Bonnaroo doesn’t skimp when it comes to country and Americana artists. Dierks Bentley, Zac Brown Band, Kacey Musgraves and Hayes Carll have all performed at Roos past, and this year’s festival, held June 8th through 11th in Manchester, Tennessee, boasted everyone from Luke Combs to Lukas Nelson. Combs’ Thursday set was particularly popular, attracting more than 4,000 fans to the relatively cozy This Tent. Here’s the six best country and Americana moments we were there to witness.
The Sunday afternoon slots may be the most difficult for artists to play at Bonnaroo, as sleepy, sunbaked festivalgoers can be especially difficult to motivate after three long days and nights of mayhem. But Cam was a welcome dose of energy during her early set at the Which Stage, offering up 45 minutes of sunny pop-country. Heavy on cuts from her 2015 debut Untamed – “Burning House” and “Mayday” were highlights – Cam’s show was a reminder of what endeared her to fans in the first place: an ear for hooks, disregard for genre conventions and an irreverent sense of humor. “Wanna start a little country mosh pit up here?” she joked before starting “Manhunt.” Although it was one of the set’s slower numbers, a cover of a Tom Kimmel song called “No One Gets to Heaven If Anybody Else Is Left Behind” was a standout, and one that resonated with the progressive Bonnaroo crowd. B.M.
Tucker Beathard may make his bones in country music, but what the skate-punk songwriter really wants to do is rock. His Bonnaroo debut was heavy on Nineties alt-rock, thanks to the reverb-washed “Fight Like Hell” and his underappreciated single “Momma and Jesus,” as well as a tight band that’d be just as comfortable backing Tom DeLonge as Beathard. Despite the musical muscle, the young Tennessee native knew he was an underdog at the festival, at one point voicing what many in the audience were likely thinking: “A lot of you guys probably don’t know who I am.” Right. But that can quickly change: last year’s Who Stage country artist was Maren Morris. J.H.
Leave it to Mandolin Orange, whose members were teenagers when Bonnaroo kicked off its inaugural year in 2002, to represent the festival’s folky roots. While a DJ blasted dubstep and EDM from a nearby stage, Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz kept things largely unplugged, relying on acoustic guitar, mandolin and Everly Brothers-worthy harmonies to pack a punch. A drummer, upright bassist and electric guitarist joined them for roughly half of the set, too, adding power and personnel to songs from the duo’s latest album, Blindfaller. The show peaked with a cover of the Monroe Brothers’ “Long Journey Home,” proof that even during a year focused on modern R&B and Millennial dance acts, old songs can still find new life. A.L.
If Sunday’s schedule at That Tent was meant to highlight a handful of acts traveling down the Americana highway, then Aaron Lee Tasjan – whose all-star band included three electric guitarists and two drummers – was clearly occupying the fast lane. Kicking off with the power-pop punch of “Dime” and wrapping with a pissed-off cover of Todd Snider’s “Hey Pretty Boy,” his set was faster and harder than any of his folky contemporaries, shot through with guitar heroics, AC/DC-worthy stomp and stunning four-part harmonies. Several hundred yards away, close friend Margo Price played her own afternoon gig, representing the more country-leaning wing of East Nashville’s music community. The two teamed up later that night, tag-teaming a one-off cover of John Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” during the annual bluegrass superjam. A.L.
In November 2014, a then-unsigned Margo Price performed “This Town Gets Around” at an intimate Rolling Stone Country-presented club show in Nashville. Fast-forward to this past Sunday and the Illinois native was storming through the music-business takedown on one of Bonnaroo’s two main stages. It’s been nothing short of a rocket ride for Price, who harnessed that built-up energy for an equal parts swaggering and sexy Roo set, debuting new songs like “Paper Cowboy” and “Weakness,” and rallying the crowd with Midwest Farmer’s Daughter gems “Tennessee Song” and “Weekender.” “Y’all stay hydrated out there,” she warned fans sweltering on the sun-bleached lawn. “First year I came to Bonnaroo I almost passed out ’cause I smoked too much weed.” While getting too high was a distinct possibility, there was no danger of Roo-ers nodding off from Price’s show – especially during her whirling cover of Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee.” J.H.
Lanco’s brand of radio-ready anthems sound like Gin Blossoms with a twangy sheen. Which would have seemed totally out of place at this Bonnaroo – dominated by a plentitude of memory-stick-wielding EDM acts – were it not for one cardinal value Lanco and the fest share: super-posi vibes. The band received a warm reception on Friday afternoon from a hundreds-strong crowd of polite listeners and sunbathing noodle dancers at the club-sized New Music on Tap Lounge. Lanco’s soaring tunes could pass for top-shelf Keith Urban cuts, and singer Brandon Lancaster’s stadium-aspiring gestures are built for stages much larger than the smallest one at Roo. But that didn’t stop the group from going for it as if they were that night’s headliners – U2. It seems the famously open-minded Bonnaroo community has a soft spot for contemporary country artists, whose numbers seem to increase with every year’s lineup. Hey, now that Bono and Co. have headlined the festival, anything’s possible. A.G.