swirling, transcendental hourlong performance that featured the Epic material augmented by new music from upright bassist Miles Mosley, extended solos by keyboardist/keytarist Brendan Coleman and Washington's music teacher father Rickey Washington, a "conversation" between percussionists Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner Jr. and a symposium in scratching by L.A. legend DJ Battlecat.

Bonnaroo, 2016, Festival, Rolling Stone

Bonnaroo2016_Day3

Alysse Gafkjen for Rolling Stone

Best WTF Set: The Claypool Lennon Delirium

The weather was not in sync with Les Claypool and Sean Lennon's trippy side project: 30 minutes before their set, Centeroo was forced to evacuate due to thunderstorms moving into the area. However, after a 45-minute delay where the rain never gained strength above a drizzle — "I'm happy to see you survived the raging storm that came flying through here. We were concerned," Claypool deadpanned — the Delirium was allowed to resume with their complete journey into Uncle Les' Funhouse, where the music takes so many sharp turns and sudden detours, you don't know where you'll end up.

One minute they're Hawkwind, the next they're Deep Purple; one moment Lennon's singing a track about Michael Jackson's pet chimp and then suddenly he and Claypool are engaged in an impromptu improv comedy routine. The whole time, Claypool's thumb acts as conductor, slapping out the see-sawing bass riffs that guided the unmapped exploration. In addition to the proggy cuts off their new album Monolith of Phobos, the Delirium also pulled some covers out of the grab bag, with Lennon covering his father's Beatles epic "Tomorrow Never Knows," the band running through an extra spacey take on Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" and a pair of songs from Claypool projects like Primus ("Southbound Pachyderm") and the Frog Brigade ("Up on the Roof").

Cymande, Bonnaroo, 2016, Festival, Rolling Stone

CYMANDE

Best Bonnaroo-Only Reunion: Cymande

When Bonnaroo unveiled their lineup back in January, this was the small font name that made us say "Whoa": Cymande, the little-known U.K. astro-funk outfit with a significant cult following, reunited its original members for the first time in 43 years, with Bonnaroo their lone U.S. festival stop. Sadly, the magnitude of the event was wasted on a too-early 1:45 p.m. time slot at the Which Stage, where a sparsely attended crowd of loyalists were on hand to welcome Cymande back from extinction.

Still, a small crowd at Bonnaroo is still bigger than what the group was accustomed to playing in front of on their first go-round. "We've been gone a long time but now we're back," singer Patrick Patterson said. "We're glad to see you, although many of you weren't here when we were here."

On a bed of dubbed-out grooves, Zawinul-like organ and serpentine, textured percussion, Cymande played an hour-long set starring old favorites like "Brothers on the Slide" and "Bra" as well as tracks off their new LP, A Simple Act of Faith.

Bonnaroo, 2016, Festival, Rolling Stone

Bonnaroo2016_Day2

Alysse Gafkjen for Rolling Stone

Best Cool-Down: Leon Bridges

As the night began to cool down a day that pushed the Heat Index to the limits of human tolerability, Leon Bridges and his stellar, fine-tuned backing band stormed the Which Stage Friday for a mellow soul session before the manic LCD Soundsystem dance party. Bridges' Bonnaroo set showcased how malleable he is as a soul singer: One song, he's preaching the gospel like Al Green ("Shine"), the next he's twisting the night away like Sam Cooke ("Smooth Sailin'") before summoning his inner Otis Redding on uptempo new tracks like "Golden Room." Bridges topped things off with a steamy take on Ginuwine's classic "Pony."

Bonnaroo, 2016, Festival, Rolling Stone

Alysse Gafkjen for Rolling Stone

Best Country Newcomer: Maren Morris

This year's fest leaned especially heavy on the emerging music flooding out of nearby Nashville. In addition to sets from established titans like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell, Bonnaroo also lent its intimate Who Stage to up-and-coming country star Maren Morris, who was fresh off releasing her new LP Hero when she played Sunday afternoon. Morris' brand of country is more pop than twang, more 1989 than Pageant Material, but the Hero songs pack big league hooks, like "Drunk Girls Don't Cry," "How It's Done" and the biting "Rich."

Bonnaroo, 2016, Festival, Rolling Stone

Bonnaroo2016_Day1_Alysse Gafkjen

Alysse Gafkjen for Rolling Stone

Best Showman: Børns

Thursday night's must-see set belonged to Børns, the Michigan indie pop outfit led by charismatic frontman Garrett Borns, who slinked around the stage in a leather jacket like a Marc Bolan acolyte while packing the pipes of Shannon Hoon. In addition to rock radio smash "Electric Love" and crowd pleaser "10,000 Emerald Pools," the highlight of Børns' This Tent set was a mid-set covers medley of Arcade Fire's "Rebellion (Lies)" that pirouetted into David Bowie's "Heroes."

Bonnaroo, 2016, Festival, Rolling Stone

Bonnaroo2016_Day1_Alysse Gafkjen

Alysse Gafkjen for Rolling Stone

Best Small Punk Show Attended By Large Crowd: Twin Peaks

Borne of the same breezy surf-punk as Wavves, who Twin Peaks have toured with, emerging Chicago band Twin Peaks rifled through nearly an hour of sunny, crunchy garage rock laced with hints of Pixies, the Rolling Stones and the Stooges. Despite going from being an opening act for a few hundred people to a prime This Tent slot for a few thousand on Thursday night, Twin Peaks managed to keep things loose, with Cadien Lake James, one of the quintet's singer-guitarists, dressed like a Times Square Superman as they played songs about their native Windy City and "eating mushrooms, of the trippy variety."

Bonnaroo, 2016, Festival, Rolling Stone

Josh Brasted/WireImage/Getty

Best European Import: Hinds

"We came all the way from Spain just for this," Hinds' Carlotta Cosials told the crowd before their sundown set Thursday at the tucked-away Who Stage. Making their first ever trip to Tennessee, the up-and-coming Madrid rockers delivered a blistering set that spotlighted their unique blend of infectious lo-fi jangle pop that sounded like the Shangri-Las fronting a C86 band.

Bonnaroo, 2016, Festival, Rolling Stone

MANCHESTER, TN - JUNE 09: Zoe Kravitz of Lolawolf performs at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival on June 9, 2016 in Manchester, Tennessee. (Photo by Josh Brasted/WireImage)

Josh Brasted/WireImage/Getty

Best Reason to Show Up Early: Lolawolf

Festival-goers who reached the campsite early were fortunate to catch Zoë Kravitz and her Lolawolf project, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. The steamy set, featuring YouTube hits like "Ayo" and "Jimmy Franco," showcased the group's uncluttered electropop, sparsely decorated with drill beats, synth bursts and Kravitz's affected coo.